Personal Experiences / Impressions by Brand

Originally Posted by Time Flies on November 26, 1998

Copyright, 1998, 1999, G. J. Buhyoff

Recently, I was in correspondence with a fellow, long-time Forum participant. We traded mail regarding attributes of different brands of watches and his inquiries made me think about some of the salient features of different brands, as I have experienced them. In addition MJ’s recent post regarding his feelings and views of his watch purchases, post facto, was an interesting discussion of genuine and honest reaction to different timepieces. I very much appreciate hearing of actual “use experiences” in addition to discussions of specific attributes of the “parts’ of watches (i.e., movements, cases, dials and so on). At the risk of being overly repetitive, I have owned many, many watches from many different brands. So, all of these things taken together, I thought it might be fun to list all of the watch brands I have owned and worn and to engage in a “free association” for each. That is, list the brand, then write down what comes to mind based upon my experiences with them.

I caution readers that my reactions to the various brands are MY reactions and are limited to owning only two or more of each brand (excepting Ventura and Minerva). In some cases I have owned and worn (evaluated) up to six models of a particular marque. I cannot speak to the entire lines of each brand, nor do I mean to imply in any manner that my word and phrase associations with a particular brand applies to the range of their offerings or to the entire time period they have manufactured or marketed timepieces.

This is meant to be more mildly interesting than anything. It is not a statement of fact since “facts” about wristwatch ownership can only be ascertained by the individual wearer/owner and the standards they use to judge such things. But, these are the experiences that I USE to determine whether a particular marque will likely grace my wrist in the near future. Again, THESE ARE MY EXPERIENCES, and my experiences only.

I caution you, also, that my tastes are such that I have a tendency toward fairly utilitarian pieces which reflect excellent workmanship. I want a fairly high level of confidence in the integrity and longevity of the movement and enjoy a certain rugged quality in my watches since I use them more as instruments than decoration. I have a low tolerance for delicate movements which result in annoying regulation problems. I am extremely disturbed by lack of quality control which may be evident upon initial purchase and am an “honest” design freak and really appreciate integrity of implementation and manufacture – that is, the watch should reflect something unique about the manufacturer and should be manufactured in as much a traditional manner as possible (outsourcing does not bother me one bit as long as it is not outside the country of claimed manufacture). “In-house” movements only move me (pun intended) if the movement is indeed demonstrably superior in its longevity and implementation (correct class of movement for the watch in which it is used) and I am not particularly interested in the collecting “types” of “horological art”. This defines my primary interests in watches. In sum, they “gotta do the job” in a very honest (design and manufacture) manner and they have got to be reliable. I love fine workmanship and I hate anything gaudy.

I am driven by other sub-themes. I like “aviation” type pieces and this dates back to the late 1 960’s when I first became an aviator. I love “dress watches” on someone else, but not on me. I am not a “dress’ type of person, and I might add, much to the consternation of my employer and wife. I’m still the kid from the “other side of the tracks” and my personality likely has some bearing on what I do and prefer today. If everyone marches to the left, I head off to the right and vice versa. So take care in reading anything more than my very individual tastes or lack thereof into the following.

So here is what I associate with my prior or current experiences with the brands I have owned: (number in parentheses following marque name is the number of different models I’ve owned – also in parentheses is the time period of ownership if I felt it was important to note)

HAMILTON(4) (1960’s): basic, reliable, workhorse, great memories, they tell the time and do it consistently.

TISSOT(3) (two from the 70’s and one more recently): used to be a great value, used to be the cousin of Omega, reliable (older ones), newer models are gaudy and more cheaply made, lost its way from the traditional.

BULOVA– Accutrons (3): great watches, genuine technology advance, well made, last forever it seems, not accurate by today’s definition of “electronic accuracy”, loved the Spaceview, slick designs for the time period.

OMEGA(10): never had a bad one, great traditional designs, reliable, very well made, actually preferred to Rolex in the 60’s, run and run and run, great 500 series movements, new models are genuine Omega (albeit some models are not very good looking), tendency to rugged casework, very good dials, they like to stick with a successful movement and design, still some sense of Omega tradition in current designs, gotten a tad off-beat with some recent offerings, hope they find their way back to the purer traditions (as exemplified by early Constellations, Seamasters and some current Speedmasters – the Professional), they have a tendency to wander in design but always seem to come back to the winners. Speedmaster Professional one of the most reliable and best designed watches I have ever owned — a genuine classic.

BREITLING(8) (1970’s to current): wonderful old models, design was purely theirs in the early days, genuine past aviation heritage, currently a marketing gimmik, quality control problems on five of their watches, legibility not a trademark, rider tabs, glitz, excellent case work, showy, watches spent more time being fixed than on my wrist, easily scratched non-glare crystal treatment, great straps, quartz models are really not “Swiss”, a zillion new models each year, I miss the traditional old Breitling, I think of chocolates, caps, posters, jackets, lighters, balloons, video tapes, t-shirts…and why in the world are you releasing a watch that transmits on the aviation AM emergency frequency (121.5 MHz) to people who are not certified (licensed) pilots or genuinely in the need of an emergency beacon? Love the Cosmonaute which is a contempory model that is very true to the original design and movement.

CITIZEN(3): Big, hunky, plastic, digital, poor metal casework, reliable, gaudy, often illegible, cram more functions than you could possibly use into a little case watch, tough, cheap, great disposable watches to tell the time and gosh knows what else!

ORIS(5): Sincere, basic, funny hands, odd dials, reliable, not adjusted, good value, grow on you, great starter mechanical watch, not refined, unfinished movements, honest, work great.

