A Tale of Six Watches

What’s the difference between just loving watches and being a real enthusiast (geek)? My answer to this question is, ‘time’. I don’t mean that it is inevitable that you will transition from watch lover to full geek; what I do mean is that people like me are interested in a watch not only as a piece of jewellery, but as an actual time piece. Enthusiasts want to understand how a watch works and the different types of movements and complications that are available.

Like all enthusiast I thought that the only, ‘real watch’ was a mechanical watch. However my experiences over the last few years with four mechanical watches, when compared to my experience of two quartz watches have changed my view.

So what makes a particular watch, ‘special’ to the wearer? I think that a loved watch has to have the following ingredients;

  • Acceptably (to you) accurate and reliable time piece
  • Look good
  • Feel good on the wrist
  • Flawlessly perform the role that you require (dress watch, tool watch, everyday watch, sports watch, diving watch…)
  • Have a back story and personal meaning to you
  • Make you feel better when wearing it than when not.

The list above is fairly self-explanatory, however I feel that the, ‘accuracy thing’ needs to be clarified because although accuracy may be specified in cold technical terms; as a watch owner I don’t think it’s that simple. For example I am a bit of a time keeper. My professional career depended upon me knowing the time to within a minute or two and I’m just one of those guys who hates being late.  For me a watch has to be accurate to within a minute at all times, otherwise I start to get the jitters. This translates to not having to adjust a watch more than once a week and preferable nowhere near this frequently. Not only does a watch have to achieve my required level of long term accuracy; it also has to maintain it in all reasonable circumstances. Now I accept that mechanical watches have physical limitations, but given that most watches accuracies are well within that stated for the movement’s specification then this shouldn’t be a problem. For me a mechanical watch is, ‘optimally adjusted’ if the watchmaker has been able to make it generally lose time in daily use, but then to gain some time when placed in a specific orientation. This means that it can be taken off at night and will lose the time it has gained, hence maintaining a very low level of, ‘creeping inaccuracy’. This means that you may not have to adjust the time for many months; as in the case of my REC RJM 02. Also I accept that a mechanical movement is more mechanically and magnetically delicate than a quartz one, therefore riding my bike on road and mowing the lawn should be OK, whereas a hard off road cycle or a gym session would mean leaving my mechanical watch at home, and that’s fine too.

To save lots of, ‘wordiness’ you will find at the end of this article a tabulated assessment of six of my own watches. I have marked each watch out of six for each characteristic that I have identified and I have used the resulting score to help me rank these watches in order of favouritism:

  • Casio G-Steel – Possibly the best value watch in the world. You really don’t need anything else from a watch. All you will get with a watch that is one hundred times more expensive is greater jewellery factor. If I could keep only one of my many watches then this would be it. I love this watch.
  • REC RJM 02 –I am very emotionally attached to this watch and although not perfect it is by far my favourite mechanical timepiece. I love it enough to put up with its mechanical limitations.
  • Seiko 5 – I disregarded my scoring and moved this one up three places on my list. A great mechanical watch for £60. I love wearing it as a dress watch and it’s a keeper. I really like this watch.
  • Casio Lineage Titanium – A huge amount of watch for the money. Lovely to wear in hot conditions and an excellent time piece with just a couple of small quality issues. I really like this watch.
  • Seiko SARB 017 Alpinist. Lovely watch to look at and wear, but at its price it is disappointing as a timepiece. It has cost me an additional £170 to get it regulated and it feels like a rip-off compared to my Seiko 5. I like this watch, but I may sell it on.
  • Rolex Datejust – Terrible watch but objectively it was beautifully built and I dumped it as soon as I could. I have five other watches at the moment including two that are near thirty years old and they all rank above the Rolex. It was a horrible watch.

From the experiences listed and forty years of buying and wearing watches I have come to the following personal conclusions.

  • Mechanical watches are for the heart, but it needs to be a big forgiving one to put up with the frustrations of use and ownership.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between cost and the accuracy and reliability of time keeping for a mechanical watch. My most accurate mechanical cost £60, the worst by far was my £3000 Rolex. It’s just luck whether you get a reasonably accurate one, even at the higher end. I do accept that you are less likely to get a, ‘dud’ as the price increase, but I have proven that it still happens.
  • My experience suggests that Seiko can be rubbish at adjusting individual watches, such as my SARB 017 Alpinist, and just rely on basic regulation of the movement. Even Rolex can get it badly wrong.
  • Seiko and Rolex Servicing was, to be quite honest, pants!
  • A small watch company like REC may put more effort into individual manual adjustment of each watch. This is also probably true of luxury mechanical watches costing many thousands of pounds.
  • Mechanical watches are inconvenient for occasional use because you either need a watch winder to store them, or spend time setting it every time you want to use it. Also each watch responds differently to each watch winder. It’s a bit of a nightmare.
  • Mechanical watches don’t make good day or tool watches for active people because their accuracy can be compromised by significant activity. I’m my case the movement in my £1200 REC watch broke from 10 seconds of polite clapping at a birthday party. Since repair I can no longer trust its robustness.
  • It seems odd that in general the finish and build quality of a mechanical watch is better than a quartz watch of the same price. After all, the quartz movement is far cheaper than the mechanical one.
  • Quartz watches are for the head, but if you choose wisely then some can also pull at the heart strings, like my Casio G-Steel.
  • Even a ridiculously expensive mechanical watch is nowhere near as robustly and reliably accurate as a cheap quartz watch.
  • Sophisticated quartz movements not only have far superior accuracy, reliability and robustness compared to mechanicals, but they also have some amazing technological functions (complications).
  • Quartz watches are without doubt the best tool watches.
  • High torque quartz movements can support as interesting and ornate hand designs as mechanical watches, which used to be one of the design advantages of the mechanical watch.
  • I read lots of professional reviews of mainly mechanical watches and not one has ever mentioned any of the problems that I seem to be plagued with. It is difficult to believe that I have been so unlucky with three out of four watches; I now doubt the integrity of watch reviews.

