Why Classic Mechanical Luxury Watches Will Always Have Prime Time

by Dr Kenny Pang

Since man started recording history slightly over 2000 years ago, man and his inventions have been evolving slowly. Ironically, it has only been in the last 20 odd years (1% of time since 1 A.D.) that the evolution of electronics and technology has stretched beyond anyone’s imagination.

From the introduction of the “huge brick” mobile phone Motorola DynaTAC in 1983 that we fondly refer to as a WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction), to the clamp-shell Ericsson mobile phone, to the (then market leader in 1998) Finnish brand Nokia, and since 2008 to the latest small and lightweight smart phones (Android and Apple).

The course of evolution is clear, the need for progress and advancement is imperative. Nothing must stymie the world from improvement and progression.

As consumers we embraced and accelerated the ‘hardware to software’ movement, and the ‘look up‘ challenge remains. In recent years, the smart movement has also crept into the world of watches.

What does it mean to the craft of watchmaking?

Since the beginning of watchmaking in the 1700s, the craft (of watchmaking) and the early pioneers of the likes of Blancpain, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Jaeger LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne have met with many tribulations along the way. From the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798 to the Napoleonic Wars in 1803-1815 and the World Wars, not forgetting the separation of Berlin in 1948. One can say that by far the largest adversity in the history of watchmaking, was the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s to the early 1980s. By 1983, the crisis reached a critical point. The Swiss watch industry which had 1,600 watchmakers in 1970, had declined to 600 by 1983. And in 2014, following the introduction of smart watches, economists have noted and predicted a slight decline in the mechanical watch industry as well. Is this true and will it last?

The question is, why does one still bother to wear a watch? There are a vast number of devices in our daily lives that can tell time any time, any where (including the mobile phone, the clock on the wall, the desk top computer, the clock in the car, and even the time indicator at the subway). One does not need a watch to tell time, and yet we still exercise the option of putting on a watch. Are we simply just creatures or slaves to habit?

9 reasons why the classic mechanical luxury watch will always have prime time:

1. It has a heritage

One still wears a watch not just as part of the ‘get-up’ or for convenience, but because it is more than just a watch (especially those of us who appreciate the intricate craftsmanship of a mechanical timepiece); it is a timepiece with a story, a heritage, a legacy and great labour put into making it. Every timepiece from a watchmaker has a story, it could span over 200 years of family heritage and legacy. It could represent struggle, tears and joy in generations of a family tree.

2. It has a personality

Each timepiece has a personality, a distinct character. For the one who appreciates it, it has a voice that calls out to the owner (like an alarm or a minute repeater). For most, it is an emotional experience, curating and deciding which timepiece to purchase. It is true, but often denied, that we do take time to consider which timepiece to wear or bring, to which occasion and/or travel. It is a real and well thought-out process.

3. It is complicated

Typically, one has to, first like the look of the timepiece. From its shape, dial, guilloche, lugs, crown, numerals, colour, strap to its number of complications. For the watch enthusiast, one may be more attracted to timepieces with more complications. It takes a great number of years to produce an in-house calibre, with a variety of complications. It requires tremendous technical expertise and innovation to create a ground-breaking, world’s first, invention (for example, the world’s thinnest automatic watch, Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P; the A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split Chronograph, the first mechanical split-seconds chronograph in the world that allows multi-hour comparative time measurements).

4. It is sentimental

One would always treasure that 21st birthday timepiece, or the graduation present, the wedding gift, or even the first self-earned automatic mechanical timepiece that you bought for yourself. What would completely resonate in our hearts, is that timepiece our late father had given to us before his passing. As a father, what better gift for my child, than a timepiece that would last forever and remind her of the time we shared and spent together.

5. It is a status symbol

Some classic timepieces from the watch makers are in the 5 to 6 figure range. For those who can afford these classic complicated luxurious timepieces, donning one on for that important social event is a must. Many of these watch makers have also combined high end jewellery into their watch making craftsmanship, by paving their dial, bezel, lugs, bracelet strap, with high quality diamonds and gems.

6. It is a collectible.

There will be the rare and exclusive pieces from a once off production. Or intricately created Metiers d’Art jewellery watches that are one of a kind. Commemorative or homage collections, such as the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 “Homage to Walter Lange” collection are examples of potential trophy acquisitions in a collector’s watch hoard. For the significance that they embody. We have also seen in the recent years how some legacy watchmaker brands have acquired, reconditioned and resold authentic antique pieces to ardent collectors who appreciate the craft of these brands. Snail mail is not as fashionable now with the advent of email, but some people collect stamps. Whether you collect cufflinks, pens, comics; or for the ladies, collect bags, shoes or jewellery, the collection is uniquely yours. Every person should have a passion for something, a hobby that would keep one engaged and fascinated. Collecting watches can be very interesting and beguiling with the enormous number of genres of watches to appreciate and choose from. One can be easily immersed in this hobby.

7. It is an investment

It is well recognized that classic, exquisite luxury timepieces are investible, if not a good investment. Certain watch brands actually appreciate in value over time (especially limited editions and iconic models), and this is well illustrated in the watch auctions around the world.

8. It is part of an economic equation.

There are over 7 billion inhabitants of the world, the top 0.5% of the world would make up 35 million people who can afford a luxury mechanical timepiece. Based on Credit Suisse’s “Global Wealth Report in 2017”, there are over 15 million millionaires in USA alone and over 31 million millionaires in the world. Most individuals who appreciate watches would own at least 5-7 luxury watches in their lifetime, making this luxury watch making industry thrive for a very much longer time.

9. It represents progress

Timepieces have evolved over the past 200 years, watches have been made smaller, lighter and thinner. Watchmakers have been working relentlessly to push the envelope of innovation, and have shown the world that mechanical watches are reliable, accurate and stellar in their performance. Timepieces are able to keep time precisely and in several perpetual calendar watches, need not be adjusted till 2100. Even the newer timepieces have longer power reserves, case in point, the Lange 31 has a 744 hours power reserve.

In the continuum of time, that is smart progress in its own right.


All images courtesy of Dr Kenny Pang

Related links:

Piaget: Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P 

A. Lange & Söhne: Triple Split Chronograph

A. Lange & Söhne: 1815 “Homage to Lange Walter”


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