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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Beginners Watch Guide - How To Buy A Watch With The Help Of Siddarth From Bridge & Barrel - To Help Novices Get A Head Start

Honestly, sometimes I get so self-absorbed in whatever I am doing that I forget about so many other aspects of menswear, one of which is watches which I have never really delved into. I was in Brisbane last week trying to find new stores for Le Noeud Papillon when I stopped into a beautiful boutique of watches on Edward Street in which I got lost completely having so little knowledge on the subject. To watch enthusiasts this is a world as fabulous as wine or of suits but for me, ever since they put clocks on mobile phones and made us addicted at looking at the screens, I've felt less and less inclined to worry about what was on my wrist. Despite all this I do enjoy watching watches on Instagram and recently I came across Siddarth Padmanaban of the blog Bridge And Barrel based in Melbourne. I managed to get him to answer a few questions on the subject of watches and I am now much more interested in watches than I used to be. 

A short conversation with you the other day already improved my knowledge on watches – it’s not an area I have paid a lot of attention to – can you tell me, if I were to delve into watches more, what are the main aspects of horology that a novice might want to learn about before their next purchase?

For those seriously considering getting into the world of watch collecting, and horology in general, there are definitely a few things to learn, especially before spending big money on a watch. In no particular order, here are a few points that people should consider before buying a luxury watch:

 - Brand and brand history
 - Specific model, and rarity
 - Movements (automatic/manual-winding/quartz)
 - New or pre-owned

There are a lot of words I see on Instagram to describe watches that I don’t really have much of an understanding of – words such as tourbillon etc  - if you had to form a glossary of say the top ten common words that are used in watch terminology, what would they be?

1. Movement - This is what powers a watch and makes it tick. It can be mechanical (automatic or hand-wound), which is the traditional way of watchmaking, or quartz, which uses batteries, and became very popular in the 1970s. Almost all luxury watches are mechanical.

2. Automatic - An automatic watch is mechanically driven, meaning it is powered by the unwinding of a spring. To keep this spring wound, and therefore keep the watch ticking, there is usually a rotor that winds the watch with the movement of the wearer's wrist. Theoretically, if you wore an automatic watch every day, it would never stop.

3. Chronometer - A chronometer isn't really a type of watch, rather, it's a grade of timekeeping that is given to a watch with particularly good accuracy over time. A true chronometer is certified by COSC, and organisation in Switzerland that tests watches under a variety of conditions to ensure their accuracy down to -4/+6 seconds a day over several days and under different positions and temperatures.

4. Complication - A complication is a feature of a watch that does something extra than tell the wearer the current time. For instance, a date function, chronograph, 2nd time-zone, and power reserve are all complications.

5. Chronograph - As distinct from a Chronometer, a chronograph is basically a watch with an integrated stopwatch function. This means you can time events, usually up to several hours duration.

6. Tourbillon - A tourbillon (which I understand is the french word for 'whirlwind'), refers to the construction of the movement so that the balance spring (which is the component of a mechanical movement that regulates timekeeping) is not affected by gravity pulling it in one direction and distorting its shape. Many high-end watchmakers like to display the tourbillon through the dial, so that the owner can see it in action. You'll often pay quite a high premium for this.

7. Quartz - a quartz powered watch is one that is operated by a battery. The watch does not have a spring to make it tick, rather a battery sends an electrical signal through a tiny quartz crystal, which regulates the timekeeping and advances the watch hands forward. A quartz watch will usually 'tick' every second. These movements are relatively cheap to construct and not particularly technical, therefore do not usually command a high price. Brands like Seiko however do some amazing things with quartz watches, so they shouldn't be written off altogether.

8. Power reserve - the power-reserve of a mechanical watch, is just that. It tells the wearer how much the mainspring (which powers the watch) has unwound, and therefore roughly how long the watch will work without being wound, either by hand or in an automatic watch, with the rotor. Bear in mind that most automatic watches can also be wound by hand as well.

9. Stock movement - This is a movement that has been made en-masse and is used in another company's watch. Many watch brands do this (even some of the higher-end ones), and there's nothing wrong with it, although purists prefer in-house construction, and brands will demand a premium for that luxury

10. Manufacture - a Manufacture is a brand that has the capability to make their own watches from scratch. This means using almost entirely their own fabrication and construction, from cases, to dials, to movements (most importantly). Not all watch brands can call themselves a Manufacture, but the ones that are, tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum.

