Poll: Are mechanical watches better made today OR in mid-20th Century??

Poll: Are mechanical watches better made today OR in mid-20th Century??

Joined: December 4th, 2008, 11:34 pm

October 31st, 2009, 5:12 am #1

I put this question in the non-Japanese question since it's a generic issue, but I DO want to include Japanese watches as well.

By "today" I mean watches made since about 1995. By "mid-20th Century" I mean anything from about the late 1940s thru the 1970s.

However, I'm limiting it to just purely mechanical watches; no electronic, no quartz, no Spring Drive, etc. to make an easier comparison.

The parameters are rather "open", and can include your opinion on movement quality, accuracy standards, accuracy "in practice", durability, quality of casing, ease of maintenance, water-tightness, eye-appeal(decoration as well as overall visual design)...

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Now, my thoughts:

Bottom line: I don't think there's a clear cut answer overall. However, I'd say that for the following aspects of watch production:

1. Accuracy standards & care in regulating: better in the "old days". I haven't found comparable warranties (as the Seiko GS VFA and the Zodiac SST offered) among current-day models. Also, to take Seiko as an example, until very recently, it did NOT offer any current model anywhere near as accurate (in terms of it's factory Specs) as the '70s Grand Seiko Special and I think even today it still offers nothing that matches the old GS VFA specs.

However, accuracy (and measurement thereof) is a very complex issue - much more complex than a COSC certification would lead you to believe! I think some of the modern developments [like Daniels escapement] try to answer some of those issues that the "old" high-end watches didn't attempt to address. So, certain modern watches may be catching up to or even with those vintage "super watches".

2. Visual aspects: movement decoration, fit & finish of casing, dial, etc. I'll give this to the better quality modern day watches. However, I also have to say that certain VERY antique (pocket watch) products were just as well made in this respect (although that's not technically part of my poll). You can find beautifully decorated movements (skeletons, highly decorated rotors, striping, guilloche, etc.) in certain current watches that seem to greatly outclass those of 40-60 years ago "on average". Certain luxury brands today offer cloisonne & jeweled dials and cases, sculpted/machined silver dials & cases, and other features that rival the hand-made "luxury" pocket-watches made 200 years ago as "objet d'arts". I think of Ulysse-Nardin as a good example of this - various cloisonne & meteor dialed models and the "Berlin" Rattrapante with the sculpted case-back are good examples of "artistic presentation" in the modern era. J-LC & Seiko (GS w/ remake of the Lion emblem) offer some beautiful casebacks as well these days. I find that was done MUCH less so in the earlier period - though the Seiko & Citizen & Benrus gold emblems (caseback) of the '60s & '70s were impressive in many cases. While some extremely limited edition Pateks & others (like Breguet) from mid-20th Century did have elaborate dials & movements, I think it's less prevalent than today among mid/high to high end models in "regular production" [something found in a company catalog even if very limited in number]. So - I give that point to current watches overall.

3. Overall mechanical durability. Tie or slight edge to modern. The parts selection, fine adjusting, & regulating done by hand years ago in certain high end models probably equates to the precision obtainable today by moderm computer controlled manufacturing processes (with their tighter tolerances obtainable). Thus, less "hand picking" of especially well-made parts from the "average part" in the production run is (theoretically) necessary today. In addition, some hi-end products today ALSO require hand finish-work to improve upon the results of automated precision production of parts [IWC, JLC, etc.]. In addition, better products of advanced materials science are available today than in previous history (including synthetic parts for balance assemblies, etc.) - at least in theory.

Much more could be said & a complete answer could be a PhD Dissertation. I'll stop here & let others have their say Feel free to disagree w/ my opinions as well.

===============================================


Seiko Matsuda
The Patron Saint of Seiko Collectors
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Joined: June 19th, 2009, 6:51 pm

October 31st, 2009, 3:00 pm #2

and I will just add that modern watches are better built than older ones from a manufacturing aspect.
Movements have been cost reduced for parts and assembly processes.

I think many modern watches could be made to run as well as their older counterparts of adjustment and regulation was done at the factory.
Additionally we can't ignore newer technology parts and materials. Given that so many watches from the early era are still running; we can only wait for 30 years to see if the modern ones stand up. Of course, in our throw away society of today, it's doubtful that mechanical watches will receive the servicing and care that many of them did in the past.

My best guess is that the watches of today and yesterday are roughly on par as far as build quality goes when all factors are taken into account

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Joined: December 4th, 2008, 11:34 pm

November 2nd, 2009, 6:36 am #3

But 1st, thanks Pete! (for taking time to formulate an answer). And, I can't argue against anything you say either. LOL!! Now...

