When I say the perfect watch, I don’t mean the so called “grails” that one actively targets looking through crosshairs. While there is no perfect watch that could possibly be manufactured for the masses, with the multitude of models available, there surely must be a perfect watch that should satisfy my aesthetic values and checklist of complications. But I haven’t found it yet. None of the watches I own or search satisfy my criteria completely, and I daresay that no watch collector has ever found theirs either, otherwise we would stop thirsting for newer or vintage models.
Recently, The Watch Baron, who I admire as a significant Patek watch collector, higher level horology thinker, intelligible writer, financier and man of taste, asked “Is there such a thing as a grail watch?” My abbreviated interpretation of his conclusion was no. There is no such thing as a grail watch to satisfy the voracious appetite we watch collectors exert to obtain one. After obtaining it, we are still unfulfilled and move on to the next one. He was satisfied in purchasing watches that bring him pure joy and will not stop to chase that emotion. The holy grail has been chased for thousands of years and has been increasing in value over the centuries and yet grows more elusive as time elapses whether by tick or no tick. So if we are to define grail watches by calling them as such, then by default, we will never attain their discovery. Once we obtain them they no longer become grails.
For me though, I am still actively searching for that treasured grail watch, that watch that will satisfy all the checkboxes that I desire. And in that sense it is a true grail watch for me because I don’t think such a perfect watch for my needs will ever be manufactured, at least not until all perpetual calendars have to be adjusted in the year 2100 or when I die. Whichever comes first.
CRITERIA FOR MY PERFECT WATCH IN ORDER OF IMPORTANCE
Assumption: It is an all or none phenomenon. All of these criteria as of 14 June 2020 have to be fulfilled to be qualified as my perfect watch. Of course this may most certainly change but this is how it stands as of this day.
COMFORT AND JOY
As I mature in this watchgame, and after wearing many Rolex supercases, I’ve come to realize that ultra light and ultra thin is my niche. After purchasing the Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5167a, and feeling the absence of feeling, gave me the clairvoyance that I’d rather not to be aware of the watch on my wrist. I despise the bulk and heft of modern day masculine watches and prefer light and airy. I love the feeling of wearing a watch like a talisman guiding me towards a destination or deadline and without a watch I feel disoriented to time which is closely related to space. But paradoxically, I don’t like to feel the watch. The less I feel the watch while still being present the better. The Aquanaut’s mass is only 80g and I am seldom aware of the watch even when it slides up and down my wrist. Other watches are very present when they move with daily activities. It is also quite thin at 8.3mm which is quite rare for a mechanical watch these days which makes my search more difficult because watches tend to be thicker and bulkier nowadays. On the other hand though, availability for my genre may be easier if everyone else is searching for the opposite. The maximum thickness I would tolerate would be 9.5-10mm. The bracelet and clasp should be light enough to not be felt but yet sturdy enough to not wither and lose conformity.
I desire a watch and bracelet that is as light and thin as possible that will house all the complications I want. And although I adore the lustre and allure of precious metal watches, I fear that they may be ruled out simply because of weight. This leaves me with stainless steel or titanium cases with either the same metal or rubber bracelets. Any species leather is very comfortable but just too impractical and unsanitary especially in this era of frequent handwashing and chemical sanitization. I have owned a titanium Grand Seiko Snowflake and even despite the lack of weight the watch did not contour well to the shape of my wrist and felt asymmetrical and uncomfortable. Although titanium is half as dense and stronger than stainless steel, one of my expert watchmaker friends told me that titanium waste is more harmful to the environment. Therefore I would rather pick stainless steel for that reason and also that it is easier to polish should it need.
In terms of aesthetics which are highly subjective and difficult to describe, I will only comment that I prefer colored dials that have a sunburst effect but this is not an absolute necessity. What is essential for my needs is lumed hour and minute hands so I can read the time during the night. Because aesthetics are secondary to comfort to me I also prefer understated and not blingy. Even some gold watches (especially white gold or platinum) can be understated and light but those that are visual statement pieces (e.g. diamond paveed) do not appeal to me. The joy factor is actually the simplest criteria to satisfy for it is an all or none phenomenon. One quick glance and watch lovers know if they love it or not.
My perfect watch would not be very complicated and requires only three well established complications, a perpetual calendar, a second time zone and a seconds hand. While I have never seen this combination of complications in one watch, I would love to see one manufactured in the future. Of course this task may be difficult to create all three complications satisfying my ultra light and ultra thin requirement but maybe the technology will advance one day.
