An Ode To Base Models — Why Less Can Be More When It Comes To Watches
As watch aficionados, we can have a tendency to behave like maximizers. Chasing ever-bigger dreams. Pursuing more exotic materials. Chasing down more complicated movements. Getting the version that is even rarer, even more special. But you know what? Those are not always the better watches. Let me take this opportunity to bring an ode to the base model — the simplest, often most affordable version of a watch.
I happen to think these are often the most attractive, most beautiful watches. No frills, just the bare essentials. Let me explain why, and maybe, just maybe, I can persuade you to focus on the entry-level side of the catalog next time.
Base models have the purest design
Let me start with a little clarification about what I mean with base models. I am talking about the least complicated version of a watch. This can be in terms of actual complications — think the Oyster Perpetual over the Datejust. It can also be in terms of finishing, colors, decorations, and materials — think the Moonwatch over the Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary.
The thing is, you only have to think about the design process of a watch to catch my drift. If you were to sketch a new watch, you would draw the base model. Do you think Gérald Genta sketched a travel time complication and a pointer date when he imagined the Nautilus? Nope. He drew the ref. 3700.
Granted, great designers can blend added features into existing designs with great elegance, but there is just something pure to the base model. To me, at least, they often make the boldest statement. I am more impressed by the subtle yet powerful appearance of a ref. 3700 compared to the excess of a rose gold ref. 5980/1R-001.
Keeping it simple is the hardest thing
Having dabbled in product design myself on occasion, I can tell you that keeping it simple is the hardest thing. You can hide poor design by just adding stuff to it. You see this a lot in poorly designed watches. An extra facet here, a couple of lines there. Unnecessary stuff to mask the fact that the basis was not quite perfect.
If the simplest, purest form is right, however, you do not need any of that. A couple of watches that spring to mind are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, Cartier Tank, Patek Philippe Calatrava, and Junghans Max Bill. Whether you like them or not, there is no denying the quality of their basic designs.
The functionality of base models over embellishments
It is not just a matter of simplicity, however. The Omega Speedmaster and Breitling Navitimer are anything but simple. However, the base models in their respective catalogs are stunning from a design standpoint.
It has everything to do with functionality. Chronographs tend to be quite complicated from a design point of view. There is a lot of information that needs to be crammed into a small amount of real estate. Still, when you look at a Moonwatch or base Navitimer, everything feels like it needs to be there. There is nothing superfluous or decadent. This makes them, in my eyes, infinitely more attractive than any special edition with embellishments or exotic materials.
The chronograph that elevates this concept to pure art, in my humble opinion, is the Heuer Carrera ref. 7753NST. In particular, the reverse-panda version is sheer perfection. The color scheme aids in the legibility and clarity of the design. I would take it over the more complicated Dato any day of the week.
Okay, you might not always save money on a base model
I opened with a statement about saving a buck or two by opting for a base model. This is not always the case anymore. My favorite example — the Patek ref. 3700 — has appreciated into the stratosphere precisely because it is the iconic version.
The Moonwatch, however, is a better example. The base Hesalite Moonwatch is, in my eyes, the best Speedmaster you can get. It is also one of the more affordable ones, compared to all of the limited editions that followed. It seems that Omega agrees, considering the brand stopped doing limited editions a while ago.
Overlook the base model at your peril
As we delve deeper into watches, we might no longer get excited over the simpler stuff. We might lose ourselves in ever more complicated things. We are no longer impressed unless some new exotic material is combined with a bright new color and an odd new shape. But sometimes, the big gesture is just better — the stroke of brilliance that is the base version of a seriously good watch.
I have found that it can actually be extremely rewarding to focus on precisely those watches. I also feel they tend to age better than elaborate versions might.
How do you feel about this? Do you like your watches complicated and fully tricked out? Or do you prefer the simpler things in life? There’s no right or wrong here. I just felt it was about time to bring an ode to the latter.
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