The title of this article is not a direct comparison of the two watches named because they are incomparable in almost every way. The only place in which they co-exist is in my mind as I continue to ponder the practical benefits of the Apple Watch against the craftsmanship of watches like the Fears Brunswick Salmon.
It has been two months since I started wearing an Apple Watch again. I have owned and worn every Apple Watch since the series zero because I needed to do so to write freelance articles for a variety of publications, but on every occasion it would be dispensed to my shelf of unfavoured novelty products until it was needed for a new article.
This annual routine has become quite annoying if I am honest, but two months ago this changed. I blame Covid-19 for this because my life has changed so much this year that the notion of wearing a luxury watch on my wrist feels at odds with what is happening around me.
I am working from home every day, I have put on weight during lockdown and I am in need of distractions and motivations to make me move and get fitter. And then it hit me, I needed something to help me gain some control over my life. In a world of uncertainty where we cannot know what 2021 will bring, where many of us are pondering a bleak Winter working indoors the majority of the time and where jobs are not secure (mine certainly isn’t) simply being able to control an aspect of my life feels like a big deal. Those three activity rings have become my main personal daily achievement and as such it feels like I have some control over what is happening to me. For the avoidance of doubt, I do consider myself very lucky compared to many at this time.
Why not wear a fitness tracker you say? Maybe, but I have been there and the novelty disperses quickly. I have used them all over the past few years (Fitbit, Garmin and the like) and the soulless nature of the products makes them feel as if they are there to offer statistics and to do little else. They literally are trackers and whilst they offers benefits, they also bring with them an emotional flatline which makes them mere ‘products’ that you happen to wear.
A well-made mechanical watch, such as the Fears Brunswick Salmon, is the polar opposite of a fitness tracker in terms of emotion and I will come on to that in a little while.
In between we have the Apple Watch, a product that some say is not even a watch. That some refer to as a mini-computer with no soul while ironically praising a Casio G-Shock, which is also a collection of silicone. To me an Apple Watch is no less soulless than most digital or quartz watches that have dominated the wider watch market over the past few decades. It just happens to be a lot cleverer even if it remains soulless.
I should note that there are many quartz watches that do have soul of course and these are the ones where great care and time has been spent on the design, the materials and in the overall construction of the pieces.
The Apple Watch series 6
There is no doubt that the series 6 Apple Watch is an iterative update from the series 5 which was iterative from the series 4. This has led to criticism from many people, but I don’t quite understand why this is the case. Too many people appear to believe that they should upgrade their Apple Watch every 12 months and they then criticise Apple for not adding scores of new features. They still upgrade their Apple Watch, but moan about it while doing so…
This leads me to worry a little about the disposable nature of such devices from a conservation point of view and the planned obsolescence built in, but that topic is for another time. It is simply too big to cover in this article.
I picked up the aluminium GPS series 6 for some freelance work that I have been asked to do and must admit to being less than excited when I bought it. It is basically my stainless steel series 4 Apple Watch without the stainless steel or the cellular functionality. It looked and felt like the same watch to me minus the power brick which has been removed to help save the climate. Yes, that’s right, Apple has removed the power brick to help the environment which requires you to purchase one if you do not already own an Apple Watch. Sadly they forgot to lower the price to take account of the missing power brick and in my experience using USB or a standard iPhone brick takes much longer to charge the watch, so the environmental benefits appear to be limited at best. If I was a cynical man I would believe that it is an exercise in increasing the margin on a product that is proving to be more popular every year, but I would never write such a thing.
And then the classic Apple moment occurred. I charged it, paired it to my iPhone (alongside my other Apple Watch) and went about my daily business. Over a couple of days I noticed that it felt different to my series 4 and it was slightly jarring whenever I put the series 4 back on.
The screen is definitely brighter than on previous models which was obvious to me from the first use. Performance now feels like using my iPhone 11 Pro; never a stall, not a moment of hesitation and it flies through every task no matter how much I am pushing it. When I am running with the fitness app tracking my heart rate, pace and a myriad of other numbers it never fails. GPS is on as well and music or a podcast are also playing. On this tiny watch it does what it needs to do and it does it so well. GPS is more accurate with fewer inaccuracies around sharp corners and the heart rate sensor is now much quicker to accurately monitor when the heart rate jumps up through exercise.
