To some people a watch is just a watch, a device that will tell you the time. For us watch aficionados it means much more than that. This article is for the group of people that are new to mechanical watches, and want to know why these watches are so special and how the (often steep) price tag is justified.
First of all, a mechanical watch is a piece of high-end engineering. It takes the utmost precision and concentration from both machines and men to be able to produce a fine mechanical timepiece. Working with incredibly small tolerances that are basically microscopic to zero, pushes watchmaking to the border of what is possible. This is necessary, for the creation of mechanical watch that is able to keep perfect time with only a small tolerance in deviations. And to do this every day, every week, every month, even for years without servicing.
Compare that to your car, that you use probably only a few times per day but will need servicing sooner rather than later. Only after a 5-7 year period (on average), do you need to have your watch serviced to replace worn out parts, clean parts, and renew oil. The abuse a (mechanical) watch has to deal with – were it for magnetic fields alone – keeps watch manufacturers fully occupied, to be able to deliver you the best possible product that will just keep on working. Talk about durability.
Although – in most cases – the parts are being milled and produced by high-end machinery with very low tolerances, a lot of the Swiss and German brands still finish and assemble the parts (being it movement parts or parts of the watch case and bracelet) by hand.
Keep in mind that I have only mentioned the manufacturing process till now. What to think of the actual construction of the mechanical movement? Not only movements that just tell time and indicate a date (which can already be brain breakers), what to think of movements that feature complications. In watchmaking, a ‘complication’ refers to a specific function that is complex to design, develop, and manufacture. Typical complications on a mechanical watch with a high complexity level are, for example, the much talked-about tourbillon or a minute repeater. A tourbillon is a complex solution to fight the gravitational pull a watch has to deal with as the watch continuously changes positions while the wearer’s wrist moves around throughout each day. A minute repeater is a complication that will indicate the actual time by sound after the wearer pulled a lever or pushes a button. Three different sounds are used to indicate and distinguish the hours, quarters, and minutes.
This type of work is basically performed by artisans we call watchmakers, creating small miracles (by hand) that illustrates the most precious thing to its wearer:time.
The number of hours put into developing a watch, creating a watch that utilizes the most precisely produced parts for its movement, case, dial, hands, and so on, testing a watch over and over again before it leaves the factory (did you know that Jaeger-LeCoultre puts a 1000-hour test in their Master Control series?), and most of all, requiring the utmost concentration of watchmakers every day of the week. All these ingredients are very decisive on the price tag of the mechanical watch you will find here on Chrono24.