In 2005 I was looking for a watch after going without one for about six months. I thought, "I live in a major industrial nation, I'll buy local!" The only "made in Canada" timepieces I could find at the time were from St. Moritz. I was pleased to find an affordable model I liked. It was a set-and-forget quartz, I was expecting years of service.
Buying a fashion brand watch was a silly deviation from the inexpensive quality watches I'd had in the past, and would turn out to be a frustrating mistake. Whereas before I'd relied on machine-made from distant Asian automated factories, this "made in Canada" fashion piece would be a dud.
The problems began when I bought the nice-looking stitched leather strap. During its first summer that leather simply fell apart. I'd worn watches with leather straps for years and had never seen anything like it. Disappointed, I bought a second one—an expensive and slow process given that I was by then living in Tokyo. That second band also rotted away in the course of a year. My inquiries with the company had gone nowhere, they simply didn't respond. Instead of learning my lesson I foolishly ordered a metal bracelet from St. Moritz. While the more expensive bracelet finally managed to last two whole years, this longevity was more than the watch itself had in it.
Because during the hot Tokyo summer of 2010 the watch suddenly fogged up. I don't know if it was moisture or mold, and I don't care—it was supposed to be a water-resistant watch.
In November of that year I had a chance to take the thing into the Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto, to which I'd returned. Walking up to the sales counter I noted that they were still displaying the latest model of this same watch. I told the fellow, "Hi, I bought one of these watches."
"That's too bad," he said.
In the ensuing conversation, it turned out that everybody's leather straps had disintegrated, and that St. Moritz no longer sold that type of strap. Instead, they were selling a faux-leather that's suppose to last longer. He held one up for me and instructed me to smell it.
Chocolate?! Yes, they'd impregnated the fake leather with the smell of chocolate. Pass. The fellow at the counter told me to take the watch to the service counter for a trip back to the "manufacturer" (read "assembler").
At the service counter, I was told that many of the watches were turning up fogged. When I asked, "What about the dive rating," she said that she'd heard from the manufacturer that prolonged exposure to humidity was actually worse than outright immersion in water. Sounds nutty to me. But then not as nutty as chocolate-flavored watch straps. Some fogging is to be expected in a watch under certain circumstances—it goes away again as the moisture reverts to vapor. But this was persistent and clearly stemmed from a design flaw.
By January, I got the watch back. The fogging was gone. But now the watch was moving slowly. "Needs a new battery," I told myself, and took it to a shop in the neighborhood. A couple of days after the battery switch, the thing once again started getting progressively slow. I'd been warned that this might happen by the jeweler who sold me the battery. Whatever he'd seen had troubled him, but he'd warned that that would mean the thing needs to be disassembled and properly repaired.
In only five years I watched it become useless despite no strenuous use. I never once immersed it in water. Now thrice-bitten I was leery to spend more on a repair that could be required again in only a few years.
Update, 2017: I eventually threw the thing away in disgust and frustration. Some readers have left comments asking what I expected from a "fashion brand". I guess I'd been programmed to expect durability because the watch I wore prior to the St. Moritz was a Lorus that my parents bought me as a graduation gift in 1989. Costing a princely $85 at the time, that watch had survived fifteen years of daily wear.
In one of the pics above, I use a Pulsar with an almost identical design. I don't know why Seiko abuses their brands like that. But the point stands: don't buy a watch from a fashion brand.
Update, 2019: I now wear a Seiko day to day and have had no problems with it for five years and see no sign that it won't last for many years to come. It's the automatic SARB033 I mention in the link below, and it cost less all in than my ill-fated St. Moritz. Also five years old is the $50 Casio beater I wear on the weekends is also running without issue.
Several readers over the years have countered my story with better news of their own. I'm glad to hear it, as I still want to "buy local" when I can. But I eventually learned that this company doesn't even make the watches in Canada. They're only assembled in the country—which for all I know just means adding the chocolate-flavored straps. With inexpensive quality alternatives out there, I don't believe it makes sense to buy "fashion brands" that won't support their product. Looking back I'm amazed that they didn't replace the inexpensive quartz movement before sending it back to me despite everything I'd spent on the watch.
Seiko's SARB line of watches exist to give "aspirational" Grand Seiko owners something with which to pretend it's all right.
I bought a beater Casio that turned out to be a fine watch –with a few warts.
I was shocked to receive this fine watch from Casio's "metal twisted G-shock" line as a 50th birthday present.
Can a beater both be perfect and a disaster at once? Alba argues yes.