Our Coronavirus Watch series monitors the Chinese market for luxury Swiss watches. It ignores the obvious fact that the People’s Republic of China also makes watches, tens of millions of them. In the main, the PRC’s timepieces are profoundly non-luxurious, produced in horrific conditions by exploited workers. They’re for sale on Amazon (the watches, not the workers) for one red cent.
At the time of writing, there were 186 watches listed for sale at $0.01 on Amazon under Men’s Wrist Watches.
These watches may be a little different from timepieces you know and love. They’re probably cheaper. The price is lower too. There are a few “quirks” the wary penny watch shopper should consider before looking for change in the back of the sofa.
Complications Are Often Illusions
Don’t let the thumbnail images fool you. Your penny (plus shipping and handling) buys you a quartz three-hander or a watch with a digital module. And that’s it.
Nine times out of ten, the sub-dials, pushers, date displays, power reserve are horological trompe-l’œil. They’re appearance only. For example, the Migeer above may not be a perpetual calendar, but its “hands” will point at Sunday the 9th in perpetuity.
The chronograph hands on the Modiya above look flat for a reason. As with the Migeer, they’re painted on. That’s if you’re lucky. Glued-on faux hands fall off more easily. User reviews, when they exist, mention this. The pushers are dummies too.
The manufacturer knows that almost nobody uses chronometers or tacky-metres. They’re for show. So really the PRC’s penny watch designers are giving the customer what they want for the lowest possible price.
It’s a pretty safe sham if the customer is in on it. Outside of those “Watches and Wine” meetups, who sees a watch up close enough to know? Below is the watch that inspired this article, what the Chinese call “hollow” watches.
Want the look of a skeletonized mechanical watch? Does it matter if the “gears” are merely embossed on the perforated dial, or that the hexagonal quartz movement can be see through said dial? Of course not!
Dubious Water Resistance Claims
Over a year ago, TTAW highlighted a case of confusing online water resistance claims. That watch had little swimming guy icons on the band. Today, the specifics of ISO 22810:2010 continue to be either misunderstood or misrepresented.
Wrong. Do not shower in a watch with 30m water resistance. If water resistance is truly a concern, this is the wrong price bracket anyway.
Reviews Barely Exist
The horological press seems strangely reluctant to review Amazon penny watches, while remaining entirely enthusiastic about linking to higher priced watches that earn them Amazon affiliate payola.
As for penny watch user reviews on Mr. Bezos’ marketplace, don’t expect G-SHOCK– level feedback (hundreds of user reviews per model, complete with photos, lengthy life stories and comparisons to alternatives.)
The review section for Amazon penny watches is a virtual ghost town. The most rated example had 72 ratings, and it drops quickly from there.
For the most part, no reviews exist. Sometimes a buyer entered a star rating but didn’t type anything. For the rare instance of a written evaluation, I’ve yet to see one beyond Twitter post length.
This lack of feedback is related to short product cycles. Penny watches are not proven products of iconic reputation by established brands. Fly-by-night startups don’t keep cranking out the same product for long.
To be charitable, the manufacturers are always improving and upgrading their designs, staying trendy. Less charitably, this is a cash grab. Sellers close down before the word of mouth builds.
Don’t expect next day delivery. Maybe next month. Maybe the ship will come in the month after that.
Six to eight weeks expected delivery is typical. Expected. I wouldn’t bet that it will arrive for Aunt Bertha’s birthday in two months. Granted, it could come much earlier. But not this week.
Don’t be surprised to learn that shipping costs for returning an incorrect or defective item are prohibitive. That’s part of the game.
I was going to apologize for focusing this article exclusively on men’s watches. The Amazon penny watch listings make this unnecessary. They defy categorization. All claim to be suitable for men, women, children of all ages. Even if it’s a 55mm diameter case.
The impenetrable word salad descriptions exist only to check off as many search terms as possible. For example, the Men’s Wrist Watches Analog Watches Quartz Watches Casual Fashion Luxury Business Watch with Leather Band B083 gives a nod toward human consumption before appealing to the bots.
Men, women, boys, bridesmaids, this is the watch for you! Have fun counting the inapplicable items in the list.
Another recurring trope: they’re great gifts! Things made to be gifts have always had the stigma of being things you wouldn’t buy for yourself.
Engrish Still Exists
The original Engrish – badly translated Japanese to English product information – was before my time. Online translation has kept it alive, only now it comes from China. Just the listing for this “Minimalist” watch lets us know the following.
- Nordic classic fashion design men’s slim watch, clear lines draw the outline of a unique texture.
- The surface texture is matched with the alloy scale for a more noble temperament.
- The same luxury experience is different
Got that? This is supposedly a minimalist watch. The seller confesses in the “Here Are The Things You Want To Knowa─=≡Σ(((つ̀ώ)つ” section.
Since our store is a store from China, the translation of all product content is translated from the computer.
So if there is a bad translation, I hope to get your understanding.
Another peculiarity is recurrent talk of how the watch looks “on your hand.” Not wrist, hand.
Cheap Watches Have Cheap Bands
PU Leather is not a reference to the smell (although that is a reported problem at times). It means polyurethane. Synthetic, fake. It only makes sense that the cheapest watches have the worst bands.
Endemic to online watch reviews, at least at the throwaway price point, are reports of premature band failure.
Sellers Know Where They Stand
The brand of Letdown Watch brand starts at $0.99, thus it doesn’t qualify. I wonder if this is unfortunate phoneticization or perfect candor. Same with Paymenow Watches. Many are not coy about using the word “cheap” in their listings either.
- Identical watches frequently appear from other sellers bearing different names
- Some are even pronounceable
- Listings often contain contradictory information.
- You get what you pay . However, quality control is so hit or miss that you may win the gamble.
A Penny for your Thoughts
Many Amazon penny watches, despite quality concerns, look really fun. Risks can be taken when you’re not worried about returns, brand reputation, working conditions or environmental impact.
While some of these generic designs are as boring as a HoDinkee article on the Breguet overcoil, many penny watches look surprisingly fresh and interesting. I may soon pull the trigger on an Amazon penny watch. Watch this space.