LONGINES(3) (1960’s and early 90’s): Oh I wish for the old Longines, where is the old Longines tradition, middle of the road darn mineral crystals on almost everything, very good pocket watches, how are they even making it financially today, Oh where Oh where has my Longines gone?

FORTIS(4) (70’s, 80’s, 90’s): Very good reliable watches of earlier periods, the everyday watch, basic, new models are marketing aviation, Big, readable, legible, workhorse, great luck with reliability, casework leaves something to be desired – but at the price point should not expect much more, BIG hands, phosphorescence!

BELL & ROSS(5): “Aviation”, Big, legible, heavy, hands and dials could be more refined, cases so big that smaller 7750 rotor transfers angular force to case and you suffer the watch “jiggles” on your wrist, reliable, well adjusted, pretty good bracelets-but link screws need hardening and screw head slots tend to distort easily, rugged, case work could use some refinement but fine for a sport/rugged use watch, good value with discounting, could be more honest in design approach, look like so many others.

REVUE-THOMMEN(2): Excellent value (much like Oris), well made, best non-glare crystal surfacing in the business, reliable, stem gaskets too tight – winding hurts the fingers, legible, good aviation implementation done in their own way – not a copy of someone else, I like them, good case and dial work for a mid-level watch.

AP(2): Great finish, real history, cases are built sturdily, heavy, superb dial and hand work, movements too flimsy for sport watches, go out of regulation too easily, frustrating to have hunky watch with small, delicate movement, real persona, honest implementation, great House, wish they would put a tough movement in one of their supposedly “tough” watches – would likely get one if they did, funny designs but unique and all theirs, damn good watches for dress, one of the very best.

GP(2): Great potential, why do they mess up the dials in some way (horses, funny chapter implementations), poor quality control on both watches I had, case work can vary widely from model to model, great dials and sometimes hand finish does not match quality of their dials, need to rethink some of the cases and need to radius sharp edges, some of the best straps in the business ( I love their Kevlar strap).

VENTURA(2. Honest design, modern, excellent case work very legible, love the flow of the design, the curved sapphire crystal is a work of art, tough, a great everyday watch, massive bracelet, tough but refined in a modern art sort of way, unique, would have no problem buying another, just plain well made, gotta like the design or it will be a short-timer, you have to see them to appreciate them, they wear well. THICK bracelets and large cases.

JLC(4): Refined, among the best casework of any watch I have ever owned, superb dial and hand work, great movements, tradition, top-drawer, old designs re-implemented, innovation, works of art through and through, dress watches (darn!), like the new folding clasp design, not the greatest for legibility but that’s not why you buy them, flawless, classy, well thought-out to last detail, polished beyond belief, creamy smooth winding, wonderful rotor sound, please bring out a design I can wear!

ROLEX(4): Work watch, repeated problems with two of them, service is great and very expensive, dials hard to read on GMT, enamel is nice but adds to glare, love and hate cyclops at the same time, crummy bracelets, sharp lug ends, case work is medium and not very refined, bezel inserts scratch and never line up properly from factory, two have been terribly reliable, excellent hands and dial minus the glare from the enamel, showy, look like a lot of other watches (it’s tough being copied so much!), flimsy crowns and stems for the sport watch series (good thing they are screw down), fairly flat for sport watches – a plus, a good watch but not a great watch.

IWC(6): Engineered, engineered, engineered. Built like a fine lab instrument, superb casework, made and often look like a precision tool, design philosophy is theirs, not copy cats, like to innovate, everything to precise tolerances, some of the best bracelets in the business, long history, engineered, engineered, engineered right down to the way the movements look. Great watches, use a technical approach to design and implementation rather than an artistic one. For the most part very Germanic in design philosophy.

MINERVA(1): Honest, forthright, terrific casework and polishing, refined beyond the price, small traditional house, genuine Swiss through and through, do things in the old way, make very few wristwatches per year – less than 1,000, wonderful dials, traditional look, genuine Minerva design and look, no copies of others, sincerity, one of the best values around, wonderful dials and hands, gorgeous straps.

BLANCPAIN(2): Superb case finish and dial details. A mix of contemporary design with historical design elements. Piguet movements which are among the very best in the world. Exceptionally accurate time keepers. Trilogy series maybe the best sport watches in the world. Exceptional movement finishing. Straps are the best I have ever owned. All models are very legible. Wonderful dress and sport series watches. The 2000 and 2100 series watches are classics in design and use great movements. Never made a quartz watch — not that impressive since they were “reborn” in the early 1980’s. Older Blancpains are not of the same quality as the new Blancpain marque beginning in the early 1980’s.

ULYSSE NARDIN(1): Sea theme on many of their watches. Historically a company with strong seafaring roots via their ships chronometers. Excellent case and dial work. Very well adjusted movements. Offer some of the most complicated watches. Excellent re-engineering and finishing of standard ETA movements. BRIGHT bracelets. Thick watches.

Well, those are some of my free associations with the brand I have owned. I have not counted the many vintage military timepieces that I own. There was one contemporary Vacheron in there as well and I had so much trouble with it that I did not count it as a watch that I “owned” – it was more like it was on loan! I do not expect that anyone agree with these comments. But, if in some way it was entertaining or even a little bit enlightening, then I am pleased for having spent the time. I know that the exercise helped me solidify some of my own thinking and I am hoping that some manufacturers (JLC are you listening?) will introduce models in the future that may suit my own preference and needs a bit better. I love watches.



The author’s comments in this review are his own opinions. The best available facts were used to compile this information at the time of writing. Manufacturers change specifications and some manufacturers do not reveal detailed information about engineering details and manufacturing processes. I cannot be responsible for any inadvertent inaccuracies that may have occurred in the research and writing of this article.