Were watches better made before? A very interesting comment

To a remark Doc had made about watches being better made before than now which started a small discussion on the topic of the myth of the good old days, Nico shares some very interesting comments.

I thought I would repost these here as the original post is a few pages back and maybe you would miss it

Here's a link to the orginal thread:


Nico's comments:

The old vs the New. The final answer!
(View entire thread)
January 23, 08 17:02

Doc and all, I fully agree and disagree with you!

When I see the advances brought on by computers in my engineering field of work (and I believe the same applies to every other kind of job), and I see the work my peers did 20-30 years ago, I am amazed by the loss of the FUNDAMENTALS of what I do. Their understanding of the basic principles was far more advanced than what it is now. Computers have brought with them the concept of "Nintendo Engineers" where pushing a few buttons is all that is required to do a decent job. Is the job better done? I am doing things now my peers only dreamed about. I can do in a week what it took them months to do. Do I give a crap about most of what I do? No. If I screw-up the first time or something was amiss (remember the fundamentals?) I can just do it again, no problem. Same in watch-making. Bad batch? No problem, let's do another one.

Can you go sky diving, chop wood with a chainsaw, dance to frenetic rythms with a modern watch? Yes. With an older one? No.

The concept of "things were better made in the old days" is at least as old as the concept of "olden days" itself. Tradition this, tradition that, etc... from beer and wine to suits and watches and life in the woods.

In the olden days, things tended to be hand made a lot more, and first and foremost, things were made to last. These were days where people bought something well made to last their lifetime and beyond, from hand-tailored suits made of the best materials, to quadruple hand-stitched leather shoes made from the back rump of lambs from Eastern Ireland aged between 1.5 and 2 years old, to cars made to last a lifetime, etc...
When something was made to last, it did (cathedrals?).

People making things by hand (lets call them artisans) had to learn for many years their trade and applied it with dedication and pride (not for the side-of-the-street sausage buns or cat burgers). The final product was something amazing that was meant to be worth of money you spent on it.

So, were things better made in the old days? Yes, without a doubt. If you want a hand-made watch, look no further than early 1960s I would say. Anything post 1985 is definitely not hand made. People actually cared about the watch they sold you, from the finishing to the workings of watch. How long did it take a watchmaker to make a simple watch? Longer than a machine to laser-etch 50 complete movements to be chain assembled.

Watches more hand-made still have a touch of the magical and "je ne sais quoi".

So, are things better made today than they were? Yes, without a doubt. The technology used in materials engineering, piece design, and manufacture are without a doubt better than ever. A watch made today would be the envy of any older watchmaker including Breguet himself. Are watches nowadays made to last? I don't think so. Watch companies want you to have a watch turn-around to make you dizzy and increase thier profits. If you bought a watch to last forever, they wouldn't be millionaires. Look at the VC mini-movie ("secrets" I think) where the guy goes to VC with his father's old watch and basicalyl leaves with a modern version of it and leaves his father's watch behind!!! What happened to tradition, and bla bla bla?

Don't forget that "traditional" beer made as they used to 700 years ago would probably taste like the worse crap ever made.
Good cigars can still only be hand-made. That is a last bastion of the good old stuff. It takes over 5 years to be able to roll the best cigars... How long did it take watch makers in the old days to be abel to make a watch? How long does it take them nowadays?

Where do I stand? I stand with you Doc, but things are better made now, just not made to last.

Food for thought but not sure I agree, not sure I disagree..
01/23/2008 - 19:14

Were consumer goods better made yesterday than today? I don’t know I don’t have any shoes, clothes , TV, car etc…which was made before I was born so I have no elements of comparaison. I agree with you Nico in the fact that with the age of the computer people don’t need to think as hard or even make as much efforts as before because if you screw up its OK the computer will do the work for you…but to a certain extent. Machines and technology make thing easier for man but do not replace him (at least not in all). To specifically talk about watches maybe its just too soon, maybe we should have this discussion in 2058 and see if the watches produced at the beginning of the millennium still function. However, we are living an era where everyone and their neighbour wants to launch a watch brand (or even worse revive the name of a Swiss watchmaker no one has ever heard of and who lived 500 years ago!) and the more expensive their products the better. However, we need to separate the true from the con artists. Lets face it, the vast majority of the new brands are in the business for a quick buck and don’t really care if their product is well made or not because in a few years time they won’t be around anymore and their owner would be in the next business for a quick buck. Then there are brands who have been around for some time or at least care about their reputation (VC, PP, AP, Lang, Journe etc…), they’re in it also for the money…after all watches are a business but they also have the pride of a well made watch and they give you craftsmanship, detail and effort. Of course they want you to come back for more that’s why they keep coming out with new models to whet your appetite because if you pay $10k for a watch which refuses to tick 5 years after, you ain’t buying from these guys ever again. So were watches better made before I don’t know but were they more difficult to make: certainly