I follow a chap called WatchLeo on Instagram and I see brands that seem to be held in high esteem from Roger Dubuis, Richard Mille, Patek Phillippe, Audemars Piguet  and of course, Rolex – can you tell me why there is such a strong following for these brands and can you tell us some others that we might want to follow?

Brands like Patek Philippe, Audemar Piguet and Rolex have been making watches for a very long time, and to extremely high standards, which is part of what gives them such high esteem. Watches are all assembled by hand, in-house, meaning none of the parts are outsourced, which gives a very high level of quality control over the product. The finishing on these watches is usually all done by hand and to impeccable standards. All Rolex watches are COSC (chronometer) certified, which gives them very high levels of timekeeping accuracy.

The other part of the high perceived-value of these brands is their marketing, whether it be overt or not. Many celebrities are seen wearing these brands and therefore they are given an incredibly high perceived value. This might not necessarily apply to all watch brands, but Rolex for instance is one company that has definitely benefitted from having A-listers wear and talk about their watches.

In terms of value for money – can you tell me the kind of watch you would choose for your first watch with the following budgets:

When spending big money on a watch, much of it can go into the material chosen. For instance, precious metals gold or platinum watches will cost much more than a steel version of the identical piece. For this reason, I'll try to keep my choices in steel, and where I can, modern watches, as vintage prices for certain pieces tend to vary wildly. The following choices are more about value than desirability, so please take with a grain of salt.

a)         $500
Tissot 1853 range - Tissot is a great starting point for anyone who wants a swiss-made mechanical watch and isn't sure if they want to spend a lot of money. These watches are very well made and use Swiss movements, along with a recognisable brand name.

Tissot 1853 range- recommended by Bridge & Barrel as an entry level watch

b)         $1000
For around the $1000 mark there are dozens of micro-brands that are making very good watches. Although not many of the names are recognisable worldwide, these watches are usually fairly sturdy diver-style timepieces that use good stock movements and won't break the bank. A popular brand is Steinhart, who use Swiss movements and high-quality manufacturing to make solid, functional dive watches.

Steinhart, design aesthetic that won't break the bank-  a good entry level watch recommended by Bridge & Barrel

c)         $6000
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso - This classic rectangular watch is basically the perfect dress watch. Originally developed for polo players who kept breaking the crystal on their timepieces, this is a watch that belongs in everyone's collection.

Timeless elegance, for around 6000 dollars Bridge & Barrel recommends this Jaeger Le Coultre Reverso

d)         $10,000
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - time only. This classic piece will never go out of style, and looks great with everything. Audemars Piguet is one of the most recognisable watch brands in the world and this is their most iconic timepiece. A great watch that suits just about everyone.

Audemars Pigue Royal Oak - a timeless classic recommended by Bridge & Barrel

e)         $100,000
It's hard to call a $100,000 watch 'value for money', but there are some that are just spectacular. Here is where I'll make an exception to the 'no precious metals' rule, and perhaps slightly blow the budget by choosing an A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Striking Time in white gold. The amount of watchmaking talent that has come out of this German powerhouse manufacture is unbelievable, and rivals that of the highest-end Swiss brands.

A Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Striking Time  watch - the all on the table watch recommendation by Bridge & Barrel

What is your most prized watch and can you tell us how you acquired it and what sort of investigative work you did before the acquisition?

My collection is not huge at the moment, as I'm still a University student and most of the watches I have on my wish list are out of my reach, financially. However, from the watches I do own, my favourite is probably my Heuer Triple Date from the late 1950s. I love vintage Heuer (before they became TAG Heuer), and while the vintage chronographs like the Autavia and Carrera are very desirable, a Triple-Date (Day, Date, Month) is quite rare from the brand from that era, and I immediately fell in love with it. It's got plenty of scratches and dents, but that just gives it more character. I managed to pick it up for a very reasonable price, and I think it's a watch that I'll always keep, and hopefully hand down someday.

I love Rolex watches and I am ashamed to say it because I feel like one of those mindless iPhone users that can’t see the benefits of Android. Can you tell us why the world seems to be transfixed on this one brand and why it has been so successful in keeping the public interested in their products?

