My dad, Jack, is 72 and he just retired last month. Like many of us, my dad always dreamed of having a real premium luxury car. So he went out and bought himself a brand new Cadillac ATS turbo. I think my dad had his eye on some German luxury cars but he got a deal on the Cadillac and he loved his test drive in it. I drove the Cadillac — it is a freaking awesome car and certainly qualifies as a premium luxury vehicle. Driving my dad’s new high-end car made me question my own car. I started re-analyzing my own car choice. I bought my car last year — an Acura ILX with Tech package. This is Acura’s smallest and most affordable model. As I compared my car to my dad’s new Caddy, I realised that I already have a real luxury car — it just happens to be an entry level model with a lesser engine and less power. I enjoy my Acura very much and, although it lacks some power, it provides a luxury driving experience. It is well finished, stylish and the tech package provides tonnes of entertainment. My Acura rides like a luxury car, too, despite its economic engine. This car discussion, like most things, gets me thinking about watches.
Just as I chose an entry level luxury car, many of my very favourite timepieces have been entry level models. Like my Acura, these entry level models allow you into their brands’ owners’ clubs at somewhat reasonable prices. The tradeoff for the lower price is often a basic movement (engine) and fewer features. Nevertheless, I have found over the years that many entry level watches do an amazing job at offering their brand’s character and flavour and style. Let’s look at a few examples as we examine the merits of entry level luxury timepieces.
One of my very favourite watches right now is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm. This is the most affordable Rolex and, as such, is Rolex’s true entry level model. Critics point at its lack of a date window and lack of Rolex’s micro-adjustment on the bracelet. It certainly is the “no frills” Rolex. But I love it. It uses a gorgeous, classic Rolex case with the sensational Oyster bracelet in brushed steel. It is pretty basic, but very well made and I think it really projects understated Rolex character. I love the look of this piece, especially with the dark rhodium dial. I supposed if I had an unlimited budget I would go for the new Daytona with ceramic bezel. But the 39mm OP is really my next target. This watch gets you into the Rolex club, provides many classic Rolex features and offers exceptional quality. And it does all of this for 6 grand. Is this a compelling argument in favour of entry level luxury?
Another example of entry level luxury is the PAM00112. I often wish I had begun my Panerai collecting with a 112. Despite its generic movement (based on ETA Unitas), the 112 cannot be mistaken for anything else but a Panerai. It is bold, gorgeous, macho, and beautifully made. Today, the 112 is being phased out for models using in-house movements, but it is still really your entry level PAM. To me, the 112 represents everything a man could want in a Panerai. The bigger models have some cool features and superior movements, but they don’t scream PANERAI any louder than the 112. This always made me feel that the 112 was THE Panerai to have. It’s an expensive watch, but much less expensive than any Luminor 1950 or Radiomir 1940.
I recently bought an IWC Pilot Mark XVIII. Once again, this is the entry level IWC. I got a taste for IWC earlier this summer when Michael showed up in Montreal with his Pilot chronograph. I tried it on and loved it. My 40mm Pilot is not quite on the same level, but it really provides that classic pilot character on the wrist. It has a sensational Santoni leather bracelet and signature IWC buckle. The dial is a beautiful white/silver with typical IWC hands. The Pilot Mark XVIII has been criticised for its use of Sellita movement. But it’s still an IWC — it has a high level of quality and its movement has been tested and adjusted to a high degree of accuracy. My Mark XVIII is basic and simple, but it is unmistakably an IWC and allows me some bragging rights. In reality, I have owned much more complex and “superior” timepieces than my IWC, but few have attracted as much respect and admiration.
The idea of “respect and admiration” is a key issue. The Rolex OP, for example, has a lower MSRP than many watches at your local shopping mall. Which piece would you rather own? A Rolex? Or a mass market luxury chronograph from a brand sold at a retail jewellery store? You get my point. The main attraction of all of these entry level models is that they allow you to join an exclusive owners’ club without paying for their most expensive features. They aren’t powered by the biggest engines, but they offer the iconic character of their respective brands. They offer a luxury experience, a taste of the real stuff without all the top complications.
If I had the budget, I would go for a PAM00422, which is my favourite timepiece of all time. But if I have to work and save for it, I will go for a PAM00112 with a more realistic price. And with IWC, I would go for a Big Pilot with power reserve. But since I wasn’t in that price range, I went for the Mark XVIII which gives me lots of IWC essence even though it uses an “economy engine.” You could argue, of course, that you should wait and save for the big stuff. I like instant gratification, however, and I am always searching for a “quick fix” that gives me a little taste of the high-end luxury stuff. And as I said earlier, I really like so many of the entry level timepieces. My Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim is another fine example — it must be the least expensive mechanical Montblanc on the market, but it is BY FAR my favourite. Even in the extreme high-end price ranges, my favourite Lange and Richard Mille are the least expensive models. Ditto for AP, I think.
I am very happy to realise that, in the case of many brands, the most affordable timepiece is also one of my favourites. This makes it more realistic (and tantalising) to dream about owning one of each. The only downside to going for the entry level model is the inevitable, “That’s not a real Rolex,” comment. You know how when the B series Mercedes pulls up beside you and you think, “That guy is a joke — he doesn’t have a REAL Mercedes!” Ditto for the small BMW. But I gave up on playing the “one-up” game a long time ago because no matter how expensive my watch was, some guy would show up in Patek Nautilus or AP RO and I would be shot down. So for now, I focus on my own enjoyment. And I get plenty of enjoyment out of many entry level luxury watches.
Do you have a big name in your watch portfolio? Have you considered an entry level piece of luxury watchmaking? As always, the fun is in the search…