Watches do so much more than tell the time. They express the wearer’s style, and even their personal philosophy and values. I often recall the watch a person was wearing before I learned their name.
My business partner Pete Kennon and I started making our own watches because the one we wanted didn’t exist. We weren’t watch obsessives or technical experts; we just wanted something made with high-quality materials and components that was thoughtfully designed, didn’t break the bank, and balanced sophistication with versatility.
A watch is something you put on every morning and sleep next to at night. You should be proud to wear it, regardless of the price tag. There are a plethora of watches out there, so it’s useful to think about which elements are important to you when you’re in the market for a new one. Technology? Price? Design? Rarity? All of the above?
Our philosophy is that a watch that carries meaning is ultimately the best watch for you. Unwrapped on a birthday, self-gifted on the occasion of a major milestone, or passed down as a family heirloom, it’s the watch that means the most that will give you the most enjoyment.
There are pros and cons to these guys. They contain state-of-the-art technology that can benefit your health. But that technology is superseded pretty quickly. The shelf life of a smart watch is comparable to that of your smart phone, so sustainability-wise these watches aren’t going to win any awards.
We’re big on boosting efficiency with the latest hardware and software, but our biggest gripe with some smart watches is that they rely on the proximity of your mobile phone for many of their best features.
These timepieces also lack sentimental value, they aren’t going to be passed down. (We also don’t believe your smart watch will ever replace your phone, and we hope your phone won’t ever replace a special watch and the meaning it carries.)
For those interested in health and wellness, however, the benefits of smartphone technology cannot be understated. If longevity isn’t your objective, our favourites are the Garmin Forerunner 735xt – which can be found at a more competitive price here – and the Apple Watch by Nike.
Aesthetically, smart watches with a rubber or nylon strap work nicely with a casual, sporty look. They might not be ideal for dressier occasions. If you’re looking for a smart watch that can go from day to night, check out Apple’s leather or stainless steel strap options. The retina screen probably makes this one a leave-at-home option if you’re heading to a black tie affair.
Quality and design, without breaking the bank
Everything under the hood of your watch should be Swiss made. The best watch movements (the internal mechanism that controls the hands and other watch functions) in the world are manufactured and quality-tested in Switzerland. And there are makers out there, including us, who have made this a core component of their brand without sacrificing price accessibility. (Many cheaper watches have a Japanese movement, which is considered to be inferior quality.)
Stainless-steel casing should also be of surgical-grade quality and the glass lens that protects the watch should be made from sapphire glass (a form of crystal second only to diamonds in hardness). These elements are integral to creating a watch that is scratch-resistant and durable.
To satisfy a checklist that includes Swiss components, thoughtful design and high-quality materials, you’re looking at prices from about $300 to $1000.
The Jack and Bell Silver Spring costs between $295 and $345 and is one of our best sellers. It’s timeless and elegant, with a stainless steel and white face. Its Italian leather band adds an earthiness and casual refinement. A dressier version costs $455 and has a textured shagreen (untanned leather) band. Our Paint it Black timepiece is sophisticated but sporty, and is water resistant up to 50 meters.
If your budget is a little bigger, we like watches made by pure-play timepiece manufacturers such as Tissot and Corniche.
The Tissot Le Locle Powermatic 80 retails for $700 and has a clean face and modern sophistication. Watch Direct is a good first point of call for this model. The Corniche Men’s Heritage 40 costs $515. These watches are as appropriate for the boardroom as a weekend date at your local bar.
Swiss luxury watches
The value of high-end watches lies not only in their beauty, but the expertise and craftsmanship involved in their manufacture. Switzerland is the home of haute horology, and in some of the country’s great watchmaking ateliers – Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe –watchmakers may make only a few timepieces a year.
Luxury Swiss-made watches cost thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars. They’re intended for wearing, of course, but they’re also collector’s items and investments in the same vein as art or design. And many are icons in their own right.
The Rolex Submariner, for example, is one of the most recognisable timepieces on the planet, associated with the likes of Steve McQueen, James Bond and the British Royal Navy. The GMT Master II is made with 904L steel – the same used in aerospace engineering – and has a fourth hand for different timezones.
The IWC Portofino Chronograph (photographed) and IWC Portugieser have long been our favourite ultra high-end timepieces. They radiate elegance and have the added functionality of the minute and second counters. The Portugieser was the catalyst for the creation of Jack and Bell, and was the original source of inspiration for our clean face and case design.
Some Swiss watchmakers – Tag, Rolex, Omega, Breitling and IWC – make entry-level timepieces that cost between $1000 and $5000 (as opposed to Audemars Piguet's $30,000). We like the Omega Speedmaster manual wind watch dressed down with a military ‘nato’ or nylon band ($3800) and the Tudor Black Bay with a distressed mid-brown band ($4500).
As with precious jewellery, finely-made watches are passed down through generations. If you're interested in a vintage style with a story – but there’s no watch coming your way from grandpa – Chrono24 is a great place to begin to your search.
Chrono24 aggregates new and pre-owned watches from watch dealers worldwide. It has a large range and a secure payment system. (The app is also great for a quick flick-through on the tram or on the couch.) 1stDibs also has some amazing pre-owned timepieces, including rare, serpent-like Bulgari watches from the ’70s and an Abercrombie & Fitch find dating to 1920.
Vintage watches are fragile – they need to be well maintained and regularly serviced. Servicing can cost 50 percent more for vintage timepieces, but a vintage watch is often bought for its accretive value, and more expensive servicing will help to protect its future value. When purchasing vintage, ensure the watch comes in its original box with authenticity papers.
If you're seeking rare treasure, look for anything from the watchmaker Universal Genève, with particular attention to the Compax and Monodate range. We also love Omega’s Seamaster and Constellation series.
A note on straps
Black leather bands are great in a business or formal setting when matched with black leather shoes (they also look great with a pair of clean white kicks), but shouldn’t be worn with brown business shoes. Brown leather bands are a bit more versatile. Clean, dark brown leather bands are generally dressier, whereas lighter distressed brown leather is more casual. We love the classic look of stainless steel bands, and they can really highlight your watch as a feature piece. We also love when classic steel-framed watches are personalised with a single-colour nato band. It’s a fun way to individualise a popular watch, and looks great under a linen shirt for a smart casual event. It’s also a clever way to dress down a suit.
Jack Davis founded Melbourne watch company Jack and Bell in 2016 with Pete Kennon. Their latest collection of timepieces, Collection E.D, is the result of a partnership with Eustache Dauger, which has also worked with the Gucci Group.
The Principles is a monthly menswear series about timeless style and how to nail the fashion essentials.