Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's a Parnis?

I’ve always had a thing for a Jump-hour display type watch ever since I laid my eyes on this beauty:

Image courtesy of the internet

Obviously the price was prohibitively expensive, meaning that it could be a while before I’d be able to get one on my wrist. But I was able to quench my thirst for a Jump-hour watch recently with this one…

I won’t go too deep into the whole Jump-hour display, as there will be other more comprehensive posts on this type of watch later on, but I would like to comment on the watch with this strange sounding name for a brand, Parnis.

This is my third Parnis watch. I also think that this latest acquisition is possibly of an earlier generation of Parnis watches, as the other 2 that I have are of a much better build quality. Parnis, from what I can gather on the interwebs, seem to be one of many Chinese-made watches to emerge that is not a blatant copy of an existing watch design. Yes, the design is still a copy. Inspired, if you will, by a certain much more expensive brand, but at least they’re trying. With their own branding and having a go at some sort of a design, it's a good start.

This watch in particular, is inspired by the Breitling for Bentley Flying B Jump Hour. You can see similarities in its case design and the dial layout (in terms of an upside-down figure of 8 to show the minutes and seconds) But this is where the similarity ends. Obviously the case, the dial work, etc, are a lot more detailed and quality is top notch in the Breitling, but you would expect it for something with 5 digits in its price. 

Breitling for Bentley Flying B Jump Hour - Image courtesy of the internet

The Parnis on the other hand- one will never mistake it for something more expensive. I really wish they would’ve come up with a more posh-sounding name than Parnis. I’m sure almost any term in French would suffice. Le Pierre, for example…The digital hour display window is a tad on the small side, and the jump occurs at 1 minute past the hour, meaning you should probably wait till 3-4 minute past before you can confidently pronounce the hour as well. However I’m sure this is an easy fix and judging from various comments on the watch forums, it apparently sorts itself out after a wearing-in period.

One can opt to change its looks or even improve on the perceived value of the watch by swapping on a nicer alligator strap, or even a steel bracelet. Although how you feel about the strap/ bracelet costing more than the watch itself is another story altogether… yes, you read right. By fitting a half-way decent strap, the strap would’ve cost you more than the watch itself. That gives you an idea of the sort of price point that these Chinese watches can be had, and it’s definitely not good news to certain Swiss brands, and to a certain extent, some Japanese brands.

The entry level Swiss watches mostly trade on their watchmaking history, and the Japanese trade on their quality. But how much longer are people willing to pay a premium for a name? There might be a romantic notion of knowing that someone somewhere up in the Swiss mountains lovingly put together the watch that ticks on your wrist. But what if that person is somewhere in the mountains in China? Or in a little house by the river? Or a whole bunch of them in a factory? It’s really not that different if you put your rational cap on. I think this is a controversial topic that is worthy of more in depth discussion later on down the track. (There are actually a number of other aspects that I haven't touched on - hence the need for a more in depth discussion)

Getting back to the topic, here is a good quality stainless steel watch, with an automatic movement, jump-hour display, for less than the price of a good quality leather strap, (And mind you, the strap it comes on isn’t something to be sneezed at either) and all the ‘prestige’ that comes with a mechanical watch, these are interesting times for the watch industry indeed…

The low low price of these Chinese mechanical watches also bring with it another issue- the issue of the price you’d be willing to pay to service such a watch… Do you pay 2-3 times the price of the watch for a service, or do you simply throw it out like a Swatch and buy a new one?



Unknown said...

Great post! I've a great respect for the cheaper chinese end of the market, and love the democratisation of complicated watches. It's disappointing to hear the quality on this parnis is not so good, as it's quite attractive. The service issue is a hard one too and in this case I'd be inclined to just get a new one. I can only really see myself getting vintage pieces that are "worth" less than the service, serviced.

Unknown said...

Great post! I always find it interesting to read about other people's view of the cheaper, Chinese alternatives. Personally I am still not convinced that there is going to be any sort of dramatic market shift any time soon (i.e. from Switzerland to China) despite the improving quality of their products. The perceived level of craftmanship and status associated with Swiss Made watches, especially in Europe, Asia and the Middle East is simply too strong.

Certainly many of these high end brands use components manufactured in places like China and then assemble them in Switzerland but their marketing teams make sure you never know it :) And that's the other thing to consider, Asian countries like South Korea for example are starting to get really good at making cars but they're still selling plenty of BMWs, Mercedes and Audi's.

After all, quality and craftmanship can only account for so much. Realistically, if we put our rational caps on no one would pay more than $50 for a watch that tells the time! :P

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post. It raises some important issues in the watch world. I don't think that Chinese watches will "replace" Swiss ones, but the consumer needs to be educated about what is out there and as Felix said, the democratisation of complicated watches.

Servicing - tricky. I'd probably just get a new one.

As for the strap costing more than the watch; I'm okay with that :)