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Being on time is important. It’s a mark of maturity, professionalism and respect. But in our digital age, with clocks on every computer, car dashboard, mantle and mobile phone, has the iconic men’s accessory – the watch – become a thing of the past?
Sheldon Millsap, one of Austin’s leading jewelers and owner of Austin Diamond District, doesn’t think so. With more than 30 years of experience, he regularly services fine timepieces. But as a watch collector too, his perspective is both distinct and informed. He believes, “A watch is not always just a timepiece. It is an investment.”
Just like for clothing, there are different levels of quality for timepieces. When shopping, Millsap observes, “Every price point has its place.” The difference between a $500 and a $5,000 watch lies in “the quality of the movement and workmanship.” Another consequence of the price is rarity, which adds to collectability. From start to finish, a Rolex takes a year to build; Zenith makes only 50 of some models, driving prices north of $200,000. Automatic (self-winding) watches are more costly, desirable and prestigious. But oddly, quartz movement in lower-tier watches can be more accurate.
Opulence isn’t necessarily a barometer for sophistication, advises Millsap. “You can easily cross the line with fine jewelry. And the line is when you lose taste. Take large [50-80mm] faces: you may as well strap an alarm clock to your wrist. I think they’ve gotten a little showy and have gone beyond taste.” While some vintage options (old, but not yet to the 100-year age of being a true antique) may seem like a woman’s watch with a 34mm diameter case, you should be safe choosing a case between 36 and 40mm – depending on your wrist size.
Rather than polarizing to form or function, Millsap recommends harmonizing the two. “The right watch is the size that fits your wrist, your personality and your budget. If you’re a first-time buyer, look around.”
In addition to their design elements, timepieces are also precision machines. “Most people are undereducated when it comes to fine timepieces,” Millsap told us. “People who complain about their watches not keeping time often just need to properly wear and care for them.” The intricate parts require regular service and maintenance, which he recommends getting every 4–5 years, and only at a jeweler or service center certified by the manufacturer. “Since many of the parts are rare and ultra-precise, it’s the only way to guarantee that the ones installed are genuine, which often extends your warranty. They should also show you how to properly rest, care for and wind it, since there are several different techniques.”
Pocketwatches are another topic entirely. Millsap recommends finding a reputable antique dealer, rather than a jeweler, for these, since they are often held in estates as heirlooms.