So, I just got back from a trip to Dubai, and considering the fact that most of my trip was spent shopping in malls, I had the opportunity to visit numerous watch boutiques that I otherwise wouldn't, in part due to the absence of specific boutiques in my country. During my trip, I was able to get hands on with Rolexes, APs, IWCs, Pateks, Tudors, Omegas, Hublots, Blancpains, Zeniths, Grand Seikos, and a Breitling. Yes, I know it's a lot. The fact is, I'm very new to the luxury watch world, and I wanted to form my own opinions on many of the pieces that are coveted in the watch community. Let's begin with the most famous luxury watch brand: Rolex.
Rolex Datejust 16234
This was the first Rolex I was able to get my hands on in this trip. This piece was surprisingly nice, despite the fact that it's nearing 30 years old. I loved the jubilee bracelet and the dial was stunning. The Datejust has been a piece I've looked towards owning for years now, and considering the fact that this piece was priced somewhere in the $4k region, I could definitely see myself purchasing one in the future. Even the size, at 36mm (which I thought it would be too small for my wrist), worked very well. That said, I don't think the Datejust works unless you get both the jubilee bracelet and the fluted bezel (as I will show later). My only gripe with this watch is the clasp, it's not as well made (and doesn't look as good) as the modern day jubilee bracelets that Rolex produces, but paying nearly double the price isn't really worth it to get a marginally improved clasp IMO.
Rolex Submariner 16610
(source: HQ Milton)
When I stumbled upon this piece (alongside the Datejust seen above) in Duty Free, I knew I had to at least look at it, maybe even try it on. Immediately, I asked the sales rep to bring out the Datejust, this Submariner and a Sea Dweller of the same era. Unfortunately, this watch just didn't do it for me. The cyclops looked really out of place on the Submariner in comparison to the Sea Dweller. The bracelet felt cheaper than I thought it would, and the whole watch felt a lot more delicate than I anticipated. For years I'd read about Submariners and truly considered them to be one of the greatest tool watches ever made, but this piece just didn't feel like it. It didn't feel solid enough for me to be able to take it anywhere without a care in the world. In addition, at the price (around $10k), I felt that there were better watches I could buy. This watch disappointed me the most out of everything I tried on, I expected a lot from the Submariner, but this piece just didn't do it for me. I was hoping that I could check out a newer model with the super case, but as expected, none were available at the boutiques I visited.
Rolex Sea Dweller 16600
(source: HQ Milton)
The Sea Dweller was a more impressive watch than the Submariner was to me. Despite the fact that this piece also had a not so great bracelet, it just felt better on my wrist. I also liked the slightly larger case (in terms of thickness), since it felt more like a tool watch. I also felt that the absence of the magnifying cyclops allowed for a more seamless design. The fact that this watch is capable of withstanding pressures akin to 4,000 feet is also quite a feat for such a small package. I found the helium escape valve on the side to be a really cool addition and kind of broke up the symmetry while adding something else to look at and admire. Considering the fact that the price for this piece was about the same as the Submariner, I would definitely lean more towards the Sea Dweller, but it still felt like there was something lacking. Maybe I'll appreciate the newer models more. Putting down $10k on a watch is no small sum of money, and this piece still felt like it wouldn't be worth that kind of money (even though it would probably hold it's value far better than any other tool watch of similar caliber.
Rolex Datejust 126200 & 126234
I was able to try on both a Datejust with a jubilee but without the fluted bezel, and also a Datejust with a fluted bezel but on an oyster bracelet (surprisingly they didn't have the golden combination: jubilee & fluted bezel). I've gotta say, neither combination impressed me. Sure, the watches felt really nice on the wrist (and as confirmed from earlier, 36mm worked on me), the Datejust didn't really feel like a Datejust without that combination. I do have to say, these pieces felt really nice to hold and even on the wrist, they were far more impressive than the older divers that I inspected. I'd chalk this up to the fact that these are brand new pieces while the sub and sea dweller are both nearly 20 years old now.
Rolex Yachtmaster 37 268622
This piece wasn't fantastic in any way. Since it was the only sports watch in the boutique, I tried it on, but it wasn't impressive. I'd chalk this up to the fact that the piece I looked at was 37 mm in diameter, a size which (to me) just doesn't work for this kind of watch. The platinum bezel insert was quite nice though, the indices were very well defined and they felt nice to the touch. The blue seconds hand added a really nice dash of color to the dial especially since the rest of this watch had a very monotone look to it. The cyclops worked better on this piece than it seemed to work on the Submariner, which came as a bit of a surprise (since I was considered the two watches to be nearly identical). I like the design of this watch, but I just wish the piece I looked at was larger. Knowing that such sports pieces are hard to acquire and try on, I don't know if I'd want to put down more than $10k on something I'm not absolutely in love with. So, yet again, another Rolex that was slightly disappointing.
