Clearly, we here at Gracious Watch are fans of luxury timepieces. We’ve posted dozens of listicles laying down our preferred luxury watches at an assortment of price points, after all.
We also have a lot of love for inexpensive affordables that tick all the right boxes. At times, we have even had hands-on experiences with budgets timepieces evoke similar feelings of quality and luxury that we get from higher-end brands.
But – but – there is a defining line between luxury and the rest. There must be, otherwise, how can we call something “luxurious”?
These days, the term “luxury” (or, even more prominent, “affordable luxury”) is tossed around like a bad habit. This irks me for several reasons, the least of which being the fact that if everything is luxury, then nothing is.
But even in the absence of that reality, appending or prepending “luxury” to everything we make is damaging.
Damaging to the buyer, the brand, and the industry as a whole.
What Defines a Luxury Timepiece?
This is the question that this post will hopefully help you answer. Speaking to my personal tastes, I’m not going to look at the price with much consideration. Price can be an indicator of luxury, but on its own, I feel it is insufficient at justifying something’s status as a luxury item.
I’d argue that a luxury watch should be well-finished, whether it is done so by hand or machine; it should possess an upper-end movement, whether quartz or mechanical; it should be bespoke to the brand, meaning that you will not find a duplicate of it sold by someone else; it should be relevant, and remain so as it ages.
Complications also influence this designation, though I believe that it is completely possible for a luxury watch to possess no complications and yet still be “luxurious”. You don’t need a tourbillon, after all.
Regarding Being “Bespoke”
Shortly after I launched the now-sister site to Gracious Watch, Watches You Can Afford, I received an e-mail from a brand asking if I wanted to review one of their watches. I accepted (of course) and one arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later.
Well now, don’t those two watches bear a certain resemblance to each other?
I actually laughed out loud, both at the hilarity of the situation and the $170 difference in price. And yet, both brands were equally serious: their websites speak to the unmistakable quality of the watch, and the time-honored design, and so on.
This opened my eyes to the reality of watchmaking in 2014+: there are more brands emulating than there are designing. Oh, and that you never know what’s a Fossil and what isn’t.
We Need to be More Discerning About Our Definitions of Luxury
Most microbrands that exist today exist because they can design a watch using a CAD program or, even less genuinely, have simply forked over the requisite dough for a build-a-brand solution.
I’m not here to harp on the micros, but let’s call a spade a spade and get real for a second. The above descriptor is not reflective of the quality of something, but certainly, it is reflective of the luxury status of something. I hardly see how a build-a-brand brand could also be a luxury brand. To me, those two concepts are incompatible.
Brand Equity Can Influence Luxury
Take Armand Nicolet, a Swiss watchmaker that produces a mere 6,500 pieces per year. This scarcity imbues their watches with a certain luxurious sentiment on its own, but that isn’t what defines them; the fact that their watches are handmade, by master watchmakers that undergo in-house training to be able to sufficiently service their vintage movements, is a big part of what defines them.
Armand Nicolet’s history dates back to the late 1800’s, and I’d argue that this legacy and tradition of watchmaking makes their timepieces feel special. More than a novelty, there’s genuine value in knowing that your watch was made using techniques over 100 years old.
Engineering & Technical Capability Are Qualities of a Luxury Manufacturer
A brand I think of when I think of a true “entry-level luxury” brand is Montblanc. Their chronographs, in particular, tend to be well-styled, using a mix of upper-end materials, finishes, and smart design to convey their message of exclusivity and prestige.
Take the Star Traditional Chronograph Automatic “Carpe Diem Edition”, a gorgeous yet affordable representation of their work. I really quite like it for a few reasons
- Stunning good looks, including a richly textured dial
- Elegant and tasteful choice of materials (18k red gold)
- Gorgeous design (look at it)
The Star shouts luxury without actually saying a word. It allows its design, engineering, and presence to make that fact obvious. In so doing, it elevates not only your perception of the watch, but of the Montblanc brand holistically.
Isn’t that feeling supposed to be what the term “luxury” implies when speaking to wristwatches?
Plus, Montblanc releases statement pieces that show off their engineering prowess. One such example is the Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph, which features a Montblanc-derived automatic movement (the MB R230), and – of course – the toubillon mechanism.
The Heritage exudes luxury not because of its price – though a street price of $45,000 is certainly up there – but because it is a stunning demonstration of engineering ability and gorgeous design. Its execution is both gorgeous and impressive.
Few watchmakers have such ability.
It’s Okay That Everything Isn’t Luxurious
Ticking loudly on my bedside table is a Timex Weekender – the second one I’ve had as I gave the first one away – and I think it’s just a terrific watch. It’s so inexpensive that it’s almost endearing because of just how good it is, cheesy Indiglo backlight and all.
Things don’t need to be luxury, or labeled as such, to be good. They just need to be good.