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Denney Jewelers’ line of watches is assembled in America from Swiss parts. The stainless steel watch at left has a carbon-fiber dial with sapphire crystal ($465). The watch on the right also is stainless steel with a sapphire crystal ($525).
By David Spencer | SJ-R
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Time for luxury
By Jason Nevel

Buying a high-end timepiece is not so different from buying a high-end car. Performance, longevity and craftsmanship are key - qualities that don't come cheap.

Just like top-of-the-line automobiles, quality watches carry a certain allure, say local jewelers. Rolexes or Piagets, for example, are not mass-produced. Each watch is handcrafted, which makes owning one akin to belonging to an exclusive club. 

Jeweler Brian Lauer explains: "If there is another gentleman in the room that is attuned to fine products and he sees someone wearing a Maurice Lacroix, Omega, Patek, Piaget or Rolex, they have a kinship with watches and they talk about it," said Lauer, owner of AB Lauer Jewelers in Springfield. "It's just like when guys talk about cars."Owning a superior watch comes at a steep price. Among the least expensive in the Tag Heuer line costs nearly $1,000. For that price, consumers can get a scratch-resistant, waterproof designer watch that comes with a stainless steel band. 

On the high end, Rolex buyers can spend $50,000 or more on a handcrafted watch that is covered with diamonds, sapphires and an 18-karat gold case. 

Those high prices trickle down to independent jewelers, which is why most local dealers stepped back from the watch business years ago, Lauer said. Watchmakers, such as Rolex, want independent stores to buy into the entire line rather than carry only several watches. 

Lauer said he stopped carrying high-end brands because investing $200,000 in a watch line that may sit for months or even years in the display case was too risky.

"It takes awhile to build a market where people recognize you have the brand and come and buy it from you," he said. 

Where to buy

Although fewer jewelers carry top-tier watches locally, it still is possible to track one down. Carl Giganti, manager of Giganti & Giganti Fine Jewelry in Springfield, said if a customer brings in a picture or model number of a watch they've researched on the Internet, he usually can order it. 

His store also carries numerous pre-owned, refurbished watches that come with a one-year warranty. He said a customer may purchase a refurbished Rolex that retailed at $22,000 for roughly $11,000 at Giganti. 

"You can't tell a lot of difference when you look at them side by side," he said. "We make sure the inside is in working condition and the outside is looking as new as possible."

At Denney Jewelers in Springfield, store owner Brian Denney said he quit carrying brand-name watches because there were too many customer-service issues. In some instances, he said, it would take up to four months to get back a part from the manufacturer. 

Denney now carries about 150 of its own line of watches, under the name Denney Jewelers, which range from $200 to $5,000, he said. The watches are made in the United States with Swiss parts, are scratch resistant and waterproof.

"We want to stand behind everything we sell, and that's why we chose this avenue," he said. "For us, it's not as much the name on the watch as the fact we're going to stand behind it, which is ultimately what people are looking for."

Lauer advised buying from a local dealer who a consumer trusts instead of purchasing high-end watches on the Internet, where there's an increased chance the watch will have missing parts. 

What makes a quality watch?

Most premier watch manufacturers are based in Switzerland, but buyers should research how a watch is constructed, Denney said. For example, watch lines that are owned by fashion companies, such as Tag Heuer, which is owned by Louis Vuitton, can cost more but lack the craftsmanship of a Rolex, he said. 

" 'Swiss' is a marketing tool," he said. "Just because the watch has a $5,000 price tag does not mean it's a quality watch." 

According to Lauer, the best and most popular high-end watches are handcrafted and have an automatic movement instead of a quartz movement, which is battery powered. 

Automatic watches, also called self-winding watches, rewind a timepiece's mainspring by the natural motions of the wearer's body. 

Another attribute of top-end watches is longevity, Denney said. Similar to a quality diamond, good watches should be able to overcome years of natural wear and tear and be restored to their original quality. 

The metal used in the band also can affect a watch's value. High-end watch companies use stainless steel or white gold in the band, Giganti said. Additional jewelry on the watch, such as diamonds, also can greatly increase the value. 

Today's trends

Whereas most men focus on the craftsmanship and reputation of a quality watch, women typically are seeking something fashionable, Giganti said. 

Such lines as Chanel offer numerous quartz-powered watches with ceramic bands, which are popular, and diamond indicators. 

"Usually, (women) want to know what will go with what they're going to wear that day and not what they will get out of it tomorrow," he said. 

In the 1970s and '80s, Giganti said, people gravitated toward thinner watches. Today, he said, buyers are going for bigger and thicker watches with stainless steel bands that usually have several dials within the interface, called complications.

The current trend is to have a few complications, such as different time zones or the date, rather than numerous ones, which was popular in the early 2000s. 

Regardless of trends, buying a top-of-the-line watch is an expensive investment. Which is why Giganti sometimes shares with customers a friend's adage about timepieces: "Life is too short to wear a cheap watch."

 

Story published Friday, May 6, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 3 )

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