In previous articles we’ve discussed the benefits of buying a watch that bears the “Swiss Made” label and how to define quality in a timepiece. Today we’re going to look at specific elements that make watches durable (understand here: robust and that will pass the test of time.) As we’ve seen in the previous articles, quality in a watch can be defined by the materials it is made of or how refined the finishing is, amongst other things. However, what makes a watch durable can be different from what makes a watch a quality timepiece. Therefore in this article we will look at a few engineering and technical aspects of watchmaking that make a timepiece robust and durable.
What good is there to have the most handsome watch dial if you can’t see it because the crystal is scratched or cracked? There’s a lot of debate around what type of crystal is best and it seems that in the past few years, most people have come to agree that sapphire is the best type of crystal to have on any watch. That’s because sapphire has superior resistance to scratches (it is, however—and contrary to popular belief—, possible to scratch sapphire.) Sapphire crystals are expensive to make, however, especially if it has some kind of shape, like a dome.
Some brands that prefer to use plexiglass or mineral crystals—the latter being the most prone to scratches—because they are better against shocks. Having plexiglass crystals made more sense many decades ago when watches were used on battlefields and before that sapphire was used more widely. Nowadays brands use plexiglas when they reissue vintage models from their old catalogs or when a brand goes for the hard core vintage look.
In 2022, it seems to make more sense to opt for sapphire since we live in safer times and that scratches truly are all of what we need to worry about. These stupid scratches that could appear from opening a door to playing catch with your dog. Sapphire crystals are a must for many people which is why we see more and more brands putting sapphire crystals on their watches.
Hands are now made of stainless steel and precious metals but in the past they were made of various alloys that didn’t age well. Brands came up with different solutions to make their hands more resistant to specific dangers: moisture and exposure to the sun. Hands can indeed oxidize if some kind of moisture gets inside the crystal, and they can patina over time by being exposed to the sun. To keep things simple, there are two major ways to make hands more durable that many independent brands have now adopted.
The first one is to coat the hands with a rhodium alloy that is a sort of liquid that covers the hands to protect them against rust and tarnish. Rhodium-plated hands, as found on all MONTA models, will look shiny and keep an even finish for many decades to come. If I’m correct, only polished hands can be rhodium-plated. The other way to protect the hands is by “blueing” them either by heating them up to a high temperature or by treating them chemically. This also protects the hand from tarnishing and oxidizing over time. (Heated-blue hands are especially popular on pilot watches.)
Tolerances can be understood as how secure the different parts of a watch are attached to one another. For example, does your diver’s rotating bezel provide some resistance when turning it or does it feel flimsy? Do the end-links of the bracelet fit snug or do they wobble? Having tight tolerances means the watch will stay in one piece for longer. It also makes a watch more comfortable to wear (you know, not having jiggly links that pull arm hair) and more enjoyable to handle (as in handling a fine piece of artwork.)
Maybe I’m oversimplifying things here but we can summarize having tight tolerances as being a sign of a well-built watch. In my experience, having tight tolerances goes hand-in-hand with having fine printing on the dial and clean applications of lume, a comfortable bracelet and a case with rounded-off edges. In a sense, tight tolerances are a sign that the brand puts great emphasis on building a solid product and it generally shows on the entire watch.
A trend that has mostly picked up amongst independent brands is the application of hardening coatings on watches’ cases and bracelets. These coatings act similarly to applying rhodium on the hands as they protect the stainless steel against corrosion and scratches. These coatings tend to darken steel which gives watches an extra look of toolishness. Several brands call these coatings different names but for the most part they increase steel’s resistance to scratches eight fold. This is pretty neat given the fact that brands typically don’t charge more for this type of treatment.
However, there are other types of coating that are more popular amongst major brands. PVD (physical vapor deposition) or DLC (diamond like carbon) coatings completely change the appearance of the watch. In both case, these surface treatments tend to give the alloy a grainy matte texture and sometimes black. They are both used to protect the watch case and bracelet against shock, scratches, and corrosion. Popular brands like Oris and Seiko use these types of coatings on their watches.
Last but not least: the movement. A watch cannot be considered as being durable if it comes with a poorly built, unreliable caliber. And there are two ways to look at what makes a movement durable. First, it's how well it is built—how well-machined the parts are, the quality of the alloys used, whether it has a silicon hairspring that protects it against magnetism, and whether or not it comes with adequate shock protection. Second, it is the simplicity of its design and how easy the movement is to service. Wide-spread calibers like ETA and Sellita are easy to service anywhere in the world (another advantage of getting a MONTA timepiece) and for a reasonable amount of cash.
Looking at the list above, we can see why MONTA watches are so popular. Not only do they come with original designs and neat specifications, but they also come with key features that make them durable timepieces: sapphire crystal, rhodium-plated hands, ceramic bezels (whenever applicable,) tight tolerances, and solid movements. So it’s one thing to have a quality watch—one that has refined finish, tight tolerances, beautiful dials—but it’s something else to have a durable timepiece. Again, MONTA seems to provide the perfect example for bridging the gap between these two points.Featured image: www.usa.watchpro.com