Like I mentioned earlier, Rolex make excellent watches. Every single watch that comes out of the factory is Chronometer certified, and stylistically, its very easy to wear a Rolex with just about any outfit. It's not a crime to be fascinated with the brand, or even want one of their watches, although many so-called watch aficionados will try to convince you otherwise.  It's my firm belief that every good watch collection should include at least one Rolex, whether it be vintage or modern.

Rolex has been very successful for a few more reasons, and we'll outline them here:

 - They do not have a particularly extensive product line. This means they don't release a brand new model every year, meaning their designs stay around for a long time. This gives people a bit of confidence when buying one, that it won't go out of style any time soon. They do tend to change colours here and there, but the models remain essentially the same for years.

-They don't do anything too wild: Rolex tends to play it safe when it comes to product design, and while some people don't like it, this is another confidence-building aspect of the brand to potential buyers. A person will not often get criticised for their choice of watch if it is a Rolex. If you DO want to get a solid gold, diamond-encrusted timepiece though, they've got you covered there too.

 - They have a watch is basically every category: a dive watch, a GMT (two time zone), a chronograph, a dress watch, etc. There is a Rolex watch to suit just about anyone, whether it is vintage or modern, which broadens the brand's appeal. The functions are useful, and not over the top.

- All watches are made in-house: Rolex has stringent quality control standards that mean that they are able to control every single aspect of their products, and new innovations trickle down through the models very quickly. They even have their own gold foundry for their precious-metal timepieces.

 - Marketing: apart from perhaps Nike, Rolex arguably has the best marketing department in the world. They make sure they are seen on the wrists of the right people at the right time. Rolex is very selective about who they sponsor to wear their watches, and which events they are linked to. If you ask 10 people on the street to name a luxury watch brand, my money is on 9/10 saying Rolex.

Do you buy vintage watches and can you recommend to us some things to look for when buying vintage? Is there a particular brand that’s more bang for buck than the others?

I almost exclusively buy vintage watches. This is for a variety of reasons:

Size: Vintage watches tend to be on the smaller end of the scale, which is easier for more people to wear. Newer brands tend to go for the flashy large cases which doesn't work with everyone, and is tough to wear day-to-day.

Cost: If you know where to look, you can pick up pre-owned and vintage watches for a fraction of what a new model would cost. Be careful with sites like eBay, as there are plenty of scammers about selling fakes or sometimes selling nothing at all. Always be sure the seller and product exists, and if possible, check out the item in person before purchasing.

Collectibility: some vintage watches are incredibly collectible and if you get the right ones, your purchase could appreciate in value as you have it.

Things to look out for:
 - As I mentioned above, look out for scammers on sites like eBay. Forums tend to be a better place to buy and sell pre-owned pieces, and they are better regulated. Sites such as Chrono24 and Timezone are highly recommended.

- Condition: be careful when buying vintage as the watch you bought may not actually work, or may require a lot of servicing before being functional. If you're prepared to pay for that, it's fine, but make sure you know what you're getting. Also look out for re-finished dials, re-polished cases and replacement parts, as they tend to lower the re-sale value of a watch..

Can you tell us about your dream watch?

I don't really have a 'dream' watch, but I do have a list of watches that I would love to own if money were no object. One of these is an A-series Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The shape and design of this watch is timeless and works beautifully with any kind of outfit, whether it be a suit and tie, or jeans and polo. It's not so gaudy that people will always comment on it, but those in the know understand how good this watch is.

Designed by the legendary Gerald Genta many decades ago, this watch (or some iteration of it) is probably on everyone's wish-list, but for good reason. A-series (meaning the earliest examples) models fetch a pretty penny now, and are becoming more and more expensive by the day, but it's a watch I would wear proudly and I would gladly have it be the only watch I wear.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, and listen to what I have to say about my experiences in horology. I don't profess to be an expert, as I'm learning new things every day. It's a terrific (albeit rather expensive) hobby that Australians are just now taking more notice of. The best way to learn more is like with anything, research, read, and spend time talking to people who are in the know. Go to a watch store and try out one or two timepieces. It'll cost you nothing, and most stores are more than willing to let you put one on your wrist to see how you like it. Go out there. Explore.

I try to appeal to a broad range of watch enthusiasts on my website - Bridge and Barrel, and I'm more than happy to answer questions if people have any. Please email me through the website contact form at Bridge & Barrel.

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