I need a new watch

I’m a closet watch geek. Sort of like a closet Trekkie, but without the tendency for pointy ears. I’ve been one for years. I’ve had countless watches, including radio watches, pocket watches (I’ve got seven), dress watches (mostly cheap crap, admittedly), a couple of designer watches, Russian watch (sadly broken), and numerous cheapies (which have been both good and bad to me).

Currently, I have two watches (not counting the pocket watches) that I could wear. One is a six-odd year old Kenneth Cole. I bought it mostly because I needed a good watch (for a change) and I liked the colour. Well, the colour started rubbing off and when the battery gave out, moisture got into the interior and pfbbbbbt!, the whole thing went out of commission. I’ll get it fixed eventually, I suppose. Especially since it cost me over $100.

For the record, this is big money for my watch habit. Anything I wear is usually cheap. Such as my other (and only working) watch, a Walmart special Dickies “brand” quartz. I bought it just before going to Europe because I needed something that would actually tell time (my CDMA cellphone — my most reliable timepiece — won’t work in Europe).

My problem is that I’ve realized that there are much better watches out there, and darn it, I need to seriously think about buying a proper watch, not some dumpy one.

I know this mostly because of my job. Right now, I’m the Technology Director on the Rolex account. Yes, that Rolex. Through the last few months, I’ve been poking around in the competition websites to see what they’ve done. Not for the watches but for the technology of the websites. Problem: You can’t really help but notice the watches. Especially if you’re a watch geek.

Now I don’t jump at just any watch. That’s too easy. I like something nice, even unique. And I don’t really go for the flashy, either — no bling, please. I like simple, understated. That’s just the style, though. Over the last few months, I’ve also come to appreciate craftsmanship, technology, assembly, and durability. Something you won’t get from Walmart.

Oh, and I must be analog. No digital. I hate digital. I quote Douglas Adams:

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea…
–Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been looking a long time. To give you an idea of what I’ve been looking at, allow me to take you on a short tour of some of my favourites in my travels. I present these to you in no particular order.

First off is, believe it or not, Citizen. Yes, the Citizen of Japanese cheap-end quartz watch fame. Funny thing about the Japanese watch market: they dump all the cheap crap on us and save the best stuff for themselves. (Can’t say I blame ’em, though.) Just because Seiko invented the quartz movement in the late 1960s and nearly wiped out the Swiss watch market doesn’t mean that they haven’t learned a few things from the Swiss.

Enter the Campanola Perpetual Calendar. If you had shown this to me on the street, I’d have thought it something like a fake Rolex. How could Citizen make something this neat? And yes, it’s also crazy expensive, running $2,500. (Incidentally, all prices I mention will be in $CDN — I am Canadian, after all.)

Mind you, I have my doubts that I could even get this watch in Canada if I wanted it. Citizen and Seiko alike don’t export their higher-end models readily.

Also from Citizen is the Eco-Drive series, a pretty neat idea. Although quartz, it takes its power from a solar cell embedded in the watch face. So long as you wear the watch outdoors, it stores electricity and keeps running. Of these, I happen to like the Nighthawk titanium — a massively oversized (47mm face) beast that includes, of all things, a slide rule for calculating fuel usage. Obviously, it was designed for pilots. Cost? Around $700.

Okay, let’s slide over to Citizen’s cousin, Seiko. Although the inventor of the quartz movement, Seiko’s continued to develop the idea into new and better versions. Take the Seiko Kinetic Perpetual, for example. This funky little thing is part mechanical, part electronic. It has a little battery charged by the kinetic movement of your arm. If you stop moving for a day, so does the watch. Or rather the hands — the watch itself keeps ticking and knows exactly what time and date it is. Start moving it and it automatically adjusts the face. That’s slick. List is about $1,000, but I’ve seen discounts for almost half that.

Seiko also continued the pure mechanical development with their Grand Seiko. This is the creme de la creme of Seiko, and it goes for the price of a comparable Swiss watch. From what I’ve read, it’s a piece of art, not only on the outside but also the inside. The catch, aside from price, is the ticket to Japan you’ll need to buy one.

Then Sean, our product specialist, turns me to the Seiko Spring Drive. Two comments. First — Seiko, you guys really need to get your act together and merge all your watch lines into a single website. I keep tripping over them like toys scattered about the floor. Second, there really needs to be a dealer in town who sells these, ‘cuz I really want to see one. I think no matter what happens, I’ll probably own a Seiko in a few years.

