Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Determine the Quality of a Watch

Girard - Perregaux Iconic 3 Gold Bridges
Everyday new watch companies crop up, some baring unknown names on the dial and some reviving dormant watchmaking names dipping quite generously into past historic watchmaking feats adopting its name sake's centuries old history.

However, whatever the name of the company - and there are some where the current company, name and history are an unbroken chain of exemplar watchmaking like Girard- Perregaux, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Phillip,  Vacheron Constantin e.t.c., the quality of the current production must speak for itself.

Here are some tips to determine the quality of a timepiece:

The movement:

The movement is the essence of the watch, without it the watch is merely an empty form without function.  Precision, dependability and longevity require a good movement.

An ETA movement like the Valjoux 7750 or ETA 2824 has been tried and tested countless times, and purchasing a watch with the Swatch Group movement ensures excellent quality, precision and longevity.  Swatch group is slowing ETA supplies down for companies it does not own; however, the generic Sellita SW200 is just as good as the ETA 2824.

Boucheron Bird & Girard Perregaux's 3 Bridges
In house movements increase the price of the watch, but the quality is excellent.  In house movements are movements manufactured by the watch company itself.  This means that from conception  to finished product, the watch is made within the framework of that company.    High end watch manufacturers - true watch manufacturers - like FP Journe , Girard-Perregaux, Richard Mille, MB & F, Chopard ( L.U.C movements),  focus on metallurgy, innovation, resilience and precision. Some high end watch companies collaborate joining both companies crowning expertise.  For example Boucheron and Girard- Perregaux (both companies of the Sowind group) joined to create gem encrusted birds surrounding Girard-Perregaux iconic three gold bridge movement.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Chronometer
After a movement is completed, it is tested.  Watch manufacturers have their own testing regiment, which consist of multiple phases of quality control. High end watch companies test each watch component during the construction phase, as well as the final product.
 Swiss Made watch movements must adhere to stringent quality control.
 Some watch companies opt to have an outside source test the movement like the COSC ( Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) or, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, which subjects the watch movement to rigorous lengthy testing (15 days and nights)  to determine the quality and precision. Once a movement has passed these tests, the watch is a Certified Chronometer.  In Rolex it is known as a Superlative Chronometer.  

Another testing institute is The Geneva Seal which has recently tightened its watch requirements to almost impossibly strict standards.   Roger Dubuis leaped to the challenge and unveiled the first watch to meet these new stringent requirements. 

I am not so familiar with Japanese and Chinese movements, both of which have a long history in fine watchmaking.  In fact the Chinese watchmaker Kiu Tai Yu  craftsmanship techniques are so well respected that his book "Time in Pocket"was adopted by a Swiss watchmaking school as a standard reference work. (read more about Kiu Tai Yu). 
Japanese brand Seiko is innovative and of excellent quality.  A word of caution though, when purchasing a watch with a Japanese movement from an unknown brand - do your research and determine the quality.

The Crystal: 

The crystal is one of the easiest ways of determining if you are buying a really cheap watch with so so quality or more mid to higher range.  If you are offered an expensive watch with  mineral crystal - raise an eyebrow or two.  Mineral crystal is used mostly in lower range watches.  A watch in the mid to high range should have a sapphire crystal, which is almost as hard as diamond and scratch resistant. Read more about Scratch Resistance.

Material: 

RM 050 with Carbon Nanotube
Artya with Dinosaur Dung

Gold, either white, yellow and rose as well as platinum signify a watch of higher value.  Steel is slightly more shady - but without a doubt for a high quality steel watch, the steel must be 36L surgical grade - used in medical equipment.  As a result of its durability, light weight, shock and corrosion resistant, titanium has become a favorite among watch brands like Richard Mille; however, there are many grades of titanium. Grade 5 is the most commonly used in watches, as it is much stronger than commercially pure titanium, is heat treatable and easy to weld. Carbon Fiber and Ceramic are both hot materials at the moment and are used in low to high range watches.
High tech material advances are in the works like Richard Mille's carbon nanotubes.  Yvan Arpa at  Artya is known for experimenting with different materials like concrete or dinosaur dung.- talk about variety.