Oxymoronic, no?
01/23/2008 - 22:13

I say that because I have a hard time accepting that "things are better made now" while at the same time those things are designed not to last. Yes, I understand that technology has moved the quality of materials and tolerances forward, etc., and I don't dispute that. However, I have several watches from the 1960's which, when properly maintained, perform as well now as they did when they were manufactured roughly 60 years ago. And, perhaps more to the point, they perform as well as virtually any equivalent modern watch. So, given that, how can one persuasively argue that (mechanical) watches made today are "better made"?

I would add that I have heard from several very highly regarded watchmakers that the quality of the movements made by the better houses during the golden period of watchmaking are clearly superior to most current high-end movements. In fact, I recently brought in my V&C cal. 454/5C for a service, and the watchmaker (a very good one in NYC) made exactly that point after having worked on it.


Tony C.

Correction: I should have said 40 years, rather than 60.
01/23/2008 - 22:15


OK, it's a bit povocative statement from me,
01/23/2008 - 22:56

but the truth is that my loved VC DTR is for the third time in Geneva, for repair of the same problem.

Changing the time zones !

When I bought it new from Germany, 2005 it didn't work when it arrived,

so back to Geneva,for repair. 

Less than a year later the same problem,

now the watch was sent through the only VC AD we had in Sweden,  and 2 weeks ago again the same problem, for the third time!

Now it shows that the only AD is not selling VC any longer,

but they were nice to take care of sending it to Germany,

which is a VC idea, and then it travels to Geneva....

I was told by the ex AD that they had bad experience of VC over the last years.

One of their last customer bought a RG Saltarello that during two years was on his wrist three months !

The other time it was in Geneva for repair.

This customer is a true VC aficionado so he put some money extra on the table,

and bought a Saltarello in WG instead!

After a month it fails, and after two more visits at VC in Geneva, he gave up

The man who I talked with at the only ex AD shop, in this country,

said it's very hard to stop after so many years,

but the complains were to many.

I don't know how long they have sold VC,

but it's a long time,

the shop is founded 1851 !

It hurts me to write this critic, but it's serious,

and all of you knows how my feelings for VC is

But, speaking generally of exclusive watches, for instance at all forums at ThePuristS many years,

or only by reading these forums, you can see that this happens to all Brands. Sometimes you get the feeling the more exspensive watch you buy, the more problems you get I last year bought a brand new and exspensive Girard-Perregaux that also after a month had to go to the factory,

but two years ago I bought another new and exspensive Girard-Perregaux, the ww.tc., with lot of functions,

and knock on wood, I have had no problems with that watch. Of course technicaly, watches have been through an evolution, that's nothing to discuss.

And they are water proof, shock protected and has a lot of functions,

but the meaning with the watch should primary be that it works.

I sorry that VC have got a bad reputation during the last 20 years,

but I'm convinced that they, if anyone,

will get things working again.

Now when they have their utmost elegant and impressive new factory,

and the new management, I know are really doing everything to get it going.

But whatever you think it still is amazing that you can buy a watch from 1931,

and it works perfect!

Still in love with Vacheron&Constantin


oh oh... and the winner is...
01/24/2008 - 00:30

OK, to be fair, both sides are right. I prefer vintage for my own reasons, so at least people know where I am coming from.

First, Doc, let's not forget one very important point: we don't really know how many vintage watches were returned and serviced in the old days. What we might be seeing as surviving vintage watches are the best made ones that actually survived this long, rather than being representative samples of how vintage watches were all made.

Let's assume that we are talking about the high end brands that have been around for a while, not the "quick buck let's-get-out-a-tourbillon" brands.

