Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's all about Luxury Watches...

J.LO SINGS ABOUT THEM. Charlize Theron peddles them. And every celebrity worthy of appearing in the pages of Us Weekly wears them: Luxury watches.
But luxury watches are not only for the famous. Today, titans of industry and even the soccer Mom crowd won't leave home without a timepiece worth $5,000 or more fastened to their wrist.

And come on, admit it: You want one. Not necessarily one that Diddy would approve of, but one that's classic. One that you can wear forever and maybe pass along to your kid someday. Truth is, once you cut through all the hype currently surrounding high-end watches, what you find is a real work of art: Luxury watches are masterpieces of traditional craftsmanship. A high-end watch can have 800 or more components — many of them handmade — and hand-assembled by trained watchmakers. A standard quartz watch, in comparison, is most likely machine-made and may have only 20 components inside.

How much should you expect to pay? Depends on the watch, of course. The luxury market bottoms out at around $1,000, but many watches easily cost 30 times that, says Andrew Block, senior vice president of marketing for Tourneau, one of the world's largest high-end watch dealers.
As you might imagine, buying a Cartier or a Rolex is somewhat more complicated than picking out a Fossil or Timex at your mall. Here's what to consider:


Rolex and Cartier are the best known among consumers, followed by Patek Philippe and Piaget, according to the Luxury Institute LLC's latest Luxury Brand Status Report, which measures brand value.

Most luxury watchmakers are Swiss, but there are a handful from other countries, including Bulgari (Italy) and Cartier (France). Considering the brand will give you a sense of history and specialty. Breitling, for example, is favored by pilots for its aeronautic designs.


In watch lingo, "movement" is the mechanism that keeps the watch going. You won't often find quartz (meaning battery-powered) watches in the luxury realm, says Block. "The artisans don't think of quartz as an example of real watchmaking," he says, as it doesn't require a high level of craftsmanship.
Luxury watches are typically mechanical or self-wound. Mechanical watches must be wound, while automatics are animated by the motion of your wrist. (That's right, you may be paying thousands of dollars, but you'll still have to wind or regularly reset your fancy watch.)


The vision of "little old men in Switzerland staying up all night" and working on watches is largely true, says Terry Betteridge, owner of A.E. Betteridge, an estate jeweler in Greenwich, Conn. In fact, craftsmanship on luxury watches is so highly prized that many watches, like Gevril's Soho Deluxe Automatic Calendar ($9,995), have so-called skeleton backs, which allow you to see the components in motion


High-end watches do more than just show the time. They offer additional features called complications. A split-second chronograph will allow you to time two things at once — say, two people in a race, while a perpetual calendar will give you accurate dates and times through the year 2100. You'll also find complications to monitor multiple time zones or even chime on the hour.
There are eight so-called master complications, which the best watchmakers employ in their various watches. The more complications offered in a watch, the higher the price and the more fragile the watch. For example, Alpina's Startimer Automatic ($1,290) offers one complication, a perpetual calendar. The pricier Startime Automatic GMT Chronograph ($2,590) has three: perpetual calendar, second time zone and chronograph.


Luxury watches come with all sorts of bells and whistles geared to appeal to gadget geeks and sporting types. Corum's Admirals' Cup Tide 44 ($26,000) measures the force of the tide and currents, based on the current moon phase. Jaeger's Reverso line (Reverso Classique, $4,500), which allows the watch face to be flipped, was originally engineered for protection during polo matches. Sportsmen may enjoy these added features, says Betteridge, but know they are also hefty — both in terms of price and added bulk to the watch.


Stainless steel is the primary material used, but many makers also produce luxury watches in 18-karat gold. Unlike less expensive watches, this isn't gold plating, but rather gold that has been alloyed with other metals to make it strong enough to withstand everyday wear. Depending on the maker, other materials may be used. Cartier, for example, offers watches in platinum or titanium, as well as rose, yellow or white gold. Its Tortue watch in yellow gold fetches $13,000, while the same watch in platinum is $20,000.


Luxury watches tend to have little accents that make the watch truly a piece of art, says Block, such as highly-polished finish and curved clasp that make the watch more comfortable against your wrist. Designs may be hand-etched rather than stamped. You'll see dials made of mother-of-pearl, a delicate material that isn't often found in such large, flawless circles. And of course, any diamonds or other precious gems will contribute to the price.


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