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Feature: $100 vs $1,000,000 luxury watch

To most people, spending $100 on a watch is a pretty big deal. Let’s be real, that’s no small lump of change, and for the outcome to be duplicating the thing you already have built into your phone, spending it like that is, really, quite the luxury. That’s how much the Timex Waterbury Ocean costs and its pretty well representative of what you can expect for the price these days. So what do get if you spend ten thousand times more, $1,000,000?


Maybe I’m getting older, but I’m increasingly surprised by just how little $100 gets. That barely seems to get a decent meal for two round here these days. A new release triple-A videogame is close. So, to get a fully functioning watch for that seems like pretty good value. Gone are the days when an automatic Seiko with all the bells and whistles could be snapped up for a cool one hundred. Those are $200 at best now, even more perhaps.

The Timex Waterbury Ocean, for a start, is not made from metal or anything close to it. It’s plastic, but at least Timex have had the decency to fish that plastic out of the sea rather than just building on the problem. Recovered and recycled plastic is naturally more expensive than stuff fresh out the factory, and so that squeezes out the already slim potential of having anything other than a quartz movement.

If you’re new to the game, a watch’s movement is the tiny engine that powers the hands and keeps them ticking to the right time. A quartz movement is typically one powered by a battery and regulated—that is, kept in time—by a computer chip and a literal quartz crystal. Stick an electric current through a quartz crystal and it vibrates very precisely, making it perfect for using as a timekeeping device. Atomic clocks work in a very similar way but with much greater accuracy.

Most owners of luxury watches, however, would consider quartz bad. Why? Because it’s not mechanical. Before electricity, watches were powered by a spring and regulated by another, smaller spring, built into a tiny and very precise mechanism called an escapement. The escapement has been refined over centuries and represents the pinnacle of mechanical engineering before it all went to bits and bytes.

So, the Timex isn’t as romantic as its more expensive counterparts, but ironically it is more precise. That one tick per second you typically see of a quartz watch—mechanical watches tick eight times per second in case you were wondering, with the quartz reduced to one to save battery—is more accurate by a factor of ten. In fact, the highest quality quartz movements are over one hundred times more accurate than mechanical.

The Timex’s well-rounded feature set continues, offering 30m of water resistance to keep it sealed when splashing around in the pool, and a quick release bracelet that’s very easy to swap to what will hopefully be an equally sustainably sourced strap. At 42mm across it’s plenty big and, if you hadn’t noticed, it’s Rolex-esque styling is as classic as a Buster Keaton flick. Mineral glass caps off the dial for reasonable—but not great—scratch resistance over plastic, and overall quality is nothing to be sniffed at from this American brand. What more could you possibly need?


That’s a key word there, isn’t it? Need. For the purposes of accurately telling the time, you barely need the Timex, let alone anything more. Enter the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5976/1G and its $1,000,000 price tag. Is it ten thousand times better than the Timex? Let’s take a closer look.

First and most obvious is that it’s made from metal, and not your ordinary cutlery-grade steel, but white gold. There’s a lot of white gold too because even for those familiar with the Patek Philippe Nautilus collection, the size of this thing comes as quite a surprise. It’s near enough 50mm across, which is up at the upper limit of size and beyond for most people’s comfort. On the solid metal bracelet, therefore, it feels every bit as heavy as you’d expect a £1m watch to. And by that I mean it weighs an absolute tonne.

There’s obviously not a $1m worth of gold in there though, so Patek Philippe have included some diamonds too for good measure. They’ve been so subtly integrated that it takes a moment to even notice them at all, baguette cut in the same arrangement as the metal markers are on the standard—if you can call it such a thing—Nautilus.

And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill high street jeweller diamonds. Compared to these those are basically scraps of dirty coal. Every diamond here is flawless, colourless and perfectly cut, even if that is impossible to tell when they’re sprinkled over the dial like pepperoni on a pizza.

Then we get to the movement. The accurate but uninspiring quartz is out and an oh-so-romantic mechanical movement is in, the calibre CH 28-520 C. It doesn’t take an expert to look beyond the solid gold self-winding rotor weight—that keeps the watch wound when you wear it—to see where a big chunk of the cost has gone. There’s hundreds of miniscule parts in there, each one with a very specific and very precise job to do.

It so happens that this watch, despite the cleverly simplified dial, is not just a time-teller. It’s also a chronograph—basically a built-in stopwatch. The top right pusher on the watch starts and stops the chronograph and the lower right one resets it. It has a pretty fancy trick up its sleeve too, because most chronographs can only be reset once they’re stopped, a mechanical block preventing the user from breaking it—but this one can be reset whilst it’s running. It’s called a flyback, and it gives the chronograph an instant reset and restart function which is aimed at timing consecutive laps.

Nobody actually uses them for that, but that’s beside the point. It’s a celebration of the ingeniousness of the people that solved a very analogue problem with a pen, paper and tiny bits of metal. There are many other watches with mechanical flyback chronographs however, some costing a fraction of the price at some $4,000, so that still leaves us some way away from the $1m price tag.

That’s because it’s not just what the 5976/1G does, it’s how good it looks doing it. This is a watch made to the very highest standard, finished by hand to a level that can really only be appreciated under magnification. That’s not just true of the movement, in which all the parts receive traditional decoration to an incredibly high degree of perfection, it’s true of the entire watch. Achieving this level of quality is very time consuming and only possible by highly trained artisans, which is why at launch it cost a whopping $100,000.

But I said it was a $1,000,000 watch? Where did the other $900,000 come from? Well, this watch is a limited edition of 1,300 built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Nautilus. You can see the dates on the dial. Combine rarity with artisanship and a very well-known and respected name—Patek Philippe—and the lines between watch and art blur—and we all know what happens to high-demand art. The price skyrockets to a whopping $1,000,000.

What do you think of the $1,000,000 Patek Philippe Nautilus in comparison to the Timex?

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