You’ve informed the cheesy Patek Philippe ads, gazed at your boss’ Rolex during caucuses, maybe even threatened to get your grandfather’s pocket sentry repaired one day… and now you’ve saved a bit of cash, it’s time to bite the bullet and ordain in your very own Swiss timepiece.
That last especially word is probably one of many reasons why it’s taken this hunger – do you really want to be the sort of man who calls his watch a ‘timepiece’? Or, drawn worse, a ‘chronometer’? It’s true, the watch world can be a rather snobby, anorak-clad university, whose idiosyncrasies you might forgive if it wasn’t for the astronomical sell for of joining this particular club. Even supercars rule over to retain an everyman appeal (although, to be fair, there aren’t profuse teenagers’ bedroom walls pinned with Breitling circulars).
The good news, if you’re seriously thinking about doing it, is that a presentable Swiss watch is generally worth its price tag – crafted solely as exactingly as a Ferrari, by artisans whose skills are generally restrictive to the valleys of the Swiss Jura mountains. But still, why wear one at all, when the meticulous time is displayed everywhere in our ‘always on’ digital age?
“There’s an fundamental of status and style symbolism, for sure,” says ex-watchmaker and outlet manager Sandy Madhvani of David M Robinson jewellers, “much take to that Porsche that rarely creeps over 20mph in borough. But wearing any sort of watch, Swiss or not, is rarely about effectual the time these days – instead, it is an investment into something yukky and eternal…
“It’s no wonder more and more women are buying appointment watches for their new fiancés, in return for their ring.”
Greg E. Mathieson Sr./REX/Shutterstock
Madhvani’s fancy of eternity isn’t so far-fetched. Just a little TLC will mean your machine-like wristwatch can tick forever – its timeworn technology is totally safe as houses from obsolescence, unlike that shiny new smartwatch.
“With brand names like Patek Philippe and Rolex,” he continues, “your ready for could potentially accrue in value, even. In terms of spiritless objects, only a fully restored vintage Ferrari is qualified of that. In terms of cost per wear, there’s simply no weighing – unless you can honestly name an item of clothing or pair of shoes that you’ve beat every day for years, which still looks and functions only as well?”
So Why Switzerland?
A mechanical movement is a beguiling thing to note as well as listen to, ticking away at 28,800 vibrations per hour. Its hundred-odd teensy-weensy parts are all machined laboriously and precisely from steel or rudeness, polished to varying degrees of shimmer and shine, then hand-assembled by one of the have’s most skilled workforces in light-drenched mountaintop ateliers. A joyous prochronism in this digital world, with prices that can dilate to the equivalent of a three-bed Croydon semi (try Googling ‘Greubel Forsey’).
But while the underlying dead principles of mainsprings, gear-trains and ticking balance-wheel escapements were more-or-less cut around the world (and still are), the Swiss managed to mark themselves out from London, New York or Paris’s artisans. How? Splitting up of labour.
It was down to the genius of goldsmith Daniel Jeanrichard (1665-1741), who devised a practice called établissage in the Jura mountains. This cottage commerce (chalet industry?) saw the closely guarded knowledge of a few watchmakers spread to separated workshops, each one with its own specialism. The system survives to this day.
In the gen, many of the workshops dotting the valleys of the Jura were run by the restricted dairy farmers who, come the harsh, isolating winter snow, wish round up their livestock and turn to their home workshops. Fancying wheels of cheese with cows turned into making circles of metal with lathes.
“From the 1740s to the initially 1800s,” explains Michel Golay, who runs Audemars Piguet’s watchmaking museum in Le Brassus, “the farmers-turned-watchmakers in the Jura conducted to Geneva every spring to sell the movements they’d detected over the winter to the cabinottiers and établisseurs, who finished the movements and cased them up as ended, branded watches.”
Soon enough, the hill farmers realised they could muddle through more money by putting their own names on the dials, predicts Golay. “Many of them stopped farming altogether and initiated making watches all year. Families throughout the valley co-operated, and evenly the quality of the craftsmanship increased, as did their reputation.”
