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Is A £5000 Watch Any Better Than A £5 Watch?

15/06/2017 16:01

Luxury watches are one of those areas of shopping where some people get very angry, very quickly if you disagree with them. You'll find bitter remarks online from watch fanatics who are offended at the jewellers who just sell quartz watches from China rather than traditionally made Swiss masterpieces.

It's hard to argue that a luxury watch will be more accurate than a £200 radio controlled quartz watch, even if it is a coveted chronometer which has been independently tested in various temperatures by Swiss horologists.

Add to that the fact that most of us carry a smartphone with a clock means that there's rarely a need to wear a watch at all as a means of telling the time.

So what's the appeal of a £5000 luxury watch?

To start it's worth understanding what's inside a more expensive watch.

The majority of £1000+ watches have an 'automatic movement' which means they don't use batteries and are powered by moving parts which are produced with utter precision. Cheaper quartz watches use electronic wizardry to keep nearly perfect time - a triumph of science certainly but for many the romance is in a watch which has been made in the traditional way.

One argument is that an expensive automatic watch has more 'personality' since it has more of a story behind it which the wearer hopes will tell you something about them. The closest comparison I can think of is a personalised number plate, which serves the same purpose as the cheaper alternative but gives away more about yourself.

A quartz watch is also less likely to be something you can pass down the generations. My Grandad's Mappin & Webb quartz wristwatch uses obsolete parts, so once it gives up, it will be just be a bit of scrap gold. A high quality mechanical watch could theoretically keep going for decades with regular servicing. Admittedly, the servicing may cost more than a cheap new watch but that's not really the point.

For some people, it's just about owning something which is of a high quality. Cheaper watches shatter relatively easily whilst higher quality watches have a 'synthetic sapphire' crystal (the transparent window on the front of the watch). Some - but not all - luxury watches are capable of enduring the pressure of underwater diving. Of course, that's rather unnecessary if you haven't swum in the sea for 20 years but it does signify quality workmanship.

There are other signs of luxury too, such as a gold bracelet or incorporating diamonds which don't add to the practicality of a watch but do add to the price tag and the prestige.

You are of course paying something for heritage and reputation which is associated with big name watch companies. Omega's marketing team persuaded James Bond to switch from wearing a Rolex in the 1990s, whilst companies such as Tag Heuer invest in sports stars and events. The Swiss brand Patek Philippe was favoured by Queen Victoria and still does an excellent job of marketing itself.

Another factor to consider is that some very expensive watches have several 'complications' such as telling you the date or the phases of the moon. Again, the appeal is usually less about the need to know such information and more about the watchmakers ability to produce something so intricate which still manages to work despite being dropped on the floor or repeatedly worn in the shower.

So does a luxury watch make a good investment?

Well, probably not if you consider a good investment to be something which gains in value over time. There are limited edition watches and other exceptions which increase in value but generally you'll find prices are much more affordable in the second hand market.

However, you can perhaps justify the outlay if you consider the amount of use you will get from a watch which will hopefully last for decades and can then be passed on as an heirloom. It may cost the same as a fortnight's cruise but all you'll have left from that is a few photos and a souvenir hat.

It might just be worth checking with your spouse first before splashing out...

This blog first appeared on The Best Watches Guide

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