Personal Finance

What makes luxury watches tick

Maulik Madhu | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 29, 2015


It does not have to be studded with jewels. A simple stainless steel watch with a leather strap can make the cut

A Patek Phillippe that raked in $7.15 million this November became the most expensive watch ever to be auctioned. And believe it or not, the Patek Philippe 5016A is no jewel studded timepiece. It’s a simple stainless steel watch with a leather strap.

What makes them tick?

So, why are some watches much sought after?

Watches encrusted with precious gems are what comes to our mind first when we think of high-end luxury timepieces. But you don’t necessarily need jewels to make an expensive watch.

What really sets these watches apart are the ‘complications’— the advanced functionalities that they are loaded with. At a very basic level, the intricate craftsmanship that moves the hands of the watch, determines the worth of a luxury watch.

Unlike the usual quartz watches that are powered by battery, luxury watches are almost always mechanical.

The energy from a wound spring is passed on through a series of precisely designed and carefully placed tiny components to power the watch.

Mechanical watches can be essentially of two types, depending on how the spring is wound. While the manual version requires you to wind the spring yourself once every few days, the automatic one is self-powered and runs on the energy from the motion of your wrist. So, as long as you keep ticking, so will your watch!

And while a quartz watch will show you time at a tiny fraction of the cost of a mechanical watch, luxury watches are a must buy for those with a penchant for high-precision handcrafted marvels.

This is particularly so for men, for a watch is among the rare pieces of ‘jewellery’ that they can flaunt, apart from a ring or a pair of cuff links, if at all.

No price too high

That you must have deep enough pockets for such indulgences goes without saying. And while many luxury watches come with several complex functionalities, even the simple ones command sky-high prices. This is thanks to the snob value associated with flaunting a timepiece from one of the top notch brands in the luxury watch market.

According to an industry veteran, people simply go for the brand and are willing to pay any price for being seen wearing a watch of a particular brand and what is stands for.

Best of the best

Among the most revered are those that ‘earn’ the title of ‘chronometer’, which is an indicator of precision and accuracy in the watch world. Swiss watches have to pass the rigorous tests of the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronometers, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, to earn this coveted title.

But, keeping time accurately to the last fraction of a second is only one of the several complex features of these watches. Many come with chronographs (a built-in stopwatch) and compasses and impressive functionalities, such as high luminescence, resistance to high impact collisions and safety in deep waters. And while we’ve heard of luxury watches made of tough, yet light, materials such as titanium, bezels (the topmost ring that surrounds the face of a watch) and cases for many high-end watches these days are made of ceramics.

But, do not mistake this for the fine and dainty pottery and porcelain. Watch cases use what are called engineering or structural ceramics such as zirconium oxide and titanium carbide that are hard, resistant to wear and tear and yet light.

Take for instance, Breilting’s Navitimer 01, which is a steel and 18-carat red gold chronograph from the Navitimer family capable of doing navigation-related calculations.

The over $8,000 watch is a favourite with aeronautical enthusiasts.

The legendary Seamaster series by Omega, used by the NASA for its Apollo Mission in the 1960s, are popular with deep-sea divers. Watches from the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Collection, which come with sturdy ceramic bezels, are water resistant up to 600 meters.

With their light-emitting white Super-LumiNova (illuminating pigment) coating, these watches help divers keep track of the elapsed dive time at a quick glance.

A stainless steel case watch from this shock-resistant collection can cost you over $6,700. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, which is waterproof up to 300 meters, is another watch in this genre. It comes with the Oyster case, the world’s first waterproof case for a wristwatch invented by Rolex way back in 1926 and tested in 1927 when English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze completed a 10-hour swim of the English Channel wearing it.

Not to be outsmarted

With the launch of the luxury edition of its smart watches this year, Apple has become the latest entrant into the luxury watch market. The 18-karat gold Apple watch comes at jaw-dropping prices ranging between $10,000 and $17,000.

While the naysayers predict that competition from smart watches will kill the market for traditional luxury watches, many believe that watch connoisseurs will continue to be charmed by traditional watches. For even as smart watches become outdated with every new version launched, a Rolex or an Omega will always be something prized to be handed down to your successive generations.

And though Swiss watch sales have not been very robust in recent months, the jury is not yet out on this matter.

Published on November 29, 2015
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