: Various Myths in the Watch World
Text Sean Li

With the inaugural watch fair of 2019 commencing this week in Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, perhaps it is time for a quick refresher on some of the most prevalent myths within the industry.

The tourbillon improves accuracy in a wristwatch.

The tourbillon is almost always put forward as a device that makes a mechanical watch more accurate; that it only partially true, as it depends entirely on the position of the watch. If it’s vertical, i.e. held like a pocket watch, a tourbillon can have a positive impact on accuracy, but wristwatches are seldom held like that, and the position changes all the time when it’s worn. So a tourbillon does little in a real-world environment to improve accuracy. However, they are beautiful mechanisms in themselves, fascinating to observe, and a tribute to the skill of a watchmaker.

Buying a specific brand because their watches “don’t lose value”.

Unfortunately, the value aspect is unpredictable, and there are no guarantees relative to value retention, for any brand. Some maisons fare better than others, of course, and some collections in particular. However, you simply cannot expect that the brand name alone means that their watches systematically go up in value.

A limited edition is more desirable.

Limited editions should, by definition, be rare, and that scarcity should, in turn, drive desirability. However, the term has been used very loosely by the watch industry, and there are many, many shades of grey, whereby a limited edition, or even a so-called unique edition, can be stretched ad nauseam by changing some aesthetic detail, such as the colour of the dial. We would submit that you should be much more selective about whether a particular watch is truly limited or not; some of the hottest commodities on the market actually aren’t put forward as such.

This or that watch is “iconic”.

You’re bound to see that word dozens of times over the next few weeks, as the brands unveil their latest and greatest timepieces. True icons though are not made overnight, and quite a number of them did not gain traction until many years after their introduction. Remember that when it was new, the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona was far, far from being a commercial success, but has since become a flagship for the brand, and for vintage watches in general. We would submit that true icons are the ones that you can recognize without even looking at the name on the dial, and those are very few and far between.

An “in-house” movement is better.

This one is certainly a very slippery slope; in recent years, the term “in-house” has developed a cachet of quality, perhaps exclusivity. The fact is, the watch industry operated very, very well without in-house movements for decades, if not centuries. On the contrary, the movements that were sourced from specialised manufactures were, arguably, more thoroughly tested, especially those that were in continuous development for a significant amount of time. It meant that little technical glitches would have been resolved, and that the all-important servicing was significantly easier, as the parts, and the knowledge about that specific movement, was shared, leading to a high degree of reliability. Of course, it’s amazing when a brand can develop and build its very own calibres, and there’s an undeniable appeal about having something that’s almost bespoke. It has also led to the development of complications and functionalities that, for lack of a better word, “generic” movements are not equipped with. However, it has meant that the term is used rather liberally and turned into an element of desirability that does not necessarily translate into a better functioning timepiece.

Switzerland is the only place that makes great watches.

There is no doubt that Switzerland is the hub of modern watchmaking, at every level, and the vast majority of haute horlogerie is centred there. However, history shows that watchmaking evolved earlier in many different places, such as England and the United States, the first driven by its nautical and military past, the second by the country’s rapid evolution and the need for accurate timekeeping for its railways. You can also look to Germany, especially around Glashütte, where some stellar brands have been working for years, and even further afield, to Japan, which has developed its own philosophy towards watchmaking, perhaps more functional, but nonetheless impressive.

The impact of having multiple brands within the same luxury group.

A recurring theme amongst (perhaps) inebriated watch collectors in recent months has been how the luxury groups have somehow negatively impacted the watch industry as a whole, and that the independent brands are the true highlights, particularly in haute horlogerie. There is no doubt that the industry’s overall structure is very different, compared with just twenty or thirty years ago, and it has impacted much of what goes on behind the scenes, from technological developments, to retail, marketing, and other aspects that would be the subject of a business school case study. We would argue though that this recent banter often omits the truly positive aspects of what the groups have done, in particularly towards safeguarding the very heritage of watchmaking that the collectors clamour for. Some brands would no longer exist, if it had not been for the vision and financial support that the luxury groups were able to bring. Were it not for the marketing and communication power that the groups provided, the watch industry may not have the collective consciousness and awareness that far outweighs what you might expect from the overall size of the industry.

Column wheel chronographs are better.

Yet another topic that has generated numerous late-night discussions amongst the cognoscenti, surrounding the precision and “feel” of a column wheel chronograph vs a cam wheel construction. The column wheel is supposed to be more precise, some pointing to the jump that a cam wheel chronograph can exhibit when it’s activated. The feel of that activation is also highly subjective, and often as much the result of the skill of the watchmaker when assembling and adjusting the movement. Similar to the use of “in-house” as a marketing term, column wheels chronograph calibres have proliferated in recent years, and are not necessarily the letter of nobility that they once were.

Minute repeaters should be in gold or platinum.

The only reason minute repeaters have traditionally been made in precious metals is because the industry wanted to combine a noble material with the high complication. The fact is, most minute repeaters would sound considerably better if they were cased in steel or titanium, for the simple fact that the metals are less malleable and don’t absorb the sound waves in the way that gold and platinum do. Alternative methods have been developed so that the case can be made in a precious metal, with the gongs attached primarily to the watch crystal, or with resonating chambers built within the case, but these are very few and far between.

The world of print media is dying, long live the world of online media.

With the rise of the blog and social media, Instagram in particular, and a large proportion of the most vocal enthusiast having not lived through the days of a “modem melter” forum post, and impatiently waiting for your magazine subscription to arrive, perhaps it’s a good time to revert to some of the best components of this simpler time. In other industries, well-honed print publications have allowed for information to be digested and analysed so a lasting impression can be formed, rather than just another knee-jerk reaction being thrown in 140 characters or less. We have our own take on this and are excited to share more in the coming months.

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