Notable Watchmakers, S-Z

Welcome to our final blog on the topic of watchmakers. We hope you’ve enjoyed finding out more about watch brands and hopefully we’ve introduced you to a few on the way! Due to the manufacturers that fall from S-Z, we’ll be discussing sports watches in detail, as well as myth-busting through some popular ‘digital watch’ untruths.

Watch Manufacturers We’ll Be Discussing:

  • Seiko
  • Tag Heuer
  • Tissot
  • Urwerk
  • Van Cleef & Arpels
  • Vacheron Constantin
  • Zenith

Can Digital Watches Compete?

Looking at the above list, most people would be able to pick out the digital watch brand – and that’s Seiko. This is probably down to their history – the first company to really hit the market with a quartz powered electronic watch (see our ‘Parts/Mechanics of a Watch – Part 1’ blog for more). However, notice our use of the word ‘electronic’ – for digital does not necessarily mean computer screens and luminous watch faces. All digital means is that instead of a clock with a minute and hour hand, the time is shown with a number – something that’s been featured in mechanical watches since the 1800s. So perhaps the more appropriate question would be, ‘Can Electronic Watches Compete?’

In terms of accuracy and precision, electronic watches (mainly powered through a quartz movement) are incredibly accurate and rival any mechanical watch. They are also fairly easily and cheaply produced, meaning that they do not cost as much, nor will they hold their value as well as their mechanical counterparts. This is a problem Seiko have encountered – many assume that Seiko is part of the same far-Eastern watch revolution which mass-produces electronic watches. But while Seiko do certainly continue the tradition of quartz watches, they also make mechanical watches – and very decent ones at that. Just take this review from AskMen as an example: http://uk.askmen.com/fashion/watch/seiko-ananta-spring-drive-chronograph.html. This features a watch from their Ananta series, getting over 90/100 for both uniqueness and durability. And did you know that Seiko make everything in-house, something that not even Patek Philippe can 100% guarantee?

So, if you have dismissed the value of your Seiko, perhaps now is the time to think again.

Sports Watches

Of the watches featured in this article, there are a few brands that stand out as being particularly prevalent in the ‘sporting watch’ arena. These are Tissot, TAG Heuer, Zenith and, actually to some extent, Seiko.

You may remember that we have already covered TAG Heuer, or to be more specific, the ‘Heuer’ part of that name. That company merged with TAG as recently as 1985, giving birth to the brand we see today. When previously mentioning Heuer, the point was made that their newer models have never really re-captured the class and excellence of their vintage counterparts. Until now that is, for TAG Heuer are really starting to pull away from the competition, particularly with their sports watches. In fact, apart from 2010, their watches have been nominated in every annual Grand Prix d’Horlogiere de Genève ‘Sports’ category, and actually won it in 2011. In 2012, they went one step further by winning The Golden Hand (the most prestigious prize in world horology), with their Mikrogirder. This positive change in fortune will only continue to firm up the value of TAG Heuer watches into the future.

Following closely behind TAG, is Zenith. Going back to the GPHG competition, they have been nominated 3 times over the past 5 years for the ‘sport watch’ prize, whilst also being nominated and winning both the ‘complication’ (2011) and ‘Le Petite Aguille’ or ‘Small Hand’ prize (2012). To put into perspective what their sports watches (e.g. the Stratos Flyback Striking 10th) can do, imagine a fighter pilot, subjected to abrupt variations in pressure, intense vibrations and violent accelerations – from 9G to 11G. The watch can withstand it all.

Finally we come to Tissot. Many brands borrow movements from one another, and that does make the watches they make less unique. Sometimes you will end up with a watch that is so beautifully designed and crafted that this harbours no real detriment to price. However, Tissot do not carry the clout to pull this off. They make nice watches – a mixture of both mechanical and quartz. But they don’t push the boundaries and as such they don’t look set to make ‘excellent’ watches any time soon.

Fashion & Design

Speaking of watchmakers that can get away with using movements made by other manufacturers, Van Cleef & Arpels are a case in point. You won’t find many men wearing a Van Cleef & Arpels watch, for the real value of the brand lies with their ladies’ collection. One could compare the brand to Cartier, in the fact that they don’t just specialise in watches. However, where Cartier were instrumental in the evolution of the wristwatch, Van Cleef & Arpels can’t boast any such claim. However, if we were to advise on the most valuable brand for women, this is the one we would recommend. Watches for women tend to focus on the ‘jewellery’ aspect rather than complications and technology – Van Cleef know this and respond admirably. They are constantly nominated in, and frequently win, the GPHG for both the ‘jewellery & artistic crafts’ and ‘ladies’ categories. Here, there is no doubt that the value lies with the materials and artistry of their timepieces, although even these watches are mechanical rather than electronic.

In a completely different way, there are nevertheless similarities here with Urwerk and Vacheron Constantin. The latter do, to some extent, still rely on their heritage and reputation rather than pushing the boundaries, something which can be shown with watches such as the Ultra-fine 1955, simple and elegant: reminiscent of their vintage models. They too are more about design than complication in a similar way to Van Cleef. Conversely, Uwerk couldn’t be further in concept to the aforementioned brands, but yet their eye for design (albeit macho and military-inspired) wins the company similar prizes for design. In fact, other with MB&F, you won’t find mechanical art like it from any other watchmaker (and, like Seiko everything is manufactured in-house).

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed trawling through our reviews and appraisals of the world’s most popular watch brands. From rare watches, to vintage timepieces, we’ve tried to showcase a really broad range of watchmakers but, of course, there will be some we have left out. Feel free to post any reviews you think would benefit our readers and let us know what you think of our weekly musings. No matter the brand, what we can say with confidence is that provenance, artistry, complication and forward-thinking are all key to the value of a watch.

If you’d like to find out more about the value of your watch, you contact the borro team today on 0808 163 3835 for a free valuation.

Til Next Week

Although we have been writing every Wednesday and Thursday, we are now embarking on a new project: the borro guide to cars. This will feature an insightful and varied series of articles on the motoring world, with a focus on value and what makes cars valuable/collectable. Fear not, the watch blog will be back on Wednesday, but Thursdays will feature this refreshing new content.

Until next time…

Clocking off, Ed Hallinan and the borro team.

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