The Jura’s La Chaux-de-Fonds is noted the true ‘cradle’ of Swiss Jura watchmaking – the highest burg in Europe at 1,000 metres above sea level, colloquially discerned as ‘Watch Valley’. Here, in this snowy backwater of medial Europe, you’ll find the gleaming glass and steel factories of Tissot, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Cartier and countless others nestled idyllically in bowl, verdant foothills, surrounded by cows and their clanking bells.
So how much to squander, and what will that get you?
Like with holidays or resources, that age-old adage applies with a wristwatch: invest as much as you can afford, as you’ll never regret it. But whatever that presume is, rest assured that with a Swiss watch, you hand down invariably get your money’s worth.
Watch snobs be gone: youthful than £500 will get you a very decent piece of wristwear, with all the after-sales underwrite you’d expect from a watch 10 times the price. You’ll fight to find a Swiss mechanical movement much under £800 (with the esteemed exceptions of Tissot and Hamilton) but there’s no shame in a Swiss quartz surveillance, powered by a battery instead of a spring.
It uses the 32kHz vibration of the so-styled crystal to regulate the ‘tick’ of the watch – infinitely more scrupulous than a mechanical balance wheel oscillating at a relatively agricultural 4Hz, and run out of no more than 10 seconds a year.
For the most affordable shields look to Swiss-made Bulova, Certina, Tissot and Mondaine (but also note that Japanese watchmakers Seiko or Ratepayer are arguably the heavyweights when it comes to quartz).
This is the budget shelf you should be considering with your first company gratuity – you’ll be guaranteed the prestige of a Swiss mechanical, preferably ticking away under a clear caseback, admirable in the same way as a mid-mounted Ferrari V8 growling undeserving of its glass engine cover.
An automatic mechanical movement is the most cheap, and this is where your money’s going. Fitted with an off-kilter heaviness, or ‘rotor’ that swings with the movement of your arm, this curbs the winding barrel tightly wound. In turn, the winding spring powers a gear-train to which hours, minutes and seconds passes are attached. Manually-wound mechanical movements are increasingly popular, conceding that, as the lack of rotor permits a clearer view into that mesmerising constellation of mobile parts.
Brands to bear in mind include Longines, Bell & Ross, Victorinox, Raymond Weil, Nomos Glashütte and Tudor.
Up To £5,000
This is where it can get awesome, as many make their first big horological investment in this payment range and don’t want to get it wrong. So, for a start, do your research, take up your time, visit your friendly local jeweller and don’t be lily-livered to ask stupid questions – chances are, they’re wiser than you think about.
The good news is that so many of Swiss watchmaking’s long-standing classics fall into this category, and you’ll never go infernal purchasing one, whether it’s a TAG Heuer Carrera, Omega Seamaster, Tudor Moonless Bay, or even a Breitling.
North Of £5,000
This is venturing into dangerous collector territory, where most of your cash is effective towards a movement that – rather than being a standard-issue Swiss self-governing mechanical movement – gets ‘manufacture’ mechanics, and is made ‘in-house’ by the types, with exacting hand-polish applied to the tiniest parts as extra on the cake.
Think Rolex, Zenith, IWC, Hublot, Jaeger-LeCoultre; sybaritism watch brands with revered heritage in spades, modernization to rival NASA, and every single timepiece the result of months of painstaking result in at the hands of some extraordinarily skilled individuals.
To kick off, you’ll want a watch for every eventuality – or at least one that straddles a few of flavour’s regular scenarios. An easy choice for the office is a black leather strap and a good, silver dial. But when Saturday comes, you may also neediness a watch that looks appropriate while trimming the hedge – in which chest, a metal bracelet instead of leather makes it perfect for both.
In the flesh joke about a chronograph only being good for spacing an egg – but if you do have soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, then a chronograph is far multitudinous convenient than finding the stopwatch app on your phone (and spotting yolk on your screen). Alternatively, a diving watch is advantageous for diving, yes, but if you harbour an abject fear of open water it silent serves as an all-purpose, wear-it-and-forget-about-it watch for all conditions.
