I am literally beside myself when I browse around online, or happen to stumble upon conversations regarding watches by so called “experts”. The amount of junk that's out there dressed up as fact, when in reality is nothing more than some self-perpetuation prophecy designed to mold and shape public opinion in a particular direction is sickening.
It’s as if over time everything has been turned on its head. What used to be considered important is now less so and vice versa. A whole new formula has been created and passed around, which is then used by those receiving this “advice” against their own interests.
At Spazz.com we call those responsible Horological Douchebags (“HDs”). They don’t want you to think for yourself using logic, but rather they want you to trust them blindly. They’ve “been there”, so they "know of the mistakes" they don’t want you to make (wink wink).
But you still have a brain, don’t you? So, as I break down these myths, use your brain and think objectively and critically to decide what's what. Not only to cleanse yourself of the gunk and grime that's been purposely planted, but to reverse the process and get back to sanity.
Here we go:
1. The Movement Isn’t Everything
That is pure fiction. Not only does the movement absolutely “make the watch”, it defines the watch. It's what literally makes a watch tick, it's what gives it its absolute purpose, it's where the miracle of mechanical watchmaking happens, it's the heart of the watch. Everything else, dial, hands, case, pedigree, etc., matter, but not more than the movement. To say otherwise is not only ignorant, its suspicious.
Suspicious, because who exactly has the most to gain ($$$), by perpetuating this myth? The watch companies of course, but also anyone else who profits from it.
For instance, with the damaging effects of the Quartz Crisis at its core, those that survived needed to find a way to stay profitable. This was about the same time that we started to see movements from Lemania, Valjoux, ETA, etc., start to be used in watches across a very wide price range (as opposed to a specific range only). These companies that once were famous for making their own in-house movements, were now all using the same base calibers, which reduced their costs dramatically. But, the cost of watches didn’t go down, they went up! Even after factoring for inflation, watches have never been so expensive. This also means profits for watch companies have never been higher.
In other words, watch companies realized it was much easier and much more profitable to sell us a watch on how it looks than how it works, and the media, which they pay handsomely, is the mechanism by which they achieve this. Hence, the false claim that "the movement isn’t everything" is necessary.
2. Grande Complication Watches Aren't The End-All-Be-All Of Watches
This, too, is pure fiction and at best subjective.
Not only are Grande Complication watches, and by extension collecting Grande Complication watches the end-all-be-all of watches, they are *objectively speaking* the exact and specific way a watch company separates itself from the rest of the pack at the absolute highest level of watchmaking. It is a category of watchmaking that only the true best of the best can compete. It gives these companies unmatched bragging rights others only wish they had. To say different, as mentioned before is ignorant and suspicious.
Suspicious, because if you take a look at who has the most to gain by perpetuating this myth, you will find watch companies that simply put, do not have the expertise or know-how to compete at this level. And if you think there are watch companies out there who can make grand complication watches, but choose not to, you, my dear reader are on some seriously good crack!
But, that's not to say that high quality watches can’t be anything but Grande Complication watches. Of course not, but that's an entirely different discussion, and whitewashing complication watches as anything but the marvels they are is the work of a true HD.
To gain some perspective, I recommend everyone take some kind of watchmaking course. One where you get to disassemble then reassemble a watch movement. Do that, and then think back to the idiots trying to convince us that complications are just a bunch of parts in a case. Think about the very few master watchmakers in our world who actually know how to handle these masterpieces, or the ingenuity it took to reliably make such watches even possible. Then think of the slap in the face it is to them and their craft when such HDs attempt to lessen the magnitude of their achievements, all because of their own penis envy.
Another angle to this myth is suggesting that using fewer parts is actually better. The idea being that using more parts to do the same thing that can be done with less parts is always inefficient, or is done disingenuously as an attempt to out-spec their competition (apparently people fall for that).
If any of that was true, then the best mechanical watch in the world is the Sistem51 by Swatch, which has only 51 parts and only 1 central screw. Pretty cool to be sure, and probably with certain advantages as well, but it's not the best mechanical watch in the world.
The reality is there is another reason why watch companies engineer their movements with the number of parts that they do. Depending on the architecture, or the approach they take, the amount of parts will dramatically change the feel of the movement, or the smoothness (among other things). Admittedly its hard to describe, but when you feel it, its pure magic.
My personal experience came when I bought my first Jaeger LeCoultre. Besides my JLC I have owned Omegas, Rolexes, IWCs, many Seikos, some Zeniths, etc. All of the watches had very similar feels to them, especially when winding them. They all had a certain amount of resistance as I turned the crown accompanied by a similar zzzz-zzzz-zzzz sound. But, when I wound my Jaeger for the first time there was no sound and almost zero resistance. I swear the clouds parted ways and I saw angels, it was so damn smooth! So smooth in fact, that for a split second I wondered if I hadn’t somehow broken the stem. This was the proverbial hot knife cutting through butter. And the specific amount of parts plays a significant part in that smoothness.
3. Don’t Prostitute Yourself To Any One Brand
This is a phenomena that happens across many brands regardless of price. People act as if they are somehow invested (literally), in a particular company when they’re not. In turn, these companies take advantage of that loyalty and use them to essentially gain free marketing and define the conversation at large. Some will ask “can you blame them?” No, I don’t blame them for taking advantage of their mindless lemmings. I blame the lemmings for prostituting themselves so eagerly and with so little to show for it. How do you think we got to a point where a watch today costs many times more than it ever has, yet the overall method of manufacturing is either the same or more efficient? Like everything else in our world, prices should have gone down, not up.
