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November 2019
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What’s that on your wrist?

By Nick da Costa

I love watches. Always have done.

For me, the fascination lies in the endless permutations on precisely the same theme: twelve numerals or markers around a circle or square, with two or three hands to point to them.

Right now, we are in one of the most exciting periods ever for original watch design and you don’t need deep pockets to enjoy some very special timepieces.

This is because the watch industry has undergone a revolution which has brought fresh design talent into the market to challenge the astronomically-priced big names.

The best way to explain this is by comparison to cars. In a car, by far the most complex and expensive component is the engine. These take years to design and develop, at enormous cost. Which is why many marques have engines made by other manufacturers, or develop them jointly.

The same has happened in the watch market. Independent manufacturers of high quality movements, usually Swiss or Japanese, have liberated entrepreneurs and designers to focus entirely on the look, confident that the engine is reliable. In some cases, even well known brand names sell their movements to other makers.

So the real excitement today lies between £125 and £400 and in some cases well below. And you can take accuracy for granted.

Some of the sharpest designs are coming out of Scandinavia. Well worth a look are Bering, Skagen and Obaku, all Danish. From Sweden, Triwa. All share those hard-to-define Nordic design cues, bringing ice-coolness to your wrist. Both Skagen and Triwa, for example, have a wide range well under £100.

From Switzerland, look at Wenger, inventors of the Swiss Army knife and Mondaine who have some stunning designs based on the iconic design of the Swiss Railway Clock.

A relative newcomer is Lilienthal, manufacturing in Berlin and awarded a German Design Award in 2018. Also from Germany are Zeppelinwatches, with some nice retro touches. Bravely, one of their range is named Hindenburg, but there are no reports of it bursting into flames.

From Italy, look at Breil, but look carefully since there is dross among some real finds. From the USA, Hamilton just scrapes in to the price range here producing some classic timepieces. Very Scott Fitzgerald.

Also outside our range, but not by much, are Shinola watches, made in Detroit, re-employing many people laid off from the automobile industry. These are fabulous watches, launched with the one of the best headlines ever: ‘A watch so smart you can tell the time just by looking at it’.

I reserve a big soft-spot for Timex. While a fair number of their designs are lacking in any merit, they are still brilliant at producing graphically clean watch faces for as little as £35. The Timex Originals Unisex watch, or their Weekender range, for example, are modern-day classics.

Seiko, of course, can’t be ignored. Great watches – but for me – they are a little like Japanese cars, varying from super-stylish to hideous (without seeming to understand the difference). They need to introduce a second brand in the same way that Toyota split out Lexus. Sure, they created Grand Seiko for the States, but that’s rather missing the point.

My rules: (1) Never buy a watch from a company that didn’t start out making watches. Just because you can knock out a decent shirt or headscarf, doesn’t make you an authority on timekeeping. Stick to the day job.

(2) Gentlemen, be careful about size: watches have been getting bigger and bigger, many reaching 45mm in diameter. Substantial forearms required, or they just make you look weedy. 38/40mm or Unisex sizes are more classic.

(3) Ladies, ignore (2)

A great site to look at (and indeed buy) most of the watches mentioned here (and many others) is  I have no connection with them.


© Nick da Costa 2019




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