Watch Snob on Quartz vs. Mechanical and Your Budget vs. Quality

Watch Snob on Quartz vs. Mechanical and Your Budget vs. Quality

Watch Snob: What Watch to Buy and Why

Picking the Right Watch

Good day to you, I am corresponding with you from Europe. Recently I have had the opportunity to read your article “The true value of Bell & Ross”. I have taken a quote from this article as follows:

“A watch is about the entire package, not just its appearance. Any large watch company not making its own movement is not making a watch at all; they’re just playing dress-up.”

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I am interested in acquiring a new timepiece. I completely agree with your above statement. My query is which brand does one purchase? If I were to take your above statement as a starting point, watch brands under the big three umbrellas of the Richmond Group, Swatch Group, and LVMH Group would not be the correct choice, since economies of scale dictate that parts bin from watch brand will undoubtedly find their way into another watch brand under the same group. Although it is extremely difficult for me to fathom the thought that parts of a TISSOT will find their way into a Breguet. Nevertheless I believe you understand the point I am trying to make. When it comes to the world of Rolex and AD’s pricing policies (folks like myself will not be able to purchase Rolex at retail prices), one becomes rather disenchanted with the brand.

My question to you is which brand would you recommend that makes their watches in their entirety (case, crown, movement etc.) in-house who are not owned by bankers i.e. Breitling, or any of the brands under the big three mentioned above. Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Rolex, and Tudor are the only independently owned watch brands that make their products in their entirety in-house that I know of, or am I mistaken?

Many many thanks for any advice you can forward to me and do accept my apologies for taking your very valuable time.

First of all let me thank you for corresponding. Secondly, and I must move quickly I feel to clarify the notion that any watch company that does not make its own movements is playing dress up. That is a remark that was made under particular circumstances and, I fear, for specific rhetorical reasons and I would be quite sad to think that anyone would take it as true under all circumstances and for all movements. The reality in Switzerland has been — and this has been true for centuries — that most brands did not in fact make their own movements and some of the most interesting and beautiful watches from some of the most important brands, and I include Patek, Vacheron, and Audemars Piguet, have used movements from other companies. Whether or not a movement is in-house is one of the least important factors in evaluating a watch; the intrinsic quality of the movement, and what the company using it has done with it, is much more important.

This is not to say that “in-house” has no value. It is pleasant to consider that even a humble Seiko 5 has a Seiko movement and it is a similar pleasure categorically to thinking that a Lange 1 has a Lange movement. But the quality of the movement, and what has been done with the basic mechanism in terms of finish and adjustment, is so much more important than the abstraction of in-house as to make the consideration of supplied movements vs in-house, taken alone, fade into obscurity.

I hope this helps.

Renaud & Papi

Hello. I am quite intrigued with the atelier Renaud & Papi (or APRP). They make really interesting stuff and many notable independent watchmakers have had their foundational training at APRP. I know they make movements or watches for Richard Mille and Chanel among other brands. Are there any relatively more affordable watches that have come through their atelier or where the movement was designed by them?

Oh, my goodness, while I understand the question there is no such thing as an “affordable” (at least in the sense you mean it) APRP watch, or movement for that matter. They are an unusual company; they exist at the very high end of Swiss watchmaking and if you look at their most famous alumni you will quickly and easily see that these are not people concerned with economy, for the most part (I think of Stephen Forsey and Robert Greubel, for instance, or Carole Forestier, who did amazing things for Cartier and is now, I hope, poised to do amazing things elsewhere).

The closest thing I can think of that would be analogous to an “affordable” APRP are some of the variations on Vaucher movements, who have supplied Richard Mille, as a matter of fact, and also supplied movements to Hermes among others. APRP is exclusively devoted to everything from the high end to the very high end and they seem likely to continue to occupy that position for the foreseeable future.

Automatic Movement 101

There is so much ballyhoo made about automatic movements, comparing them to priceless works of art that must be collected and treasured. What about quartz calibers? Have there ever been comparison tests of different brands and capabilities? Do they fit better in certain watch marques and styles? I’m a major quartz fan since every automatic I ever had ran erratically despite being (allegedly) properly calibrated. Thank you for your interest and any pertinent information you may provide.

This is a relatively short question with potentially an extremely long answer but I will try to remind myself that brevity, as the saying goes, is the soul of wit, and keep my reply to a manageable length.

First of all in terms of self-winding movements, this is merely a type of technology for keeping the mainspring of a watch wound up, and very few automatic movements rise to the level of anything resembling art. For the most part they are rather utilitarian machines, but like watch movements as a whole they can found at every level of artistry and quality, from inexpensive mass-produced movements from Sellita and ETA, all the way up to real haute horlogerie movements from makers like Lange and Audemars Piguet. Any mechanical watch movement is necessarily inferior to a quartz movement in terms of accuracy, in general – this is merely a matter of physics; a quartz oscillator vibrates tens of thousands of times per second while a watch balance usually makes less than ten oscillations per second. A really good mechanical watch can outperform a poor quality quartz watch (especially if the latter is exposed to temperature extremes) but it’s not the way to bet.

To answer your question about quartz movement quality, yes indeed, there are dramatic differences in quality and performance. A cheap mass-produced quartz movement will generally run to within a variation of plus or minus fifteen seconds per month. They generally do not lend themselves to longevity and thanks to economies in manufacturing, components like stepping motors and the timing packages themselves can simply stop working after a few years; in such a circumstance, “repair” means “throwing out the old movement and putting in a new one.”

A very high quality quartz movement, such as the Citizen caliber 0100 or one of the Grand Seiko 9S series quartz calibers, can keep time to to a few seconds per year but this sort of performance requires a much more painstaking approach to constructing the movements, including testing individual quartz crystals and choosing those with the highest rate stability, building in some form of temperature compensation, and so on. If you are interested in finding out more about high quality, high precision quartz movements those two firms would be a good place to start.

Send the Watch Snob your questions at editorial@askmen.com or ask him a question on the @AskMen Instagram with the #AskMenWatchSnob hashtag.

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