In the years since my inflammatory comparo, I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to a watch than its intended purpose. To ignore this is to be no better than your Timex-wearing uncle who scoffs at your Rolex, saying his $50 Timex keeps better time. “He just doesn’t get it”, you think. While my criteria for the comparison was objective — pedigree, in-house movement, capabilities, features and price — I will admit I was ignorant of aspects like innovation, finishing and prestige.
The term “best” is tossed around with great frequency these days. We’re as guilty as anyone. The fact of the matter is, it’s a term that attracts eyeballs and elicits discussion. Our “7 Best Dive Watches” roundup from a few months ago is evidence of that. It ranks as one of our most read Timekeeping articles; it has also inspired many indignant responses, such as, “How could you leave out Rolex?” or “You included a Timex?” I gave up trying to defend our choices as the “best recent releases” or “seven of our favorite dive watches”, which would have gone over a little better. The experience made me think a little more about what truly is a best watch.
With respect to timepieces, can “best” ever be applied? Boiled down to the most basic criteria, a watch can really only be objectively judged by how well it keeps time, and no one really does that because very few people really care. We buy and covet and like watches for very subjective reasons: how well they’re finished, how innovative their complications are, how they look under a shirtsleeve or, more likely, without sleeves. They should be nostalgic without being homages. They should be sized for modern tastes without being too gargantuan. They should be made in Switzerland or Germany, maybe Japan, but never China.
I’ve come to realize that there is much more to a watch than its intended purpose. Ignore this and you’re no better than your Timex-wearing uncle who scoffs at your Rolex, saying his keeps better time.
When it comes to something as utilitarian as a diving watch, do these things matter? After all, its job is simply to track elapsed time underwater reliably and legibly. By those criteria, most dive watches are at least equal. If you won’t cringe over bashing it on a boat deck or losing it in a thousand feet of water, all the better. All things considered, this would still rank my beloved Seiko higher than the Planet Ocean. But what about things like a rhodium-plated, finely decorated co-axial movement, applied dial markers and a Liquid Metal bezel? Though not crucial to the watch’s function, they add a certain je ne sais quois that add up to a timepiece most people will agree is better. That is, unless you can’t afford to own one — and you may well not be able to.
Most watch enthusiasts move through different phases of acquiring and collecting, shifting from a superficial appreciation of appearance or a brand name to the nuances of movements, complications, finishing and heritage. Along the way, we own many “best” watches (often the best one we can afford) and sometimes, though not often, come full circle to appreciate the same watch that first lured us into this crazy game. There’s a saying among photographers that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you. In the same way, the best watch is the one you have on your wrist. Whether you own one watch or one hundred, the one you’re wearing is the one that smiled at you this morning when you decided to strap it on. Whether it’s a Seiko or an OMEGA, it’s the best watch there is. Until you get the next one.
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