Practically every bit of news I come across on mobile phones paints a picture of diminishing sales due to saturated markets. Losing interest in phones can mean that consumers are on the lookout for something else to buy. With prices being close to mobile phones, watches may fill the void.
Wider interest in watches may have started a few years back with the resurgent popularity of Casio's G-Shock. The revival of the brand may have been driven by newer models sporting analog faces instead of digital ones. Not long ago, everybody wanted to get one. Even I jumped on the bandwagon with members of my family.
But now that G-Shocks can be seen on the wrists of practically everyone from the well-traveled tourist to the rugged mountain climber to the conscientious student, people may be ready to add a timepiece to what might be a growing watch collection.
The splash made by Apple's iWatch had a few people wondering if smart watches would affect mobile phones the same way the tablet had on laptop computers. But based on industry data, the impact may not be as dramatic. Perhaps it is because smart watches resemble and function too closely to mobile phones, albeit on a much smaller screen. Or perhaps it's their extremely short battery lives, limiting the length of time applications can run. Then again, it could be the prohibitive prices they command that prevents them from gaining more traction in the market.
This is where traditional wrist watches come in. With prices way below that of the smart watch and comparable to that of a mobile phone, this industry may be the next one to experience a boom.
A Watch to Suit Everyone
Just like mobile phones, there is a watch to suit everyone. For those on a tight budget, there are the cheap Spartan watches that simply tell time. For fashionable people, there are watches that sport the latest trends in terms of design and color. For those looking to make a statement, there are watches with price tags bigger than several high end condominiums. Then there are the watches for aficionados, which may be judged on entirely different measures.
When I was looking for my second mechanical watch, I spent almost all my free time combing the internet and consulting sellers in order to learn as much as I could. And if you think all that effort brought me closer to becoming a horologist, or watch expert, it hasn't. There is just so much to take in, and so little time for me to do so.
Since there are quite a number of web sites already devoted to horology, or the study of watches, I'll be coming from a different angle. For this series, I will touch upon how you can select the right timepiece, coming from a traditional fashionable sense.
The Need for Time
Early human activity was based upon the rising and setting of the sun. During the day, activities such as hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming took place. During the night, people would sleep and do other stuff we are prohibited from mentioning here.
Knowing the time allowed people to schedule their activities. In the case of farmers, it may take an hour to eat breakfast, an hour to walk to the field, three hours to plant the seeds or reap the fruits and vegetables, an hour to have lunch, three hours to continue planting or sowing, an hour to walk back home, and finally an hour to have dinner.
Being late in any one of these activities could literally be a life or death situation. In the case of planting, being late could result in not having enough food during the winter or the typhoon season. Also, walking home late can mean getting lost or becoming fodder for night predators.
One of the earliest ways the Western World used to tell time was through a sun dial. It used the shadows cast by the sun to tell time during the day. The problem with sun dials is that they were useless at night, but that didn't matter because most people went to sleep at night anyway.
In the east, I heard of using two stacked water basins to tell time. A small hole was made on the side of the top basin to allow water to slowly drip down to another basin. Time could be ascertained by looking at the water levels. Unlike the sun dial, it solved the problem of working equally well at night. The problem would arise when seasonal temperatures froze the water, making time literally stop during winters.
When electricity was harnessed, the absence of natural light ceased to become a limitation People could now undertake activities even after the sun went down. More than this, dark places where sunlight could not penetrate, became accessible.
Sure, lanterns were used for centuries. But electricity, paired with the invention of the light bulb, offered brighter, safer, and consistent illumination. Factories could add night shifts. Stadiums could host ball games in the evenings. And since some mines had flammable gases in their tunnels, the replacement of lanterns helped lessen the danger of working in these confined spaces. More than just light, electricity powered industrial equipment and home appliances to permanently change how humans lived.
Which brings us back to watches.
Fortunately, mechanical watches were already around by this time. With the expansion of activities to cover 24 hours in a day, telling time started to take on more importance. And as civilization progressed, human life changed from being measured by days to hours to minutes to seconds.
[Ever miss a bus by a couple of minutes? Or maybe that online sale by a few seconds? That's how we measure life today.]
Watches are Jewelry
Watches have been very important in our history. But with the current state of technology, their relevance as time keepers may have diminished in the twenty-first century.
Of all the modern technological inventions, the mobile phone may have had the biggest impact on a person's life. Able to do many things, it has rendered other types of equipment redundant.