1. For dials, I'd say the best quality are
a. (vintage) my "starlight dial" 6146 GS. From a Seiko catalog I read, the "starlight dials" are the old sparkly metallic dials. Check out my dial @ my 6146 GS posting in the Watch Pics section. The runner-up from then would be my 5625 KS, it has the standard "silky" looking silver color (painted dial) but has beautiful iridescent highlights in it that I haven't seen in the other Seiko silver dials of the period.

b. (modern) my 2 Revue-Thommens [ca. 1997 Cricket 50th anniversary year model & a GMT/PRI model from same period]. While the Revue-Thommen company makes a "nice" quality watch, it's not usually considered in the same league as the luxury brands, so it's interesting that I like their dials better than the Breitling/Kelek products I have from that same time period.

2. For casing, I'd say the BEST I have is actually not even in either category I included in the poll question. I have a Waltham white gold filled pocket-watch that I use as a desk clock. The case has the most delicate & elaborate "workings" on it of all my watches. It could be from 1930s & does look rather "art deco" in overall design.

But, for purposes of the poll, I'd give a "tie" to those of modern & vintage categories overall. Example: My old Eloga Triple Date (gold filled? case w/ supposedly solid gold bezel) seems to be about the same overall quality as my gold & steel modern Revue-Thommens.

3. I'm not going to attempt a comparison of the movements (that I have) since all of my modern period watches are complications while my "best quality" vintage are non-complicated dress watches (like King & Grand Seikos & Goldfeathers), so it's not quite a fair - or even meaningful - comparison. However, for "visual appeal" the modern day movements seem to outdo my '50s->'70s watches in "decoration". But, again - that old Waltham gives the new guys quite a run for their money in the decorative department

Hope more folks will chime in on this subject too!

===============================================


Seiko Matsuda
The Patron Saint of Seiko Collectors
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Joined: July 19th, 2008, 3:38 am

November 10th, 2009, 6:02 am #4

I put this question in the non-Japanese question since it's a generic issue, but I DO want to include Japanese watches as well.

By "today" I mean watches made since about 1995. By "mid-20th Century" I mean anything from about the late 1940s thru the 1970s.

However, I'm limiting it to just purely mechanical watches; no electronic, no quartz, no Spring Drive, etc. to make an easier comparison.

The parameters are rather "open", and can include your opinion on movement quality, accuracy standards, accuracy "in practice", durability, quality of casing, ease of maintenance, water-tightness, eye-appeal(decoration as well as overall visual design)...

----------------------------------------------

Now, my thoughts:

Bottom line: I don't think there's a clear cut answer overall. However, I'd say that for the following aspects of watch production:

1. Accuracy standards & care in regulating: better in the "old days". I haven't found comparable warranties (as the Seiko GS VFA and the Zodiac SST offered) among current-day models. Also, to take Seiko as an example, until very recently, it did NOT offer any current model anywhere near as accurate (in terms of it's factory Specs) as the '70s Grand Seiko Special and I think even today it still offers nothing that matches the old GS VFA specs.

However, accuracy (and measurement thereof) is a very complex issue - much more complex than a COSC certification would lead you to believe! I think some of the modern developments [like Daniels escapement] try to answer some of those issues that the "old" high-end watches didn't attempt to address. So, certain modern watches may be catching up to or even with those vintage "super watches".

2. Visual aspects: movement decoration, fit & finish of casing, dial, etc. I'll give this to the better quality modern day watches. However, I also have to say that certain VERY antique (pocket watch) products were just as well made in this respect (although that's not technically part of my poll). You can find beautifully decorated movements (skeletons, highly decorated rotors, striping, guilloche, etc.) in certain current watches that seem to greatly outclass those of 40-60 years ago "on average". Certain luxury brands today offer cloisonne & jeweled dials and cases, sculpted/machined silver dials & cases, and other features that rival the hand-made "luxury" pocket-watches made 200 years ago as "objet d'arts". I think of Ulysse-Nardin as a good example of this - various cloisonne & meteor dialed models and the "Berlin" Rattrapante with the sculpted case-back are good examples of "artistic presentation" in the modern era. J-LC & Seiko (GS w/ remake of the Lion emblem) offer some beautiful casebacks as well these days. I find that was done MUCH less so in the earlier period - though the Seiko & Citizen & Benrus gold emblems (caseback) of the '60s & '70s were impressive in many cases. While some extremely limited edition Pateks & others (like Breguet) from mid-20th Century did have elaborate dials & movements, I think it's less prevalent than today among mid/high to high end models in "regular production" [something found in a company catalog even if very limited in number]. So - I give that point to current watches overall.

