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A Work of Art

Entry 2028, on 2020-02-23 at 21:49:10 (Rating 1, Comments)

A while back I was browsing random stuff on the internet, and I found an article about the world's most complicated and extreme watch. Of course, I have an Apple Watch, which is arguably the best watch in the world in terms of functionality and utility, so I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of an "old world" analog "watch" (see later for a note on why I used the quotes there) and a modern smart-watch.

First, I have to say that I love precise and beautiful mechanical devices. There is something satisfying about using an object with a great feel of solidity and quality to it. Of course, while modern digital devices - even moderately expensive ones like Apple products - are very well made and of good quality, they don't really rank in the same category as these extreme mechanical creations.

So, first some basic details about the watch. It is an analog device, called the "Reference 57260", and was made by Swiss company Vacheron Constantin in 2015. It has 2,800 components and 57 complications (in this context the term means indicators or dials); it contains almost a kilogram of gold in the case; there was only one ever made, which took 3 master watchmakers 8 years to complete; and it sold for an estimated price of over $10 million!

So this isn't a watch you could actually use. Apart from the fact that you might feel nervous carrying something worth over $10 million, there is also the fact that it weighs a kilogram and measures 98 mm (4 inches) in diameter and over 50 mm (2 inches) in thickness. Obviously, this is a pocket watch, not one you would strap to your wrist. And, even then, you would need a pocket which is both capacious and strong to handle the size and weight!

But the most widely acclaimed part of this watch is its massive number of complications (57), so lets take a look at those, which I will simplify here a bit, to save space: there are several complications dedicated to time and date, including multiple time zones and a Hebrew (which might give a clue to the identity of the secret owner) calendar (those count as 21 functions); there are astronomical functions, including a sky chart, zodiac signs, and lunar phases (13 functions); there are various timers and alarms (15 functions); and there are other features and functions (a total of 8).

So the claim of 57 complications is highly exaggerated, and using the same classification I would estimate a standard old analog watch with only basic time-keeping functions has 10. Despite that, there is no doubt this thing is a work of art and a technical masterpiece, but let's compare it with an Apple Watch...

Well the first issue is that an Apple Watch is actually a wristwatch, designed to be used, rather than a pocket watch designed to be collected and admired. Also, the Apple Watch costs at least 20,000 times less than the Vacheron Constantin watch. It is also 20 times lighter and has 23 times less volume. But what about functionality? How many complications does the Apple Watch have?

It depends on how they are configured, but let's look at mine as a typical example. The Vacheron Constantin watch has two faces - front and back - and the Apple Watch can have as many as you need, but I will only count the first two I am using. By following a similar classification system I estimate about 80 complications on my watch, but this extends to a lot more if I count all the apps which take a couple of taps to open.

Here are some things that my "cheap" Apple Watch does that its expensive relation can't do: GPS, compass, altimeter, noise measurements, weather reporting, wind speed and direction, temperature, event notifications, text messages, email, phone calls, walky talky functions, voice recording, photo display, music and podcast playing, friend and device tracking, maps, fitness tracking, heart monitoring, fall detection, and automatic emergency phone calls. Note that several of these functions rely on information sourced from the internet.

I'm sure not all of those are useful to all people, but then a lot of the functions on the Vacheron Constantin watch would be in the same category. And it is even worse than that, because many of the functions which the two devices share, are vastly superior on the Apple Watch. For example, the astronomy star map app is actually useful, where that function on the Reference 57260 is very limited.

So what is my point? Well, its just that many of us get quite frustrated with our digital devices, especially with common software issues. But it is the flexibility of the software which makes those modern devices useful. Software gives an almost unlimited ability to create new features. On the Apple watch the star map is based on your location (determined by the GPS) and fills the 40 mm screen. The analog watch has a small rotating display which needs to be custom fitted for the current location. It is also very small and has no detail.

But this comparison is unfair really, because these are two completely different types of item. One is a work of art designed to be viewed with an appropriate sense of awe - to a large extent because of the price - and the other is designed to get things done, and while Apple do charge a premium and take beautiful design seriously, it's really just not the same.

Apple have created something which is beautiful because of its simplicity and elegance, while still providing great functionality. Vacheron Constantin have designed something which is just an awesome feat of mechanical engineering, without it being actually useful in any way.

So don't criticise modern tech. With an Apple Watch you get something which is light and small, has piles of useful features, and for the price of one Vacheron Constantin watch you could buy a new Apple watch every day for the rest of your life!


Comment 1 (5225) by Anonymous on 2020-03-17 at 10:38:58:

They both are grand works of art!


Comment 2 (5226) by OJB on 2020-03-17 at 10:40:36:

Yes, that was my point: they are both amazing creations; one is a useful, functional device, the other is more a work of art which is impractical but still beautiful.


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