A watch is a watch is a watch right? Wrong. There are differences between a watch and a timepiece. You may have heard the term “timepiece” thrown around in a snobby fashion by someone who wanted to come off as elite. However, there are legitimate reasons to use timepiece instead of the term watch. If you use the word watch when talking about high-end luxury time keeping pieces, you may come off as amateurish to enthusiasts who take the industry seriously. So what are the differences between watches and timepieces? There are a few…
Watches typically have a battery that keeps it running. These batteries are quartz and are what make them tick-tock at a slower rate than a movement. You’ll see the hands of the watch move in second-by-second strokes instead of a smooth sweeping motion.
Timepieces have either mechanical wind movements or automatic wind movements. Some pieces have both. These movements are composed of many wheels, springs, gears, and tiny pieces that keep the timepiece running impeccably even under some of the harshest and most extreme conditions.
There are watches that use movements as well. What separates them from the other timepieces is that the movement is typically outsourced and made by a mass producer. Some examples are ETA movements and Japanese movements. These are better than the battery but not as prestigious as a COSC certified movement.
Timepieces are chronometers. A chronometer is an instrument for measuring time, especially accurate time in spite of motion or variations in temperature, humidity, and air pressure. Many luxury brands have their chronometers certified by one of the official time keeping boards to prove just how well they keep time. One of the main boards is the COSC (Controle Officiel Suisse de Chronometres). To pass the test and meet COSC standards a timepiece must keep within -1 to +5 seconds per day at different positions and in different environments.
Watches do not get tested and do not need to meet any level of chronometer standards.
Quality of Craftsmanship
Watches are made with cheaper materials than timepieces. Watches will typically use plastic, painted details, and lower grade steel in the case and throughout the design.
Timepieces will typically have high-quality expensive materials like gold, high-grade steel, platinum, diamond, carbon fiber, and rubies.
Not only are the materials used in timepieces higher quality, the attention to detail in the craftsmanship is much higher. If you look at the detail in a Seiko or a MVMT watch for example vs. a Panerai, it’s like night and day.
Complications & Functionality
A complication is a specific function that a timepiece has beyond keeping time. For example, a chronograph, a moon-phase, calendar, date window, and a tourbillon are all types of complications. You will see a wide array of complications in different timepieces. These complications add to the value and use of the piece itself.
Watches do not have more than the basic functions. You will never see at tourbillon or a chronograph on a watch. At the most, you may see a date and a day window. Watches typically will only have the sole ability to keep time without any other information displayed.
There are two different types of appreciation you get from a timepiece that you don’t get from a watch.
One of which is enjoyment. Can you enjoy a good watch? Of course. But if you’ve never owned or worn a timepiece, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s like the difference between driving a Ford Focus and a Lamborghini Gallardo.
The second type of appreciation is financial. Timepieces hold their value well and in some cases even appreciate over time. Watches never do. In fact they are pretty much a financial loss as soon as you purchase them.