Thursday, 12 March 2009 05:15
Written by Braden Alexander
Buying a wristwatch is about more than purchasing a piece of fine jewellery–it’s an investment. The timepiece you buy now might be worth twice as much in the future. In fact, given the current market, it could be the surest asset you acquire all year. But if you don’t know the difference between a $5,000 Rolex and a $20,000 Patek Philippe, let our third installment of The Connoisseur Series be your guide.
In a world where time is the most valuable commodity, it’s a wonder that more men don’t wear watches. With chronological information blinking on every screen, cell phone and stereo, wristwatches have almost become a nostalgic luxury. But that’s exactly why they’re so alluring. Somehow, scrounging for your cell phone for the time doesn’t have quite the same swagger as rolling back your shirtsleeve to reveal that shiny status symbol. “Men have so few opportunities to wear jewellery,” says Caroline Ksiazek, the store director at Birks. “Choices are limited, especially in Canada—men are so conservative. A watch is an opportunity to show your personality.” Basically, if clothes can make the man, it’s his watch that can further set him apart.
The watch was born centuries ago in Europe, morphing from pocket watches to a small clock tied to the wrist with a ribbon—how dainty. As with many staples of mens’ fashion, the wristwatch wasn’t popular until it was used by the army. In 1902, British soldiers won the Anglo Boer War and many credited their victory to the wristwatch—with such easy access to synchronized timepieces, the British were able to coordinate their attacks upon their enemy. After the war, the look caught on and soon nearly every man in the country wore a watch on his wrist not only for convenience but as an indication of personal wealth and style.
Since then, the leaders in the watchmaking industry have made great advancements in watch design. Originals had to be manually-wound until Rolex created the Auto Rotor—a technology which winds the watch automatically. The quartz watch was invented in the mid–20th century enabling time to be kept with a small battery and a piece of oscillating crystal. Finally, the Japanese invented a computerized watch, which could tell not only the time and date, but the day of the week and more—all displayed neatly on a digital screen.
With so many options, choosing the best type of watch for you is the most difficult part. Each comes with its own particular benefits. A digital watch offers the most gadgets: Some come with music, contact lists, schedules and alarms—you’ll have no excuse for missing your anniversary. Athletes should consider the chronograph—a fancy name for watches with a stopwatch function. Although this style has been around for years, modern versions are typically very big, bold and durable. “Chronographs are very popular with younger men,” says Helmut Hargassner, the group director for Birks’ central watch division. “They want a watch that looks complicated.” It’s a look that’s more suited for the weekend than the daily grind.
Despite advancements in the field, there’s nothing quite like the original mechanical watch. Each one is made with infinite patience and extreme attention to detail—one mechanical watch can have dozens of miniscule parts working together to tell the time. This partly explains their cost; they simply take longer to produce. But if mechanical watches are more expensive, require more care, and don’t last as long as quartz watches, why are they still in such high demand? “It’s really been a development over the last five to 10 years where the high end brands have brought out mechanical watches again,” says Hargassner. He’s been working with the world’s top watchmakers for decades, designing Birks’ signature watch collections. “The watch industry was trying to find ways to stir interest among people who feel the timepiece is an item that shows their personality. These consumers want to go back to something where there’s intricate craftsmanship involved.”
Hargassner says that even though quartz watches are more efficient (many high end ones now run on the same battery for up to 10 years), most luxury brands like Rolex carry mechanical watches almost exclusively. They’re the ones that collectors are after—and willing to pay the big bucks for. Hargassner himself has seen the benefits of investing in a timepiece. As a young watch repairman he once bought an old Rolex off a customer for $50. Almost 20 years later he had it repaired and sent to an auction. It sold for over $15,000. He advises that any serious watch collectors do the same.
“You buy a good watch and put it away for 20 years, in absolutely pristine condition, and then you sell it at an auction. It’s an easy way to make some money. But the watch has to be unique.” Often, watchmakers will release limited edition designs of certain watches—these are the ones that will become the most valuable in the future. But, Hargassner warns, “it’s not a guarantee.”
Of course most of us are not in it to make a profit. We just like knowing we’re getting our money’s worth. George Verras, the owner of Dimitra’s in Winnipeg, caters to customers who own a watch for every day of the week, each costing upwards of several thousand dollars. “You get what you pay for,” says Verras. “You buy a $5,000 watch and you can expect it to last a lifetime.”
Horological vernacular so you can shop like a pro.
Movement: The pieces inside the watch that make it, well, tick.
Bezel: The metal plate that frames the watch face.
Crystal: The clear cover over the watch, made of glass, plastic, or synthetic sapphire.
Complication: The bonus features of the watch–anything beyond basic timekeeping, such as a lunar calendar or a power reserve indicator. The more complications a timepiece has, the higher the price.
Quartz: Watches powered by a combination of a battery and an actual piece of quartz crystal.
Mechanical: Watches powered by the potential and kinetic energy of a wound spring.
Mainspring: The flat, coiled metal wire that powers a mechanical watch.
Clockwise from bottom left:
Montblanc watch, $3,200, Dimitra’s, 1700 Corydon Ave, 477-4653; Rado Ceramica watch, $2,500, Dimitra’s; Bulova stainless steel, automatic watch, $275, The Diamond Gallery, 1705 Corydon Ave, 488-9813; Baume and Mercier Automatic Classima Executive, $3,990, Birks, 191 Lombard, 786-7468; Movado Sport Edition, $1,295, Dimitra’s; Tissot pocket watch, $275, Appelt’s, 1595 Ness Ave, 284-6944.
For the Sportsman
Clockwise from bottom left:
Tissot T-Race Limited Edition, $2,295, Birks, 191 Lombard Ave,
786-7468; Gucci Black PVD Chronograph, $1,975, Birks; Accutron automatic chronograph, $2,195, The Diamond Gallery, 1705
Corydon Ave, 488-9813; Alterra Highgear Altiwear Series, $195, The Wilderness Supply Company, 623 Ferry Rd, 783-9555;
Tissot T-Touch PVD Titanium and Rubber, $1,125, Birks; Nike Sledge, $179.95, Dimitra’s, 1700 Corydon Ave, 477-4653.
A Casual Affair
Clockwise from left:
Fendi High Speed watch, $1,395, Dimitra’s, 1700 Corydon Ave, 477-4653; Bulova Marine Star Series watch, $525, Appelt’s, 1595 Ness Ave, 284-6944; Gucci Pantheon Automatic, $2,580, Birks, 191 Lombard, 786-7468; Birks RPM dual sl, $995, Birks; Bulova watch, $275, The Diamond Gallery, 1705 Corydon Ave, 488-9813; TX 800 Series, $425, Appelt’s.