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November 04, 2002

March of Time

Went to the mall yesterday, on a mission. Jean needed to pick up pre-filters for the air filters we use around the house, but more importantly, I wanted to find out if any store still carried wind-up watches, as Jean wanted one. I needed her along so she could explain exactly what she wanted, and pick styles.

I'd done an earlier search on the web, and found mostly Rollex and other high-end brands which are way over our price range. So I decided that I might have better luck if I could actually talk to a human being. Turns out, the web search was representative. None of the mall jewelry stores carry winding watches. The one specialty store, Watch World, had an 'automatic' watch, what I used to call 'self-winding', but they wanted $350 for it. Ouch. The guy also tried to sell us on solar-powered watches as somehow equivalent to wind-up watches. Huh?

So we went to buy the filters at Sears, and I saw the watch repair shop inside the store. I went over and asked the repair woman about wind-up watches.

"We don't have any," she said.

"Do you know where we can get one?" I asked.

"How much you want to spend?"

Jean pitched in with what seemed like a generous ceiling price. "Under $200."

"No." Just a flat-out denial of the possibility.

"So we'd need to spend more than $200 to get a wind-up watch nowadays?" I asked.

"A lot more. Try a pawn shop."

So there's a pawn shop near where NOVA usually holds it's meetings, and next weekend is a meeting. Guess I'm going to a pawn shop. And looking for a watch repair shop near home which can fix broken old wind-up watches, since that's what started all this.

I'm guessing that it's pretty cheap to make a reasonably accurate watch using chips, crystals and batteries, especially given economies of scale. The vast majority of people are satisfied with these battery-powered, electronic watches, and in fact find them somewhat more reliable and maintainance free than old-fashioned mechanical watches. As a result, sometime over the last couple of decades, the market shifted away from the old springs-and-cogs versions, so much so that they became specialty items. No economy of scale, limited market for an item requiring skilled engineering to produce reasonable accuracy. This all translates into those high price tags we were seeing. I'm hoping that doesn't mean repairing Jean's old Mickey Mouse watch will be expensive...

Posted by dpwakefield at November 4, 2002 11:53 AM