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Monday, November 06, 2006
They say time is money, and when you consider that it can take a Swiss master watchmaker a full year to build a single timepiece, the expression takes on a new meaning. Enthusiasts typically define "fine" watches as those in excess, often well in excess, of a thousand dollars. But you don't need to spend an arm and a leg to put a remarkable watch on your wrist. Most collectible watches are mechanical, meaning they have no battery and are powered by a spring that has to be wound (or that winds by wrist movement). These account for less than 1 percent of all new watches, yet increasingly, excellent mechanincal wathes are being made for well under a thousand dollars. Likewise, quartz watches, usually at the lowe-price end of the market, are raising the bar with innovative features. A Ferrari or a Hinckley yacht may still be out of reach, but today, more than ever, it's possible to buy a very special watch while sticking to a three-figure budget. Here are some of the best in that price range.

A little known Swiss company is making a huge splash in the States with its unique timepieces, like the oversize F104 ($875). Glycine has long made pilot's models and for the F104 took inspiration from cockpit ranges. At huge 52mm, this watch is for someone who wants to make a big statement. But its unique articulated lugs, connecting watch to band, flex to fit even tiny wrists. Highly durable, the F104 features an exhibition back to showcase its large-scale technology.

One of the most revered American mechanical-watch brnds. Hamilton opened its Lancaster, Pennsylvania, factory in 1892 and was the watch of choice for GIs through two world wars. Today Hamilton is headquartered in Switzerland and offers the widest array of affordable mechnical watches of any brnd, starting at $295. One of the company's signatures is that many of its watches, such as the automatic (self-winding)jazzmaster ($895), have transparent backs so you can see the mechanical movements at work.

TAG Heuer has along history with auto racing, and its quartz chronograph, inspired by Formula One, is accurate enough for a professinal driver. The rotating bezel, titanium coated for durability,and the precise three-dial stop-watch offer two different ways to measure time. The prototypical sports watch, the Formula One ($895) is available with a black face or a red one. It also has a well positioned date indicator and is water-resistant to 200 meters.

Le Cocle is a new produce line named for the town in the Swiss Alps when Tissot watches were born more than 150 years ago. Each Le Locle model features a stainless-steel case and an automatic mechanical movement mounted on miniature shock absorbers. The watches are availablke with your choice of metal bracelets or fancy leather straps with metal clasps. All men's models, inlcuidnt the two tone version ($425) feature transparent backs.

One of the newest in high-fashion watch companies (since 2002), Ritmo Mundo of Beverly Hills makes colorful retro watches based on styles from the 1920s through the 1940s. They've quickly proven to be big hits with celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Lopez and Larry King. The fashion cnscious purchase several of these affordable, high quality watches, with Swiss movements, and swap them to match their outfit of the day. The Divina comes in more than a dozen colors and is also available in a diamond-encrusted version that's three times the price of the standard $400 model. Each Divina has interchangeable rubber and leather straps. The watch is available at Saks Fifth Avenue and other top retailers.

Sector is a flambouyant Swiss watch manufacturer known for its frequent endorsements of extreme athletes and its off beat endeavours. The new mechanical 700 Series Automatic Diver ($490) captures this active spirit, with eye-catching rubber straps, huminiscent hands and hour indicators, and alternative markings for 24-hour military time. And it's water-resistant to an impressive 200 meters.

Another venerable Swiss company. Raymond Weil has been best known for conservative dress watches, but the Tango line is a bit a departure. It marries the features of a traditional three-dial quartz stopwatch with the brand's dressiness. This is a chronograph for someone looking for something edgier than classic sports watch style ($995).

Pirelli is known for its performance on the road, but with this quartz watch, it takes to the sea. The yacht timer is named for a rare watch function that counts down the start of a race with tones and then starts the stopwatch. This seafaring model ($790) also features a titanium and steel case, conventional alarm, chronograph functions, and a sapphire crystal treated for anti-reflective properties in the sun. It's water-resistant to 100 meters.

For over a century this Swiss company has, with the highest mechanical standards at a fraction of the price of its competitors, made watches for divers, pilots, racers, and adventurers. ($895) This watch marries form with content - it's both functional and eye-catching. Features include a unique day/date display, and exhibition back, a durable black power-coated stainless steel case, and a tire-tread style band befitting a heritage inspired by Formula One racing.

Brad and Jennifer may have split up, but one thing they, along with actor Heath Ledger and rockers Green Day, still agree on is Red Monkey Designs. Red Monkey specializes in leather goods, including the showy cuff-life straps that have made its watches favourites among many Hollywood celebs, despaite the low prices. With Red Monkey, you pay for the babds; the watches are simple battery-powered quartz affairs. Still, they boast features rarely found in quartz models, like crown guard ($235).


If you're in the market, you might want to know the language. Here's a sampling of some terms the watchmakers use:

AUTOMATIC: self-winding mechanical mechanisms (when worn).

Bezel: the perimeter of the watchcase around the crystal (a rotating bezel, uausally found on divers' watches, lets you measure elapsed time).

Chronograph: stopwatch functions for timing events, often to the hundreths of a second, at the push of a button.

Chronometer Certified: a Swiss industry standard for timekeeping accuracy awarded to better-quality watches.

Complications: every function added to a watch beyond hours and minutes (incouding date, date, chronograph, alarm, and any other separate functions).

CRYSTAL: transparent cover that protects the face of a watch.

EXHIBITION BACK: transparent rear of watchcase allowing view of inner workings.

MECHANICAL: watches powered by the winding of a spring, not a battery.

QUARTZ: battery-powered movements that uses a quartz crystal to regulate the operations of the watch.

SAPPHIRE CYRSTAL: a high-quality, virtually scratchproof material used for the crystal on battery watches.

(Source: USAIRWAYSMAG by: Larry Olmsted who has toured the factories of many Swiss watch manufacturers. He gained a profound appreciaiton for their craft and precision. Olmsted wears an Omega Speedmaster; the samemodel Neil Armstrong wore on his trip to the moon.)
posted by infraternam meam @ 2:08 PM  
  • At 9:17 PM, Blogger Sidney said…

    Maybe it is time to upgrade my "made in China" watch! ;-)

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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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