The human value of horology

Watch expert Benjamin Clymer, founder and executive editor of luxury watch site HODINKEE, writing for The Verge:

With Apple Watch, the price differentiation between the entry-level Sport at $349, the standard Apple Watch at $549, and the Edition at $10,000 is about perceived value – what materials are used in the case, bracelet, and straps, but also how much people believe they should be paying for the product. In addition to perceived value, mechanical watches are also priced by human value: how much of the work is done by hand (in many cases using 200-year-old methods). For example, a watchmaker named Philippe Dufour makes just 12 watches per year, alone in his one-room atelier in the mountains of Switzerland. A simple, time-only piece can cost $100,000. Whether the case is gold or platinum, the price of a Philippe Dufour watch remains (roughly) static – you are not paying for materials, you are paying for Mr. Dufour’s time and touch. The Apple Watch has minimal human value, and that is the biggest difference between it and its mechanical counterparts.

Just how much human value can a customer expect from a mechanical watch, relative to a similarly priced Apple Watch? The difference is startling.

I’m linking this excellent piece not because I believe the Apple Watch – or any other smartwatch – competes with mechanical watches; I link to it to illustrate why it does not. No matter how much Ive-narrated gold you encase your smatwatch with, at its core, it’s still just a machine-produced mass-market gadget that will be obsolete only a few years down the line. This is antithetical to what traditional, high-end horology is all about.

As I’ve detailed before, I love watches. I’m not rich, so I buy watches in the €150-200 range. However, I dream of one day owning a watch from my favourite watch brand, Officine Panerai (something like this one). This company doesn’t make a lot of watches, and many models are only sold on invitation. It’s the kind of brand where if you have to ask about the price, you can’t afford it. Luckily, the used market is a bit more forgiving.

Buying a watch like this is not something you do with your mind – but with your heart. It’s like buying a beautiful painting or a classic car; something that can eventually be passed down onto your children and become part of the family heritage. That’s either something that appeals to you, or it doesn’t. It will take a long time before smartwatches can achieve that kind of status.

This, however, does not mean the gold Apple Watch models will fail – quite the opposite. I’m only trying to illustrate that high-end mechanical watches and the golden Apple Watch do not really compete with each other; they kind of exist on a plane where money doesn’t matter. It’s a world that us non-rich folk do not understand. A golden Apple Watch will not take the place of a high-end mechanical watch in the same way that someone’s BMW 6 series isn’t taking the place of her classic Jaguar E-Type.


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