Why it makes sense to shell out thousands of dollars for ‘outdated’ watch technology

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The internal mechanical components of an IWC mechanical watch. Hollis Johnson

Many men currently coming of age are confused. They don’t know much about watches, and they don’t know where to start when they realise they need one.

Unlike most fashion accessories, watches are complicated objects, and the choices watch purchasers must make are incredibly numerous and varied. Do I go for mechanical or quartz? What differentiates one brand from another? What complications do I need? Is the difference in price really worth that amount of money?

For every man who fancies himself a discerning gentleman, however, I’m about to make one of those decisions extremely clear. Choose the mechanical watch every time.

Mechanical watches are, in a word, outdated. They’re less accurate than a battery-powered quartz watch. The best mechanical watches are within a few seconds of accuracy, but still may lose 5-10 seconds a day. Quartz watches, on the other hand, are perfect by design, and may only lose about 4 seconds a month.

And yet, mechanical watches are still significantly more interesting. They’re more complicated, incorporating all the expertise and knowledge of watchmaking of the 20th century. They have a much larger number of tiny moving parts inside, and require hours and hours of painstaking labour to make. They’re impressive pieces of machinery — monuments to the height of mechanical achievement in an analogue world.

“A mechanical watch allows us to express our appreciation for something done the best it can be done,” writes Fashionbeans’ watch columnist Robin Swithinbank.

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But mechanical watches can also be viewed as a conscious step backward. A reminder of a simpler, less technology-obsessed time, when the most complicated piece of machinery you’d encounter on a daily basis was the combustion engine.

“There’s something very anti-tech and hipster about mechanical timepieces,” tech entrepreneur and watch enthusiast Kevin Rose told me in July. “A rejection of technology.”

Mechanical watches are outdated technology. And yet, people are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for them. A mechanical watch identifies you as a discerning buyer: one that cares about the tiny details, one that appreciates history and heritage, and one who spends their wealth wisely and intelligently.

Don’t mistake me — I’m not advocating you run out to the nearest boutique and buy a top-of-the-line $20,000 Patek Phillippe. Beautiful as they are, that wouldn’t be a smart move. What if you grow to hate winding your watch with the movement of your wrist, or resent having to reset it every time the power runs out? You need to make an informed decision.

Seiko 5
The Seiko 5 is the best value in automatic watches. Dennis Green / Business Insider

Instead, invest in something relatively cheap like the Seiko 5. The Seiko 5 is a mechanical watch that isn’t the least bit flashy — it has a military-inspired look and a solid, though not bulletproof, mechanical movement. It only lasts about a day without being worn and wound, but it’s the perfect test run for your new interest in mechanical watches. Oh, and it can be had for less than $60.

Just like a real car enthusiast would never be caught dead with an automatic transmission, anyone who calls themselves a watch fan will choose the mechanical every time.

If you want to be involved in the office conversations revolving around watches, there’s only one way to do it.

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