I'm currently composing this essay on my phone, so I don't need a desktop or laptop for writing. I use it to track my appointments, such as today's haircut, and make an appointment book obsolete. I use it to play to music, replacing my old compact disc player. When it comes to recording interviews and videos, it has replaced the voice recorder and bulky video camera. Quick snapshots used to require a pocket camera, but now my mobile phone does it. Movies can also be watched via streaming, replacing the need to be around a television. I can compute my bills on it, allowing me to get rid of my calculator. And it can tell time from different zones all at once, making it more convenient than having separate timepieces.
[I can actually leave the house without a watch, but not my phone.]
Despite the widespread adoption of the mobile phone, wristwatches haven't breathed their last breath yet. As I touched upon earlier, some are collected as a hobby. Others have become status symbols. There are those which are intended as investments. And then there are the watches that become part of fashion.
For purposes of this essay, we will consider watches as pieces of jewelry. To qualify this statement, only watches that cost more than a low end mobile phone are jewelry. Any functioning watch cheaper than the cheapest mobile phone will most likely not be purchased for fashion, making it function purely as a timepiece.
Manufacturing technology has progressed to the point that a low-end watch can be expected to tell time just as well as one that carries the price tag of a condominium.
The exception to this are the imitation watches found downtown or in flea markets. These are more like costume jewelry. So while they may look good, they cannot be expected to retain their appearance for long or to continue working after the next downpour. Basically, these things are just eye candy.
[I heard of someone's imitation watch stop working even if it wasn't submerged in a pool.]
Watches Aren't Perfectly Accurate or Consistent
While today's watches are great at telling time, the second counters among you may be surprised to hear that they aren't perfect. Sure, they're accurate enough for a person's daily routine, but they aren't perfect at telling time to the level of an atomic clock.
[Your mobile phone may seem accurate, but it might be regularly synchronizing its time with the carrier you subscribe to.]
It may help to note that the official Swiss body tasked with certifying watch movements is the Contole Officiel des Chromometres, or COSC. Once a watch is certified by this body, it can use the word "Chronometer."
To be certified by the COSC, a mechanical watch should not be slower than 4 seconds or faster than 6 seconds in a day. Going under or over these thresholds will mean that a watch fails the test.
It possible for a mechanical watch not to be consistent, meaning that it can be 4 seconds off one day, then 2 seconds off another day. Some of the things causing inconsistencies include the gravitational pull of the earth. Being the case, it is possible that two perfectly synchronized watches can show different times when one is kept on earth while another is flown to the moon.
In the case of a quartz watch, it needs to stay within a thinner margin of error. If the time is faster or slower than 0.2 seconds per day, it fails the test.
The things that affect a quartz watch's consistency include battery power and temperature. Since this type of watch runs on a battery, it can be expected to slow down once power is drained. Another thing is temperature, as it affects batteries in such a way that when it is cold, it tends to work less efficiently. Consequently, when it is warmer, batteries work much better.
There are of course exceptions to this. In the case of Citizen's Skyhawk A-T line, I understand that it connects to atomic clocks in Japan or the United States to synchronize time. But then some will argue that in order to be accurate these watches need to connect to and external source like a mobile phone instead of maintaining time internally, so this may not count.
To summarize, a modern quartz watch that costs 750 Pesos will tell the time just as well as one that costs 4.5 million Pesos.
Two Main Types of Movement
While the type of movement may not matter to some, the behavior and appearance of the second hand can sometimes drive me crazy.
[Arg! After seeing the behavior, I can't forget it anymore!]
There are basically two types of watch movements. The first is the mechanical movement, which is the the much older one by dating back several centuries. It makes use of a tiny spring, known as a mainspring, to store energy. In a manually winding watch, the mainspring is tightened by twisting the crown of the watch. For a modern automatic watch, simply moving the wrist where the watch is strapped to take care of the winding.
The tendency of a tightened mainspring is to unwind and exert a force. A mechanical watch captures this force through a series of gears to turn the hands of a watch.
It is similar to how a bicycle works. To spin the rear tire, you need to apply force to the pedals. This turns a huge gear between your feet. The energy is transferred to the rear tire via a chain and smaller gear. Thanks to friction between the tire and road, you are then propelled forward.
Replace your feet with a mainspring, and the rear tire with the hands of the watch and you have a simple way of harnessing energy for time. Although it is much more complicated with a watch because it spins things at different rates. This is where gears come in to use one energy source to move the hour, minute, and second hands. To make things even more interesting, additional hands may be used to indicate the day and month.
Still on the topic of the spring, those of you who have played with one may recall that as it is compressed, more pressure is required. This means a coiled spring will exert different amounts of force. It will be weaker when loose and stronger when tight. To compensate for these changes, the mechanism regulates movement through a series of swinging arms. It is this combination of tiny gears and arms that makes the mechanical watch more complicated than the quartz watch.
