Even at their most basic, mechanical watches are complicated objects. To be a smart collector, with a refined appreciation for timepieces and navigate the (sometimes) murky waters of haute horlogerie, that journey begins with keeping the following commonly held misconceptions at arm’s length.
Hand finishing and decoration are indeed applied to most high-end movements, particularly on the visible areas, but not to every single component.
Myth #1 Every part of the movement is finished by hand
Truth: No one does that. Okay, a very, very few watchmakers do that. Hand finishing and decoration are indeed applied to most high-end movements, particularly on the visible areas, but not to every single component. It is extremely unlikely that any movement produced in the tens of thousands per year or retails for less than a hundred grand goes through 100 per cent hand finishing. The average hourly labour cost in Switzerland is CHF61.30. An entire movement can take up to 400 hours to properly hand finish. You do the math.
Myth #2 Certified chronometers offer perfect timekeeping accuracy
Truth: Yes, and no. In Switzerland, a chronometer is a timepiece that’s been adjusted to maximum precision and accuracy, and certified by a governing body called Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). Chronometers certified by COSC are not the most accurate timepieces on the planet. COSC certification merely means that a movement has an average daily rate of -4/+6 seconds per day. There are some movements that are not COSC-certified but are more… well-adjusted, so to speak. Rolex, for example, deviates just -2/+2 seconds per day and the revolutionary Zenith Defy Lab, by just 0.3 seconds per day.
Myth #3 Platinum is the worst possible material for minute repeaters
Truth: The chimes of a repeater can be influenced by a number of factors, one of which is the watch’s case. For sound to travel from the inside of the watch to the outside and on to our ears, the most ideal scenario is for there to be as much space inside the case as possible so that it acts as a sound chamber. The material used for the case also matters. Light and hard materials like titanium allow for maximum volume while soft and dense ones like platinum are said to muffle the chimes. But this does not mean that the chimes are poor. What platinum repeaters lack in volume, they make up for in pitch and colour.
Myth #4 Big watches are not for small wrists
Truth: It all depends on the design of the case. There are those that are indeed impossible to wear but some watches are wide but they’re also relatively thin, so they aren’t as unwieldly as they look. Others have a lug design that allows the strap or bracelet to fully wrap around the wrist, however slender. Several ingenious watchmakers have even created cases with articulated lugs to offer better fit and comfort.
The notion that a movement is superior simply because it’s made in-house is one of the greatest delusions of our time.
Myth #5 In-house movements are better than third party movements
Truth: The notion that a movement is superior simply because it’s made in-house is one of the greatest delusions of our time. Just because something was made in-house doesn’t mean it’s better than one sourced from a supplier. That a watch company has made the decision to produce its own movements merely indicates a long-term commitment undertaken by said company. Whether or not the final products live up to the hype remains to be seen. It must also be said that many independent movement suppliers are specialists in their field, so their products are by no means inferior goods.
Myth #6 Quartz watches are inferior to mechanical watches
Truth: While it’s true that quartz movements are less expensive, mass produced soulless objects, not all mechanical movements are brimming with emotion and poetry, either. Plus, some iconic timepieces come with quartz movements and that’s okay because not everything has to be about the movement. Bulgari’s Serpenti, for one, is a powerful and beautiful timepiece with a quartz movement, so is the FP Journe Elegante, which keeps running for 10 years.