When it comes to wristwatches it is, of course, ultimately all about preferences. Having bought, traded, and sold watches over the past few years, I have had the good fortune of having a close look at a fair amount of watches. Living in New York, there is not only access to many boutiques but also events held by many organizations who are based in the city. This has provided ample opportunity to engage with watches I would not have otherwise been able to see or, when the owner consents, even wear and try on! As a result of engaging with watches constantly both digitally, and more importantly physically, I have developed a taste and eye for watches that shape what I look for when deciding to add a watch to my collection. As one gets deeper into the hobby, it becomes easier to nitpick at offerings and know when a watch is right for you. Personally, it can be incredibly frustrating, or better yet really grind my gears, when a single design element implodes an offering I would otherwise be all about. These are five design elements that come to mind that put me off from a watch…
Lack of Running Seconds (Ultra-Thin Dress Watches Can Get a Pass)
One recurring thing I, and other collectors I chat with, seem to hate is not having a running seconds on the dial. The tick and tock of a watch is its heartbeat, and the seconds hand is the most conventional way of having the visual comfort and satisfaction that ones watch is alive. One of the most appealing aspects of a mechanical watch is the fact its second hand will have a fluid sweeping motion (unless of course it’s a deadbeat complication). Depending on the frequency of the balance, you can even see the number of ticks between each second hash marker. A watch that displays only hours and minutes makes it harder for wrist spotters to discern if one is wearing quartz or a mechanical watch. That being said a watch should not be bought to please others. One brand I had initially dismissed as an example was Ming. Although somewhat dressy in nature, I felt the 17 series watches would have been nicer with a visual running seconds. Although I regret it now, it is ultimately why I did not purchase the well-known 17.06 Copper Ming. Their Abyss concept diver watch is to this day the only watch they have made that has had running seconds on the dial. I once had a conversation with a watchmaker I know who said that if they bought a Ming watch they would personally remove the crystal and add a seconds hand themselves! Now that I own a Ming 17.03 GMT, I love the watch, but I can’t deny it wouldn’t be even better with a running seconds hand. That being said my commitment to keeping everything factory original outweighs my desire to mod in a second hand. The Ming 27.01 I have on the way also does not have running seconds, but this watch being less than 7mm I was willing to give it a pass, but even still I can’t help but think it would be a better watch with running seconds present. I personally like running seconds as I like knowing where I am in the minute. Especially when I was in school, no clock in the room and no electronics on the table, I wanted to know exactly how long I had until I could escape the lecture. It also feeds into my desire to ensure my watches are running accurately and within COSC specifications as you can determine how many seconds the watch is off by. I will concede the chronometric performance and the anxiety that comes with it is not necessarily needed in a dress watch as one should not be counting the seconds in these environments. This is why I love spring drive watches as they are the best of both worlds. They feature the most fluid second hand found in mechanical watchmaking and zero anxiety in regard to accuracy. And yes, Spring Drive is mechanical.
Running Seconds Placement
Ok so we have established the presence of running seconds makes a mechanical watch more appealing (at least to me), but its placement can, in fact, ruin a watch as well. It is my belief that the second hand (as well as tourbillon cages) should only be at the centre of the watch or placed as a sub-seconds at six. It pleases the eye far more in my opinion and keeps things symmetrical. As an example of this for me is the Grand Seiko SBGK005. If this absolutely gorgeous watch had its sub-seconds at six instead of nine, I would have been sold. Its placement at nine makes it looked like an unfinished chronograph in my mind as the three and nine space is typically reserved for those sorts of registers. The Blue Iwate pattern is mesmerizing, the case diameter and lug to lug perfect, but the seconds placement kills the offering in my mind. Why make some of the most gorgeous dials in the industry if you are going to distract from it with misplaced complications! The power reserve on Grand Seiko dials has been contentious since the SBGA211 Snowflake (with some demanding a smaller model with no date and power reserve) as some feel it diminishes the purity and cleanliness of the watch and its dial. The placement is the result of the movement’s design; however, I would recommend brands take this into consideration during movement development to ensure everything is harmonious dial side. An example where I would be willing to break this rule is A. Lange & Sohne. They have mastered asymmetry and use the Golden Rule and harmonious proportions to masterfully layout information on the dial. It works because the dial that displays the time is positioned within the dial plate itself
Unnecessary Fixed Length.
