The eternal industry debate. Is the term ‘Swiss’ just an excuse for a mark up? Are Japanese watches for those that can’t afford more? In reality both have their own strengths and both have a place in the market.
Here at Pompeak, we are dedicated to bringing you high quality timepieces at a fair price, and in this blog we’re going to take a look why we’ve been using Japanese movements in our debut collection and the discussions behind the decision.
First, a bit of background knowledge.
What actually is a watch movement?
The internal engine of a watch is known as the movement. It’s the powerhouse that drives the hands round and ensures the timepiece runs as it should, including any complications such as calendar or chronograph mechanisms.
These movements come in two basic categories; Quartz and mechanical.
Quartz watches are battery powered and regulated by the vibrations of the quartz crystal inside. Due to their incredible reliability and high accuracy, quartz movements are used in around 90% of the world’s watches. The first quartz watch was released in 1969 - the Japanese Seiko Astron. With this technology being first introduced in Japan, the Swiss and other manufacturers have been playing catch up ever since.
Mechanical watches on the other hand are powered by the release of a tightly wound mainspring, regulated by the, so called, escape mechanism. With no battery in sight, these watches are mechanically wound using the crown or in the case of automatics, wound with the wearers movement. The first mechanical movement dates back to 1700’s pocket watches with the self-winding feature being invented by British watch repairer John Harwood in 1923.
We’ll have more on quartz vs mechanical watches soon.
Japanese manufacturers are known for their perfectionism, and the same is true for their watch movements. Extreme quality, accuracy and reliability. Whether it is springs, cogs, even lubricants and oils, all parts will be made in Japan, with industry leading technology and often on automated production line with a very high degree of precision.
The automated method of manufacture often leads to cheaper movements than Swiss counterparts, but does not in any way stipulate lower quality (in fact the opposite is often true).
Swiss movements have a heritage of craftsmanship and it’s no secret that Swiss movements are found in very high ticket watches. Priding on aesthetics, every detail is thought through, from the way the metals are cut, to the placement of the jewels.
These movements are assembled in Switzerland, often by hand but often using components produced externally, in China or Thailand for example, but this is not a mark against quality. The Swiss assemblies have very stringent control checks. But yes, the Swiss movement you’re paying a premium for may in fact only be 60% Swiss.
So what’s the difference?
To summarize simply, Swiss movements carry a higher price tag due a longer manufacturing method. Watches and movements are comprised of hundreds of tiny components. The time and skill required in hand assembly is undoubtedly impressive. Along with labour and parts cost you can add the Swiss heritage, earned through generations of world class craftsmanship.
Swiss watches will carry a high price tag for the same reasons. Labour, heritage and the added mark up because brands know that people will pay a premium to have that label.
In contrast, Japanese movements will use similar materials, assembled with great precision and often superior technology and automated lines.
That’s not to say that brands using Japanese movements won’t also add a high mark up to their watches. Watches are an investment; they will outlive their owner (if treated correctly), and personal collections are not updated regularly.
A low quality watch with a four figure price tag may be a better business model than the opposite, and that is being exploited every day. It’s ridiculous but it’s true, and is one of the reasons why Pompeak exists – we pride ourselves in creating the watches we want to wear, at an honest price.