Recently, I posted about the limited edition Sinn 142 and added a link to an article on Chuck’s blog. In the comments of my post, Chris (Christopher Meisenzahl) made a remark about the golden age of mechanical watches which should be somewhere between 1940 and 1970. Here is a quote from his comment:

“I know that in the mech. golden age (maybe 1940 to 1970?) watches were largely sold on the number of jewels, brand recognition, and amount of precious metal. But without the intricate knowledge that us WIS nuts have pulled together in our communities over the last decade, I suspect that movements would come and go withing anyone outside the company really caring or knowing.”

This is all true, and should be written somewhere in the historybooks of watches. However, I gave the ‘golden age’ of mechanical watches a long thought and I think the Golden Age of mechanical watches was not in the era that Chris mentions, but I think it is now.

Ofcourse, in the days before tuningfork and quartz, people had no choice. They had to wear a mechanical watch, so in that point of view, it was at least the ‘age’ of mechanical watches. However, the golden-part should be added after that era. In these days, a mechanical watch is luxury. You can buy a 10 Euro quartz watch in the supermarket, a quality quartz watch like a Seiko or Swatch can be had for 40 Euro. That money doesn’t buy you a mechanical watch. People who adore mechanical watches are paying extra. And like every ‘extra’ in life for luxury, you have certain levels of it [luxury]. You can adore cars and be perfectly happy with your restored MGB, but some people take it a few steps further and buy Jaguar E and XK types for hobby. There is currently a market for extremes, and watchmanufacturers know this ofcourse. Although it is hard to do any new inventions in mechanical watches, they do add new features and try to perfect these.

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Would there be a Patek Skymoon tourbillon in the age of mechanical watches? I think not. It would be too expensive and maybe because the lack of modern design technology. So the golden age of mechanical watches, where mechanical watches are luxury anyway, allow them to make a watch like this. And it gets sold as well. Would there be a Panerai Tourbillon diverwatch? I think not, because this complication is completely useless on a diverswatch. It is for people that have everything already.

However, how long will this golden age of mechanical watches last? The former age of mechanical watches, between 1940 and 1970, Japanese quartzwatches passed the Swiss mechanicalwatch industry and they (the Swiss) couldn’t catch up with them. Only later (1990-now), where mechanical watches are considered to be luxury, things are going well again. But since they are doing extreme things now, tourbillon divers for example, how long is this going to last? How much Speedmaster variants is Omega going to produce, how many Panerai variants are going to spoil the market, how many different Breitling Navitimers models do you want to see? Ofcourse, having a choice between 10 different Speedmaster models is great for the customer, but it requires some investment from the company who makes them. Spoiling the market is the beginning of the end. I think the Golden Age of mechanical watches will come to an end as soon as people are getting bored with the many variants of watches coming out. Which is already the case with people who are fortunate enough to take it one step further and focus on high-end watches like Patek complications or other exotic watches like F.P. Journe/Jacquet Droz/Richard Mille etc. But for those who can’t….

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One thing is certain, we (mechanical watchfreaks) don’t have to fear for Japanese quartzwatches which killed the mechanical era in the late 1970s, we don’t like them anyway. I think it will be boredom and the lack of affordable innovation which will end it. In my opinion, one of the things that can save us, is moving over to brands that make nice and affordable watches who have to offer something nice as well, something different. Think BRM, Sinn, Bell & Ross, Chronoswiss, Ventura or other independant watchcompanies.

Robert-Jan Broer
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Robert-Jan Broer

Founder & Editor at Fratello Watches
Robert-Jan Broer, born in 1977, watch collector and author on watches for over a decade. Founder of Fratello Watches in 2004.
Robert-Jan Broer
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  • Great post RJ, I am flattered to have been its catalyst! 😉

    Chris
    http://amateureconblog.blogspot.com/

  • Chuck Maddox

    How do you feel about “Silver Age”, RJ? In most fields of endeavour there is a Gold Age, followed by a “Dark Night” which is followed by a “Silver Age”…

    Human civilization (ok, WESTERN Civilization) had a “Golden Age” with peaks in Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations followed by the dark ages and a renaissance (Silver Age)…

    In comic books the Golden Age was the first generation of: SuperMan, BatMan, WonderWoman, Captain America, etc. followed by the dark ages of Congressional investigation and harassment of the Comic industry followed by a Silver Age embodied by: Spiderman, IronMan, the X-Men, etc. The quality of stories, character development and art were all the equal or better than their older Golden Age predecessors.

