In an era when you can check the time on any mobile phone or microwave, what function does a wristwatch still serve? Sure, it keeps the current time at hand, obviating the need to reach for the nearest electronic device. But more than that, it serves as the mark of a modern man.
A man's choice of timepiece conveys his sense of style, the value he places on craftsmanship and a certain refusal to retire something he enjoys just because its role has been replaced. It can convey his interests (be it a pilot's watch, diver's watch or racing watch), and has also come to represent a certain status symbol: see a man with a ten-thousand-dollar watch and you know what he's worth. But since the global economy tanked, signs of opulence and conspicuous spending have taken a hit in popularity. Today it's all about value. Buyers are still spending, but they expect to get more for their money. That's where companies like Christopher Ward come in.
Based in England and manufactured in Switzerland, Christopher Ward is as much a mission as it is a company. When Chris Ward and business partners Mike France and Peter Ellis set out to produce their own line of watches in 2004, the idea was to offer high-quality Swiss-made timepieces at a fraction of the prices charged by more established brands. Nine years later, they've stayed true to that mission.
Whereas luxury watchmakers typically charge ten, twenty or even thirty times what it costs them to produce a watch, Christopher Ward claims it charges just two to three times its base manufacturing price (it is, after all, a business with overhead costs, not a charity). A huge part of that comes down to hype: Christopher Ward doesn't spend the millions that companies like Breitling, Rolex, Omega or TAG Heuer do on marketing and celebrity endorsements. Another part is the middle man which the company has cut out of the equation: instead of selling through jewelry shops and other retailers, which can take a sizable markup, Christopher Ward sells directly through its website.
Don't call it a discount brand, though, and certainly not a replicator. Ward's watches are designed in-house in Berkshire, England, and manufactured in the famous watchmaking region of Jura, Switzerland, using Swiss mechanisms supplied by the likes of ETA and Ronda.
The formula struck us as so compelling that we had to try one out first-hand. So we selected the MkII U-2 Vintage Edition timepiece you see here from the company's C8 Pilot collection. We've been wearing it for the past few weeks, and we have to say we're rather impressed.We picked the C8 Vintage primarily for its subdued design. It features a black PVD case, dial and butterfly clasp for a nice monochrome appearance, a thick light-brown leather strap top-stitched in tan and “Old Radium” Super-Luminova indices. But it's not all style and no substance: inside the large (but not exaggerated) 44mm case resides a 26-jewel self-winding mechanical movement supplied by Sellita with a solid 38-hour power reserve and date window at 3 o'clock. While it doesn't have a full exhibition case-back, it does have a small window through which you can see the balance wheel and some of the gears doing their thing.
The watch was designed in tribute to the classic 1940s IWC B-Uhren, but you won't pay the International Watch Company's notoriously high prices to own one. While the watchmaker from Schaffhausen charges tens of thousands for their timepieces, the Christopher Ward Pilot MkII U-2 Vintage Edition sells for $575. No, we did not forget a zero in there somewhere. Nor is that the exception: although Ward recently introduced a monopusher chronograph for over $3,000, the vast majority of its collection sells for three figures, not four – and certainly not five.
Now this writer can admit to feeling a certain sense of inferiority comparing the Tissot I used to wear to my friend's Omega. (All the more so with the knock-off Girard-Perregaux I regretfully bought fresh out of college). Not that there's anything wrong with a Tissot, or the ESQ I bought when I was in high school – they're fine watches, they're just not Omegas or Rolexes. But owning a Christopher Ward is a different kind of experience.
While wearing the C8 out for a stroll one evening with my fiancée, I stopped into a jewelry store where they had a selection of fine watches on display, including a Panerai and a Bell & Ross that both looked rather similar in style to the one I was evaluating, but with one vital difference: a price tag roughly ten times that of the Christopher Ward. But this time, instead of walking away feeling like the watch on my wrist was somehow inferior to the ones under glass, I strutted gleefully away, feeling like mine was the better buy. The smarter choice. It was a feeling that I liked so much, in fact, that when it came time to return the timepiece to Christopher Ward's press office, I gladly paid the asking price to keep it on my wrist and the smile on my face.
Christopher Ward is available online and is priced from $225-$3,365.
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