It also makes it more delicate. With many tiny moving parts, a shock to the mechanical watch can seriously damage it. So the act of falling to the floor can be enough to permanently stop it from working.
Being more complicated also means they are more difficult to design, manufacture, and even maintain. Although some will argue that the rise of computer aided design and manufacturing has overcome past difficulties, its higher price may then be attributed to their being sold in smaller quantities.
Overall, mechanical watches are similar to manual transmission vintage cars. Being purely mechanical and devoid of any computer management systems means that they need more attention. They're not for everyone but owning one can be more fulfilling.
The mainspring of most watches store enough energy for around 40 hours, which is a little over a day. So if a watch isn't wound regularly, whether manually or automatically, you'll have to adjust the time and date before strapping it to your wrist.
[I do this regularly as I rotate watches based on my ensemble.]
Companies suggest bringing in mechanical watches for maintenance every two to five years. Just like a car, the oil needs to be replaced to keep things running smoothly and maximize the energy harnessed from the mainspring. Periodic checks are also a good time to replace worn parts in order to prevent other parts from become worn or damaged.
Depending on the brand, expect regular checkups to be more expensive than quartz watches. Apart from paying for parts, the labor involved in replacing worn or damaged parts needs to be factored in. Finally, the time spent in the shop can take anywhere between a couple of months to over a year because parts will need to be ordered and imported.
[Imports tend to be done in batches to save costs, hence the delay.]
In spite of the higher cost of ownership, it is difficult to pin down the exact type of fulfillment a mechanical watch owner feels because it is different for every person. In my case, I get a kick out of looking at the delicate mechanism working in a skeleton watch, which is a timepiece that has a clear face and caseback, or rear cover.
The second type of movement is quartz, which is sometimes referred to as electronic movement. It uses a battery to power a tiny motor that drives the arms of an analog watch. A quartz crystal regulates the duration of the seconds and is fairly new, becoming popular during the 1980s.
Since there are no moving parts, quartz watches became ideal to use for digital watches, which debuted with the Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD. Without arms and using changing digits to tell time, the digital watch drove many mechanical watch companies into bankruptcy back in the late 20th century.
The lack of moving parts make it more resistant to shocks. And while I don't undertake any drop tests myself, I will say that my old quartz watch never failed me as I hiked up mountains in my younger days.
When it comes to analog faces, the main difference a quartz watch has with a mechanical watch may be in the way the second arm advances. In a quartz watch, you will notice that it jumps forward with each second. In some watches, such as most Timex models, you can hear a distinctive "tick" when it moves.
By contrast, a typical mechanical watch will advance the second hand in a smoother manner. It gives the appearance of a sweeping movement instead of the jumping one exhibited by the quartz.
[Actually, the second arm of the mechanical watch also jumps, but it’s shorter to make it look smoother.]
Quartz watches are like automatic transmission cars loaded with the latest vehicular technology. All you need to worry about is steering it because the computer takes care of everything else.
[One day, you may not even have to steer it at all.]
These watches need very little maintenance and can be counted upon to still keep time even after it is stored in your drawer for a year or so. The only thing you need to worry about is changing the battery every two to five years.
Maintenance is also almost negligible. Years ago, the first serious watch a relative of mine purchased was a Tag Heuer. The things that needed replacing, after more than a decade of use, included the crown and stem. The emblem on the face also fell off, so that needed to be glued back on.
Since parts needed to be imported, it took almost a year by the local service center to fix. Once done, it set him back a little over PhP 4,000. While that might sound much for just a couple of parts, it took almost twenty years for them to wear down. I understand that a mechanical watch might cost more than that over the same span of time.
Difference in Behavior
Now we get to the point the part that I cannot forget. If you will closely observe the tip of a quartz' second hand, you will notice that it doesn't always align with the digits on the face of the watch. Sure, it may point to the twelve o'clock position, but as you follow the arm around the face, it may not align with the four, seven, or even ten o'clock position. It's even worse is if your quartz watch has indicators for the seconds. Chances are, the second hand will never align with majority of them.
It doesn't matter if you are using a PhP 750 watch or one that costs over PhP 40,000, the second hand of a quartz will never perfectly align itself to a symmetrical face.
[I haven't checked the high end quartz watches yet, but I assume it will be the same.]
To the naked eye, the smooth, sweeping action of the mechanical watch's second hand allows it to hit every hour and second position. It is also more forgiving if the face isn't symmetrical. So if the hour indicators aren't perfectly aligned, the second hand can still point to them.
