One Way of Thinking About Watches and Collecting…(more)

Forum: TimeZone – Advanced Forum Date: Sat, 29 Nov 1997 21:17:53 GMT

From: Walt Odets

I have been having a long E-mail correspondence with a TZ’er, whom I’ll call Mr. X, who owns a yellow gold Patek 5035 (annular) and wants to buy another watch. Mr. X has already bought, been dissatisfied with, and sold a Rolex Datejust, PP Nautilus, and Blancpain Flyback. I am posting his last note and my answer to his because I thought the kinds of considerations Mr. X is making might be of interest to others (though I know others will also disagree with my response). In my last note, I suggested that he buy another 5035, but in white gold with a black dial.

Mr. X writes back:

Dear Walt,

You’re right, mine is the yellow gold 5035 and your idea of two 5035’s seems very interesting, because I too have had that thought. When I first read your idea I thought you were ”pulling my strap”, to be honest, I’m still not sure you’re serious. However you give me the impression of someone who is a non-conventional, creative, free thinker, who despises hollow, fake, and glitzy ideas and material items.

I realize since wearing the BP Flyback, that I don’t want another black dial watch and I
definitely dislike the the 5035 pink dial version w/white gold. What about the 5015? I know, I should be asking myself. I do. But I still want your view.

My thought on JLC is that while they make quality movements, they’re not even close to Patek or Breguet or VC in terms of elegance, beauty and class. The Master series is a terrific value, however, they still look and are considered by many as a 2nd tier company. Mechanically, they are among the tops, but the finished product does not appear world class, like most Pateks. Do you agree?

Well, what is your next idea?

Regards, Mr. X

My response to Mr. X:

Dear Mr. X,

No, I wasn’t at all joking about the pair of 5035’s. I don’t know what your feeling about black dials is–the Flyback dial is very glossy, which is difficult on a black dial. The Patek’s would probably be matte (I haven’t actually seen one). I like both the black and pink dials on the white 5035, and I would buy either one. They’re terrific watches. Impeccable, and very practical. I keep avoiding your mention of the 5015 because I think it’s hideously ugly — to me, one of the ugliest watches made in modern times. It’s almost in the league of Gerard Genta, who makes watches from hell. The beaded bezel and exaggerated lugs appear to make some sort of historical reference, but there are really none in history that I know about (except for the Louis XV crown). I think the 5015 is an effort to make a “retro” and expensive looking watch — for all the people who say Pateks are “too plain.” I very much like the dial layout and concept of the 5015, and I like the 240 caliber. But the case!!! I think that kind of ornamentation is only resorted to when a designer has run out of real ideas. In addition to making wonderful watches, Patek also has the distinction of having made some of the ugliest, and I’m afraid the 5015 falls in that group for me. They have, incidentally, released a new model (Ref. 5055), which is the 5015 precisely, but with the addition of a date wheel around the moon (like the 3940 perpetual). It is presently only available in white/black though. The case is honest, very simple and (truly) elegant, though the photograph suggests it might be on the massive side (I’ve never seen one).

On JLC’s standing, I think you are right, that in some of the public mind (and the auctioneer’s mind) JLC is a sort of second-tier company. This is simply not true in terms of the product and this perception has been changing in the last year or two judging by auction prices and resale prices. Internet dealers are now getting as much for used contemporary JLC’s as Patek’s (55-60%).

I would liken your idea of public perception to that of Mercedes and Rolls Royce: an 8 or 12 cylinder Mercedes is twice the car of a RR at half the price, but there are many who think the RR is a better car because it costs more (JLC’s are incredibly good values) and because it looks more expensive. The Mercedes is sparer, more honest, more an engineers car. The RR holds virtually no engineering interest at all (though it is full of craft), while the MB is full of elegant, imaginative, often brilliant engineering solutions.

Patek and JLC mostly fall in the MB category. Breguet falls more in the RR league. Vacheron, though it still has an historical reputation is a nothing-company today, really less than a Franck Muller, but with a history. VC has no idea what they’re doing, is imitating its old (mediocre to bad) designs, is producing junk, and has even started using the dreaded ETA 2892 (in their recent, ridiculously expensive, power reserve). So, I’d forget about Vacheron. They have lost their way, recently been sold to the Vendome (Piaget, Cartier, Dunhill) group and we’ll see if they find their way again. They need to fire everyone and start over.

Breguet makes wonderfully finished, very well-made, very expensive-looking pieces, but they’re not terribly original. They are still copying old Breguet pocket watches (which were very original in their time). I admire them a lot, but I don’t particularly like the style. The same quality is available in things I like more, and I’ve never even thought of buying a Breguet. They are also owned by Investcorp (Lemania, Chaumet, Gucci, Ebel) and are the high end watch of that group. As such, they’re stuck in a marketing niche which limits what they can do. As for your concern about public recognition, they have nothing like the recognition of Patek, though their expensive appearance gives them “status,” even to the average person.

I put Patek and JLC in the MB category because they’re both mechanic’s companies, JLC more so. Of the two, Patek makes more expensive LOOKING watches to the untrained eye and I think that Patek’s movement finishing has maybe 2 or 3 percent on JLC. But no more than that, and you need a loupe and a lot of knowledge to even see it. To the trained eye, I would say the JLC’s, taken as a whole watch, look more expensive, because of the sheer quality of the construction, especially the cases. The JLC’s use softer surfaces, less brushing (which is easily damaged and hard to restore), matte dials, Dauphine hands, etc. A measure of this quality is seen in the water resistance: 2.5 ATM for Pateks, 5-8 for JLC’s, without resorting to screw-down crowns (which are an inconvenience in a watch you’re not going to shower or swim in anyway). This bespeaks quality. This difference results partly from Patek not making many of their own cases, which are often not nearly of the quality of their movements. Also, Patek does not have anything like the financial or engineering resources of JLC and it shows in the product. While Patek is outsourcing (at least some of) everything except their 5 basic movements, JLC is making everything but their crystals. But JLC does not offer the kind of quality you see easily unless you’re knowledgeable.

I think deep quality is as “classy” and “world class” as you can get, and when I see someone with a 5015 or contemporary Vacheron, I assume they don’t know anything about watches but are buying the appearance of money. You have to develop your own knowledge, taste, and powers of observation to take satisfaction in something regardless of what others think about it. That’s why I keep asking you what you like, what you like, what you like…

So that’s my fifty cents, and I’m back to the old question, what do you like? You can go on from here to eternity with this question of which is “The Best,” and you will never find a consensus. There could only be a consensus if everybody shared the same values and taste. If I were you, WHICH I AM NOT, I’d go with a second 5035 or with a Master Reserve de Marche. I think the latter is one of the most original, beautiful watches EVER made and that it reeks quality, from the 45 jewel movement to the incredibly well-made, beautifully shaped case. You have to see it to really understand it, as this doesn’t come off in photographs. I’ve bought one in steel and I will buy one is gold when I get some watch money together. Who knows, I might even sell a Patek to pay for it. Do you know who I’ll sell the Patek to? Someone who values and wants the Patek more than the Master Reserve!

A lot of your questions are a result of your absorption of the wife’s tales, myth, down right untruth, and marketing hype that watch collecting is inundated with–that TimeZone itself is inundated with and is partly about . I had an uncle in the advertising business and one of the products he represented was Gleem toothpaste. Watching television with him–he was an intelligent and cultured man–a Gleem commercial with an idiotic jingle came on. I asked him why they had to use something so stupid to sell toothpaste and his response was important: “Because we have nothing to sell.”

Best, Walt