PSA: Do yourself a big favor right this very moment, and go to https://theescapementroom.com/
Recently, something went terribly wrong with my King Seiko SPB279…
It started running +5 SPM. Yes, SPM = seconds per minute.
I had placed the watch next to my Qi phone charger overnight, and in the morning, it had gone haywire. I thought, “Oh, darn, I must have magnetized the watch, because Qi chargers obviously create magnetic fields!”
I busted out my $10 demagnetizer, but even after three passes, the watch was still running +5 SPM. I then took the King Seiko to my local watchmaker. When I suggested that perhaps the watch had gotten magnetized, he responded, “Do you work inside of an MRI machine all day?”
I said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Turns out that Qi chargers will create magnetic fields something on the order of 3 milligauss, while the SPB279’s 6R31 movement has an antimagnetic resistance rating of 4,800 a/m, which translates to ~60 gauss.
“No, something’s really gone wrong with the movement. Just send it in for warranty repair,” he said.
The typical Swiss luxury watch warranty repair experience
The only other time I’ve had to deal with warranty repair is when I had to send in my Breitlings. I had purchased both the Breitling Premier B01 in Bentley racing green and the Ref. 763 AVI 1953 re-edition brand new…
... and in both cases, the watches broke within 1 month of ownership!
And when I brought them into the local Breitling boutique to have them sent out for warranty service, I got kicked out of the store by the 2 sales associates working there for daring to question the build quality of Breitling watches. One of the associates literally yelled at me, “No! We will not work with you! Get out!” I suspect their violent reaction partially (mostly) had to do with the fact that they were both very good-looking gals, and it must have been a shock and an inconceivable insult for someone with my troll-like visage to dare to question them about QC… and, well, fair enough! Beautiful people deserve our worship, and that’s just how the world works!
After I got kicked out of the store, I ended up calling Breitling directly, and sent in the watches myself. Total time elapsed between sending out the watches and getting them back in hand? Just a smidge over 3 months.
Based on everything I see here on WC, that seems to be about the norm - the 3 months part, not the getting thrown out of a boutique part.
Seiko warranty service
Another thing I always read here on WC is that dealing with Seiko North America service is only slightly preferable to having your toenails pulled out by this guy…
And, sure enough, when I called up Seiko North America, all my previous apprehension was immediately confirmed. A service associate picked up the phone, and I couldn’t make out a single thing she was saying, due to a) the fact that she sounded like Gilbert Gottfried, from (what I assume is) a lifetime of heavy smoking…
… and b) she was clearly taking the call from her home, and there were 3 Rottweilers barking and snarling in the background, probably having just managed to bring down a Yukon moose and maul it to death, or whatever wildlife it is they have there in New Jersey. Maybe this...
Somehow I managed to get the service center address from the associate.
What happened next blew my eff'ing mind...
Day 1 - Packed up the King Seiko and shipped it via UPS Ground
Day 7 - Got an email confirmation that the service center had received the watch
Day 8 - Got an email indicating that a watchmaker was inspecting the watch
Day 11 - Got an email indicating that the watch was fixed and had been handed over to UPS to be shipped back to me via UPS Ground
Day 19 - Watch in hand, and everything fixed
Now, from sending out to receiving back, the total length of time the watch had been out of my hands was two-and-a-half weeks! And this is a wild exaggeration of the actual service time, because 18 days out of the 19 were consumed by UPS Ground transportation and weekends! In reality, Seiko Service North America received the watch on a Thursday, someone worked on it on a Friday, and then they shipped it out the very next working day, the following Monday. Seiko servicing took, literally, like 1 business day!!!
So, why then does it take Breitling (and every other Swiss luxury brand) 3 months?
Well, it’s because the Swiss luxury brands need to continue to perpetuate the myth of the "artisan watchmaker."
The pitfalls of hand-crafted artisanship
We all have this romantic notion that artisans imbue their wares with love and passion through their hand-crafting. But, uh, this is what you really get when you don’t have division of labor, automation, and gains through trade and specialization - and instead build things with hand-crafted artisanship…
In reality, 99% of the luxury watches we all buy and talk about here on WC (Rolex, Tudor, Omega, GS, Breitling, etc., etc.) are just mass manufactured man-jewelry, no more “lovingly hand-crafted” than your Samsung microwave is lovingly hand-crafted. Here, check out Bark & Jack’s video on Tudor’s watchmaking…
And, recently, @Max mentioned in one of his videos that he was somewhat scandalized to learn that when you send in your Tudor for service, they just pull the movement right out, and stick in a brand new one, rather than painstakingly disassembling them, identifying the 1 out of 234 components that isn’t operating perfectly, and then painstakingly reassembling, etc., etc. Check it out at the 5:30 mark…
And, well, rip and replace is precisely what Seiko did! They just took out the broken 6R31 movement, and stuck in a brand new one, and then immediately handed my King Seiko over to UPS! And I love them for it!
