In order to capture and in many cases retain the custom of the rich and powerful in places like Abuja, Lagos – Banana Island, Victoria Island, Old Ikoyi and so on – luxury brands, watch makers in this case, are now going to extremes in every sense of the word.
How do you choose between a Hublot and a Rolex when shopping in Dubai? Same way you choose between a Range Rover Autobiography and a loaded Lexus 570. You look at how capable they are in the wild. Maybe not! Most owners of these luxury products would not venture near a mild drizzle with their prized possessions let alone test them in extreme elements.
However, luxury brands still go the extra many miles to show just how otherwise capable their pose-value products are, largely to separate themselves from ‘the others’, and to give their clients something to discuss at the polo club while sipping champagne from crystal flutes.
The story: CNN watch expert, Josh Sims investigates the length at which brands like Rolex, Breitling and Casio will go to create perfection. Rolex’s Deepsea watches are tested in a tank that stimulates pressure at 16,000 feet below sea level before they are released into the market.
Because of their rigorous watch testing, for decades, Rolex has been able to supply specialist pieces for divers. They work with the likes of Comex, the underwater engineering firm whose elite members hold the world record for the deepest saturation dives.
It is worthwhile for brands like Rolex to make sure the watches are right before they undergo hyperbaric assault, as the smallest flaw in each watch’s construction will make it explode.
Rolex puts it’s Oyster lock bracelets through 26 different kinds of drop tests: the fastening is opened and closed tens of thousands of times and it’s immersed in salt and sandy water, and in chlorine solutions.
Omega had to work with the young Swiss-government METAS agency to certificate its master co-axial movement because its precision standards were that much higher.
“The more extreme the conditions a watch has to operate in, the more extreme its testing has to be. We tested our emergency watch to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four degrees Fahrenheit), for example. That would freeze the oils in any normal watch, and there was no test at all for the transmitter batteries we developed for the same piece. So you end up establishing your own standard. You need a lot of skills outside of watchmaking: mathematicians, physicists, chemists…” says Jean- Paul Girardin, Vice president of Breitling.
From deep sea diving to your morning shower
It is, potentially, an expensive process. The smallest flaw in each watch’s construction will make it explode, so it pays to make sure everything is right before undergoing this hyperbaric assault.
Rolex can also claim credibility for the wearer whose depths rarely surpass that of his morning shower. In fact, each Rolex is tested to a depth 25% greater than that stated on the dial.
And that’s by no means the only test a watch might go through. Rolex, for instance, puts its Oysterlock bracelets through 26 different kinds of drop tests; the fastening is opened and closed tens of thousands of times; it’s immersed in salt and sandy water and in chlorine solutions.
Taking testing to the extreme
“Shock, acidity, temperature, magnetism, legibility… all the variables that might affect a watch’s performance have to be tested for,” says Jean-Paul Girardin, vice president of Breitling. “These tests have to comply with regulations local and global, because our customers travel.”
“The more extreme the conditions a watch has to operate in, the more extreme testing has to be. We tested our Emergency watch to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four degrees Fahrenheit), for example – that would freeze the oils in any normal watch. There was no test at all for the transmitter batteries we developed for the same piece, so you end up establishing your own standard. You need a lot of skills outside of watchmaking: mathematicians, physicists, chemists…”
Life is crude
And, occasionally, a big steel hammer to hit your watch with, over and over. Dubbed the ‘sheep’s foot test’ by those in the business, this is one of the oldest but still most important of trials for many Swiss timepieces.
“It’s a very crude test. People think you’re kidding when they see it: ‘what, you’re going to whack that very expensive watch?’,” says Theodore Diehl, horologist for watch brand, Richard Mille. “But it’s no less important for being crude. Life is crude, after all. You drop your watch on a concrete floor and the result isn’t subtle.”
With a watch predicated on the very idea of toughness, Casio’s G-Shock similarly goes through a barrage of tests.
Prototypes underwent a rather rudimentary trial by height when their designers dropped them from ever taller heights of the Japanese brand’s R&D building.
Indeed, such has become the fame of the watch’s robustness that there is a YouTube subculture featuring amateur tests of owners’ own invention, among them shooting at the watch and driving over it in a Hummer.
Going above and beyond
Certainly the shift to ever higher performance means that watches increasingly surpass the tests they must go through to meet COSC certification as a chronometer. COSC, the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres, is the body responsible for the accuracy and precision of Swiss watches.
Omega, for instance, had to work with the young Swiss-government METAS agency to certificate its Master Co-axial movement because their precision standards were that much higher.
Wear and tear
Yet while watchmakers get very technical in their testing, sometimes old-fashioned wear trials are just as important to find out how a watch performs when it’s actually being worn.
If Rolex does this through automation — a robot arm mimics everyday movements, as well as those of certain sports or activities, to simulate a year of wear in a week — Breitling actually sends prototypes out to, Girardin says, “people in the field – pilots, gardeners, sportspeople, office workers” to get their personal feedback.
Do tests translate to sales?
But do customers themselves care that their watch has been through such punishing regimes? Rob Wilson, international marketing manager for Seiko, says they do.
Certainly strapping a watch to the side of a submarine may smack of having an eye more on promotion than performance, he argues, but being able to prove a watch’s capabilities can both justify prices and undoubtedly appeals to the nerdier, typically male consumer.
“We even include the test results of our Grand Seiko watches in with each watch, which underlines the standards used but also the individuality of that watch’s particular performance,” says Wilson. “And that certificate matters. Keep hold of it and the value of that Grand Seiko to collectors will be considerably higher than one without it.