Sunday, July 29, 2012

I've Been Looking For an Old-Fashioned, but New Watch

Have you heard of a self-winding watch? They call them "automatic" watches now, but it amounts to the same thing. They're mechanical beasts, and they don't require a battery. They operate with a little pendulum that swings with the motion of the arm through the day. The pendulum winds a spring, the spring makes a bazillion (or slightly fewer) gears move, and the gears move the hands. Cool, but old stuff.

I had a self-winding watch I loved dearly. I got it in 1973 with prize money from selling tickets to a Scout show. I wore it for years with no problems, but lost it sometime after I bought a digital watch. I'll bet it still runs, wherever it is.

The photo at left is a picture of the back of the watch I ordered the other day. The bottom portion is the pendulum that winds the spring that powers the watch. The glass center is kind of cool. I'll be able to see the watch work.

I feel a little guilty about my purchase. It's a Chinese watch. I looked for an American watch of similar construction, with a similar movement. I couldn't find one. Note that I said I couldn't find one. I mean I couldn't find one, period...not for any price.

It's a global economy. American companies, even our automobile manufacturers, use parts that come from other countries. I would prefer not to send any of my money to China, but that's not easy to do. I'm not going to comment on what could be done to stop that from happening because I have no more answers than anyone else does.

You might wonder why I want a mechanical watch. It's a valid question. Most of our watches are quartz watches. They're a lot less expensive--even the fancy ones--and they're more accurate than mechanical watches, for the most part.

Well... I like old-fashioned technology. I've written about why I like fountain pens. This is the same kind of thing. I want to hear my watch go tick-tock, and not just tick. Quartz watches operate on a steady electronic pulse through the quartz. If you look at the second hand on a quartz watch, you'll see that lurches forward one second at a time. Tick. Tick. Tick. It's not a big issue, whether the watch goes tick or tick-tock, but I miss the old ticktockticktock.

I like the idea of taking some responsibility for my watch. I want to have to do something beyond just strapping it to my wrist every morning. (Yes, I prefer a leather watch strap.) I want some control, and having to wear it or wind it to make it go is close enough to control for me. I also want to be able to start the watch if it stops...without having to go to the jeweler and wait a couple of days for him to get around to sticking a new battery in my watch.

So I decided to buy an automatic watch. I found very quickly that automatic watches are still available, but most of them are expensive. A Google search for "automatic watch" under shopping reveals prices from $70-5,000. Big range!

I found one I like on eBay, and not in an auction. I ordered it. It cost me a little under $30, and the seller is paying for the shipping. I've had to do some digging to try to find out anything about AK Homme watches. I found a couple of good reviews, most of which expressed surprise at how well the watch runs.

The "AK" stands for Alias Kim, and they have their own website in addition to selling on eBay. I wondered if I could find out more about the company that actually makes the watch, but so far I haven't. I do know this:
  • The watch movement is Chinese.
  • The Chinese have been making some very good automatic movements. Some reviews I've read say the Chinese movements are as good as the Swiss movements (and one of those sources was Swiss!), but they lack the prestige of a Swiss movement (of course), and therefore won't fetch the same price. I'm also sure the workers that make the watch aren't paid anywhere near what a Swiss watchmaker is paid. In fact, I wish the Chinese worker was paid more...and maybe someday they will be.
  • Fossil uses some Chinese movements in their watches (from what I've read). Look at their catalog someday, and you'll find they talk about the case being 100% American made, but not the movement. Timex has movements built in India, Indonesia, and some sites hinted they have some movements made in China.
At any rate, I ordered my watch, and I'm looking forward to having it show up in my mailbox in ten days or so. I'm looking forward to having my second hand sweep around the watch face. I learned that with a mechanical watch, the second hand moves five times per second (on average), which gives the appearance that it's sliding gracefully in a circle instead of ticking  once a second.

I'll have to take it to the jeweler every 5-10 years to have it cleaned on the inside and have lubricant applied, but that'll be cheaper than buying a new battery. Whether it will save me any money in the long run or not, I hesitate to say. I think it won't be long before I won't be able to find a qualified jeweler to repair the mechanism if something goes wrong. It'll be worth looking. A well-maintained mechanical watch can last for generations. Another advantage to quartz movements is that if something goes wrong, a jeweler just tosses the old movement and puts in a new one. I imagine that can be done with this watch, but the movement won't be inexpensive to replace. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. By then...I'll probably be tired of ticktockticktockticktock.

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