On differentiating between good and bad watches

I’m always interested in what experts see in their craft and how it differs from the layman. Whether it’s a professional athlete, expert sommelier, acclaimed actor, or master watchmaker, my assumption is that the trained eye always recognizes and evaluates details better than the untrained eye. This idea really begs the question in the watch world: how does one acquire a keen eye for horology? What does that learning process look like?

Let me briefly clarify that I am not questioning the widespread knowledge of terminology and reference numbers. Most seasoned collectors and enthusiasts will be able to identify various finishing techniques as well as a catalog of watches by numerical identifiers (reference numbers).

But outside of curricula in watchmaking schools, there is very little educational information on how to evaluate the quality of watchmaking. Most of the watch community’s value judgements of good and bad come from experience and gut-feeling alone – extremely valuable, yet difficult to communicate and teach.

Overall, collectors and enthusiasts are mostly left to navigate the depths of the watch world alone, with little to no structure or support. It is a serendipitous tumble down the rabbit hole of horology. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we’re still sorting out how to be more critically aware. But how?

The Holy Grail Series

There are some instances in the watch community that are pointing in the right direction. Most notably, we have @horology_ancienne‘s Holy Grail Series. For those unfamiliar, the Holy Grail Series is a detailed look into some of the most exceptional timepieces in horology. I went through and read the entire series’ from start to finish to get a better sense of what a refined palette might look and how the father-son duo make their evaluative judgements.

Needless to say, the captions alone indicate an attention to detail that far surpasses my own knowledge and aesthetic sensibilities – especially as it pertains to dial design. Any reader of the series can glean that the dial is often the main protagonist of their writing.

The beauty of a great dial is often described as “uninterrupted,” in the case of Credor Eichi II, or freed up by the removal of the tachymeter on a Clapton Patek Philippe ref. 5970. As I read through, it’s clear that they have a strong sense of what a well designed dial is, and inversely, what the characteristics of a poorly designed dial are.

I cannot quite access how those judgments are made – it feels at my fingertips in the captions, yet just beyond my grasp.

Differentiating between good and bad watches

Better educational resources have been something that many in the watch community have long yearned for. Currently, what we have is countless articles and videos dedicated to explaining what makes a specific watch great. What we don’t have, are counterexamples and side-by-side analyses that explain what makes a watch not-so-great. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a fear of being critical – understandable considering most of this content is either driven by brands, journalists, or dealers. In the watch world, every watch is “spectacular”.

But knowing the difference between good and bad is essential to appreciating watches. While I can hear some readers say, “isn’t this all subjective?”, I do not believe that to be true. Yes, we are all entitled to our personal taste and no one is forced to like (or dislike) a watch. But we can still have objective standards for quality. Watchmakers, after all, can differentiate between good and bad work, so why shouldn’t collectors be able to do the same?

I believe that having a concrete way of learning about horology – beyond terminology – will not only push watches into the domain of art, but also hold brands and manufacturers accountable to standards that they have set.

There is so much to explore – finishing, movements, dials. What, in horology, do you want a better grasp of?

Another day with the beast,

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