Rolex Day-Date 40 228345RBR
Yes, I know, most of you will look at this and turn away in disgust due to the diamonds, but I saw it and I had to try it on. It also happened to be the only Day-Date they had in stock (I wonder why). This was the only real substantial piece I tried on, that being due to the fact that it was made of solid rose gold. The piece was very nice, but at $94k, I can't see myself every justifying that kind of money on something of this sort. I do really like the Day-date complication though, so I could definitely see myself owning a Day Date (but without all the diamonds).
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 114300
These Rolex Oyster Perpetuals were really nice. I didn't expect myself to like these as much as I did. For once, it felt like the oyster bracelet was meant to be on the watch. The dials were so clean and simple, yet at the same time the polished bezel added some class to it. I found myself liking the black one more than the white one when thinking back to trying both on, and I believe it's due to the contrast with the dial and the hour markers, which the white dial doesn't really have. This is one of very few watches where I could see myself going without a date complication simply due to how stunning the watch is without it. But, would I take one of these over a vintage Datejust? That's when I become unsure. Yes, these watches are very nice, but I still feel like they don't have the same level of class or comfort as the Datejust on a jubilee offers.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph 26331OR.OO.1220OR.01
For a long time, Audemars Piguet has been my favorite watch brand. I've always looked at them as being at the top of luxury watchmaking while also appealing to mass audiences (which I don't see as much with Patek). When I visited the boutique, they only had one Royal Oak in display, and it was this one here. All I can say is wow. This piece is stunning. It's actually incredible. I've never seen such a stunning blue dial in my life. The way the watch shines under light is amazing. The blue dial also worked amazingly well with the rose gold case and bracelet. Oh, and don't even get me started on the bracelet. Now I understand why the AP RO bracelet is considered to be the best in the world. I've only had experience with Offshores (and one 37mm RO from about 20 years ago), but this piece proved to me that it was probably the comfiest bracelet you can put on a watch while also looking absolutely amazing. This piece shot up to the top of my grail watch list (tied with another piece I'll show next), and I still find myself looking at pictures of this watch more than almost any other. The journey to being able to own (or even afford) a watch that costs $54k will be a very long one, but a watch like this makes it seem worth it. Just look at that dial!
IWC Portugesier Perpetual Calendar with Moonphase
I walked into IWC expecting myself to look at their pilots watches, but instead I ended up looking at some dress watches, the Portugesier being among them. This piece felt "unnecessary". I can't think of any other way to describe it. Consider the double moonphase... Why? I could kind of understand having a single moonphase but a double moonphase just seemed to be too much. And all of these complications meant that the case size was thicker than I'd want for a piece like this. The dial was simply too busy for me, with too much going on, and I didn't find myself caring too much for half the complications presented. The quality was also ok, it didn't feel like anything extraordinary to me, but then again, I didn't look at this piece for more than 10 minutes.
IWC Portofino Tourbillon Rétrograde
The reason I didn't look at the Portugesier for too long was because this Portofino caught my eye. This piece is something special. The tourbillon is an amazing complication to behold, and this piece displays it's tourbillon quite well. It was also integrated into the design of the dial quite well, with the retrograde date display essentially stemming from it. Although I initially thought the watch was very expensive, upon looking at the prices online, ~$65k for a high end tourbillon is kind of justifiable. The retrograde seconds hand is also a really cool addition to add on top of a tourbillon, to make it just that much more special. Add an 8 day power reserve on top of that, and this piece seems to have a lot going for it. I also really liked the white dial, I think the color choice was just right for this watch, and it wouldn't look as good in any other combination. My one major gripe with this piece is that it was really thick. Far more thick than I thought it would be, especially for something that's meant to be a dress watch. Also in person, the dial does not have as much depth as it seems to have in pictures online (disregarding the tourbillon). Overall, both IWC pieces left me wanting a little more. I wish this tourbillon was a bit thinner, and the perpetual calendar just wasn't for me at all.