Exceptions aside, this happens because the focus is on the “bottom line”, and the quickest way to a larger bottom line is to perpetuate the illusion that a particular brand wants you to believe is fact.
Remember, despite the fact that these machines, even at their largest and least complex are still little miracles that happen every time a watchmaker brings one to life, they are not something we actually *need* and are in no way actually worth the money they cost.
The reason why we buy the watches we buy, or participate in the watch hobby is because of our appreciation of these amazing machines. The same way others appreciate art, and watch companies understand this and will continue to try and turn these machines into art. This allows them to address our hearts (illogical thinking), and not our brains (logical or critical thinking), with their marketing. That's not to say that a capable brand doesn’t also use this opportunity to separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes they do, and if they can they should, but "form *still* follows function", so to get so attached to a brand, so fixated that you ignore everything else is not in your best interest (no matter what Rolex tries to tell you!).
4. Over Respecting Rolex
Speaking of Rolex, first, let me say I love Rolex. But I love vintage Rolex, not new Rolex.
And yet, as I write this there's at least one current model that I can’t wait to buy on the pre-owned market when it drops to half the price of what it costs now. In other words, there is some truth to the idea that today’s new watches are tomorrow's vintage. But, when it comes to Rolex the watches made in the 1950s and 1960s really are the ones I love most.
What is shocking, though is how many people believe Rolex to be the best watch company in the world. They’re shocked when they realize companies like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC, etc., actually make more impressive watches. Soon after, they begin to see the magic that comes with hand-finishing or the technical prowess in certain complications that literally blows the mind. And the final trauma comes when they realize not only how much these watches cost, but how much they cost to maintain.
That’s about the time when they look back at Rolex and think “hmmm, maybe these aren’t so bad!” And they’re right. They’re right, because what Rolex makes is an attractive (although that's subjective), precise, reliable, almost bare-bones and no-fuss mechanical watch that will last a lifetime and that is (relatively speaking), quite affordable to maintain.
What’s important, however, is that we don’t go overboard and over respect Rolex. The only ones who profit from that is Rolex themselves, not us.
5. Price Isn’t Everything and Beware of Auction Houses
As I alluded to before, watches have gone up quite a bit over the years, even after factoring for inflation. This room (or mark-up), means that watches that cost more than others are not necessarily worth it. In fact, if you have been paying attention (see above), all watch brands capitalize on this in one way or another and this directly leads to higher profits for them. What it doesn’t lead to is a better or more interesting watch for us.
Part of the problem is that supposed “real watch guys/gals” who supposedly "take the time to study and learn about watches" also fall for every hook, line and sinker fed to them by auction house experts and certain media outlets. It’s called confirmation bias. In other words, you know those steel Pateks you see at auction? Or, that “Albino” Daytona Eric Clapton used to own? Watches like those seldom end up on the wrists of serious watch lovers. Instead they end up on the wrists of wealthy idiots having six (or seven) figure pissing contests. In nearly every case they are examples of human greed and stupidity.
Anyone who says different is part of the problem, not the solution and that says more about them than anything else.
Having said that, there is a flip side. The key is knowing the difference, which - as I've said many times - is that form follows function. It really is that simple. If you can make an argument for a watch, at any price and can back it with actual substance regardless of what the current trend is, you’re good, and if you can afford it and want it, buy it!
6. Consider The Source, Especially Online
One of the great things about the internet is that it really can be a great equalizer. This means a small mom and pop operation can compete with much larger operations as long as they have an excellent online presence. The negative side - getting back to watches - is that anyone can declare themselves and expert, and its near impossible to fact check these “experts”.
This is why I continue to preach critical thinking. Be aware of your own confirmation bias, stay objective, and always remember that form follows function. On your own, you will be able to tell the difference between those you can trust, and those who are simply trying to take advantage of you. I’ve seen many people make expensive decisions simply based on something they’ve read on a website, or that they heard at a conference. This is dangerous if you don’t consider what’s in it for the source. More often than not, you believing their every word will directly affect how fat their wallets get, not much more.
7. For The Love of Watches!
I read something interesting about materialism once: up to the 80’s, materialism was about things people bought in an effort to “keep up with the Jones". This was the era that Rolex really defined itself as the go-to symbol of success and excess. In the 90’s, it was about experiences. In other words, anyone can out-buy someone else, but to out-experience someone else is quite difficult. The good news was that despite the materialistic approach, in both cases the object in which the materialism was focused, was at a minimum something of quality. If you ended up with a Rolex for all the wrong reasons, at least you had a great watch. If you ended up climbing the Himalayas for all the wrong reasons, at least you climbed the Himalayas!
But, in today’s “outlet generation”, materialism is all about how cheap one can buy something. So, while people are not buying that expensive Rolex, or going on that expensive trip, their focus is still on money, and that’s the problem with materialism.
To that end, watches are not something we really need, especially not today. They can be expensive and impractical to maintain, and many people buy or admire them for materialistic reasons.
My hope is that those of us in the hobby are in it for the right reasons and love watches for the right reasons. That we participate as we do, because we understand watches are first and foremost machines, instruments, tools (not timepieces), and because of the joy these little miracles bring to our daily lives. In doing so, we transform dismissive comments like “these are just watches” into heirlooms, memories with friends and family, and we control our ego, not our ego us, thus experiencing humility.
My hope is this post helps clear up some of the mess out there, and helps get people who read this a little more grounded and their collecting on the right track.