Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Some Surprising Things About Certain Watches

Let's start with the Swiss luxury watchmaker Bovet, which manufactures a variety of watches which can be converted from wristwatches with leather straps to tabletop clocks to pocket watches on chains, and back again to the wristwatches,

all in a matter of seconds, with no tools, easy as can be, just by pushing some buttons and pulling some levers. These watches by Bovet are interesting to me because I like pocket watches, and the world is not exactly swimming in new high-quality pocket watches these days. (New cheap crap pocket watches: there you got more to choose from. I think maybe because of steampunk, but I'm not sure. How much do I know about steampunk? If I weren't into pocket watches, I might still have never even heard the word "steampunk," that's how much.)

If I had one of these Bovets, maybe I would be surprised to learn that I actually occasionally preferred to use the wristwatch- or tabletop clock-configuration. But it would be a surprise if I ever owned a Bovet, because the only ones I've eve seen cost 5 or 6 figures.

I've finally broken free of The Watch Snob's disdain for watches from Panerai, and allowed myself to covet them unreservedly, although I can't afford them either. Today I came across a review of the Panerai PAM 560,

And was quite surprised to see that this beautiful thing, with a MSRP closer to 10 grand than 5, doesn't have a second hand.

Then I looked at pictures of a lot of Panerais and was surprised to see that many of them have no second hands.

Then I thought about that for a while, and had to come to the surprising conclusion -- surprising to me. It may not surprise you at all -- that many very expensive watches from some of the most top-end of top-end brands don't have second hands. For example, take another look at that Bovet higher up on the page: do you see a second hand anywhere? I don't. I see an hour hand and a minute hand, are they're both on a very tiny dial. It seems that with this model, Bovet's biggest concern about the dial was that it not interfere with looking at the movement -- what you and I might be more accustomed to referring to as "the guts." And the guts are lovely to look at, no doubt.

Something that surprises me even more about that Panerai: it's got an 8-day power reserve, but no power reserve indicator. I've seen pictures of the back of the watch, it's not there either. This is a hand-wind watch, not an automatic -- is the owner supposed to remember how many days ago he or she wound it?

That Bovet, with the tiny dial and no second hand: I'm sure it's accurate to within a few seconds a months, that's what that pretty movement is there for. But it's seems to me that you'd have to own it for a year or so, and pay very close attention, to know for sure if it really was that accurate. But many of us have to re-set our watches every 6 months to change between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time -- clearly, some people are prepared to pay huge amounts of money for watches, huge in part because they are extremely high-accuracy and high-precision instruments, and are content not to be able to check that accuracy.

Well, glass houses and stones: there's no need to have any kind of watch at all these days.

Now we come to a watch which I could actually afford, if I saved up for a while: the Swatch Sistem51 Irony:

Swatch is the Swiss watch brand known for making inexpensive and disposable quartz watches with plastic cases. Disposable, because the plastic cases are sealed shut so they can't be opened up for repairs.

A few years ago, Swatch introduced the Sistem51, a mechanical watch. I first heard about the Sistem51 a couple of days ago. 51 is the number of parts in the watch, a very low number of parts. Some very expensive watches (see for example Bovet, above) have as many parts as possible, are complicated for the sake of being complicated. Indeed, the French word "Complication" is part of the name of some of the most expensive watches offered by various companies. But you can go the other way, too, and see how much a watch can do with how few parts. The Seiko 5, for example, has become a legend because of its simple, and tremendously reliable, design. I've been trying to find out exactly how many parts a Seiko 5 has. I'm sure various models of the 5 have different numbers of parts. I'm pretty sure none has as few as 51.

The first Swatch51's came with plastic cases which were sealed shut: not made to be repaired, just like other products from Swatch. But then I learned to my surprise about the Sistem51 Irony, released just a couple of years ago: these are watches with metal cases which open up for maintenance. Swatch is making concessions to watch fanciers who like permanence.

At first I thought they were called Irony because it was ironic that Swatch was going in this direction. But having thought about it some more, I'm now almost entirely sure that it's because, instead of the usual Swatch plastic cases, the Ironies have metal cases. Steel cases. Steel with iron in it. Huh? Get it? Iron. The cases are iron-y. Iron-y -- huh?! Huh?! Get it?

I'm mostly interested in the Sistem51 Irony at this point because some people who seem to know watches well seem tremendously excited about it. It's like smoke and fire: their excitement is there, like smoke, which means that maybe someday I, too, will be excited about it -- like catching fire. There is a lot of excitement about the fact that the Sistem51 is entirely assembled by robots. I was surprised to learn that it is (or was? I don't know) the very first watch with no hand-assembly. Experts seem to regard the Sistem512 design as revolutionary. They think it could lead to huge, huge steps forward in watch design. (Has it already? I don't know.)

So, okay, I'll keep an eye on it.

I've read two different head-to-head reviews comparing the Swatch Sistem51 Irony to the Seiko 5. They're both about the same price. The Irony is slightly more expensive. Both reviews concluded that the Seiko 5, generally regarded as the best deal in the world of watches, is slightly better than the Irony -- but only slightly. They both suggested that if a person was really into watches and wanted to have more than one, but was poor, they might want both the Seiko 5 and the Irony.

I'm not going to get an Irony right away. Unless someone gives one to me.

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