Let’s face it, buying a nice mechanical watch requires a significant amount of cash. Here are five key elements to consider when deciding if the price makes sense and the watch is worth it.
The Movement: The movement is the engine that drives the watch, enabling it to keep time. Technology is such that most movements will do the job pretty well, whether the watch costs less than a thousand or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just because something is mass- produced doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad either. It’s the cost and quality of the materials and the design that make the difference. A Chrysler will get you cross-country but not in the same manner that a Maserati will.
Level of Difficulty/Complications: The simplest watch to produce is a time-only, which shows the hours, minutes and usually the seconds. Watches that explore new forms or materials obviously require a large outlay of capital for R&D and are expensive. Additionally, the more functions (aka complications) added on to the watch, the higher the price, particularly when you’re talking about the number of parts and the skill level required to produce and assemble perpetual calendars, split-seconds chronographs, tourbillons and minute repeaters.
Lange & Sohne Little Saxonia
Case Materials: What the case is made out of is a big factor. Once you move into a precious metal like gold, you are looking at adding on at least 10K to the retail cost, more for platinum.
Finish and Decoration: There is a certain amount of finishing that needs to go into a watch before it can be fitted into a case and set to run. Rough edges on a movement will affect performance; however, machines can take care of the minimal requirements, smoothing the pivots and wheels enough to function properly. However, what I love about watches is that they can be as much art as mechanics. While flourishes such as Geneva Stripes and Perlage can be achieved via machine, there is a difference—in look and cost—when it’s applied by hand. It takes a skilled and patient artisan several hours to bevel a sharp interior angle, engrave a cock or bridge, and bring steel to a shimmering black polish—not to mention enameling or painting of dials. A good comparison is designer clothing. Hand stitching, beading and embroidery are all time-consuming processes that take a high level of skill when done to the top standards, these details elevating the product and the price.
Brand Mystique: Here’s the wild card. When you purchase from well-known and established brands, such as Rolex, Cartier or Patek Philippe, part of what you pay for is the label. The label contains equity in the form of a promise of quality and a certain definable style. A strong brand identity generates excitement and desirability for a product as well as the promise of entry into an exclusive lifestyle. Again, clothing provides a comparable example. Can you get something that looks similar and fits approximately the same way for considerably less? Of course you can, but close examination reveals the flaws and shortcuts. On the flip side, be careful the brand isn’t just trading on its name and that the cost of the watch is in line with what you’re getting. Sometimes, though, the allure of brand mystique trumps all other considerations.