Rolex vs. Timex? I’m sure that seems like a loaded question. But many watch buyers don’t get it. Leaving quartz watches aside, they don’t have a clue about the key differences between a “simple” inexpensive mechanical watch and a really expensive mechanical watch. Why the latter costs 100 times the former. They both tell the time, right? In fact . . .
Most people don’t care. For the majority of watch buyers, the Rolex vs. Timex choice is a question of style. How they want to be perceived. There isn’t a watch made that tells people you’ve “made it” more than a Rolex. There isn’t a watch made that says “I’m frugal” more than a Timex. Most watch buyers check their checkbook, pick their poison and that’s the end of it.
There is, of course, a huge difference in quality between a Rolex and a Timex. It’s about a lot of tiny things that have an enormous compound effect. For the sake of argument and education, let’s go small and check out their movements. Specifically, the engines powering the $200 Timex Marlin and the $8100 Rolex Submariner (with date).
Like all Timex before it, the Marlin reissue is powered by a simple, cheaply made movement. Timex’s product page describes it only as “automatic” (i.e., self-winding). It’s a Japanese made Miyota 8215 – a robust macchina that lives up to Timex’s old motto “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
That said, the Miyota 8125 on display behind the Marlin’s exhibition caseback isn’t particularly attractive; none of the parts have any sort of decoration. Nor is the movement particularly accurate; timekeeping varies between -20 and＋40 seconds per day.
Thanks to the movement’s design, the second hand suffers from “Miyota stutter” – it pauses and leaps, rather than sweeps. The 8215 also lacks “hacking seconds”; when you pull out the crown to set the time, the second hand continues, making to-the-second time setting near impossible.
The 8215 movement is easy to service, but people wearing a $200 watch may balk at the cost. If all you want is three-handed mechanical watch that’s easy to read, keeps the time (more or less) and looks retro-cool, none of these “issues” are significant. If you want more . . . anything from your movement, Rolex is ready to take your money.
The current Rolex Submariner (with date) is powered by the Geneva watchmaker’s new-for-2017 3235 caliber movement. Even a brief glance reveals that there’s a huge gap between the quality of the Japanese powerplant and Rolex’s engine.
All the 3235’s gears are carefully made and finished. All the plates are perfectly cast, angled. All the surfaces have different finishes, sometimes two finishes on the same piece (check the rotor).
These differences aren’t just a matter of decoration. The different parts of the movement are made in different metals to optimize performance, such as imperviousness to heat, cold, humidity and magnetism.
I could write an entire article on the engineering that makes this Rolex movement superior to Timex’s, in terms of precision (+2 to -2 seconds per day accuracy), power reserve (70 hours vs. 40), resistance to shocks and magnetic fields, longevity and more. Specially developed lubricants? Check. Hacking seconds? Check? Miyota stutter? Negatory!
When it comes to Rolex vs. Timex, the two watches’ movements do the same thing (tell the time) in roughly the same way (rotor-powered automatic movements). By the same token, a Fiat Tipo and a Mercedes S Class are both piston-powered automobiles. The devil – and the money – is in the details.
If you closely examine every aspect of both watches – cases and finishings, strap/bracelet, glass, dial, hands, indices – you end up looking at two objects of very different quality . That’s true no matter which Rolex and Timex you dare to compare.
Is Rolex quality worth a $7900 premium over the Timex?
Trick question! You’re paying for a lot more than just mechanical quality. You’re paying for Rolex’s research and development, executives, brand ambassadors, sponsored horse shows and God knows what else. Oh yes. Rolex’s profit.
The end result of this “shootout” is something I keep on repeating: a watch isn’t just a timekeeping device. It’s an object that shows the kind of person you are. For some, it also shows your appreciation for craftsmanship and engineering.
Whether you pay $200 or $8100 for a watch, you get what you pay for. Look closely and you’ll see it. Or not. Truth be told, a really good watch gives you more of what you can’t see. If you see what I mean.