Thursday, March 30, 2017

What is horology (and what is it not)?

***What is horology (and what is it not)?
 

To put it very simply, when we talk about horology, we talk about two things: 1. the chase for perfection in timekeeping and 2. the art of watchmaking. The quest for "the best timekeeper" is really a matter of progress, science, technical advancement and some extremely clever engineering.
Therefore, if you wish to enhance your appreciation for that first side of horology – the quest for PRECISION AND ACCURACY, you should sell your Rolex and Patek and buy a Japanese HAQ [High Accuracy Quartz] watch. My personal recommendation: Citizen CTQ57 Chronomaster or Grand Seiko 9F series. You can walk around knowing you have one of the most accurate wrist watches that still contains mechanical parts.



Here is the photo of the Citizen Chronomaster:


Now, you may rightly ask: well, if this is horology, why in the world don’t we just do that: get rid of the Swiss junk and invest in the most advanced Japanese stuff?

The problem is that accuracy is only half of horology. The other half is the "art of watchmaking"; and somehow, by art, we think of our ability to shape metal in a very traditional way, the very difficult way; the way it was done 200 years ago. And what we call art is really a combination of watchmaking skills, precision engineering, accuracy and artistic beauty.

Confused? You should be.

Because horology does not really make sense:  if modern mass-produced (yet super accurate) Citizen and Seiko watches are not artistic, why are the equally mass-produced, mechanically inferior Swiss wrist watches artistic enough to be considered worthy of horological importance?

Is a Swatch watch horology? Is it Rolex? Lange? Hublot? Rebelde? TAG? Surely Omega Moon watch is - at least, this is the watch mentioned in this newsletter almost daily! Would I be able, as a novice watch enthusiast, to ever figure out which one to buy and collect? Why is horology so confusing?

Before we go any further, let's spend a moment or two on a totally different subject. (I am simply trying to alleviate your pain).

If you ask me "What is cycling?" I can immediately think of four things: Tour de France - the fittest athletes with unbreakable stamina and strength pushing themselves beyond physical endurance while racing through the most picturesque French landscape. The second association: an overweight man on a training bicycle with a large bag of potato chips, gold chain around his neck, watching music videos at a $3,000-membership gym. The third picture: a kid pedalling like mad, down the paddock trying to reach 55km/hour on a homemade bike, ending up in hospital with a broken arm. Fourth: a lycra-clad, adrenaline-pumped Sydneysider, blocking peak hour traffic on the Spit Bridge in the bus lane.

Now, let's just not kid ourselves: the exercise bike is not cycling and the suicidal Sydneysider should be looked up in a mental institution. But the kid cycling down the paddock could be the next Cadel Evans, and the broken arm story is something he will be retelling for the rest of his life.

So here is my punch line: from now on, every watch you see, buy, or read about will fall in one of those 4 categories: Tour de France winners Cadel Evans and Chris Froome, the fatso with golden chain, the cool kid or the high-tech madman. Some of them you want as your friends, others you should avoid at any cost.

So, horology is really what YOU think it is; and your horology is surely different than mine. Often it does not make sense and it takes a bloody long time to work out what to keep and what to sell.

But if you do apply my 4-cyclist rule, you will have no problem working out who's who and what's what in the world of watches. Give it a go: Lange, Rolex, Rebelde and Hublot. I couldn't make it easier but do send me your answers. (Too easy? Then try this foursome: F P Journe, Oris, Panerai and Vacheron). Have fun!


Like in the Tour de France, the very top of artistic horology is all about performance, complexity (we call it 'complications') and traditional skills. The ‘top’ watch is the one that combines all of the above, and much more. If this helps - think of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra:


Think of the team work, perfection to detail, appearance, harmony, excitement. How much talent and painstaking practice is required to secure a place in the orchestra? Attending a performance is a feast for the ears, eyes and soul - and even if you are not 'into it', it doesn't take much to appreciate the seriousness of the performance.

So does the watch mechanism below look like the Symphonic Orchestra? You bet!



Note - it is the watch mechanism that gets us excited - not the watch case or even the dial; and definitely not the size or colour of the strap. When we are talking about the top of the top, we are looking for brands and manufacturers who are really good at making a complex mechanism in a very traditional style: the style of the 'old masters'.

Here is another example of perfect harmony:


... and one more:



There are hundreds of watchmakers who call themselves 'watch manufacturers' and that may be the case, however, when it comes to the Crème de la crème, in my opinion, the true engineering brands which deserves that top spot are:
Lange and Sohne, Jaeger Le Coultre, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe - the Masters of Grand Complication.


So when you are assessing a watch, the first question should be this: what is the complexity and workmanship of the mechanism?

grand complication is a watch with several complications, the most complex achievements of haute horlogerie, or fine watchmaking. Although there is no 'official' definition,, one common definition is a watch that contains at least three complications, with at least one coming from each of the groups listed below:
 

Timing complications Astronomical complications Striking complications
Simple chronograph Simple calendar Alarm
Counter chronograph Annual calendar Quarter repeater
Split-second flyback chronograph Perpetual calendar Half-quarter repeater
Independent second-hand chronograph Equation of time Five-minute repeater
Jumping second-hand chronograph Moon phases Minute repeater










Currently, the most complex watch on the market comes with no less than 57 ‘complications’, containing 2,826 individual components – with an assembly time of 8 years.


To be continued…

Happy collecting,
Nick

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