Finally able to share the results of my timing project and get feedback from my fellow WISers on some unresolved questions. Why did I do this? Simple. I’m new to this “hobby” and wanted a way to evaluate and compare watches based on their performance. Fair warning, this is a ridiculously long post, so you may want grab a p̶o̶t̶ ̶o̶r̶ ̶t̶w̶o̶ ̶o̶f̶ coffee if you decide to take the plunge. Happy reading.
PART I: MOTIVATION AND AIMS
Despite being the “watch guy” in my social circles, I still marvel at how much I’ve learned in the short time I’ve spent on this site. I couldn’t be more grateful to all of you who make WUS such a fine place for watch-lovers to learn, laugh, and share. With that said, I do on occasion privately bemoan the tendency for so many of the reviews, recommendations, and just good old rants/raves about watches (or brands) to focus primarily on aesthetics. In fairness, other factors are routinely referenced—as one would expect from an enthusiast site like this one—but even then, I’ve found that most rarely venture beyond A) other subjective criteria like brand pedigree or reputation, OR B) static characteristics like materials and fit/finish. The former are endlessly debatable—while the latter are of limited scope and practical utility. Neither scratches the itch for an overly empirical, performance-obsessed enthusiast like myself.
Not to say styling and brand cachet don’t have a place of course, particularly in shaping individual purchase decisions. But even if we relegate the c̶o̶m̶m̶o̶n̶ nefarious practice of “buying for looks” to the plebes (though I have done this as well), how much WISer (ha!) are we who "̶b̶u̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶n̶a̶m̶e̶"̶ focus instead on the history, heritage, and haute horlogerie of the house printed on the dial? Both are subjective reasons to buy a watch, IMO. The second simply requires a bit more reading. More importantly, both offer less than ideal criteria for evaluating and comparing watches, much less making purchase recommendations to those less “in the know.” Aesthetics, like beauty itself, are in the eye of the beholder. Arguing the attractiveness of the dial, case, or bracelet of watch A vs. watch B is like arguing one’s favorite color (pointless, since purple is clearly best) or favorite Scotch (equally pointless, because Macallan C/S). All opinions are valid; they differ only in prevalence and conviction.
A watch’s design parameters, features, materials, and finishing provide a more objective, even quantifiable, basis for comparison, and I could almost, almost be content collecting and critiquing solely on these criteria. Seriously, the knowledge on display here at WUS is one of the biggest reasons I treasure this site. Hearing “real watch guys” (which I am not) argue the particulars of watch design and execution is a real privilege, and to those who live and breathe this stuff, I offer my sincerest praise. Be that as it may, I see build quality and performance as different animals. A toilet made of gold with a brushed platinum handle and diamond coated fittings is certainly more “lovingly crafted” than the average toilet, but it’s not clear that such lavish appointments make for a less leaky or better flushing commode, only a rarer and more expensive one. To be sure, a watch’s “specs” tell us some things about its performance--sapphire trumps glass, screw down crowns tend to seal better, etc.—but this speaks more to durability and longevity, IMO. It’s certainly reasonable to assume that build quality and performance are correlated, but I hear this assumption far more than I see it tested, much less proven.
As a hard numbers guy, I’ve never gotten comfortable with the idea of a watch’s value being so heavily centered on craftsmanship, pedigree, and (especially) styling, rather than performance. I shop cars based on how they drive, speakers based on how they sound, and whiskies based on how they taste. Why should a watch’s function be any less relevant? Sure, styling and status symbols are important—particularly to those who see watches like earrings and bracelets—but even as our high tech gadgets (network signals and battery life notwithstanding) continue to supplant them, watches remain, first and foremost, timepieces. Excellence in timekeeping is the coin of the realm—everything else is just marketing hype, tastes, and gold toilets, IMO.
And contrary to the oft voiced opinion, technical inferiority does not alter this equation. Yes, mechanical watches are based on “obsolete,” centuries-old technology. Yes, there are limits to how well said technology can perform. But isn’t part of the joy of our o̶b̶s̶e̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ WIScraft found in testing those limits, pushing the envelope with better engineering, better materials, tighter tolerances, and so on? The Quartz revolution may have reshaped the battlefield, but it didn’t change the mission. No one expects a S.E.T. Tube Amp to match the sonic accuracy of its solid state contemporaries, or a manual transmission to match the speed and efficiency of its twin-clutch, self-shifting sibling. But we still expect our amplifiers to make sweet music, our cars to provide spirited drives, and our watches to keep good time. And the “better” the watch—be it l̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ mechanical or s̶o̶u̶l̶l̶e̶s̶s̶ quartz, the more capably it should do so.
My specific aims in taking on this project, then, are as follows:
1) Systematically test how well various automatic watches keep time
2) Identify key indicators of timekeeping performance
3) Make limited, but empirically-derived, inferences about the accuracy and precision of various makes and models of mechanical watches
4) Write up the results in laymen’s terms, share them with the WUS community, and invite feedback