[I prefer quartz watches without a second hand because they don't drive me nuts!]
Watches Depreciate in Value
There are certain types of jewelry that appreciate in value over time, much like what land does. Usually those made out of yellow gold or those encrusted with diamonds will, at the very least, hold their value. At best, they can be expected to increase in price over time.
[The diamond doesn't even have to be flawless; so long as it is real, it can be expected to add to a piece of jewelry's increasing value.]
Watches are more similar to cars since they depreciate over the years. So if you think buying a watch, even those that carry hefty price tags, will make you rich in the future, you will be gravely disappointed.
Even the most expensive watch will depreciate in value. Of course, better brands do so at slower rates, but it is generally impossible to sell them at the same price or more than their retail price.
The one thing that is sure to hurt the value of a watch is any personalization done to it. This can be in the form of named engravings or by adding jewels or precious metals. Even if the customization is done by the watch company itself, the value can be permanently hurt because it ends up as an alteration from the line.
The exception to this rule are extremely rare watches. One-offs, which are different from mere alterations, fall into this category. Then there are those that have some history to them, such as the one worn by astronauts to the moon. Or a timepiece owned by someone significant.
Where to Buy Them From
The good news is that there are quite a number of brands and model to choose from in the Philippines. On one hand, there are quite a number of watch brands that have their own outlets in the country. Some of them include Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Bijou, Breitling, Bvlgari, Cartier, Charriol, Chopard, Daniel Wellington, Fossil, G-Shock, IWC, Jaeger-Le Coultre, Luminox, Nixon, Omega, Panerai, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Philip Stein, Seiko, Swiss Gear, Rado, Swatch, Tag Hauer, Technomarine, Timex, Tissot, and TW Steel.
On the other hand, there are brands that share floor space in outlets or in malls. In addition to those listed above, they include Alba, Anne Klein, Armani Exchange, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Ball, Bering, Breguet, Bulova, Citizen, Casio, DKNY, Hamilton, Kate Spade, Longines, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Orient, Orient Star, Oris, Q&Q, Skagen, Tudor, and Valentino.
While this is not a comprehensive list, it would be safe to say that majority of the brands found around the world can be purchased in the Philippines.
The not-so-good-news is that the watches up to about PhP 10,000 cost more here. If you check on exactly the same models abroad, they can be anywhere between 30-50% cheaper. Some online stores also offer prices below what you would find in physical stores.
Fortunately, watches in the country go on sale regularly to bring prices down to a more competitive level. Sure, they're still be more expensive, but the difference is something that can be lived with.
With much lower prices, you may be tempted to buy online or have a relative purchase it abroad for you. I would suggest thinking twice before doing so. Buying outside a physical store that is near you carries a few risks.
In the case of my friend, she purchased a watch from one of her classmates who travels abroad regularly. At 50% less, it was hard to resist. Then the watch broke down after a month and her classmate refused to take it back for repairs. So apart from losing money, a friendship was permanently damaged.
It may be helpful to note that international warranties offered by stores abroad are not honored here. It may be different the other way around, wherein a watch purchased locally with an international warranty; it is possible for other countries to honor it.
[Make sure to check if buying local and fixing international is done in the country of your choice.]
In case you think watches are being singled out, they're not. It applies to nearly everything. Take the case of my co-worker who bought his laptop from a nearby Asian country for a much lower pice and an international warranty. When it broke down within the warranty period, the local service center refused to honor the warranty, leaving him with an extremely expensive book end.
Buying online also has its own set of risks. While sellers may offer legitimate warranties, return or replacement policies for defective items can feel like passing a kidney stone. Then there is the issue of the product looking great in pictures but terrible in person. And since it is basically jewelry on your body, appearances matter more with watches strapped to your wrist than a laptop sitting on a desk.
I highly recommend buying from authorized dealers, which include standalone stores or malls, as they are much more helpful when it comes to warranty claims.
Personally, I prefer a store that has someone who is attentive and reasonably knowledgeable about their watches. To be fair, don't expect the salesmen and saleswomen to be experts in all the watches they sell; that's what horologists are for. Being the case, I suggest doing a little research of your own before buying something.