To some this won’t be noticeable, as this is typically a symptom of a smaller wrist, but there is nothing worse than falling in love with a watch only to find out that in its factory configuration it cannot fit you well. This is usually the result of unnecessary fixed length. It usually occurs in three ways: long folding watch clasps, straps that are too large in length, and fixed bracelet integration.
Watch clasps that are too long create unnecessary fixed length as the clasp when folded will limit the motion of the links, inhibiting the way in which it would form around one’s wrist. As links are removed, that fixed-length stays the same ultimately creating a symmetrical trapezoid on the wrist. When clasps are longer, especially when they are longer than the lug to lug of the case, this can cause more movement on the wrist (especially for smaller wrists). As an example, the lug to lug on the Tudor Black Bay 58 is very wearable at 47mm, but due to the length of the clasp it creates an unnecessary fixed width on the bracelet preventing the bracelet from conforming properly around the wrist. As you can see from the picture, those with a smaller wrist would have trouble finding a perfect fit as there is a minimum length to the clasp and the fixed links it creates that is ultimately larger than the top half of the watch. This leads the watch to wing out and slide unless it is made so tight that it would bruise the ulna bone by the end of the day. That being said this is only a real problem for those with smaller sized wrists, but in my defence the Tudor Black Bay 58 was designed to harken back to a time of smaller classic proportions, and this takes away from that if you ask me. Why push it as the more classically proportioned watch, ripe for smaller wrists, when really the clasp is arguably the same length as the clasp from the Black Bay 41. This is why Asian designed or manufactured watches (i.e Grand Seiko, Casio, Ming) at times are better for smaller wrists as the Asian marketplace has a different definition of the average male wrist size. With smaller clasps, the bracelets in these watches conform around small wrists much better!
Believe it or not, watch strap sizing is not limited to lug width. Like suiting, there are short, regular, and long straps. More often than not however when buying a watch there is no short, regular, long but rather the default. I find typically that brands provide regular to regular-long straps, but reserve the short straps for smaller lug widths and feminine models. This is a disservice in my opinion. I believe more watch manufacturers and their watches should offer the ability to pick a sized strap versus a one size fits all approach. Apple does this with their Apple Watch bands as one can get a small, medium, or large rubber strap for their watch. Unless a model is unisex, or the manufacturer is willing to fabricate a bespoke strap, you typically won’t find short straps in men’s offerings as men are usually associated with larger wrists. My solution would be to decrease the length at the very least of the leather, rubber, or other material portion attached to the buckle. If the longer part of the strap is too long the worst case is a bit of a strap tail flaring out of the loops. On the buckle side, however, it can completely ruin the fit for a smaller wrist. If the buckle portion of the strap is too long one will be unable to centre the watch on their wrist. If the buckle does not meet the loophole in the right spot of ones wrists, it results in an awkward fit. One should not have to endure awkward in luxury in my view. Hermes in my opinion by default makes the perfect length straps. Jean Rousseau is also a great strap maker as they will tailor the length of the leather to ensure one gets the perfect fit.
Lastly, some watches have unnecessary fixed length in the way the bracelet integrates with a watch. An example of this is the Casio G Shock Full Metal. Like a long clasp, this can cause a watch to wear in a more trapezoidal fashion in that if one were to size for their smaller wrist, they would run the risk of having a fixed length longer than the fixed length found at the bracelet clasp. Because the watch has a fixed wrap, it runs the risk of having the watch banana over the wrist versus snugly around it. The gap it presents can cause one to have a less than desirable fit or a less conforming fit. From a first perspective, the watch will look huge, but it may at least look proportionate to ones wrist in the third perspective. Fortunately, my Casio G-Shock Titanium Camouflage is comfortable on my wrist as result of the presence of micro adjustment and a smaller clasp size.
