Finding the closest thing to a coal powered watch
June 15, 2007 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find cool watches (like this) that don't cost too much?

I really like odd timepieces and anachronisms, so watches like the one I linked above, along with stuff like this or even a few of the ones on this page, are really appealing. Unfortunately they're always so expensive, (something about being "art", I think). Does anyone make watches with the kind of style I like for under $100? I'd even go a little higher if I found the perfect one, like the Sector Retrograde above. I've seen neat designs before on Fossils et al. but they don't seem to go beyond exposed gears. I've though about a binary watch (I teach math so it would be a conversation piece to be sure) but I really dig what the kids are calling "steampunk" these days. Pocket- or wrist-, I'm open to anything.
posted by monkeymadness to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
They're not just expensive because they're art; they're expensive because it's difficult to manufacture one-off, tiny little gears and sapphire-jewel bearings and mainsprings to the exacting tolerances necessary to make the watch work right. A lot of hand assembly by highly trained people is necessary to make them keep anything resembling good time.

As someone who actually buys things like this from time to time, I have some advice for you: Run away! A fascination with the insides of mechanical watches leads only to obsession that normal human beings can't understand, and a drained bank account.

I am also sort of racking my brains to think of what companies might make the sort of thing you're interested in. A watch with a 'display back' lets you see the gears; a 'skeletonized' watch has holes and spokes punched in its parts so you can see through them to the parts beneath. Those are things I've been particularly interested in.

"Stauer" manufactures a bunch of mechanical watches in Taiwan for very cheap that have interesting complications. They don't keep good time and they break easily. The only Swiss watch company I'm aware of that tries to bring interesting complications to a lower price point is Oris, and their watches still aren't cheap. Tourneau is a watch retailer, not a manufacture, but they have a house brand that is in that similar price range; they make beautiful skeletonized watches.

I believe that I have seen Breguets, Corums, and Chopards that have the kind of hour and minute hand you're looking at there. These watches are fun to look at but they will set you back about as much as a new luxury car.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:47 PM on June 15, 2007

While not exactly like your example, these are cool and relatively cheap.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:47 PM on June 15, 2007

The Trias watches from here are about as close as you're going to get. Most of them are mechanical and under $200.

please do not buy Fossil watches
posted by 517 at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Actually, not all such watches are that expensive, but you get what you pay for. Search on eBay using terms like "retrograde," "jump hour" and "complication" along with "watch," and you'll get an interesting mix from dull to fascinating, from under $100 to tens of thousands. A true watch geek will look down on those cheaper offerings, but if you just want it for the fun, and not the fetish, you may well find what you're looking for.

(And for the watch geeks, I'm wearing a Nomos Tangente Expo 2000. Not too fancy, but I love it...)
posted by j-dawg at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2007

Some Russian-made watches *might* be of interest. Google around for Poljot, Slava, Raketa, Vostok watches. Prices can be breathtakingly low; I've bought a mechanical auto-winding Slava calendar watch, built like a tank, with Cyrillic dates/markings, for US$14 before shipping. The very top-of-the-line Poljots can run between $100 and maybe $200.

Some are fascinating, some are fantastically ugly or marketed as cliches ("KGB WATCH!!!"), looking around for them can be entertaining on its own.
posted by gimonca at 2:58 PM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The AAA Watch Club makes interesting and inexpensive watches. They have mechanical watches for $100-$200. They also sell 24-hour watches for under $100. You can also get old Russian mechanical 24-hour watches on eBay -- Vostok is a popular brand.

I received an AAAWC 24-hour watch as a gift and now I can't go back to a 12-hour watch. It really gives a good geometrical sense of what part of the day it is. Plus it's subtly confusing to anyone who tries to surreptitiously read the time. A colleague suggested that all we really need is a 6-hour watch, but that seems to me to be a recipe for chaos.
posted by blue grama at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2007

This is way too simple, but my wife and I really love weird jewelry and watches (read unique but tasteful). We just google for antique jewelry dealers and hit the antique shops. So much STUFF!!!
posted by snsranch at 5:04 PM on June 15, 2007

I collect busted and old freebie watches, in a cardboard box. Thus accumulating lots of parts with which to make my own custom watches. Normally it's just using an already working mechanism in a watch of my design, but sometimes I play with simple alterations to the mechanism too.
This is a long winded way of saying you don't need to be a watchmaker to create what you want. That retrograde movement however is complex, and would require too many custom parts to be plausible for a non-expert to do mechanically at wristwatch size, but at a large pocketwatch size, using an electric system that eats watch batteries like breathmints, it should be doable. Make it large enough for an AAA cell, and I'd call it plausible for the non-expert.

The only thing cooler than a one-off timepiece that fascinates people, is a one-off timepiece that fascinates people and which you built. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:18 PM on June 15, 2007

Not to derail, but, Harlequin, do you happen to have pictures of your work anywhere online?
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:08 AM on June 16, 2007

please do not buy Fossil watches

Is there something a casual watch buyer like myself should know? Or is it just that you think they're tragically unhip?
posted by IvyMike at 9:36 PM on June 16, 2007

Not really, sorry. Just an old photo of the first watch I modified (cosmetic changes - trying to make something old and rusty instead of the shiny jewellery style that watches always are).

posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 AM on June 17, 2007

I have this watch and am constantly getting comments on it. The only problem is that the hour hand is longer than the minute hand so I often have to look twice when telling the time. ;-)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:21 AM on June 17, 2007

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