3. Overall mechanical durability. Tie or slight edge to modern. The parts selection, fine adjusting, & regulating done by hand years ago in certain high end models probably equates to the precision obtainable today by moderm computer controlled manufacturing processes (with their tighter tolerances obtainable). Thus, less "hand picking" of especially well-made parts from the "average part" in the production run is (theoretically) necessary today. In addition, some hi-end products today ALSO require hand finish-work to improve upon the results of automated precision production of parts [IWC, JLC, etc.]. In addition, better products of advanced materials science are available today than in previous history (including synthetic parts for balance assemblies, etc.) - at least in theory.

Much more could be said & a complete answer could be a PhD Dissertation. I'll stop here & let others have their say Feel free to disagree w/ my opinions as well.

===============================================


Seiko Matsuda
The Patron Saint of Seiko Collectors
Cause we should seperate case`s from movements, or include them or?????

Movements alone. There has not been a real significant change in the normal production quality movement be it high-end or low-end between now and the early 1970`s. I believe over all we would see the same level of working finish and quality in most parts from the about 1970 to the present (From a capable company, comparing apples to apples and so forth). I think we would have to go back a few more years to really define any quality levels or engineering designs that led to a definitive conclusion.

Case`s as well. From about the early 1970`s, you have most of the real breakthroughs coming in case design that we have only bettered on up until now, such as front of case opening and one piece case design. Again, you would have to go back further to make any definitive conclusion as to overall quality. In most case`s you will find a better attention to detail in earlier case work, but, the big but in all of this that in my mind mutes the discusion as long as we dont involve craft in it, is CAD CAM trumps all! The ability to use computer controlled design and manufacture is going to equate to an overall higher base quality across the board, when compared to anything that did not use these techniques in there previous manufacture.

Todays watch, both its movement and its casing, is built, designed, and made at a much better quality level today because of this advancement in manufacturing techniques and from here there is no turning back. They may seem less stout in some locations of the case, but overall quality is higher. No amount of handmade craft will make up for the computer or its X-Y axis when it comes to being able to endue base quality to a manufactured product.

Cheers,
Randall
____________________________________________________________
Seikoholic #1
Dr.Seiko,
Specializing in Seikology, Seikotherapy, and other Horological Dis-ease.
Made in the U.S.A.

"We will not rush the hands of time." Arturo Fuente
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Joined: December 4th, 2008, 11:34 pm

November 11th, 2009, 1:23 am #5

not a tangent at all.

Computer controlled manufacturing & the ensuing increase in precision it can offer vs. the older (non computer controlled) methods of earlier years. Indeed that has been one of my questions - do the newer production methods really result in more uniformity than older methods (thus, leading to a more uniform - and higher level of quality)? This question arose in my mind after reading about the Seiko engineers "hand picking" parts to go into the highest tiers of '70s GS models (like the VFA's). If highly precise, computer controlled production methods (with their tighter tolerances) had been in place back then, would there have even been a real need to "hand pick" superb specimens of parts out of a production run? And, wouldn't that also mean that even the "lower tiers" of GS would have had almost the same (or exactly the same?) quality level as even a VFA? [IF you are talking strictly about the "components" going into the movement, not the fine adjusting, etc.].

Does this mean that even a modern non-"elite" model from a reputable manufacturer has almost the same quality level as even an "elite" model? [Unlike prior generations when more primitive manufacturing methods led to greater variation in the production run] Of course, I'm talking about the movement performance & durability itself here. Casing and presentation are other matters where "quality measurements" can also involve "richness" of the material used though that may not have any positive effect on the functionality of the watch. For example, in the Breitling chronograph line-up over the last decade, there has been the "elite" Montbrillant line and the less elite Navitimer line. The Montbrillant movements are (for example) more highly jeweled than Navitimer (which are close to their ETA/Valjoux 7750 base; the Montbrillant models movements may have come from a different ETA base, like 2892-A2 & design had been heavily modified by Kelek). But, really - how MUCH better is a Montbrillant triple register chronograph than a Navitimer triple register model from the same year [with same basic functionality - again, trying to compare apples-to-apples]?? Breitling never really gave much in the way of hard facts in its catalogs to answer that question.

===============================================


Seiko Matsuda
The Patron Saint of Seiko Collectors
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