Some the places with the best customer service include:
- The Timex branches in Greenbelt 3 and Megamall
- The Tissot branches in SM Makati and SM City
- The MyWatch branch in Gateway
- The Fossil branch in EDSA Shangri-la Plaza
- The watch sections in SM Megamall and SM Makati
- The watch sections in Rustan's Makati and Rustan's EDSA Shangri-la Plaza
- The Skagen display in the watch section of Gaisano Department store in Market Market
- The Philip Stein display in the watch area of Robinson's Galleria
I have been to other watches shops where "customer service" are treated as a pair of bad words. In one high end store located in a mall in Mandaluyong City, a saleslady talked down to me as she informed me the model I selected cost over two hundred thousand Pesos.
Well, I wasn't in the store for myself. I was there to ask about a specific model for a friend. At that time, he was at a conference conference and wanted to compare prices. After hearing about my experience, he ended up buying a different brand because of the great customer service they provided him abroad. Too bad for the store as he was willing to pay the difference just to get the local warranty.
Scrutinize Before Buying
Always make sure to scrutinize any watch for defects before you pay for it. Once you take it home, it is still possible for some companies make it difficult for you to claim warranty repairs.
I made a big mistake with my first mechanical watch as it had two deep indentations on the case facing the crown. Upon close inspection, it looks like the damage was done when the caseback was screwed on during assembly.
[The notches match the lock on the caseback.]
The bad part was that I only noticed it when I wore it to a family gathering a few days later. To say that I am terribly disappointed with the quality control would be an understatement. This fairly obvious defect should have been caught and addressed at multiple points - the factory, the international exporter, the local distributor, and the store itself. The fact that it was covered in cling wrap meant the person who hand-wrapped it saw the defect but never reported it.
To be clear, it's not the warranty the bothers me, it's the terrible quality control and the act of intentionally passing on a bad product to a customer that ticks me off.
Things to Look for
Having covered my negative experience earlier, the first thing you need to look for are imperfections in the case. Apart from dents and scratches, check of inconsistent colors in the gold or rose-gold varieties.
For the caseback, check if it is tightly sealed. If you hear a sound while lightly pressing down on it, there may be a problem with the seals. It could also just be loose, which should be easily corrected by the store.
When it comes to the crown, pull it out and turn it. The arms should move smoothly and the date, if it has one, should change. It's natural to have a slight play before the hands move, so don't expect instantaneous movement. However, if the crown has turned more than a quarter and nothing has happened, try another sample. Comparing the two will indicate if it is a natural part of the design or a manufacturing flaw.
For chronographs, or stop watches, try the buttons. They will usually start, stop, and reset the timing arms. Speaking of chronographs, I was surprised to come across a few mechanical watches that looked like stop watches but were not. Instead of starting and stopping the timer, the buttons were used to change the day and dates.
[I'm not keen on watches that pretend to be chronographs when real ones can be purchased for the same or lower price.]
The lens should be smooth and not have any pits or scratches. Any portion that isn't clear may just be smudged with skin oil. Simply ask the salesman or saleslady for the microfiber cloth they use to clean watches and wipe any blemishes away. If it remains, show it to sales person as he or she may be able to do something about it.
The caseback will typically be stainless, so be sure to check for any dents and scratches. For some mechanical watches, the caseback may be a windowed mineral glass or sapphire crystal to show the internal mechanism. In addition to scratches and pits, try to look if the glass fits seamlessly within their stainless steel rims. A gap means that water may seep in.
Check the face for any problems like loose numbers or their inconsistent settings. For those of you intending to purchase a watch sporting a Mother-of-Pearl, please noted that it won't always be perfectly flat. Since the material is known to catch and reflect light, an irregular surface enhances the effect.
For the metal bracelet, it should not be deformed, especially towards the tips. It may be helpful to note that the metal tends to twist in such a way that is conforms to the shape of the arm or wrist for second hand watches. For a leather strap, check for any cracks in the leather or tears on the surface or around the holes.
Gently shake the watch and listen for any rattles. For mechanical watches, a slight whirling sound is normal as this the winding mechanism doing its job. However, if it sounds like-metal-on-metal rattling, consult the salesman or saleslady.
The advice may be a bit much, considering this is a new watch we're talking about and not a second hand one. Then again, it's best to make sure you're getting exactly what you're paying for, even if it is in this price range.
[These things aren't exactly cheap, right?]
If a watch has any issues that make you unsure or uncomfortable, I suggest walking away. Should your preferred store offer a good price, you might be better off waiting for the next shipment. For those unable to wait, try other places on the list of stores provided above as they will most likely carry the same model. Expect that the price or terms may be different though.
And there you have it, a few things to keep in mind when buying a new watch. Please check out my next article entitled Styling Element of Choosing a Watch, Part 2 - External Cues as it is already out. For the next essay, we will be looking at the fashionable things to consider when buying a watch.