Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wristwatch prices for Space Aliens

Dear Space Alien, let me explain the price of wristwatches, a truly baffling topic, even for Earthlings.

For more on watches, a lot more, go here on your spaceship’s computer.

Let’s start with my own watch (the small one in the photo), a Sharp Opti-Glo that I bought eight years ago in Boston for $19.95. It is so named because when I find myself in the dark (as I often am), I push on its crown and its face lights up.

It is modest with its round, off-white face and large numerals. It has a brown stitched band, which has seen better days. Its face also signifies in small letters that it is waterproof to 100 feet. I’ve never put it to the test, although I have worn it eight, damp Oregon years without its losing a second.

Sure, it’s had a new band and two battery replacements along the way. I installed a new battery as recently as August. The upkeep has probably cost me as much as the original price of the watch.

So it was with some consternation that I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the watch was losing about five minutes a day.

Well, I said to myself, (Earthlings have this habit of talking to themselves), “That’s not bad for $19.95 plus two batteries and a band over eight years.”

And with that I was thrown into a “new watch” frame of mind.

When it comes to wristwatches, we Earthlings do have our options. A lot of options.

Here’s where things get weird, Dear Alien.

Macy’s has been running a full page of women’s wristwatches that range from $45 to $95. Some have “peace sign dials.” The peace symbol is very much in fashion these days. That in itself is worth a modest price bump.

Also in fashion, alas, is war. On this subject I direct any Alien questions to our Leader, who has done serious thinking and deciding about war of late. Be sure to ask him whether "just war" is relative — depending which side you are on and whether you survive.

Back to the watches in the Macy’s ad.

Some are “multi-functioned,” which means they have alarms, show dates and days of the week and such. Time, like a diamond, is multi-faceted here on Earth. We waste it, we shorten (and lengthen) it, we lose it, and we conquer it.

By the way, one distinct option is to buy a watch encrusted with diamonds. For some, the diamonds are more important than the watch.

Macy’s also advertises an Emporio Armi for $295. This one is definitely for us guys. Note “Emporio.” We will meet macho “master” watches in a moment.

Also note the term “chronograph” creeps into the ad’s copy.

At some point, watches merit being called “chronographs” or "chronometers." (Among some wealthy Earthlings, the term “watch” may be just too plebeian. With “chronograph” they get what they pay for — name wise. Technically a chronograph must include a stop-watch function, but who cares?)

Expensive watches also take on exotic French names. When aristocratic-sounding names appear prominently on watch faces, prices take off.

Take for example the Ballon Bleu De Cartier, which is in a “Collection starting at $3,950.” The tag line on the ad says “Time for Elegance.” The ad would have us believe that anything costing less measures inelegant, even shabby, time. I certainly wouldn’t call time measured by my Sharp Opti-Glo the “Time of Elegance.”

Somehow I manage.

And speaking of taking off, Rolex offers “The Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II," which a New Yorker ad calls “The Pilot’s Watch." “The GMT-Master II is recognized as invaluable to professionals and serious travelers around the world.” This watch (pictured in the above photo) is so invaluable, apparently, that the ad doesn’t mention its price. (No wonder; they sell on Amazon for $8,895.)

Similarly, there is no price attached to the Movado “Master Automatic,” (note the “master” for both the Movado and the Rolex), the TAG Heuer Grand Carrera, or the Vacheron Constantin (very old and very Swiss, according to its ad).

For reasons known only to Madison Avenue's wizards of persuasion, a New York Times ad for the Jaeger-LeCoultre “Master Grande Ultra Thin” displays the watch’s price: $7250. And, though "master"-ful, because it has no stop-watch function, it doesn’t even qualify as a chronograph.

At $7250, you can take it or leave it.

So, dear Alien, if you are still with me, you may be wondering what I'll pay to replace my Sharp Opti-Glo.

Sadly, Sharp not only has stopped making Opti-Glos but has ceased making wristwatches.

That little conundrum led to a small watch-purchasing blunder. I went on-line and, with a click of a key, bought a $25.98 Timex with a rectangular face and a brown band. That includes, shipping.

Because the Timex wouldn’t arrive for 10 days, the interval gave me time to ponder my Sharp as it fell farther and farther behind the other watches and clocks in the world.

On a chance, I took it to Rite-Aid, where I buy my batteries and where I happen to know they have a battery tester and friendly clerks with time on their hands and minuscule screwdrivers. I pried open the Sharp's back, and the eager young clerk and I probed the battery with the tester’s prongs. The needle barely budged.

Weak, very weak.

Then we noticed two other batteries buried away in the Opti-Glo. Could one be for the Opti-glo light? Never mind. They too were weak. For $10 (including a $5 mail-in rebate) I bought three batteries.

After four days, I can declare that the Sharp is back on time. So I’m into two working watches for $35.98, which is less than one percent what I would pay for a Cartier Ballon Bleu De Cartier. For the price of the Rolex I could supply 342 people in some remote, timeless hamlet with Timexes — assuming that they would want them.

I realize, Dear Alien, that I have utterly failed to explain why two watches would cost a small fraction of what one with a fancy-sounding name would. The fact is that watches do the same thing (keep time) — but differently (solar powered, Quartz, mechanical) and with different names and associations (peace, pilots, elegance etc.)— and at exceedingly different prices.

All of this is shockingly irrational, but very, very human. You wouldn’t understand.

With time, I may be able to explain why an Earthling needs more than one watch.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Roger said...

Dear Sir: I'm glad to see that someone else apprciates the Sharp Opti-Glo watch. I've had a couple of them (when my first one needed a new strap and a new battery at the same time, it seemed cheaper to just buy another one) and I've always found them unaccountably attractive. They are utterly functional without being stark or cheap looking. Also, they are modestly sized when so many mens watches are overscaled.

As far as I can tell, they are still for sale at, under the name "Sharp Mens Opti Glow Leather Strap Watch", which is like they are trying *not* to sell them - "Opti-Glo" is misspelled, and nobody has called a wristwatch a "strap watch" since 1940.

Anyway, thanks for your column.

9:21 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home