Feature: Finding The Perfect Watch
Ever heard of the paradox of choice? It’s when you’re presented with so many options that it’s hard to make a decision. Watches can feel like that sometimes; there are so many brands, so many models, so many variations that it can make the whole thing feel a bit daunting. So, whether you’ve already got a collection fit to bursting or you’re just setting out on getting your first, here are three special timepieces to start you on your journey to finding the perfect watch.
Omega Seamaster 1948 5184.108.40.206.02.001
It’s hard to believe there was a time before the name “Seamaster” was part of the watch enthusiast’s lexicon. Yet, in 1948, it was the first time it had ever been heard, presented as a new line of elegant but functional watches from watchmaking powerhouse Omega.
But before the likes of Bond’s go-anywhere, do-anything Seamaster Professional—way before—the Seamaster was closer in stature to a dress watch than anything sportier. This was the era just before the dive watch boom, the last hurrah for the gentleman’s timepiece, when subtlety and refinement were the name of the game.
When the Rolex Submariner kicked off a commercial frenzy for dive watches in the early 1950s, Omega was forced to pivot, realigning the Seamaster as a chunky, sporty watch for professional divers. The Seamaster as it had been slipped quietly into the DeVille collection, seemingly outdated and outclassed by its younger, beefier sibling.
But now the era of the gentleman’s timepiece is back, and so too is that original Seamaster. In a celebration of the Seamaster’s 70th anniversary, two watches—a sub-second design and this centre-second—were released, honouring the classic heritage of what is now one of the most revered and respected series in all of watchmaking.
And it’s quite the special thing, this. An opaline silver dial, domed, is dressed with a white gold Omega logo and set behind a domed sapphire crystal inside a 38mm steel case. And Omega managed to resist doing anything funky with any of it, letting the simplicity of this throwback speak for itself.
Well, I say resisted, because turn the watch over and you’ll see a sapphire case back—nice—with a depiction of a Gloster Meteor aircraft and a Chris-Craft boat printed on it—not so nice. It’s a tribute to the aviators and mariners who relied on Omega watches through the years, a nice sentiment in itself, but one that perhaps didn’t quite need such an imposing presence.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty of space to peer through to the movement, a calibre 8804 for the sub-seconds model and a calibre 8806 for this centre-seconds. This is where modern Omega meets classic, magnetic resistance to 15,000 Gauss thanks to a free-sprung silicon balance spring a thoroughly contemporary feature. Omega may not be king of the castle right now thanks to the might of Rolex, but this watch is a reminder that it once was, and makes you wonder if it could be again.
Grand Seiko Elegance Hi-Beat 36000 GMT SBGJ217G
I’ll level with you—this Elegance GMT from Grand Seiko does not appear to be particularly special. It’s not bad, it’s fine—but there’s nothing about it that seems to be inducive to that warm feeling you get in your belly when you’re truly happy with something.
It’s technically very accomplished, so there’s no problems there. The calibre 9S86 is what’s known as a “high beat” movement, which means it ticks twenty-five percent faster than your average movement, resulting in a smoother sweep of the second hand. It has a full-bore GMT function, a twenty-four hour hand trailing the hours and minutes, accompanied by the ability to independently adjust the hour hand for local time.
Overall, it comes across as a very ordinary watch, and if you’re looking for something discreet to wear to work or something like that, it’s perfect. But is it special? I’m pleased to tell you that it is, but in a way that only you, the owner and keeper, can know about. Outside of mega-brands like A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe, it’s something that’s unique to Grand Seiko, and it’s hidden in the dial.
When you study the display of this watch with any kind of real consideration, you’ll notice something. Or rather, you’ll notice something missing. Usually, when viewed up close, a watch dial will reveal the limitations of its budget, irregular marks that bear witness to its construction. I’m taking burrs, chips, scratches, dents—if you’re a long-time subscriber to this content, you’ll know what I mean.
Of course, it’s reasonable to expect imperfections at a certain point when spending a certain amount of money. Even the very best have their limits. It seems, however, someone forgot to let Grand Seiko know about this, because everything on this dial is immaculate, and I mean immaculate. See the mirror polish on the markers? It’s so crisp you can read the dial on the side. The sunburst finish on the dial is so fine it’s almost iridescent. The date, instead of being printed on a plain white ring, gets a brushed silver finish. The print is so crisp it’s almost like each character is actually a separate component applied to the dial.
This isn’t one of those watches that’s going to blow your socks off from a hundred paces; it’s got style and it’s got character, sure, but in its own, reserved, Japanese way. What’ll really make you want to add this to your collection and keep it there is the way that style and character has been executed.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Réserve de Marche 1378420
The watch that really makes a collection is the ultra-complicated one, the perpetual calendars, minute repeaters and the like—but let’s face it, those are a nothing more than a pipe dream for the vast majority of us. It’s a shame, because the complexity and intricacy is so appealing, all those little hands and markers scurrying around and doing their thing, all connected through a root network of wheels and gears that draw their energy from a slowly unfurling spring.
But perhaps there’s a compromise, one that’s worth a smile all of its own: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Réserve de Marche. This is a brand that knows its stuff, credited with engineering some of the most extreme movements ever made. Any watchmaker capable of producing the almighty Master Grand Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpetual, an absolute monster of a watch with a multi-axis tourbillon, a minute repeater with four gongs and a perpetual calendar thrown in just for fun, is pretty well clued up.
This Master Ultra Thin Réserve de Marche may not be quite that complex, but it certainly looks the part. It’s got more hands than a monkey, and that helps sell the illusion that it’s actually a very complicated, very expensive watch. What you’re looking at really is hours, minutes, sub-seconds, date and power reserve—nothing more. But it certainly seems like more.
And don’t worry, it’s not one of those “You’re kidding yourself” moments, because any Jaeger-LeCoultre, let alone one from the Master collection is a fine—no, exceptional—watch to own. Not only is a Master movement, in this case the calibre 938, over-engineered in the way only Jaeger-LeCoultre can over-engineer—it’s somehow got over 270 parts—it’s also tested under the Master Control program for 1,000 hours before it’s allowed into the big, wide world. That’s long enough to watch the entirety of Seinfeld fifteen times over.
If this Jaeger-LeCoultre were a bowl of porridge, it would be just right. It’s got everything you want and nothing you don’t. In the broadest sense, it’s one of the best-kept secrets in watchmaking, a hidden gem that shines brightly when brought out into the light. Yet, despite all that, it costs two-and-a-half times less than the entry-level Patek Philippe Calatrava, whilst looking like good company for the £33,000 5146 annual calendar—and that’s good company to be in.
It’s all about finding the watch you just can’t stop looking at it. Omega, Grand Seiko, Jaeger-LeCoultre—whatever it is, when you see it and hold it, you’ll know. It’ll get better every day, remind you with each glance why you got into this whole thing in the first place. Perhaps you’ll find yours in one of these three; perhaps you won’t find yours for a long time yet. Either way, it’s out there. You just have to go and find it.
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