Watches: A Case in Point

We talk a lot in our store about watch design, technology and calibers. In today’s world, everyone who loves a watch seems to care where it’s made, how it’s made, what powers the piece and more. One thing, however, that we don’t discuss as often is the watchcase, even though it is one of the most important design and functional elements of a watch.

After all, it is the case that determines the overall shape of the watch. It is the case that determines the look in terms of profile and appeal. It is the case — and the metal it is made of — that demonstrates our savvy high-tech or noble take on timepieces. And, it is the case that determines water resistance. In short, the case — whose job it is to protect the movement and sit nicely on the wrist — plays a very important role.

That said, not all cases are created equal. A watch case can be artful, thoughtful, simple and elegant. One case may be easier to machine and put together than another case. Cases can be milled from a single block of metal, or can have dozens of their own components.

A brief look at the history of the wristwatch case shows dramatic evolution. In the early years of the 20th century, when wristwatches first started making an appearance on the scene, most cases were round. By the first decade, round gave way to square and rectangular (witness the famed Cartier Tank). The Roaring Twenties yielded unusually shaped geometric cases and ergonomically curved cases. The 40s, 50s and 60s saw a blend of round, square, rectangular cases — all becoming more functional than elegant as we moved into the realm of dive watches, pilot watches and other sports-related timepieces. By the 1970s, the concept of creating a case had become a real work of art. Watch brands sculpted cases of gold and metal-smithing took a leading role. Many brands got incredibly flamboyant with shapes. Possibilities became limitless.

In addition to case shapes, heights and widths, material is key. Today, thanks to so many innovations in machining metal, and thanks to new high-tech materials, the concept of what the case is made of takes on new meaning. While the noble materials of platinum and gold are important, so, too, are stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, ceramic and other alloys.

Also playing a factor in the quality of a case is the attention paid to detail. For certain sports watches, starting a case from a single block of metal and keeping it as a single piece may render it more sturdy and rugged. However, top watch brands like to build complex cases with dozens of parts that demonstrate their abilities to produce a case worthy of the movement inside. Make no mistake, luxury multiple-part cases are no weaker than a solid block case. It all comes down to the gaskets, fittings and precision interplay of parts, screw-down case back and other small details.

Luxury watch brands also take the time to finish top-quality cases with stunning angels, bevels and lugs. In fact, all of these elements contribute to the identifiability of a case. True watch lovers can see a case (not a dial or movement) from across the room and know what brand it is. So the next time you are watch shopping — take time to inspect the entire package. Case made.