Opinion: Selling Points that Don’t Sell Me

Origin stories in this hobby influence the rabbit holes we follow. My story began when I learned not all modern watches have batteries. The simple idea that mechanical watches were still being made, sold down the street from me, and could run for years without intervention blew my mind. Partially because it was mechanically impressive, but mostly because of how unnecessary it was. The concept of dozens of components interacting to move hands around a dial, when a perfectly functional watch can be purchased at the grocery store for $20, resonated with me.

My discovery of these rebelliously absurd contraptions came at a time in my life when I had two kids in daycare and income was not disposable. My first mechanical watch was a one-handed Luch, a watch I loved dearly, and purchased for about $50. I didn’t care about finishing or accuracy, just that I had something unnecessarily complicated strapped to my wrist. Years later, my philosophy hasn’t changed much.

When considering a new watch, I always ask myself three questions: What does it do? Does that thing excite me? Is there anything about the watch that doesn’t excite me? That third question is the one that keeps my collection and budget in check. The answers I come up with, always rooted in my original fascination with accessibly priced mechanical timekeeping, have surprised me. Some are movement specific, and others centered around design.

Photo by Nathan Schultz

So, to kick off a two-part series where I will try not to sound too stingy as I justify what doesn’t excite me, here is the first list: A movement specific exploration of popular selling points that don’t sell me.

Chronometer Certification

I take my Subaru Outback to the mechanic once a year for inspection. I’m dependent on my car to get to the grocery store and to drive my kids to school, so when it needs work done, I gladly pay for any necessary repairs to keep it running. 

I trust my mechanic won’t offer me services I don’t need. For example, if they volunteered to certify my car with a series of tests to confirm my family wagon was capable of a high performance lap around the Nürburgring… I’d probably find a new mechanic. Paying for a certification to prove my car is capable of unnecessary performance seems like a silly way to spend my hard-earned cash. 

For me, at this point in my collecting journey, it’s hard to see chronometer certification as anything more than the horological equivalent of that exaggerated scenario. COSC standards have a fascinating history rooted in maritime history, when accurate timekeeping devices were necessary for safe navigation.  As a watch nerd, provenance is important to me. But it’s 2023, and I’m not a seafaring captain attempting safe passage with only my clocks and maps to guide me. I’m just a guy that likes watches. I can appreciate history without spending extra to see one more line of text on a dial.

The Formex Essence Leggara, with a chronometer certified movement. Photo by Cassie Zhang.

Today, chronometer certification also represents another layer of quality control in addition to more reliable performance. But the watches that undergo the testing aren’t some no-name Kickstarter gambles where extra assurance is needed. When was the last time you heard someone complain about the quality control on their Formex or Tudor? Sorry, Chronometer Certification. I’m not buying it.

Extended Power Reserve

Advancements in watchmaking are not always tied to practicality. The growing desire for a prolonged power reserve seems to counter the direction society is heading. The biggest selling point of an extended power reserve would appear to be: Take a watch off on Friday night, and it’s still ticking on Monday morning. But that doesn’t reflect my life, and the lives of countless others the world over, anymore.

Photo by Ed Jelley

Thanks to growing opportunities for remote work, I’m not wearing a collared shirt on Friday, casual attire on the weekend, and then back to fancy clothes on Monday morning. I’m wearing crocs and a t-shirt every day of the week. This outfit looks equally good (or bad) with a dive watch no matter the day.

Like the co-axial escapement, a longer power reserve is cool simply because it’s possible. The desire to fix something that isn’t broken, in something as unnecessary as a mechanical watch in 2023, feels unruly, almost punk rock. Would I turn down an Oris Pro Pilot powered by Calibre 400 featuring a five-day power reserve simply for its ability to continue ticking days after it left my wrist? No, but I’m also not willing to pay the equivalent of a month’s rent for a feature I don’t need.

High Beat Movements

I’m not qualified to get into the intricacies of the mechanical pros and cons of high and low beat movements, nor do I really care to. I’ve seen the debates on the forums, and I’m staying out of it. Does a high beat movement face the risk of increased wear and tear? Yeah, probably. The pallet fork engages with the escape wheel at an increased frequency in a high beat movement. On the other hand, that’s what it is made to do, and we should probably just let the pallet forks be.

Forum debates aside, interest in high beat movements has less to do with improved accuracy or fascination with overactive pallet forks, and more to do with a sweeping second hand. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching a hand float around a dial every time I see a Grand Seiko at a meetup.

But I fear I appreciate this display because it’s been hyped, and not because it personally excites me. When I only knew of battery powered watches, I was never once bothered by a ticking second hand. And, when I picked up my first SKX, I certainly wasn’t complaining about six beats per second.

The Grand Seiko “White Birch,” with a high frequency, 80 hour movement. Photo by Zach Weiss.

Sure, not all high beat movements come with Grand Seiko pricing. I’ve had the pleasure of owning some fantastic sub $400 Miyota 9000 series watches. But it was other elements of these watches, such as the thin cases made possible by a 9015, that interested me.

So, high beat movements, I regret to inform you it’s not going to work out between us. It’s not you, it’s me.

In-House Movements

Cost of ownership is probably the least sexy topic imaginable. No one driving off the lot with a new BMW wants to think about maintenance costs when the onboard computer stops cooperating. In the same way, when a new Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime is fresh off the mail truck, the last thing you want to be thinking about are the stacks and cash and months of time it will take to service its many complications.

Photo by Cassie Zhang

Making an in-house movement is impressive. Full stop. It’s an accomplishment that immediately places a brand in the same conversation as some of the most hallowed names in horology. But those bragging rights come at a price. In-house movements require years of research and development and cost gobs of money to develop. They don’t always use generic parts and frequently can only be serviced by watchmakers specifically trained to work on them. Ultimately, the inflated initial investment and the increased cost of ownership is passed down to the consumers.

Am I saying in house movements are bad? Heck no. I love that they exist, and deeply respect any brand that wishes to contribute to horology on that level. But I’m not the target audience for these movements, at least not at this point in my collecting journey.

I wear my watches hard, let my kids play with them, and generally incorporate them into my daily life without fear of damage. Affordable, third-party movements make this possible. If my son drops one of my many microbrand watches while sprinting through the house with it, the worst-case scenario is that I purchase an NH35 on eBay for $35 and slap a new movement in it. If he drops a Rolex, that watch is going into a drawer until I can save some cash for its trip to Geneva.

The Rolex caliber 4131 in the new platinum Daytona. Photo by Blake Buettner.

Ultimately, we’re all just following the path set in place by whatever initially led us to watches. While I may not currently aspire to own an in-house, COSC certified movement, my love for the unnecessary and attainable led me to discover the confounding fact that they exist. As my search for the exciting continues, hopefully unfolding on a wallet-friendly path, my opinions will evolve. It’s this process that keeps each of us on this quest, following personalized paths dictated by our unique origin stories. In the mean-time, for more tips on how to be a cheapskate without sacrificing quality (such as avoiding the optional bracelet), keep an eye out for the next installment of selling points that don’t sell me.

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Nathan Schultz is a New Hampshire based writer, equally obsessed with watches and outdoor gear. He specializes in dad jokes, breaking NH35s while modifying watches, and testing the limits of recreational equipment. Micro brands hold a special place in his heart, and he aspires to stop buying and selling so many darn watches.