In the spirit of this observation, I would like to give a shout-out to DeBethune as their spring-loaded lugs, which come in multiple sizes, presents a novel solution to unnecessary fixed length in watch offerings. Granted it’s a six-figure price point (or close too), but hopefully this technology trickles down to less expensive offerings.
Lack of Adjustment & Micro Adjustment in a Watch.
The easiest fixed length to remove is the fixed length created in link sizing and removability. Usually one does not have any critiques towards the build of a Rolex but the truth is Rolex used to make their watch bracelets with less removable links. This led consumers, myself included, needing a professional to actually break the link off in order to achieve a good fit. This happens because when the fixed length is too long, the bracelet is impossible to center. This led Rolex to increase the number of removable links, as many were not able to achieve a fit up to the standard of Rolex and their tight tolerances. This is not unique to Rolex and there are times I find myself having to debate if I’d wear the watch off of its bracelet due to the evaluation it would not fit on my wrist, making the offering far less attractive and inevitably not part of my collection.
Fortunately, Rolex has had a good history with micro-adjustment in the clasp providing many holes to position the spring bar for a perfect fit point. It’s younger sibling, Tudor, on the other hand could take notes from its bigger brother. Circling back to the Black Bay 58, the watch would have been more sizeable if it had more than three holes to position the bracelet within the clasp. If my G-Shock Titanium can have more than three holes for micro adjustment at a fraction of the price, what held Tudor back from drilling even just one more hole? It is clearly possible from the picture above, but it’s a shame one has to effectively mod their watch (and risk voiding their warranty) in order to get the perfect fit and configuration.
Divers, water-resistant watches, offered (or put on) on leather.
Contrary to what Hodinkee may want you to believe, I do not find anything interesting about leather straps on dive watches. No matter the colour it doesn’t create an aesthetic package I enjoy. This is not so much about fit in regard to sizing as it is about the theme of its design. Leather is not an aquatic strap, so it doesn’t really fit the “theme” and utility of the watch. As an example the Black Bay 58 is offered on a leather strap, but there is no factory rubber. Wearing the Black Bay line, or any dive line, on leather, in my opinion, defeats the purpose and design of the watch. When I see a Black Bay, Submariner, or other dive watches on leather I assume the person was unable to secure the bracelet for the watch. I have even seen some attempt to put a diver on a bund strap, a strap that was designed to prevent someone from burning their wrist should the metal of the watch get hot, even though a diver should have no fear of burning the wrist in the depths of water. There is a clear demand as well, as third-party companies have filled that void with great success. These straps are not available at launch however, as these companies must first acquire the watch to create the mold for the watch. But why should one have to wait for an Everest or Rubber B to manufacture what Tudor arguably should have made themselves? Another example of a watch I believe should be offered on rubber: The Piaget Polo S. Since the watch is 100m water-resistant, this rather Nautilius/Aquanaut inspired offering would be more appealing. The bracelet on the Piaget Polo S is very high polish, where some would have opted for a satin dominant finish. So the only other factory option is a leather strap with a deployant buckle. Although it looks great, I can’t help but wonder how much better fitting it would be to have a rubber configuration as well. Piaget’s Richemont sibling Vacheron Constantin gets this in their overseas line as the 125m water resistant Overseas is bundled with metal, leather, and rubber bracelet all in one offering. If the Piaget Polo S were offered with a rubber and metal bracelet bundle, one would effectively be able to switch between a quasi nautilus and aquanaut aesthetic that is still distinguishable as a Piaget.
By Zach Blass – @w4tchtow3r