I quite like the Blood Oxygen sensor because it is yet another comfort blanket on a device that can undertake an ECG, check your heart rate throughout the day, monitor V02 Max and even detect if you fall and call the emergency services. There are countless stories of people receiving urgent medical care because of alerts given to them by this product and as time goes by you have to wonder at what point it becomes a necessity in the minds of the general public. It reminds me of when I saw a blanket that could detect if a baby stops breathing or moving just before my son, Thomas, was born. My immediate thought was that if something happened and I hadn’t spent the £100 I would never forgive myself. The £100 was quickly spent.
The oxygen results appear to be quite accurate (within 1% of my standard finger Pulse Ox monitor) and this is quite impressive because monitoring oxygen through the wrist is not easy at all. If you place your finger correctly on the underside of the watch you can actually take a blood oxygen measurement this way, but it is much more convenient to just open the app and let it do its stuff as intended. I should also add that background monitoring is done throughout the day which is a killer feature in the age of Covid.
Besides the oxygen testing and extra speed there is not much here above and beyond the series 5. You get 32GB of internal storage, as in the series 5, a speedier overall experience and crucially for some much improved cellular performance. When I go for a run with my series 4 the music or podcast I am playing will pause while the connection moves from my home Wi-Fi to the cellular Apple Watch. By all accounts this does not happen any more and it is now super smooth in use.
If you have a series 5 model you probably do not need to upgrade and likely the same applies to the series 4. Actually, don’t take my advice- if you are happy with your Apple Watch just use it as you want to.
I work with someone who has worn a series zero Apple Watch from when it was released and she doesn’t want to change it. The battery still gets her through the day and she has become somewhat attached to it after five years of daily use. It’s obviously not the same as treasuring a beloved mechanical timepiece, but just maybe the Apple Watch is not quite as temporary as many believe.
To conclude, the series 6 Apple Watch is a phenomenal product which offers a huge number of fitness benefits, much convenience and at times a sense that it is a real watch. To me it is a watch purely because it sits on my wrist and it tells the time, but the nods to traditional watchmaking that Apple employs are very obvious to someone like me who truly appreciates the finer aspects of watchmaking. I suspect there are people within Apple who really do understand watches and who are keeping the product just on the right side of not being garish. It looks like a smartwatch, it feels like a smartwatch and for those who understand, there are some flourishes that watch people will enjoy greatly.
I simply cannot criticise the new Apple Watch because it offers a lot for the money, when compared to many comparatively priced quartz watches and other smartwatches, and it is becoming more refined every year. The elephant in the room, however, remains the battery life and the need to charge it every day. If Apple could seriously cut down the charging time, to say 30 minutes, that could be more beneficial than giving us three or four days between charges.
Now, if only I could shake my love for mechanical watches and all of the goodness that comes with them I could live with only the Apple Watch.
The Fears Brunswick Salmon
I watched a video the other day in which Nicholas, the Managing Direct of Fears Watches, demonstrated his new collection to Adrian from Bark & Jack.
At one point, at approximately 51 minutes, the new Salmon Brunswick was shown and I immediately stopped what I was doing. It hit me straight away purely because of the dial and how it looked in a particular segment, and this fascination grew as it changed colour slightly depending on the angle it was viewed from.
If you do not have a fascination with watches this must sound ridiculous, but to understand watches is to enjoy the tiny details that come together to make a watch that merits the asking price. Higher-end watches command prices that 98% of people cannot fathom because to them these are watches that tell the time and look a little nicer than other watches. It’s akin to paying £3,000 for a washing machine and hard to justify to the wider world, but in reality it is no different than so many other hobbies such as high-end audio equipment and cameras. The further you dive into a subject the more likely you are to pay for the best you can afford.
Over the past few months I have found myself losing some of the fascination with mechanical watches as my general movements and experiences have lessened due to the Covid situation. I mentioned earlier that I needed something to get my fitness back and to gain some semblance of control in my life, for which the Apple Watch does a good job, but alongside this I found myself not enjoying wearing a watch I truly liked so much sat at a desk in my house all day.
It could be that I have a subconscious ‘showing off’ motive going on and that I am trying to signal something to others, but I tend to wear watches that offer glimpses rather than overt statements of luxury or design values. Statements that only I notice and small touches that enable me to enjoy the watch all day, every day. It has to have something, however, to catch me in the first instance and the Brunswick Salmon dial did just that.
You will need to watch the video above to understand how the dial was made and why it reacts to the environment it is in, but needless to say the attention to detail and thought process behind its creation is impressive to say the least.
