Time for analogue and sync-free pleasure

Posted on by Mike Evans

iPhone-aware wrist watches are gathering like flies around a tasty morsel. Some, such as the fabulous Pebble, is still hovering out of reach (and it has been hovering for so long it will be out of fly-by date when it lands). Others are already on sale: Watches such as the attractive-but-flawed Citizen Proximity, which I reviewed here. Today the talented Casio G-Shock enters the running and offers similar functions to the Citizen but in a more digital format. It is cheaper, at $180 in the US but ultimately less desirable than the Citizen.

Left: Citizen's Proximity Bluetooth watch. Right: The new Casio G-Shock.

All this interest in iPhone watches, and my lukewarm approach to the Citizen, has prompted me to go back to base and ask if I really do want a watch to link with a phone. The answer, outstanding Pebble notwithstanding, is almost certainly no.

I have always been a connoisseur of fine watches and there is something pure and simple about a timepiece that does just that, tells the time. A good watch is a thing of beauty and brings the joy of owning and wearing a piece of mechanical perfection. It's a Babbage Difference Engine compared with a modern computer: Pure mechanics and time-honoured skill.

Good watches, too, are things to keep and cherish. They do not lose their purpose even after many years and, if you are lucky, they will appreciate. Major brand Swiss watches have doubled in value in the past eight years, partly because of the appreciation of the Swiss franc, but mainly because building a watch is a skill, a service, which will always increase in cost.

Encouraged by this new enthusiasm, I have dusted off my 2011-model IWC Pilot's Chronograph and am wearing it constantly instead of Johnny-come-lately and gone-in-a-trice iPhone-syncing wristwear. Perhaps not the best known of Swiss manufacturers, IWC—International Watch Company—of Shaffhausen, produces what I believe to be the ultimate chronograph. Simple, purposeful, substantial and plain beautiful, an IWC Fliegeruhr is watch for life.

This 2011 example is the apogee of the brand's long-standing range of pilot watches. I like it because it provides a clear day and date which, together with the time, is all the information you really need. The month can look after itself until such time as I can no longer remember which one I'm in.

IWC, unfortunately, has taken a styling backstep with the 2012 model by changing the clear date display to a stacked format where three dates are on view, with the current date sitting in the centre. This is styling for styling's sake and the latest watch is the worse for it. So, I am confident, the 2011 design will become a classic. It has the clearest time display you could imagine, with substantial white pointed hands and clear calibration of the dial. Earlier models suffered from a blunt, squared-off hour hand that was an IWC trademark but not very attractive. The time-measurement function is simple and effective, with the top dial showing elapsed seconds and the bottom dial elapsed time up to 12 hours.

On the left of the main dial is a seconds display with a small red hand, the only spark of colour on the face, and it looks superb. The red seconds hand is a masterstroke.

Unsurprisingly, this automatic timepiece does not sync with my iPhone, nor my Mac. In fact, it syncs with nothing except my fingers as they twiddle the screw-in crown. Yet is keeps superb time and does just what is sets out to do: Provide clear, simple information.

If the watch is a delight, the steel bracelet is a masterpiece. I've tried them all, from Rolex to Jeager LeCoultre, and this steel band with deployment clasp is my favourite. It moulds to the wrist and is extremely comfortable. The watch also looks superb on a black leather strap, which is a much cheaper option.

It is the steel I like. I think big gold watches are brash and say something uncomplimentary about their owners. Big gold-plated steel watches are even worse because they are a fake. In reality I don't like gold watches, except perhaps in the case of a thin, dress timepiece. Sports watches such as this IWC are meant to be in steel.

As I look at my wrist I am confident I have made the right decision to go back to mechanical basics and forget all that syncing nonsense. Of course, when the Pebble eventually arrives, there might be a different story to tell.

by Mike Evans, 5 December 2012

Note: My IWC came secondhand but unworn from the Swiss Watch Company in London. I've been dealing with them for the past fifteen years and they are reliable and trustworthy. The web site is a delight for watch enthusiasts and you can rely on the descriptions of condition. It is a mail-order company and watches are sent all over the world.

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