In his Romain Jerome days, he incorporated parts of the titanic, moon dust and fiber from an astronaut suit as part of the companies DNA collection.
Watches smothered in gems like those mouth watering House of Graff and Piaget creations are quality personified, not because they are smothered in gems, but because they are the products of  highly regarded companies.

Gold-plated watches are a bit tricky since the material underneath may contain allergens such as nickel. Read more about Nickel Allergy


Case: 

Rolex Sky Dweller
The function of a case, apart from design and signature appeal, is its ability to protect the movement.  A movement must be protected from moisture, dust, shocks and magnetic field.
Depending on the function of the watch, the stated water resistance of a watch must live up to its requirements; however the components ,like the gaskets (rubber O rings), can deteriorate over time especially if exposed to abrasive minerals and chemicals such as salt and chlorine.  Thus although the water resistance of a watch claims to be suitable for 1000 meters, over time this water resistance is reduced. Upon purchase, a high quality watch will live up to its claim of water resistancy.  Although this sounds pretty obvious, there are countless stories of people who have submerged their timepiece, claiming to have a water resistancy of 200 feet, into water and completely flooded the movement and ruined the dial.  When one purchases a second hand watch, one must have the water resistancy checked by a certified watch maker to determine the water resisatncy.
Some watches are advertised as being high in shock absorbency able to withstand a thwack of arm with racket against ball. The cases of these watches are designed to secure the movement and all the components.  Obviously all watches should be able to withstand  movement of the wrist , and not fall into a heap of jangling disjointed components. I have had watches where the hands have simply fallen off skittering across the dial in useless motion.  In a good quality timepiece this should never happen!
Watches must have some form of anti-magnetism - which has quite an official place in the watchmaking world and not a new concept (see below)

  See excerpt from Wikipidea (to technical for me)  "The international standard ISO 764 Horology—Magnetic resistant watches defines the resistance of watches to magnetic fields. According to ISO 764 or its equivalent DIN 8309 (Deutsche Industrie Norm - German Industry Norm) a watch must resist exposition to a direct current magnetic field of 4 800 A/m. The watch must keep its accuracy to ± 30 seconds/day as measured before the test in order to be acknowledged as a magnetic resistant watch. Annex A of ISO 764 deals with watches designated as magnetic resistant with an additional indication of intensity of a magnetic field exceeding 4 800 A/m.




Strap and Clasp:

Aside for fashion statement, the strap and clasp have an important function.  As the proverb goes "A chain is only as good as its weakest link".
Maurice Lacroix Buckle Clasp Combo
Leather straps are most often affixed with a buckle - which has served mankind for centuries.  Metal bracelets are slightly more tricky and rely on a clasp for closure.
With a faulty clasp one may no longer need to worry about the quality of ones watch, since the watch may no longer in ones possession, but rather laying  on the seat of a bus seat two towns away.
Thus a watch should have some type of safety clasp. Many watch manufacturers utilize a double fold deployment clasp, so the clasp locks in to places and even if it should open, the watch is still on the wrist.
De Grisogono Gulachet Watch Strap
However with a wrist watch, comfort is everything, thus when one tries on the watch, one must make sure the edges of the clasp do not dig in to ones skin.
The variation of clasps are abundant, but the most important issue is security. 
Since the band is the part of the watch most in contact with your skin, before you purchase your watch make sure you are not allergic to the type of material.  For highly sensitive skin, make sure the watch you purchase has the ability to switch strap.  Jaermann & Stübi (golf watches) line the inside of their leather straps with a hypoallergenic material which absorbs sweat.
High quality watches use mostly alligator leather, where as calf leather is used in more mid range watches. Of course I have seen watches using toad skin (Artya), mink fur (Andre Checa) and Gulachet (de Grisigono) as bands.

There are so many types of rubber straps - too numerous to count - but since the strap is against ones skin  most of the day one must determine the quality.

Reputation:


AVOID FAKES AND REPLICAS


There is absolutely no determination of quality when one purchases a fake or replica timepiece.  Since their is no regulation of standards, the material is inferior, the movement is up for grabs and their is no certainty of water resistance, scratch resistance and anti-magnetic properties.


Know Your Source:  
Purchase your watch from a official watch dealer or from the watch manufacturer itself, so that if the watch does not live up to its standards, you can always return it or have it repaired. Make sure you have the Certificate of Authenticity.

A watch is an important purchase managing your time day after day.

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