Modern wristwatches are the descendants of numerous collaborations between pocket watch makers and the military. In a nutshell: the first field watches were commissioned by the military of several governments during World War II; and professional dive watches by the French Navy. Then Rolex and Omega manufactured watches for engineers and astronauts. Then professional long-haul pilots in the GMT. All types of tool watches, therefore, were made to meet specific and strict requirements of professionals from various fields. What came out of it over the past 80 years are robust and reliable timepieces.
Unequivocally, all of the aforementioned types of watches were quality timepieces. However nowadays we can define quality in different ways—four to be exact—and sometimes definitions merge into one. In this article, I wanted to touch upon what defines quality for different people and what may be commonly-agreed upon criteria.
For many, the quality of the watch comes from a well-executed design and superior build quality (that includes high polish, fine brushing, and tight tolerances.) In order words, quality is felt to the touch while handling the watch. There are certain elements of the construction—besides the ones listed above—that, if not executed well, can be a deal-breaker for many. For example, hands where the lume application is imperfect or when tiny dust particles snuck underneath the crystal. A mis-aligned bezel (a trademark of Seiko) can also scream poor quality for many.
Well-polished bracelet links (no sharp edges) is another sign of quality manufacturing. Having sharp edges on a bracelet can be uncomfortable to the touch. So is a bezel that is hard to grasp or turn, a crown that doesn’t thread easily, or hands that don’t align with one another. These are all signs of poor quality or of high quality if they are all perfectly executed. Some watches may have cheap quartz movements inside but be seen as quality watches because the transitions between polished and brushed surfaces are seamless.
For others, the quality of a watch is defined by the technology it is made of. Perhaps the best part of a watch that defines quality is the movement. A movement that is accurate, has a smooth winding, no rotor noise, and a perfect alignment of the hands is seen of high quality because, in order to function this way, it was made of higher quality materials, parts, and were assembled by hand by expert watchmakers. Some people define quality in the movement alone, and a great many get disappointed when a fine-looking watch is equipped with a utilitarian movement.
Other elements that define technological quality are the use of certain materials on the bezel and dial. Dials made of enamel—although rare nowadays—come with higher price tags. They are hard to make (there is a high failure rate) and are therefore less common. Now any watch that costs more than $100 is expected to come with a sapphire crystal which is scratch resistant. People can easily look down upon mineral or plexiglass crystals. Ceramic bezels are also a sign of quality as they are harder to make than stainless steel bezels and have a certain sheen to them under certain lighting conditions.
Furthermore, the type of movement a watch is equipped with often defines quality, as we already talked about above. Maybe this has more to do with snobbism than anything else but there is a large group of watch collectors who categorically look down on quartz movements. Even those who are more accurate and more reliable than the best mechanical ones. It’s just the idea of having a battery inside a watch that drives people crazy, or the fact that the seconds hand from a quartz movement ticks like a cheap fashion watch.
So, conversely, quality in a watch can solely be linked to what type of movement is inside the watch. A mechanical one is preferred by many, and a Swiss Made one is even better. Nowadays, however, Japan makes many great movements that compete with the best Swiss ones. Then debates about what makes a movement of higher quality than another will burn throughout the watch community *ad infinitum*. Does it have a silicon hairspring? Are the screws blued? We can easily get stuck into the little details that make up a proper movement.
Country of Origin
This last section is perhaps the most subjective one of all four. When talking about where a watch is made, we are also talking about what stereotype we have about certain countries. For example and for a long time China has been looked down upon as making cheap knock-offs of Swiss watches. It is where sophisticated $800 replicas of the Rolex Submariner are made. However, China is also a country where high quality manufacturing exists. Many higher-end independent brands get their cases, hands, and dials made in China. So now we can consider that some watches coming from China are of quality.
However, looking globally at this question it would seem that many of us agree that any watch that comes from Switzerland is of higher quality than those that don’t. The “Swiss Made” label still carries a lot of weight today in this vast market of independent brands. A Swiss made movement is definitely of quality, regardless of the manufacture it comes from. And although the Swiss Made definition only requires that 60% of the value of a watch comes from Switzerland, it generally is seen by the watch community as a guarantee of quality.
If we put all of the above elements together, it would be easy to think that quality comes with a higher price tag. In many cases, it is true. Especially Swiss brands. However, there are quality watches that can be had for $500 as they have fine polished and brushed surfaces, tight tolerances, and clean hands. One can also have a quality watch for $1,000 as it will have a Swiss Made movement in addition to the above. Lastly, one can have a superior quality watch for between $1,500 and $2,000 because it comes with a proprietary tool-less micro-adjustment clasp.
Yes, I’m thinking of some particular brands here including Monta. Any watch from the Monta catalog is Swiss made, comes with a high-grade Swiss movement, has elegant polished and brushed surfaces, as well as tight tolerances and overall elegant and refined designs. Monta, therefore, summarizes within its own catalog what defines quality watchmaking on several accounts.
Featured image: www.hodinkee.com