The hand-crafted artisanship of our luxury watches is all one big marketing / branding exercise. Check out @TheHoroSexual’s awesome post about this!
The luxury brands need us to delude ourselves into thinking that there’s some wizened, white-haired master watchmaker toiling over every little detail of our luxury watches, in order to play up the romance, the history, the heritage, etc., etc. None of that’s true, but here’s the funny part: In order to better perpetuate this lie, when it comes to servicing, these brands actually do have service centers where they pay people to disassemble watches and painstakingly service the movements!!! That’s why it took 3 months for Breitling to fix my broken Premier B01 and AVI 1953! If they were to simply replace the broken movement with a brand new one, and I got my Breitlings back within the span of 2-and-a-half weeks, I might become suspicious. No, no, this is what they're all screaming…
No, it’s better to pay Swiss workers crazy Swiss salaries, to do a meaningless job taking apart mass-produced movements and reassembling them by hand, rather than doing the cost-effective and much more efficient thing of simply placing in new movements. Customers would get their watches back in 2 weeks, instead of 3 months, but this would let slip to the buying public that we’re really just paying for brand (romance, history, heritage, ambassadors, etc.) when we buy these luxury watches.
[And, we are paying A LOT of money for that Swiss labor in those service centers!]
I’ve heard that the manufacturing cost of any given luxury watch is on the order of 1/20th of the MSRP, and I believe it. How else can a Chinese manufacturer sell a super rep, indistinguishable in every way from the $10k genuine article, for $400 and still clear a healthy profit?
“But, surely, these movements must cost a lot of money to build!” one might say. Yes, the fixed costs of R&D, the fixed costs associated with raising a factory on expensive Swiss soil, the fixed costs associated with installing all the specialized machines, tooling, and robots in the Swiss factory, etc., etc., are all incredibly high. However, once all that fixed cost has been spent, the VARIABLE COST associated with materials and manufacturing any Rolex, Omega, Cartier, etc., etc., is minuscule in comparison. If Rolex, or Omega, or Cartier were to ever sell one of their movements to you or me, they would charge an arm and a leg for the movement itself, but only because they’re amortizing all their fixed costs into the price. But, on a variable basis, maybe a $7,050 Cartier Santos costs like $300 to make? Heck, that’s why I was able to buy these 3 for $600 total, shipping included!!!
The fixed costs that Chinese manufacturers pay are much lower than the fixed costs of the Swiss - lower land prices, lower cost to raise factories, lower tooling and equipment costs, etc., etc., so even when they incorporate fixed cost amortization, Specht & Sohne can still make profit selling a watch nearly identical to the Santos for $200.
No, the key difference is that the Chinese manufacturers don’t sponsor Formula One, nor do they have Ashton Kutcher as their ambassador, like Rolex does…
What we’re really paying for in our luxury watches is brand affinity - the Swiss luxury brands spend an ABSOLUTELY ENORMOUS amount of money on marketing. And that’s a good thing, actually! Even though I know that my affinity for a given brand is entirely bought and paid for by marketing dollars, I still LOVE certain brands! But brand and value of branding is a subject for another 8,000 word post at a future date.
Do you prefer waiting for 3 months or 2 weeks to get your watch back from servicing?
Suffice it to say, any one of these mass luxury brands could immediately adopt the “stick a brand new movement in it, instead of fiddling with disassembly / reassembly” protocol, as Seiko has. And instead of taking 3 months for you to get your watch repaired and back on wrist, you’d only have to wait about 2 weeks.
But, here’s my question for you: Would you want them to? Be honest here. Would you want to get your Rolex / Omega / Cartier / IWC / GS / etc. watch back in 2 weeks, knowing full well that all they did was stick in a new movement that was sitting on a shelf in inventory that some machine built almost entirely without any human intervention? Or would you rather wait 3 months, but continue to bask in the illusion of some artisan painstakingly, lovingly, hand-crafting your luxury watch?