Throughout my life I have probably owned over twenty mechanical watches and the bottom line for me is that sadly, I don’t think I will ever take the risk of buying another mechanical watch. It’s not only that quartz watches are far better timepieces than mechanicals, but they have, over time become truly sophisticated in both form and function. I just wish that manufactures would in general increase the quality of design and build to match that of the mechanical watch.

Finally my advice to most people would be to spend the majority of your money on a high functioning quartz watch. If you want a mechanical then buy one or more Seiko 5s’. They are cheap, look great, and if one disappoints, then just throw it away and get another one.

Accuracy Robustness Build Quality Functions On the wrist Design TOTALS
Time gained or lost over 24 hours. Unless otherwise specified.

The reliability of the accuracy under environmental conditions and orientation

How the operation of the watch is isolated from everyday shocks. I never wear my mechanical watches for highly active events such as sports or gardening. Quality of finishing of the case, hands, glass and face. Also the tactile nature of buttons and winders. Functions available on the watch such as day, date, perpetual calendar, stopwatch etc. How does the watch feel on the wrist in every day usage. This also includes the watches usability in terms of clarity of displays and access to functions. The design quality in terms of overall aesthetic.
Seiko 5 (£60). Owned for 3 years. (3) Reliably loses around 4 seconds per day, so better than SARB017. Accuracy not highly dependent upon watch orientation. (2) Only problem is the hardlex glass which scratches very easily. Seems pretty shock resistant. (2). Stunning for £60. (1) Day/date. NO hacking, which is a significant limitation. (5). Light and comfortable. Easy to read. Not good in dark. (2) Simple and classic dress watch style 15
Seiko SARB017 Alpinist (£400). Owned for 1 year (2) Initially lost 2 minutes per day. After service by Seiko lost 15 secs per day! Local watchmaker has got it to losing 5 seconds per day. Not dependent upon watch orientation. (3) Seems pretty robust to shock. Loses 5 seconds per day whatever you do to the watch. This is a good thing. (3) Pips the Seiko 5 with sapphire crystal and waterproofing. Supplied strap was horrible and needed replacing. (4) Day/Date and hacking. Silly manual compass. (2). Light and reasonably comfortable but the strap I bought could be better. Better lume than Seiko 5. (4) Bit quirky but in a good way. Lovely green face and gold Cathedral hands. 20
REC RJM 02 (£1200). Owned for 2 months. (4) Lost less than 2 seconds per day. Correct wearing strategy means I could keep it to losing 2 seconds per month!

Recently it has started to lose 4 seconds per day and has stopped gaining so much in the face up position. Have no idea why this has happened. Still my most accurate mechanical watch.

(1) Broke after politely clapping hands at a party for 10 seconds or so. (5) Better than the SARB017 but behind the Rolex. Supplied leather strap is good enough quality and comfortable but will need replacing. (4) Day/date and hacking (6). Light and comfortable. Good lume and easy to read. Lovely smooth sweep compared to all but the Rolex. (6). Subtly encapsulates the design of the spitfire and has a bit of a spitfire in it. An all occasion watch. Great balance between retro and modern. 26
Rolex Datejust (£3000 from new). Owned for 6 months. (1) Lost minutes per day. After service by Rolex it lost 20 seconds per day. Completely unacceptable. Eventually got my money back. (4) Although it was a dud it coped well with everyday life. (6). Superb. (4) Day/Date and Hacking (1). Heavy and bulky. Only watch I have ever owned where strap could pinch. Aware I used to knock it a lot on doors etc. Strangely this isn’t a problem with the bulkier G-Shock. (3). It’s a Rolex so simple but very classy. But also a bit boring. People looked at it because it was a Rolex not because it was a looker. 19
Casio Lineage (£200). Owned for 4 years. (6) 100% accurate all of the time (5). Quartz so very robust. (1). Titanium case and bracelet lifts it, but quality not as good as Seiko 5, but waterproof 200m (5) World time, solar powered, atomic, stop watch, alarms, timers, back light, auto power down mode, (4) Light and non-allergenic. Very cool to wear in hot conditions. Reasonably easy to read with backlight. Love the palpable precision; watching the hands move fractions of a degree with ultimate synchronicity (1). Nice but not eye catching and has no distinguishing design feature. It is incredibly slim for a watch with this level of tech. 22
Casio G – Steel (£350). Owned for 3 years. (6) 100% accurate all of the time. (6). Quartz G-Shock. Almost indestructible. Even has feature that senses if hands are under high g-force and compensates. I never doubt the accuracy of this watch. (4). As good as the SARB017 but with clearest glass I have ever seen. Could do with being made of harder steel. (6) Same as lineage but better back light and hands can be moved out of the way. (3) Heavy, but very comfortable. Very easy to read in any conditions.

Love the palpable precision; watching the hands move fractions of a degree with ultimate synchronicity.

(5) Marmite styling but I love it. More sophisticated than non-steel G-Shocks. The many angled and polished steel surfaces reflect light beautifully. Quite eye-catching 30

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