Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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Time travellers

The most prized gift among this year’s university graduates: a fine vintage watch with automatic movement. It wasn’t always so. Until very recently, cell phones and their clocks had all but banished watches from the wrists of those under 30. The reasons they’ve reappeared are interesting. One theory suggests that the mechanical nature of watch movement holds the key. “A cool machine that is all moving parts has got to be intrinsically interesting to someone born into [that] generation because there’s just nothing like that in their life,” Mitch Greenblatt, founder, with his brother, Andy, of Watchismo, a California-based online retailer of design-forward watches, told the New York Times.

Quality timepieces had been appreciated for generations, of course. When the first pocket watches appeared in the 16th century, men and women remained fascinated with their delicate ticking mechanisms. The wristwatch was a late arrival. It was invented by Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe in the late 1800s, though at first only women wore them. The man’s wristwatch was invented by Louis Cartier a few years later. The names of both inventors still appear on fine watches today.

The market for better watches had been in decline since the economic troubles of 2008. Then, late last year, it began to grow again and is up over 40 percent for some higher-end brands. Last fall, Benjamin Clymer, 28, who runs a blog for watch enthusiasts at Hodinkee.com, worked with with Gilt.com, a site that markets high-end men’s and women’s items at discount prices and put some vintage models up for auction. Fourteen of the 17 watches, with an average price of US$4800, sold in the first six hours. Gilt now holds a watch sale every month.

It appears that watches — both new and vintage — are very big business. Indeed, so many models are introduced every year it’s hard to keep track of them. To have a look at a recent Top 50 chosen by the UK paper The Independent, search “The 50 Best Watches” on its website.

Money matters when it comes to watches, but it’s not necessarily the only factor. A US$122 vintage Mickey Mouse watch bought on eBay can bring as much pleasure — and possibly attract more attention — than a 10-year-old, $5000-plus Rolex.

Novelty watches are fun, but they tend to lose their appeal quickly when used as a daily timepiece. The Ball (ballwatchusa.com), an older brand that was revived and retooled a few years ago, has a long tradition of reliable service. Now Swiss made, the watch was originally developed to help US railroads run on time and is the origin of the expression “on the ball” for its accuracy.

One feature of the Ball line is the use of micro gas tubes that illuminate the numerals on the dial. They come in several colours depending on the model and are guaranteed to shine brightly for at least 25 years. Ball watches have gone into space on the wrists of shuttle commanders and to the top of Everest. The Fireman model features a bubble-date magnifier like the one found on some Rolexes and retails for around US$1000; a good price for a watch of this quality.

Nothing beats a Rolex (rolex.com) for name recognition. The Submariner, the classic, black-dial diving watch worn by James Bond in the movies brings instant status. The base model sells for just under US$4000, with a gold, top-of-the-line model priced around US$10,000.

Consider going vintage. A pre-owned Rolex quietly whispers that you’re a person of discernment and can be found widely online for less than $1000. Another good choice is the Omega (omegawatches.com brand. A recent search turned up a 1979 model with a champagne face, luminous inlays and 17-jewel movement said to run like new; it was being offered for less than $900.

Fine watches have long adorned medical wrists as much for satisfaction and the status they bring as for their occasional use in taking a patient’s pulse. But do you need a watch that catches your breath as you reach for your credit card? After all, a drugstore Timex that’s doubtless more accurate than the finest mechanical model can be had for less than $50.

It’s not a question of need, it’s a matter of desire and the way you feel when you pick it up from the bedside table and slip it on your wrist. It says something about the kind of person you consider yourself to be — a good person, a fine person, one of the best.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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