Patek Philippe Grand Complications 5159G
This is slightly embarrassing, but I didn't realize this piece was a Grand Complication until the next day when I was trying to find the watch on the Patek Philippe website. This piece combined a perpetual calendar, moonphase AND a retrograde date hand, and pulled it off quite well (far better than the IWC attempt, I'd say). This piece is special, it really is, but it didn't really speak to me that much. I appreciated the way Patek was able to cram all these different complications into a 37mm case and make it look classy, but I could never see myself wearing a piece like this... Especially when the pricetag came out to be about $96k. That said, the sales representative was very very kind to bring out a Grand Complication for someone who clearly expressed that they have no interest in purchasing anything at the moment.
Patek Philippe Complications 5205R
Although the 5159 wasn't to my style, this 5205R definitely was a lot more fitting. I never really understood Patek much before I tried this watch on. I knew about their history and had limited appreciation for their watches, but this took it to a whole new level. I've even already set myself a goal: I'd like to purchase a 5205R for my 50th birthday. The annual calendar is a great feature to have (and not as prone to screwing up as a perpetual calendar (when setting the date), and Patek integrated it very very well. The moonphase, although pointless, adds to the idea of a watch also being a piece of art, and the rose gold case was very fitting (I've become a bit of a fan of rose gold in the last week). There was something special about this piece and once I put it on, I instantly knew that I had to have one in my collection at some point. 40mm also fits my wrist perfectly, and looking at this piece on my wrist in a mirror, it looked at home. As aforementioned, the sales representative was amazing, and I had one of the greatest watch conversations in my life with him, so once again, I'd like to thank him for taking time from his day to sit down and have a conversation with me. If anyone wants to visit, he works at the Patek Philippe boutique in the Mall of the Emirates.
Tudor Black Bay Steel & Gold
This piece was yet another disappointment for me. I had really high hopes for the Black Bay before I tried this piece on. It just didn't feel special. The matte black dial didn't do much for the color (it would've looked better with a glossy dial), and the gold didn't pop as much as I thought it should. I also noticed that the bezel action wasn't satisfying at all. Considering this was a piece we were seriously considering purchasing, I took it off my list almost immediately once I put it on my wrist. The price for what it is was also higher than it really should've been, it didn't feel like it was worth it's price at all.
Tudor Pelagos LHD
Attachment 14230199Yes, I know the LHD is on the wrong wrist, but I wasn't thinking straight when I tried it on. This piece was nicer than the Black Bay and it was also cheaper by a good amount too. Although upon first impression I didn't really like the piece, looking back, it felt very nice on my wrist (which I'd liken to the titanium build), and seemed sturdy, as a tool watch should be. If I purchase a piece like this, I'd definitely wear it as a tool/GADA watch. The lumed bezel is also a welcome addition, and the bezel action felt more satisfying than on the Black Bay. The fact that they've been able to put together something like this with 500m water resistance is also a feat, since it looks so good. Although I didn't have this piece on my wrist for a significant amount of time, I found the bracelet to be very comfortable, and the micro-adjustment technology that they've implemented is truly outstanding. My only real gripe with this watch is the fact that it just isn't shiny enough. Titanium is known to not be as "shiny" as stainless steel can be, but I firmly stand by the idea of putting a glossy black dial on a watch like this. In my eyes, it would really elevate this piece and make it something I could see myself happily wearing.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
The night before I looked at this watch, I had a dream I bought one. Now I know why. This watch is stunning. It fit my wrist better than almost anything I tried on in this trip, and I get why this is a quintessential piece in every watch enthusiast's collection. Not only does it look stunning, but to have the kind of history it does... I can't think of anything better in the price range of this watch. I honestly cannot think of any bad things to say about this piece, it seems to be near perfection. As I've done for the Patek 5205R, I'm setting myself a goal to purchase one of these: college graduation.
Hublot Novelties Techframe Tourbillon Chronograph
(source: The Hour Glass)
The first two pieces brought out to me in the Hublot store were in the realm of $140k. That's a lot of money, especially for an Hublot. Was it worth it? Not at all. These pieces were really cool, I'll give them that. One was in carbon fiber and the other was in titanium. Tourbillons in and of themselves are a beauty to behold, plus this model has a very interesting take on how a chronograph should look, but they were absolutely, in no way worth $140k. Bring that price down by half, and I'd still be questioning whether or not the watch is worth the price. To me, these pieces were nothing more than novelties (as suggested by the name itself), and I can't think of who'd want to spend $140k on a novelty. One cool thing to note was I looked at piece #70/70.