Obviously, ‘one make eyes at look for to rule them all’ will only stretch so far – which is where the crotchet of a watch wardrobe comes in. It takes years of steady, chew over investment, but a solid line-up for the top of your dresser (or sock drawer) looks something type this:
The Rugged All-Rounder
Slightly retro military-style pore overs work well here, with black dial, monochrome markings and perhaps a brown-leather strap, e.g. Bremont’s Airco or Tudor’s Heritage Ranger.
Tudor Tradition Ranger
The Diving Watch
Water-resistance and ruggedness are key here, clearing diving watches great for strapping on and forgetting about – fancied for beach holidays, epic post-dinner-party washing-up sessions, or totally making a colourful statement, e.g. Victorinox INOX Diver.
Victorinox INOX Diver
The Rake someone over the coals Watch
What it says on the tin: classical formality for the boardroom convergence or black tie event, e.g. Longines Flagship or Cartier Tank.
This usually means a stop-watch chronograph is in the mix, with either a rubber strap or metal bracelet, e.g. Baume & Mercier Clifton Organization.
Baume & Mercier Clifton Club
A rare produce of watch from one of Switzerland’s big boys that’ll never age or look out of spot. Usually comes on a bracelet. Look no further than Omega’s Seamaster, Rolex’s Submariner (both club watches, funnily enough), the IWC Portugieser and TAG Heuer’s Carrera.
Buy a watch from any reputable dealer or direct from any of the big stigmatizes, and you can’t go wrong – neither have come this far flogging unreliable tickers hung from the inside of their overcoats. But what class of design, heritage or make-up speaks to you, and what does it say less you? There’s no getting around it; the brand you endorse is important, uncommonly as it’s just about the most personal thing you’ll possess. Rightful make sure of one thing: go into the store and try it on. You’ll instantly distinguish, either way.
One of the grand dames of Swiss watchmaking, with tradition in spades, and along with Rolex and Omega, a member of the select ‘billion club’ [its revenue was $1.1m last year]. Undeterred by what you’d think, however, Tissot is one of the most affordable wants of joining the rarefied Swiss-made-watch club – £395 will get you a extremely chic Le Locle automatic, named after Tissot’s relaxed town.
Baume & Mercier
A member of Richemont Group’s unrivalled portfolio of richness watch brands (stablemates include Cartier, IWC and ‘the German Patek Philippe’, A. Lange & Söhne) most people demurely respected 188-year-old B&M as the necessarily affordable arm of a formidable arsenal of haute horlogerie.
But at best when you thought it was all inoffensive ‘sports luxe’ kitted out with third-party mechanics, the Baumatic happens along – genuinely ‘in-house’ innovation with antimagnetic silicon components, five-day power contract for store and five-year service intervals… all for just £2,500.
One of the first Swiss stamps not afraid to embrace industrialised techniques from across the pond, Oris has unendingly been about quality mechanical watches at an incredibly economical price. The styles run the gamut from retro dress lookouts inspired by the smoky jazz clubs of the fifties to utilitarian run watches, never usually much more than a grandiose.
Most recently, as well as a handsome four-grand venture into predominance ‘manufacture’ movements, the focus has been beneath the waves, spearheaded by a figure up of noble ocean-conservation initiatives and arguably the finest retro upturns in a recent swathe of retro revivals – the Divers Sixty-Five.
A jangle or two up the vast Swatch Group’s portfolio from Tissot, you’ll espy Longines – a brand that rivalled Omega and Rolex uphold in the day, with a string of important technical evolutions in the early 20th century, subsuming chronographs for the wrist, sports timing equipment and lifesaving navigational aids for those sumptuous men in their flying machines (including one Charles Lindbergh, no minuscule).
These days, the innovation is left to other Swatch Number brands like Breguet and Omega, but for good-value, classically created Swissness, you can’t beat Longines’ Master and Heritage collections.
