Carmaker Henry Ford once said of his Model T, “You can have any colour, as long as it’s black”. Similarly, it’s tempting to think a great mechanical wristwatch must be Swiss-made. But it’s not necessarily so.
From Germany to Great Britain and even in Australia, there are some quality mechanical watches out there.
There's also a caveat: many brands include Swiss-made components (especially the movement), even if the watch itself is designed and constructed elsewhere.
Switzerland has tightened its rules regarding watches being labelled as ‘Swiss made’; among them, at least 60 per cent of a watch’s production costs must be Swiss-based and at least 50 per cent of the movement’s components must be Swiss. So before you plonk your hard-earned down, make sure you know exactly what you’re buying.
Why are Swiss watches often more expensive? Higher labour costs, the expense of extensive research and development, and a long lead time before prototype models actually become available to the consumer can make many Swiss watches more expensive than their non-Swiss rivals.
The upshot is if you do decide to purchase a quality non-Swiss watch, you’re likely to get decent bang for your buck, with the added bonus that the heart of the watch, the movement, may still be Swiss.
Crossing the border
German watchmaking has a long and rich history and since that country’s reunification in 1990, more and more brands have been carving out a piece of the action on the world scene.
Hanhart’s timepieces are a great place to start – the company uses a Hanhart-modified Swiss-produced movement (Valjoux 7753 automatic) in its very elegant Pioneer Mk1 chronograph ($3250).
The big red button (a Hanhart trademark) at two o’clock on the dial controls the chronograph functions (small seconds and 30-minutes counters) and the 40mm watch looks resplendent with its fluted stainless-steel rotating bezel. Water-resistant to 100m, this is a nice option for someone looking for a vintage-inspired dress watch that’s a little bit different.
Muhle-Glashutte’s origins are in ultra-precise marine chronometers but the family-owned company’s wristwatch canon covers sport, dress and specialised dive watches, and everything in between.
The Teutonia IV Moon Phase ($3600) is a masterpiece of understatement, with a nifty moon phase window at the centre of the dial. Powered by an automatic movement, the blued hour and seconds hands look spectacular against the brushed and polished stainless-steel dial.
Muhle-Glashutte’s Teutonia World Timer ($3800) features an outer ‘city ring’ that displays 24 world time zones, plus 42-hour power reserve, stop-second function and fast date correction – all very handy if you’re a regular international traveller.
Best of British
The British watch revival is well and truly in full swing – after all, London was the centre of clock-making and many horological innovations well into the 19th century. Brands such as Bremont, Pinion and Farer are producing some excellent models.
Bremont’s Airco Mach 1 ($4900) sports an elegant, clean design inspired by military watches. The automatic chronometer movement (with a 38-hour power reserve) ticks away inside a 40mm hardened stainless steel case. The sweeping red second hand looks great against the white dial and the vintage leather strap seals the whole military vibe perfectly.
Watch enthusiast and digital designer Piers Berry is the brains behind Oxfordshire-based Pinion Watches, launched just six years ago. Pinion’s timepieces have a decidedly retro feel wrapped in a modern aesthetic, and feature either Japanese or Swiss automatic movements.
The Axis II bronze comes in two flavours (the ‘S’ model with solid engraved case back, $1750, or ‘ES’ model with glass exhibition case back and decorated Pinion green rotor $3100); both feature a Swiss ETA movement and a discreet date window between 4 and 5 o’clock on the fetching dark green dial.
There are also some ‘home-grown’ brands worth considering. The Melbourne Watch Company, formed just six years ago, has released around 10 different models, with more on the drawing board. MWC uses a variety of movements from Swiss Sellita to Miyota and Seiko, but assembles all of its watches in Melbourne.
The 40mm Portsea Heritage Classic ($595) features an automatic Seiko movement and a classy ceramic dial housed in a 316L stainless steel case; the Avalon Classic (42mm, $850, Sellita SW-200 automatic movement) opts for a more modern vibe and the patterned dial enclosed by ‘vinyl record’ rings stands out on the wrist.
Canberra-based Erroyl (founded 2014) has a stable of watches divided into three collections (Heritage, Regent and Duke). Erroyl has made a specialty of focusing on models with a classical or dress watch look.
The Regent Luna (42mm, Japanese Miyota movement with 40-hour power reserve, $579) features day, month and date display and faceted blued ‘Dauphine’ hands that glide across a very elegant ‘guilloche’ patterned dial.
Erroyl founder Wes Knight says a new model, the Regent Azure, will be launched in January 2020 and that the brand is now shipped to customers in more than 50 countries.