1. Were watchmakers better watchmakers in the past? Yes.

2. Were watches much more hand-made in the past? Yes.

3. Are modern watches technologically better made? Yes.

4. Are modern watches better suited for some of today's more active lifestyles? Yes.

5. Do modern watches better support the elements and day to day wear of a watch (in normal activities, even desk job)? Yes. I believe vintage watches were probably a lot more prone to simple stoppages which would not affect a modern watch (small shocks, dusts, weather, ...).

6. Were vintage watches made to last longer than modern comtemporaries? I would say Yes.

7. Can we now make watches we could only dream about 50 years ago? Yes. I actually believe we are almost at the point where we can seriously ask: are modern watches made by watchmakers anymore? Or are they simply designed by very clever people (some of the stuff they come out with is mind-boggling) using CAD, laser/machine cut, and hand-assembled in chain-mode. Of course modern extra-complicated watches are not comparable with "simple" watches; I believe those can still be considered made by watchmakers. Take a watch made by some of the small independant watchmakers who actually still make their own parts and assemble their watches (then again they all use CAD, but many do not have the super hightech parts making machines). Those kind of watches are not made by VC anymore. They used to be. If you picture an (older?) man or woman glued to their desk making small parts, finishing them and assembling the watch, spending days or more making the watch, then you are a vintage person. That type of watch just does not exist anymore. OK, let's not get fantasist here. 50 years ago they were not made like that either. Several people working for ebauches companies would make little parts of the ebauche which would be assembled by JLC (most of the time), and sold to VC which would make it a much better movement. Do more vintage VC survive than JLC? Are they in a better shape? I would say Yes.

My 2 Swiss Francs....
01/24/2008 - 08:38

We always imagine that things were better made before because when our vintage watches fail on us we find it nrmal whereas when our modern watches do so we say its a scandal!

As I said in my 1st post we don't treat our vintage and modern watches the same, I wear my vintage watches when I'm sure they are out of harms way: the weather should not be humid or hot, not somewhere where dust can get in, I take it off as soon as get near water (and that includes washing my hands...) but my modern watches are worn without such extra care and ofcourse are more prone to damage.

Sure a vintage watch seems to be ticking 50, 60, 70 years after it was made but do we know how many times it went back to its manufacturer to be repaired before ending on our wrist?

As Shady Joe said, maybe we'll need to wait another 50 years before comparing and seeing how modern movements test the passing of time.

Of course everything is easier for watchmakers with CAD and CNC machines but the most important elements: finishing is still done the same way it was done 100 years ago: by hand.

Romantically I look at vintage watches and find thay they have more soul than 90% of todays production but having more sould doesn't make them better made...just timeless.

One small quibble...
01/24/2008 - 23:59

Alex, you note that "we don't treat our vintage and modern watches the same, I wear my vintage watches when I'm sure they are out of harms way..."

Point taken, however, the person (or people) who wore those vintage watches for 10, 20, 30 or more years before they arrived in the collections of careful, modern collectors, quite probably did not always treat them with such care. That's not to say that vintage watches are, as a group, as robust as modern watches, but neither are they (generally) as frail as many collectors' careful handling implies.


Tony C.

I understand your point but the question is when the original owner
01/25/2008 - 11:06

wore these watches how often did they need to e sent for servicing due to problems? We don't know

VC used to recommend..
01/25/2008 - 13:18
For the couple of vintage watches that I acquired with papers, the documents recommended service on the watch after only a couple of years. That meant that the watch went back to the jeweler who sold the watch and employed a watchmaker in the store. It didn't take quite as long back then as it does now.Bill
Should we be honest ? Yes, and if ?
01/24/2008 - 15:03

The simple truth is that all the quartz watches are better than any traditional movement.

If you should buy a watch that is waterproof, takes rough handling, and works perfect,

and more keep perfect time plus a nice price

chose a quartz!

What we are doing is just silly

Buying newbuilt old watch movements......

The only difference is that they are/were handmade,

and has it's special charm !

Isn't it wonderful that the human traditional workmanship,

is better than any CAD CAM produced watch.

More beautiful to look at and more work put on it.

The modern technology on new-old movements hasn't come,

because the Brands want to do better watches,

it's simply because they can't afford to pay for real workmanship

They can't pay the salary of making a handmade movement,

that's the only reason.