    In the automotive field, we had a Golden Age that lasted until the early 1970’s when increasing oil prices, safety and pollution constraints sent the auto industry into a dark age that the industry came out of and is currently enjoying a “Silver Age” when todays cars are as good or better than they were in the “Muscle Car” era of earlier years and very much in line with our times when we consider all of the demands we make on our autos these days: run reliably, fast, strong, cleanly, economically, etc.

    Which brings us to watches… Specifically mechanical watches… Again, pretty much a high-point (with Auto-chronographs being the last unconquered peak mastered in the last part of the 1969’s soon to be overrun by Quartz and the Japanese. A revival of interest in the old ways and a renaissance of activity with improved methods, automation (in many instances) better attention to detail in most firms and in my opinion a very highly refined product that will meet or surpass their Golden Age counterparts.

    RJ asks “How long is this going to last?” and “How much Speedmaster variants is Omega going to produce, how many Panerai variants are going to spoil the market, how many different Breitling Navitimer models do you want to see?”.

    I’ll take these in a bit of a reverse order: Panerai and Navitimer variants… I personally am not a huge fan of the Panerai style. I own a R*X*W Homage piece which is admittedly a very nice watch, one I enjoy and admittedly a homage piece. However, as such my R*X*W serves as an “Panerai vaccine” that will immunize me from a much more serious chronic Panerai Obsessive/Compulsive disorder. With the Navitimers, I love Whiz-Wheel watches, and I’m as surprised as any one that I only own one Breitling. However when you own the most desirable Navitimer there is (in my opinion most people consider the 806 AOPA Navitimer as the Gold Ring of Breitlings) with an original bracelet, everything else becomes a “would be nice” as opposed to a “must have” at least to me. I’ve kinda emphasized the Speedmaster in my collection personally. To many people, once they have their “Holy Grail” of Speedmaster (say a CK2915 or a c.321 Pre-Moon Pro) they can be very laid back about other models. I personally have found fascination and enjoyment at unearthing the myriad of variation that the Speedmaster had gone through over the years.

    In the end that’s what differentiates the casual collector and the more serious collector. While I’m a serious Speedmaster collector, I could have very easily (I suppose) become a Breitling or Panerai fiend. The trick for the manufacturer is to make a product with enough variations to serve both potential customers: the one who’s looking for the perfect model to all of their needs so they need not purchase another, and variations that are interesting enough that enough serious collectors make it worth their while.

    The last question is “how long will this last?”… That’s a good question. I suspect the answer has many components as well. I think at a certain level the trend of pricing and focus towards more and more expensive products will eventually have a detrimental effect on sales. The line will have to be held or at least restrained from going to high or people will put their wallet’s back in their pockets. I also believe that firms will have to show some restraint in the products they offer. Three or Four well chosen and produced models will likely be more profitable than 10 marginal models. (Omega this means a 25th anniversary model celebrating the first Space Shuttle launch for 2006 is probably not a real keen idea, albeit more so than the Earth to Moon to Mars idea). I think the Economy will also have it’s effects… The market for $10,000+ Lange’s, Breuget, Audemars, Patek’s and Blancpain’s will dry up with a significant recession.

    I’m not sure there is a revolution on the horizon like there was with Quartz and the Japanese in the late 1960’s… However, I’ve been wearing rather comfortably a non-Swiss watch with the best attributes of both Mechanicals and Quartz for most of the past two weeks… Some of the high-middle end of the Japanese Watch industry (the $500-1,000) range has some really cool chronographs that the Swiss better be on guard about. Because for many many casual customers these watches offer the convenience and accuracy of Quartz, with the feel and looks that are reminiscent of vintage mechanicals. A product like this could siphon off a significant portion of that and surrounding price ranges.

    I believe that there will likely come a time when a number of firms strident march up-market will be looked at in hind-sight as being short-sighted and nearly catastrophic in consequence. I may be right, I may be wrong. Only time will tell.

    But I think that Silver-Age is a better term than Golden, RJ. What do you think?

    Chuck

  • Robert-Jan

    Hello Chuck,

    Sorry for my late reply, but I have been busy and away from my keyboard for a while. After I read your story, or essay :-), I tend to agree with you on the definition. Maybe Silver Age is a better chosen word. Although I don’t believe the Japanese market will get some of the Swiss target audience like myself. I rather think people will look around and search for other reasonably priced Swiss alternatives like the brands I mentioned. Who are affordable, but still exclusive in terms of style and functionality.

    RJ

  • Its kind of funny that I am commenting on a five year-old article, but I felt the need to say “never-say-never.” With some pretty impressive automatic watches coming out of Japan and gaining increasing notoriety and acceptance as luxury mechanical pieces who knows what effect Japan will have on the Swiss watch industry … again.