Design Vs. Specs — Which Is More Important To You When Buying A Watch?
I love hearing about other people’s choices in watches, but it’s about more than just the outcome for me. How and why someone chose to buy a certain watch is often far more interesting. It leads to a different perspective on how people make choices, and being either a specs person or a design fanatic has a big influence. Of course, there’s more to buying a watch than simply weighing the specs or the design, but most watch fans do favor one over the other. As a design enthusiast, my main attraction to a watch is its looks. While I definitely find specs important, they will never outweigh the visual aspect. But there are people that do put specs first. Are the numbers, ratings, and functions more important to you, or is love all about looks?
To quote Ted Lasso from the eponymous TV series, “Be curious, not judgmental.” While the character misattributed that quote to the great American poet Walt Whitman, it hardly affects the impact of these words. In the watch world, however, it seems that many disregard that principle, pointing out wrongs instead of rights and stating “better” picks rather than accepting the reasoning behind someone else’s. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed people plugging their own preferences regardless of the other person’s reasoning and priorities. Especially when it comes to the spec sheet, I am curious how much it matters to people when choosing to buy or not buy a watch. So how much does it factor into your decisions? It’s a genuine question I have for you, the Fratelli. Rather than giving you the answers, I will follow Ted Lasso’s advice and be curious.
Design is the most important feature for me
After walking among watch enthusiasts for the last two decades, I am still fascinated by people who put the spec sheet first. We all base our next purchase on the same points — the brand, the design, the movement, the specs, and the price. The way we prioritize them, however, can differ greatly. For me, the type of watch — diver, GMT, etc. — will often play a big role in guiding my next purchase. But as soon as I’ve decided what kind of watch I’m after, the more important quest is finding one that I love for its looks. For me, the specs are a secondary concern, and the price is often an important part of creating context, especially when talking specs.
I have told you multiple times about my search for a great GMT. It’s a nice example regarding design as the looks of GMT watches are quite expressive and important. The category of GMTs offers a multitude of designs that are defined or inspired by Rolex. In one of the installments of our Sunday Morning Showdown series, I explained the love for my favorite classic Rolex GMTs and what current successors do it for me. What it comes down to is that few watches have the same visual attraction as the GMT-Master ref. 1675 and Explorer II ref. 1655. That vintage Rolex charm is hard to beat or even come close to. A watch that, in my opinion, has that vintage charm and that I should have bought when it came out is the white-dialed Laventure Transatlantique GMT.
Functions, specs, and emotions
But that watch — and any general GMT discussion, for that matter — sparks a lively debate on the importance of a “caller” GMT versus a “flyer” GMT. This brings us to the other end of the spectrum. At heart, mechanical watches are still very much a technical product despite being accompanied by great emotions. Every year, we are presented with new technological marvels that display the human brilliance behind the watches we love. Whether it’s Grand Seiko’s Kodo Constant-force Tourbillon, the MB&F LM Sequential EVO, or the Grönefeld Grönograaf, they all prove that technological developments can spark feelings of wonder and awe. But for most of us “commoners,” the technological aspects of the watches we can afford usually translate into a less magical set of specs.
The level to which you prioritize specs is highly personal, but I am often intrigued by watch fans who consider them the most important factor in watch buying. While specs can play a big part in choosing a timepiece, how important they are for your lifestyle can be highly exaggerated. As Thomas van Straaten so perfectly explained in his article, we are often blinded by specs, especially since most of us never test our watches to their limits in daily life. It’s why Thomas deemed water resistance, accuracy, and power reserve useless (with a friendly smile on his face, of course). Thomas and I will not debate the functionality that these specs can provide but how important some people think they are for themselves and others when choosing a watch.
Design first or specs first?
Design and specs are both parts of that total mix of watch elements that I mentioned earlier. But which takes precedence for you? Do a watch’s looks lead you, or do you have a set of specs that a watch needs to meet before you’ll consider it? If the latter is the case, do you find that your preference automatically leads you to the same brands time and time again?
It’s no secret that there are brands out there that generally attract a crowd that loves specs. Two great examples of brands like this are Grand Seiko and Sinn. Sure, there is a nuance to that observation, but in general, watch fans will recognize these brands’ functional strong points when compared to competitors in the same price brackets. Furthermore, if you are drawn to a watch from either of these brands because of its design, you can be pretty sure that the spec sheet will tick every box.
The GMT dilemma is an example
Let’s go back to that GMT discussion I mentioned earlier. So, when it comes to that Laventure Transatlantique GMT, many people criticized it for being a caller GMT, especially considering its CHF 3,350 price tag. As Rob mentioned in his review, the price was a huge step up, even getting close to more renowned brands like Tudor, Longines, and Omega. And I totally understand that, but even over two years later, I would still pick it over both the current Tudor Black Bay GMT and Pro as well as the Longines Spirit Zulu Time. And I would gladly give up the practicality of a flyer GMT and enjoy the impracticalities of an ETA 2893-2. It’s a great example of what a good design can do for me. But that’s also the only exception until now. There simply aren’t that many GMTs that look as good as the Transatlantique GMT.
On top of that, the latest developments have seen an increase in available flyer GMTs within that price range. It makes it hard to ignore that it’s a must-have function rather than one that’s nice to have after passing €3K. But what about lower price points? You’ll find the same discussion there too. Should you be searching for a flyer GMT under €2K? Or even under €1K? The Swatch Group offers great flyer GMTs under €2K from the likes of Certina, Mido, Hamilton, and Tissot. And the Traska Venturer GMT is a great option under €1K that features the new Miyota 9075 flyer GMT movement. But do they look as good as other caller GMTs out there, such as the Unimatic Modello Uno U1 GMT or the Serica 8315 Chronomètre?
How far would you take the balance of specs vs. design?
My search for a GMT is just an illustrative example. It’s all about the bigger question of whether you would sacrifice specs for looks. Or would you sacrifice good looks if a watch ticks all the specs boxes? For me, the latter seems impossible, whereas the former is very much possible. But I would love to pass the question over to you and hear your thoughts. Do you prioritize specs or design, and have you ever had to make a concession in either one when you bought a watch?
In addition to that, have you noticed that your prioritization has changed? When looking at my situation, I noticed that I have become more spec-oriented in recent times. Design is always a firm number one. A watch has to look good first and foremost. But with the constant developments in movements and overall specs in combination with my shifting personal preferences, I have noticed that I have become more focused on ticking boxes. As a result, the flyer GMT has almost become a must at this point. But then again, absolutely nothing beats putting a watch on your wrist and experiencing it up close. For me, that is where the proof of a watch’s brilliance lies, not in a list of specs.
But I am curious to find out how you approach situations like these. Please let us know how you approach the prioritization of design versus specs in the comments section.