Anyone who has seen a Philippe Dufour watch, as I have, or own one,

as some of you, knows what I'm talking about,

and still there is more modern technology,

and less human touch than in the old watch movements.

Here is PD and Doc, the now outstanding watchmaker.

Philippe was really touched by one of my old pocket VC's,

that I brought!

Cieseled and beautiful at the outside and the dial is magnific in real light !

When PD looked inside at the frozen gilted movement, he said :

" That noone can do today, it's so beautiful."

On the other hand this watch,

which I have when I run in the wood,

it's a puls counter etc etc,

and a watch.

After one year,

it was going exactly on the second!

Background is http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/  !

That's the way I see it.

We are really collecting jewelery, but since it's watches,

it's OK for a Man to wear it!

I couldn't wear this diamond bangle, which belongs to my wife !

But it's sure beautiful!

And if it was possible I would love to, it's fantastic in sunlight

The great advance women has, is that they can wear a a beautiful thing on their wrist,

without the trouble of having a movement in it


Then let me ask you a question on the price you would agree to pay
01/24/2008 - 16:04

There is definately more manual labor which goes into a Dufour or Voutilainen, no question. However the entry price for these watches is about CHF 50k which is more or less equivalent to euro 30k. A manual wind Patrimony is about € 10k. Would anyone here accept to pay Dufour or Voutilainen prices on a VC made to the same exact degree of finish?

I personnaly wouldn't bacause at that price point you're not only paying for a watch and its qualities but also the human relationship you have with the watch maker. And no matter what your Vacheron will not be made by Vacheron but by a watchmaker who can be as talented as possible but who doesn't have his name on the dial.

I'd have to be a Doctor or a Lawyer to be able to afford one ;->
01/24/2008 - 16:55


well you are 1 out of 2!! :-) nt
01/24/2008 - 17:09


LOL!! You said it Doc!
01/24/2008 - 16:43

Very valid ideas from everyone!

I agree that the answer is both yes and no.

By making watches by hand (and doing so with a passion), one can put so much more attention to details and apply some "touches" that no machine can.  On the other hand, there is a limit to what our hands and eyes can do, and in these times of precision, tolerances, and speed, we need the help of our mechanical tools. 

In Japan, there are sushi chefs and there are Sushi Chefs.  The former learn to make sushi-like items almost overnight (there's even a robot sushi maker now).  The latter spend a couple of years just cleaning up and washing dishes and a few more years doing just food preparation before even being allowed to make sushi...so by the time the guy becomes a new sushi chef, maybe 10 years have passed.  The former makes edible sushi that you can eat everyday (but probably won't if you had a choice).  The latter makes terrific sushi that I have never tasted because I could never afford it.  That is why I am satisfied with the mid-level sushi that I have once in a while (not to say that VC is mid-level).

I think VC can train its staff to make watches by hand like they did a long time ago.  Sure, why not?  We are not any less nimble than our parents or grandparents were.  But how many hand-made pieces would VC be able to produce?  How much would they cost?!!  Chances are I wouldn't be able to afford a traditionally hand-made VC.

Finally, there is Nostalgia and romanticism for the good old days too..which isn't bad at all.

So in the end, women are smarter because they put expensive stuff on their wrists that don't have movements, so they needn't waste their time with silly discussions like this.  Right Doc?

LOL !! Kazumi you are right,
01/24/2008 - 18:27

And I'm of course right to

Why the heck buy new VC's that not function as they should until some tours to Geneva,

instead of more beautiful and lesss espensive vintage VC's

So that's why I keep on with these Art Deco watches that in my point of view is far more beautiful,

than the new one's!

Even yhe new very exspensive one's !

Of course it would be nice to have a minute repeater wrist VC, but with all trouble there is with that

type of watch, I step over.

When I buy art, posters, sculptures, I always buy Art Deco, because that's the outstanding period in desing,

again in my opinion.

Others have their taste, but still the old vintage watches functions !

This sculpture from 1930 I just love,

and its an utmost  Art Deco object.

Had to look for many years.

Shown it before, but I gladly shows it again

One of this will in short time leave me, and it's not the genuine Art Deco,

even if I think that the VC 1972 "Prestige de la France" is one of the most elegant VC's,

in modern time


When one of your beautiful pieces leave, Doc...
01/25/2008 - 01:00

When one of your beautiful pieces leave, it is usually to make room for an even better replacement.

