The consensus among watch enthusiasts has always been that watchmaking is akin...
In Part 1 of "Questions Every Watch Buyer Should Ask", Jia Xian touched on the topic of in-house movements and their importance when making a watch purchase. In Part 2, he deciphers the importance of watch materials and whether new materials are necessarily a better choice.
Aside from in-house movements, another hot topic is that of materials. Because watches have little functional use, unlike say a car, novelty in itself is valuable. So new materials like carbon composite, carbon fibre reinforced polymer, ceramic and the like are accepted by consumers at face value as being better. But why?
One of the favourite claims is that a new material is lighter – who hasn’t heard of the new ultra-light kryptonite alloy. In fact many of these new materials are plastics of some sort. Brands compete with make the most expensive watch per gram (Richard Mille wins hands down). But what about the other mechanical properties of the material? A car with a Styrofoam body would be lighter, but would you want to drive one?
What is left unsaid is that many of these new materials have characteristics that consumers are unaware of. Carbon composite, or ‘forged carbon’ in industry parlance, can be brittle and unlike metal it can’t be polished or welded when damaged.
Likewise ceramic can break. That is stating the obvious but people buying a ceramic watch sometimes don’t consider that. If you drop it hard enough the case goes the way of Humpty Dumpty.
And finally we move on to enamel dials. Quality of execution matters as much as the subject matter itself. This applies to fired enamel dials. They are more expensive, but they are not always well done.
Enamel dials cost more because they are difficult to make. True. But they are even more difficult to make well.
Buyers assume, wrongly, that having a fired enamel dial means the watch is superior because the dial is hand-made, hand-fired and hand-delivered to the watchmaker. But the quality of the enamel dial matters.
On the wrist a white enamel dial looks the same as the next one, but look at it up close and it might look like the surface of a planet that has been pelted with meteorites. Smoothness and texture is key. I personally would rather have a dial of another material executed better than a poorly made enamel dial. You’d be surprised at how badly done some enamel dials on extremely expensive watches are.
Watchmakers can get away with this because most people don’t know and don’t ask, so consider these questions before making your next watch purchase.
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