MECHANISM AND POWER RESERVE
In terms of horological expertise, besides the rudimentary hairspring, escapement and rotor, I know nothing. But does a watch collector really need to get deep into the details of a watch mechanism? I think the answer is a resounding no. Does a man need to know the inner workings of a beautiful woman’s inner organs and their physiology to appreciate her beauty? No, he just needs to know that they are in good working order and that she is healthy and even if she’s not it doesn’t matter for his appreciation and awe. I only require that the mechanism is accurate to the highest standards of Swiss horology and that it be robust and durable enough to pass on to subsequent generations, hopefully my children.
Power reserve has become more important to collectors nowadays let’s admit. Watch collectors rarely own one watch only and the many that they own require constant winding. Depending on the number of watches and whether they wear them often, winding can be quite a frequent task. If you are like me, the difference between a 48hr and 70hr power reserve is huge and I must admit that a 70hr power reserve gives me extra breathing room and much less inconvenience. So, the greater the power reserve for me the better. If I can go a week without winding that would be ideal.
BRAND REPUTABILITY AND INVESTMENT
Forgive me for being a callous, superficial and impure collector but I do require my watch to be from a reputable brand. Immediately, I can only think of three brands, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet or A. Lange & Sohne. Other brands either do not make perpetual calendars or their styles just do not appeal to my offbeat tastes. People often ask me if I require only ultra light and ultra thin, then buy a plastic Swatch or an Apple Watch. Why buy an expensive luxury watch when a much cheaper one will satisfy your criteria? My simple answer is very snobbish and curt. I just don’t like those cheaper brands and yes, I am into high end brands and not afraid to admit that I buy them because of their allure and reputation. Even though they may be overpriced and unnecessary, my attraction exists for the exact reason they are overpriced. They are beautiful objects of marvel and craftsmanship that are the products of years and years of toil and experience. When a reputable physician charges high fees for their care, part of the cost is their expertise, their level of experienced judgment and their previous mistakes. The cost can be justified by these unaccountable ledgers that we do not obviously notice.
In terms of investment, uh, yah of course I would like my timepiece to rapidly appreciate in value immediately after purchase. Who wouldn’t? Would I ever sell it like a day trader or hold for the long term? Unlike equities where my initial investment purpose was to grow in value, watches are to me an emotional investment. If I don’t procure any joy from them anymore, I will place a limit price and sell. If however, the watch produces joy and monetary appreciation then so much the better. I will keep it knowing that it’s worth more joy and more money. One can always make modest to high returns on the stock market but obtaining that unobtainable watch one desires almost borders on the impossible. The volume is just too high and the shares outstanding are just too scarce which would result in an exorbitant market cap.
My perfect watch would be ultra light and thin (40 mm and 9.5-10mm max.) so as to have barely any presence on the wrist. It should require an equally light and thin bracelet and clasp. Essential complications I would absolutely require are a perpetual calendar, a second time zone and a second hand. Aesthetics are personal but objectively, I would require great legibility, understatedness, lumed hands and large numerals. I am not picky about the mechanism as long as it satisfies minimal thickness, extreme durability, longevity and standard accuracy.
WILL I EVER FIND MY PERFECT WATCH WITH THESE CRITERIA?
The short answer is no, not in the near future. There are just too many complications to fit into an Aquanaut, 5711 or Royal Oak “jumbo” sized case. Unless the technology advances rapidly in mechanical watchmaking I certainly don’t see it happening in my lifetime. The new Audemars Piguet 26586 houses a full perpetual calendar in a ridiculously thin 6.3mm case but the 41mm platinum case will presumably wear large and heavy like other 41mm Royal Oaks. It does come close to fulfilling my criteria but lacking in a GMT mechanism, a seconds hand and a smaller case. It also is way out of my price range so quite a major hurdle.
I have yet to see a perpetual calendar with a GMT mechanism. Ulysse Nardin manufactures an annual calendar – GMT and Rolex has the annual calendar – GMT Sky Dweller but both those do not appeal to me visually and sizewise. This leads me to postulate that this combination of mechanisms is extremely difficult to manufacture, if not impossible, with current technology.
This begs the next question for watch collectors out there. Will there ever be a perfect watch that satisfies all personal criteria for specific individuals? My answer is again a resounding NO! There are too many permutations and combinations of requirements and tastes to ever satisfy the masses from a manufacturing and business point of view. It would be nonsensical to tailor a perfect watch for the masses when a perfect watch remains undefined and extraneous. So, unless one has very deep pockets and has extreme standing within a watch maison, the only way of obtaining their perfect watch would necessitate manufacturing a unique bespoke piece. But my suspicion is even then, it would never happen. That is why we keep chasing our so called “grails” in the hopes of finding that one watch which will fulfill all of our idiosyncratic cravings and criteria. And that is also why we will never stop. Surely, the Swiss maisons know this very well and have probably studied this psychology in depth. But I am quite happy that they have me cornered because otherwise I wouldn’t play this game. And let’s be honest, we all love the game, some more than the watches. I love both.