I agree that Art Deco is one of the coolest design concepts and VC's Art Deco watches are very nice.  Unfortunately, I have a weak spot for buying the "latest" models (it must be the Japanese blood), and I have yet to mature as a watch connoisseur (still it is easy to appreciate everyone's vintage pieces).



Vintage vs. New...
01/24/2008 - 21:07

In my humble opinion, I see the complete hand work from start to finish of a vintage timepiece to be very charming. It is something that you do not see much of with today's technology. However, to me, the perfect blend of modern technology with old-time hand finishing makes for the best all-around timepiece. You have two worlds meeting and creating a piece of mechanical artwork better than ever before. Also, as time goes on, bugs are worked out of certain movements in the creation of new and improved ones.

Many companies go completely towards new world technology, but neglect the charm of old-world hand finishing. These are the companies which do not rate very high in my book. A company such as VC gives you the best of both worlds and, in my opinion, makes them a top tier manufacturer.

I am sorry to hear that Doc's DTR is having such problems. To me, the F. Piguet base movement is good, but if an inhouse VC movement were used maybe the results would be much better. That's just my opinion though.

Best Regards,


Call me an optimist
01/25/2008 - 15:30

...but I like the idea that we are moving forward, and that today’s watches are better than the older ones. I’ve heard my grand-parents, and now my parents come up with the “good old days” argument, that “things were much better in the past than now”. I’m sure their ancestors probably said the same thing to them when they were kids. And I’ll probably be saying it in 40 years time also… If this is true, than humanity has been going backwards for generations, and life must have much more swell during the Industrial Revolution, or better yet even before than…  C’mon guys… CNC machines and technology have replaced man because they can do a better and more precise job a lot quicker. I could see why one could say that yesterday’s watchmakers were all-around better than today’s, because YES they had to be able to do so much more compared to the watchmakers of today that have a lot more help from all the new CAD technology and CNC machines. But ultimately I am sure the watches being produced now are being than the older ones. Is there less time spend on quality control than previously? Probably, which means that there are probably a greater proportion of defectuous watches in the market. But I am sure that overall the quality is better now than it was before. Didn’t Lange made its reputation on the quality of its movements, which are all quite modern? Having said this, let’s not go crazy and think that everything is automated these days… I have not yet visited the VC Manufacture, but all the pictures I have seen on the forums show people working with their tiny instruments, not some fully automated assembly line… And I am sure that when you are working at one of the top places (PP, VC, AP, Lange), you are probably amongst the best in the business and you must have an incredible passion and dedication to your work to get to this level. I am sure (or at least would like to believe) that people working at VC have as much pride in their work as the ones who worked there 70 years ago. For the record, I do love the fact that a proportion of the work has to be done by hand – I wouldn’t pay for the current prices if the watches were completely made by robots. I am happy that all the finishing is still hand-made, giving the whole mechanical watch this romantic feeling… Doc, you are comparing your Dual Time, which has a complication, that you are using to chop up wood and whatever else, against a lot of Time only pieces that spend most of their time in a vault and are only handled with extreme care. Not fair comparison IMO... Sorry for my little rant, I just think Technology and today’s watchmakers were being beaten up a little bit too much…

Good point Veillotron...
01/25/2008 - 19:10

Doc should not be using his high end VC, or any VC for that matter to chop wood. It would be like off-roading in your Rolls Royce Phantom. But, to each their own.

Best Regards,


I think they were more durable in the old days.
01/26/2008 - 13:15

I have heard, and I personally believe, that in order to make watches using automated methods it is necessary to make some compromises in the materials. Thus, the alloys and finishes used in the pre-automation days (in the top watches) may be more durable. In addition, the older movements have wider tolerances, are often thicker than modern movements, are made in a way that is more possible to repair (a screwed balance can be repoised; a smooth one must be replaced), and in most cases reduce wear by using a slower beat rate than most modern watches. It is thus reasonable to predict that the older watches will last a longer time.

I collect primarily older automatics and have not found it necessary to give them special treatment as compared to modern watches. I tend to think that my old watches are as robust as any of my modern ones with the exceptions of Rolex and Lange. Having slow-beat movements, though, they show more of a reaction if I engage in vigorous activity while wearing them. Check back with me in 20 years and I will tell you whether I should have been more careful.