⭐ my love-hate relationship with mechanical watches
Like many other people who suddenly had time to spare at the start of the pandemic, I spent too much time online browsing subreddits and Youtube channels and diving deep into silly hobbies. I learned a lot about some of the more socially acceptable things for men to spend their money on, like perfumes, EDC tools, and especially watches, specifically fine mechanical ones.
For those of you who aren't into watches (consider yourself lucky), watches can either be mechanical or quartz. Mechanical watches are powered by energy stored in a coiled-up mainspring, whereas quartz watches get their power from a battery.
Like other analog products that persist in a digital age (see vinyl, print media, and board games), much of the popularity of mechanical watches can be attributed to nostalgia. Quartz watches are superior in almost every metric: they cost less, tell better time, pack more features, and are far easier to repair. Yet it's mechanical watches that are the world's most sought-after, expensive timepieces.
My newfound obsession for watches culminated in me purchasing my first mechanical watch, a Seiko SNKL23. I chose it because I liked its classical look, practical day-date complication, and most importantly, because of its size. This watch has a case diameter of 38mm, smaller than what seems like the industry-standard minimum of 40mm these days.
This brings me to my first gripe with mechanical watches nowadays: they're much too big for the average wrist! (I guess this applies to non-mechanical ones too, but bear with me.) Dial sizes have been increasing for decades now, fueled by a "bigger is better" mentality. Watchmakers are keen to create dials packed with flashy features. However, this trend has slowly but surely alienated a large subsection of watch fans. These days very few watchmakers release watches with dial sizes under 40mm, a number that dwindles further if you exclude luxury brands like Rolex, which retail for more than than most people can afford. Recent watch releases with smaller dials experience overwhelming popularity, like the Tudor Black Bay 36 or the Tissot PRX, a testament to just how sorely consumers clamor for sub-40mm watch dials. All this is to say that, if you want to get a nice watch that isn't ludicrously oversized for an average wrist, you're fairly short on options.
Another thing that watch enthusiasts definitely warned me about but that didn't hit me until I actually started using a mechanical watch was just how annoying keeping up with a mechanical movement can be. With a quartz watch you can pick up the watch whenever you want and expect it to be right on time, provided the battery's not run out. With a mechanical watch, if you leave it untouched for too long (which for my watch is 48 hours at best) it will run out of power and slow to a halt. In order to use it again you'll have to wind/wear it and reset the time again, which especially on watches with date, day-date, or more complex complications can take quite some time. I often find myself spending a few minutes every other day fiddling with a tiny crown, following specific rules to set the time the right way without damaging the internal mechanisms of my watch.
All this trouble means that my mechanical watch spends weeks at a time on my wrist and far longer stretches of time in the drawer. I can't be bothered to set the time every few days, so it spends most of the year in storage except for weeks-long periods every few months or so when I miss it or have fancy work functions.
Another thing I've come to dislike about wearing my mechanical watch over a Seiko is how fragile it feels in comparison. My Seiko has only 30m of water resistance, which in the watch world is pretty much akin to not having any at all. I don't even feel safe having it on in the rain. Its mechanical movement is sensitive to extreme heat, cold, and most of all strong electromagnetic forces. And its smooth glass crystal is primed to scratch or crack. All this means that I treat it far differently when I have it on; I take it off whenever I do anything that has a remote chance of damaging it, like washing the dishes or doing a set of pull-ups. And just the heft of the metal bracelet and watch on my wrist makes me unconsciously limit my speed and range of movement in what I assume is an attempt to protect it from unnecessary damage. All this fuss and worry makes me pine for my no-fuss, low-maintenance G-SHOCK.
Don't get me wrong, I love my new Seiko. I love the way its second hand sweeps smoothly around in the way that mechanical movements do, not ticking loudly like most quartz watches. The beautiful dial and the fascinating exhibition (transparent) backing that reveals the moving gears and beating heart of the watch never fail to mesmerize me. I relish learning about the engineering and horological heritage that goes into creating such watches, and hope mechanical watches never go extinct. And maybe my favorite part about wearing it is how seeing the hands on the analog dial throughout the day make me think about time more as a relative position in the passing of a day than a precise, exact statistic (as I am wont to think on a digital watch).
But I also think that people don't talk about the drawbacks of mechanical timepieces enough. And for someone like me who grew up wearing quartz Casios and accustomed to their low maintenance, these factors can really affect how much enjoyment you get out of a mechanical watch.