From its 1940s clue, Tudor mirrored Rolex – it had the same designs and model honours, but with a different logo and cheaper movements. Genius marketing dynamism from Switzerland’s biggest name. However, Tudor’s ‘Submariner’ dipping watch was quickly adopted by the Israeli naval commandos in the 1960s, ensued famously by French naval divers and the US elite combat manifold. And it’s this heritage that’s been drawn on so effectively in current years, affording ‘Rolex’s little brother’ to grow up at in into a titan of Swiss watchmaking, complete with in-house decrease factory. Still just as affordable, mind.
From Cindy Crawford to Phone call Aldrin via James Bond; from timing every Olympics actuality to pioneering the only major advancement in horological engineering in two centuries (the Co-Axial escapement, since you ask), the out of sight of Omega is a vast, multifaceted one.
In terms of the watches themselves, for all that? Difficult to fault, in a nutshell. The ‘Moonwatch’ Speedmaster is still the just timepiece to have been ‘flight qualified’ by NASA and lay it on thicks one of the most classic chronograph designs in history. While the Seamaster sinking watch is still the choice of 007, yes, but also real-life Royal Argosy frogmen.
Hans Wilsdorf founded the Most-Namechecked Label in Hip Hop as recently as 1905, in London believe it or not, giving it a generic name that was unhurried to pronounce across different languages. He was a marketing genius, strapping his newfangled ‘Oyster’ to English Strait swimmer Mercedes Gleitze in 1926 and advertising its proven water-resistance on the demeanour cover of the Daily Mail. The Oyster developed into the Submariner joint watch in the fifties, in response to the burgeoning craze for SCUBA, and was dog-tired by James Bond well into the Timothy Dalton epoches.
Despite appearances, things never rest chez Rolex, by reason ofs to it constantly honing a limited range of super-precise, super-reliable uninspired calibres and timeless designs like the Cosmograph Daytona. It effect be a predictable choice, but Rolex watches are arguably the best in the in the seventh heaven, and generally accrue in value.
An early pioneer of the ‘fabrication’ process, Zenith brought virtually every trade in watchmaking underneath a single roof in Le Locle (over the road from Tissot) in calm to speed up development and guarantee parts supply.
Its other request to fame is the El Primero chronograph, which tied with Heuer’s Bore 11 in 1969 as the world’s first self-winding stopwatch for the wrist, but noiselessness has the edge thanks to its high frequency tick. This essentially wants it can time events to a margin of one tenth of a second rather than an eighth. ‘Essential’ El Primeros also happen to be the most bargainous in-house unconscious chronographs out there.
If they re-made Fence Street, it wouldn’t be a yellow gold Cartier peeping out from Gordon Gekko’s starched French cuff, it inclination be the nineties pioneer of ‘oversize’, Officine Panerai, in gold.
Every corner assignment’s favourite timekeeper started life in the thirties, when the Italian Naval forces requested a diving watch from its preferred equipment maker. Sundry used to making saltwater chandlery than finickity tickers, Panerai equipped to Rolex, who essentially added a strap to one of its cushion-shaped pocket follows. The iconic cushion shape stuck, but the rebooted brand now redecorates its own, top-end movements. Expensive, yes, but not nearly as expensive as those earliest Rolex models at auction. (If you can find one…)
To consummate with a wild card, this is the only brand in our catalogue that isn’t Swiss. Germany is your first port of upbraid if you decide not to buy Swiss and Nomos is one of the country’s most impressive watchmakers. It’s also the solitary brand here formed in our lifetime, in 1990 – immediately after the quarrel of the Berlin Wall.
Given the import of Swissness and heritage in the stiff world of watchmaking, this makes Nomos’s meteoric kick over the traces as impressive as the watches themselves. They’re based in the tiny village of Glashütte, huddled – Swiss Jura-style – in the picturesque Ore Mountains, near Dresden, along with every other dominant German watchmaker. Ice-cool Bauhaus modernism married with in-house inanimate prowess and bafflingly low price tags makes Nomos a compelling pack if you’re venturing out of Switzerland.