Let’s scoot out of the Japanese market to the “typical” high-end manufacturers. First to Tag Heuer, the Nike of the luxury watch market. These guys really like to focus on watches meant more for action than for show. So naturally, it would be one that I’d like to look at.

And one I really like to look at is the Tag Heuer Monaco Automatic Chronograph — especially the Steve McQueen edition (about $2,300). It’s sporty, elegant, and the blue face is trés nice. But I don’t hold the same for their entire line. Some are very nice (the Carerra, for example). But the Formula 1 looks like something from Timex with all of that kvetchy colour and the blocky bezel.

And I have to say, there’s something oddly cheap about a rubber wristband on a high-end watch. I see where Tag Heuer is coming from, but I don’t think I could ever do it.

Oh, and luxury brands that make any form of a digital watch, no matter how “revolutionary” shouldn’t be considered luxury. But that’s just me. Ew.

Years ago, James Bond wore Rolex. Now he wears Omega. Omega is, in my mind, the nearest competitor to Rolex in terms of product lines, associations (Omega is the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games; Rolex timekeeps for a host of events like Wimbledon), and style.

So naturally, I’m drawn to some of the Omega line. I like the Seamaster line, particularly the 300M Chronometer (even though I don’t need a diving watch). The Speedmaster Professional also turns my head (except that it’s a manual wind, which I don’t like). The range is $2,600 to $2,800.

An interesting thing I came across during my research. Apparently Movado is considered “luxury”. I mean, who buys these, really?

One of the really avante garde watches out there is Bell & Ross. Take the clock out of an airplane instrument panel, put a band on it, and sell it as a watch. That’s their BR 01 series. Funky. But I don’t think I could make that one work. Besides, I’m sure $2,900 could be put to other uses.

While we’re on the pilot vein, I should mention that I like many of the IWC watches, which have a wonderful, elegant style without getting gaudy (like Gucci‘s). In particular is the Portuguese. Until I saw the sticker price. My car doesn’t cost that much.

Franck Muller makes some of the most amazing-looking watches I’ve seen. They’re gorgeous. And the man (yes, Virginia, there really is a Franck Muller) is a genius. The complications he comes up with are astounding. He even made a three-axis tourbillon — I’d love to see that in action! These suckers start at about $5,200 and go up quickly.

Cartier. Nice. And that’s about it. But more about looks than function.

Vacheron Constantin makes a nice watch, too (even some sub-$1,000 models). But maybe it’s just me, but for a bit of texturing on the bands and faceplate, it seems like a bit much for the watches the offer. Chances are I’m missing something here.

Hamilton is known to me for pocket watches, which they still make. (Yes, it’s a train thing.) I have to admit that I quite like several of the watches in their line, having been long ago attracted to the Ventura line (starting at about $630) — you might remember those as the iconic watches from “Men In Black”. But that’s about as far as it goes, and I doubt I’d go any further.

Alright, very fine Geoff, you’ve mentioned about half the watches in existence. So what do you want?

It’s going to sound like I’m trying to say the right thing (also known as “sucking up”), but I have to say that I’m leaning very hard towards Rolex.

Now before you leap all over me, there’s a reason why. In fact, several. I know how they’re made now. I know the level of tolerances that are allowed (and let me tell you, if it’s not perfect, it’s not shipped). Unlike almost every watch out there, Rolexes are (in most of their lines) waterproof, not just water resistant. (The Sea-Dweller, for example, is waterproof to over 1,200 metres.)

Personally, my favourite testimonial for a Rolex comes from a very unlikely source. Hunt through Google, looking for “che guevara Rolex”, and you’ll find a lot of entries about how Cuba — an emerging Communist nation — allowed one of its premiere citizens to bear a luxury capitalist item. But that’s not why he owned it.

Che knew why he wore a Rolex. After all, a man whose whereabouts were often unknown for months at a time, even to close friends like Fidel Castro, needed a wristwatch that was sturdy, self-winding, water-resistant, and easily legible. In short, a watch that could take whatever the jungle dished out and not miss a beat.
— WatchTime, December 2003, “Old School, New Rules”

I’m no communist revolutionary, but I want a Rolex.

I’m torn between a couple of models: the Oyster Perpetual DateJust, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer II, and the Oyster Perpetual Submariner (the original James Bond watch). I’m sure I can figure that out though.

The hard part will be finding a way to pony up the $4,400 to $6,400 needed. That’s gonna be a tough sell to say the least.

I’d better start saving my allowance.

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