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Opinion: Not just innovation, watchmakers must keep an eye on quality

by Gavin Foo on June 28, 2014

Yesterday afternoon I had a chat over coffee with one of the luminaries of the Singapore watch-collecting world – and on his hand glinted something black, absolutely unique, and in all respects a stunner.

“Some thing new?” I asked, readying my camera phone, hoping that the watch would soon migrate from his wrist to mine. “Yeah bro new toy. But it’s just been demagnetized. Testing it for a few days before I give the all go.”

A magnetized watch! Was it a new feature that allowed one to cross the time-space continuum?

Jem’s Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean… built like a tank it is…

Or perhaps it was a wrist-worn transmogrifier that when pointed rightly would turn Jeremy Clarkson into Kareena Kapoor.

Sadly, neither.

He had previously bought this watch brand new, an unworn piece newly shipped from the factory to the boutique, and after a few days of wrist time, found it kinda sucked at keeping the time.

And he got a dud watch straight out of the factory. And not just any watch. It was an icon in its very right, not a tourbillon or complication, but costs just under $200k retail. And it was delivered as a dud.

Don’t try this at home…

Now this collector is an absolute gentleman, hasn’t been on a Space X flight,  and isn’t known for psychokinetic yoga on ley lines. So it wasn’t something that he did to the watch, or where he brought the watch. And no, our tiny nation doesn’t have the space to house a large hadron collider.

Like a waft from a just-used airport toilet stall, his story hit me – bringing back stinging memories of my own past and current experiences.

This year i had just sent back one of me lovelies, which had an issue with the complication. And when I got it back supposedly fixed, i found dust under the dial. That’s a $180k retail watch.

Last year I had sent back for winding mechanism errors and for a tool scratch on its lovely german-silver bridge. $80k retail. The year before a watch stopped 3 days in. Went back to the watchmaker, and came back with a different dial color and hands – without my consent. That was $90k retail.

Now before one goes and says what absolutely arsed luck i have, I have to declare that the Langes, Rolexes, Pateks, and most others i have owned are completely fine.

I also remember stories of one particular highly-priced classically-focused independent brand where it was an absolute given that something would go wrong with the watch. “”The F in the brand stands for something else.” was the going joke.

Therein brings me to what retailers tell me in the defence of “”those-who-have-focked-up-my-watches: “Look, it’s hand assembled and hand made, so there will always be some defect somewhere.” or “Think of it as a mark of it being handmade/ independent/ unique/ personal/ (fill in the blanks).” or “They only make a few dozen/hundred watches a year with just a handful of watchmakers on hand. What can you expect?”

Riiight…

Quite honestly, if it was a watch that cost a few grand, I wouldn’t give a hoot. But when you’re paying tens of times more moolah, perhaps some attention to quality is called for. How hard is it to ensure that new watches are only delivered after testing and some QC to ensure that simple things like beneath-the-glass dust or movement scratches do not leave the factory?

Surely one ensures that a prototype has been tested long enough to endure the vagaries of real-life watch wear – or are brands using early adopters as their crash test dummies? How hard is it to ensure that if a watch is sent in, equal levels of care and attention are paid to the watch commensurate to the price one paid for it?

One would expect that with a smaller team handling a much smaller rate of production there would be better attention to detail for each and every watch that goes out the door.

So while i greatly appreciate the innovation, the spirit, and unique beauty of watches that come out of the doors of both big brands and independents alike – if you want to price your watch at such a level, please back it up with an attention to quality and service recovery at the same level.

Or perhaps we’re just spoilt silly by Rolex.

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