Hublot Big Bang Ceramic + Rose Gold with a Carbon Fiber Dial
This is a straight up no from me. I expected more from what's essentially Hublot's most popular watch. Not only is this seriously overpriced (around $30k), but far too large as well. Not to mention it has a Sellita movement in it. I'm not super familiar with ebauche movements, but aren't Sellita supposed to make entry-level Swiss movements? I was astonished when I found out that it was a Sellita movement, as I was expecting something better, maybe even in house. The Big Bang was really thick and also at the same time the lug to lug meant it didn't sit comfortably on my wrist. The only good thing I can think of for this watch is the carbon fiber dial (I love carbon fiber), but that doesn't make up for how sh*t this watch is. Now I get why watch enthusiasts aren't a fan.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Annual Calendar
I walked into the Blancpain boutique in hopes of looking at a Fifty Fathoms with a perpetual calendar, but unfortunately they had just sold all stock in the prior few days. Instead, I chose to look at this annual calendar on a rubber/sailing cloth strap. The dial is stunning. I'm a big big fan of the sunburst effect, and it seems to play like this in all kinds of light. The way they integrated the annual calendar was good, but not great. I like having "windows" to look but I feel like they could've positioned the different windows around the dial better. I would also like to look at one again on a metal bracelet (since I prefer bracelets over straps). The hands are quite stocky but one upside to that is the fact that legibility would end up being quite good. I hope this dial has good lume, since if it does, I could see a Fifty Fathoms becoming some sort of a GADA watch.
Zenith El Primero
The Zenith El Primero was a piece that surprised me. This one specifically, with an open heart was breathtaking. The idea of being able to look into the inner workings of a mechanical watch has always appealed to me, and Zenith nailed it with this design. To me, I see just enough to be satisfied while at the same time not sacrificing legibility. The build quality was amazing, and it felt very comfortable on my wrist. The combination of a gold and steel case meant that it wasn't too heavy, but it was also shiny to my liking. This watch exuded class and sophistication in a way not very many other watches can at the pricepoint (and moreso than any Rolex IMO). Priced around $10k, just like a few other pieces, I would've taken this home immediately if I had the money.
Grand Seiko Diver SBGH255
This thing is a monstrosity. There's no other way for me to describe what this felt like on my wrist. It was simply too big (but somehow felt better than the Big Bang). Just look at that case thickness (17mm). I could never see myself wearing anything of this sort. The polishing on the bracelet and case was nice, but the dial pattern was ugly. It looked like a little kid attempting to replicate the AP tapisserie dial. Color was also greatly lacking in the dial, this dark gray didn't do it any favors. Also, all of this for 600m water resistance? The Pelagos at 500m and the Sea Dweller at 1220m accomplished that in a far better looking case. One good thing though, the bezel action was really nice and satisfying (this matters a lot to me, regardless of whether or not I actually use a timing bezel for anything).
Grand Seiko SBGH243
After the diver, I was really hoping for better. This watch delivered. I know why Grand Seikos are so revered, models like this are why. It's as if everything was done right on this watch, from the bracelet to the dial to the seconds hand sweep. Not to mention all of that for not too much money. The hour markers have incredible depth and the edges seemed razor sharp. The hands, with the ends being polished looked like mini swords (sword hands?). The blued seconds hand added that pop of color the dial needed. It all worked together so well, I was seriously impressed. It's not every day you see a package this complete for such a price. This watch reminds me of the Omega Speedmaster in a pure "bang for the buck" sense. You get some truly amazing watchmaking for not that absurd of a sum. Would I take this over a Datejust? That's a debate I'll have with myself once I can afford either.
Breitling Superocean II Automatic
Moments before I had to board my flight back home, I decided to try on one last watch. This Breitling took me by surprise. I did not expect to like this watch as much as I did. The watch as a whole felt solid on my wrist. The bracelet links have an interesting and unique slant, something I haven't seen on any other watch. Although the dial might seem a bit busy, it actually felt very legible. The date window was large and clear without the need for a cyclops, something I appreciate on dive-oriented watches. Oh, and not to mention the bezel was super satisfying. Probably one of the best bezels I played with. The clicks were loud, clear, and you could feel each and every one. For the price, I'd say this was one of my favorite watches.
As you can tell, I spent a lot of time examining many different watches from many different brands. For some conclusions I drew:
- Tudor and Rolex don't appeal to me as much as I thought they did
- Patek actually makes amazing pieces if you aren't fixated on the Aquanaut and Nautilus
- The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is a must have for my future collection
- F**k Hublot
- Datejust vs Grand Seiko debate has become even less clear after trying both on
- Zenith's are actually pretty cool
- Don't forget about the Breitling
I had to post my ramblings somewhere, I hope you guys enjoyed reading!