And then the story of the hour markers was told (just look at the depth and the styling) and I found myself falling deeper into the process behind this watch, which then led me to check the other design elements. From the cushion case, which is only 11.25mm to the top of the domed crystal, to the hands which almost cost the same as the movement to the lugs and onion crown, there is an extreme level of consistency throughout. It all fits together in a way that never comes off as trying too hard and, crucially, with a sense of uniqueness in today’s world of faux vintage dive watches that offer little above trying to be one of the crowd.
The manual winding ETA 7001 movement will be a source of criticism for some in the watch world who believe that in-house movements are the way to go. They believe this because the more influential watch brands make them believe that this is correct, but the reality is that an in-house movement will do little more than greatly increase the servicing costs due to the lower number of watchmakers who can work on it. When you consider that paying £1,000’s for a watch is done to potentially wear it for more than a decade you have to consider the ongoing costs and aside from very specialist movements, I see little evidence that even lower grade movements cannot be maintained and remain accurate for many years ahead. The 7001 movement feels right to me at this price point (just) and in a strange way it leads me to focus more on the materials and design that make the Brunswick Salmon so special.
So, here I am trying to live with just an Apple Watch, I cannot double wrist two watches, and have been doing so relatively successfully. Nicholas then pops up with the Brunswick Salmon and I find myself falling back into the mechanical watch trap. Thanks a lot Nicholas!
I should be annoyed with him, but it is hard to be when you know the backstory. Joanne and I mentioned him in episode 14 of the McGST Podcast in which we discussed nature vs nurture. I am fascinated by the fact that the Fears Watch Company was in his family historically and that he was unaware of this. Yet he still saved up for an expensive watch at a young age and ended up working for Rolex. How can something as specific as watchmaking be in the blood? Is it merely coincidence because we have inherited personality traits that lead us in specific directions, and Nicholas just happened to land on watches? I really don’t know, but he was unaware of his Fears heritage previously so the story remains fascinating.
Even more fascinating is the way in which Nicholas started up Fears again and the efforts he has put in to making it a success. From working at Asda during lockdown to ensure his staff got paid to paying every single invoice on time to overseeing every last detail of each and every watch, it is hard to not be impressed by what is behind the product he is creating. The man is impressive, of that there is no doubt, and his commitment to the brand is astonishing. It appears that he has researched every single detail of the history of the brand and then somehow managed to create new watches which retain this history while feeling modern in every way. What he has done in a short space of time makes my head spin.
In a world where the Omega Speedmaster is viewed as legendary because it went to the moon, where the Rolex Submariner is seen as ‘the watch’ simply because, well, it just is and where so much of the product on your wrist is high-level marketing, it is refreshing to see a brand doing the right thing and producing watches at reasonable prices, and without all of the fluff that surrounds so much of the industry.
Over the past two years I have gained some experience of the wider watch industry, through the Snowflakes & Shields website, and I didn’t like a lot of what I saw. At times it feels like the mafia is directing the watch media (you be nice and we will send you review products) and that it all exists in a parallel universe. Now and again brands appear that bring it all back to where it should be, there are a few to be fair, and Fears is the perfect British example of how to do things right.
So which is best?
This is a ridiculous question of course because it is like comparing a computer with an abacus. The fact is that the Apple Watch series 6 is a brilliant product that rightly deserves its success and it is likely that it will go on to severely impact the budget watch industry. I have written before about how I believe that we will be left with only smartwatches and luxury timepieces in the near future and I stand by that.
The dilemma for me is that the Brunswick Salmon pulls at my emotions in a way the Apple Watch never could. The Apple Watch is a small computer, it has no soul and it is a mass produced product that is designed to be replaced in short order.
The Fears Brunswick Salmon is a mechanical object that is designed to last a lifetime, to grow with you and to become a part of who you are. That may sound over the top if you have little interest in watches, but imagine wearing the same watch on your wrist for two decades and then letting it go. A watch that can only work because you take the time to wind it every morning, all it needs is you and an occasional service. That is a special thing to behold.
I should also mention that the Brunswick is made in very limited numbers out of necessity whereas the Apple Watch is readily available to anyone, as can be seen by the clone wrist look we see all around us today. The Apple Watch may be brilliant, but it has destroyed any semblance of personality when it comes to what is on your wrist.
All of this leaves me with a dilemma and I think I have worked out the way forward. When life gets back to normal I will go back to a mechanical watch again as the one area of my life that does not need technology. It is a small part of my life in which I can enjoy considerate design, history and a simpler way of functioning.
Until that time I feel that I need the Apple Watch to keep me motivated and to give me something to aim for every day. Damn you Covid!
You can view the Fears Brunswick Salmon and the rest of the collection here.