The smartwatch may help us keep our bodies in shape, but the mechanical watch is good for the soul, says Su Jia Xian.
SU JIA XIAN
Independent watch journalist, industry observer and collector
While there are precious-metal watches that are so colossal that wearing one is akin to exercise, traditional mechanical watches do little for one’s health. It is the smartwatch that measures our pulse, the number of steps we take and count our calories.
The Apple Watch’s activity reminder is especially useful, vibrating every waking hour to remind you to take a break, go to the toilet or whatever. In contrast, the closest a traditional mechanical watch comes to that is the grand sonnerie or hour striker complication, which automatically chimes every hour or quarter-hour. Tiny hammers and gongs inside the watch produce pleasant, clear chimes, though they are usually so soft the watch needs to be held next to the ear for them to be heard. Unlike the $1,000 Apple Watch, the hour striker typically costs upwards of $200,000, while a grand sonnerie wristwatch easily tops $700,000.
Though the luxury watch industry has done little for consumer health, it is not for lack of trying. In the mid-2000s, Philip Stein enjoyed a brief burst of popularity when Oprah Winfrey endorsed its watches on her daytime talk show. Swiss-based but American-led, Philip Stein makes watches and bracelets that ostensibly create a force ﬁeld of sorts around the wearer, improving sleep and reducing stress.
While the claims about its products’ health beneﬁts have been disputed, that hasn’t stopped Philip Stein from selling almost 70,000 watches a year, according to news network CNBC in July 2015. Rather than off er tangible solutions to ﬁtness and health, old-fashioned mechanical watches offer a measure of stress relief stemming from the satisfaction of having a well-crafted miniature machine ticking away effortlessly on the wrist. Watching a tourbillon spin on the dial of a watch is certainly a pleasing experience, especially for a watch aﬁcionado, perhaps akin to a soothing spa treatment.
And then there are multi-axis tourbillons, with several cages rotating on different axes and at different speeds – twice the spectacle, triple the satisfaction but at ﬁve times the price.
The spectacle of the tourbillon is the reason nearly all tourbillon watches have an aperture on the dial to view the mechanism, even though it is functionally unnecessary. That also explains why tourbillons have been so popular – literally every watchmaker, low- or high-end, has one in its offerings – despite being astronomically expensive.
But it is perhaps the deeper level of appreciation of a mechanical watch that brings the greatest Zen moments. Peer deep into an exquisitely ﬁnished watch movement – think of the works of Philippe Dufour or A. Lange & Sohne – and marvel at the incredible skill needed to fashion the metal components into surfaces so smooth and round they resemble liquid mercury. Some say it is like transcending the here and now and stepping onto another plane – meditation for watch nuts.
“WATCHING A TOURBILLON SPIN IS CERTAINLY A PLEASING EXPERIENCE, AKIN TO A SOOTHING SPA TREATMENT.”