Light the torches! Pitchforks at the ready! MARCH!
Yes, I know. It’s blasphemous to even raise such a topic but I personally feel that this is something I need to get off my chest. Look, I am aware that one of the absolute basics of what makes a great mechanical watch is accuracy. However, it irks me when individuals out there prop the COSC certification on a pedestal and view watches without it as inferior. This stinks of elitist behaviour and will certainly turn new blood away from this otherwise fascinating hobby.
I am both sickened and infuriated whenever I come across stories of a collector getting shot down for brandishing his/her watch that doesn’t cost as much as a Perodua Axia and/or having a COSC certification. Unless it’s a counterfeit, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason for you to rip apart someone else’s watch. Don’t like it? Move the f–k on. Also – and I know I’m in a very lonely corner on this one but – the same goes for fashion brands. Who cares if it’s a Fossil or Calvin Klein or Michael Kors? Everyone starts somewhere.
Okay, we get you but what exactly is COSC again?
I’m glad you asked. In a nutshell, the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) is a Swiss non-profit institute that is responsible for certifying the accuracy of Swiss-made timepieces. In its current guise, COSC was founded in 1973. Interestingly, COSC not only tests and certifies mechanical watches but also pocket watches, fixed time devices (desk clocks, etc.) and quartz watches. The latter should come as a surprise as non-watch enthusiasts tend to think that quartz watches are 100% accurate.
Firstly, what are the criteria a watch must possess in order for it to be COSC-certified? In the case of a mechanical watch, testing has to adhere to ISO 3159 standards. Said watch is subjected to tests lasting for 15 days, in 5 different positions and at 3 different temperature points (8°, 23° and 38°C).
The 7 criteria it has to clear are the average daily rate (-4/+6 seconds), mean variation in rates (2 seconds) and greatest variation in rates (5 seconds). Next, you have difference between rates in horizontal and vertical positions (-6/+8 seconds) and largest variation in rate (10 seconds). Finally, there are variation in rate depending on temperature (-/+ 0.6 seconds per degree Celsius in temperature change) and rate resumption (-/+ 5 seconds).
At the end, watches that hit all marks are officially designated the ‘chronometer’ label. As a result, prices of said timepieces go up by 250%. Only kidding. There are COSC-certified watches that don’t break the bank.
So that’s what COSC certification stands for…
Yes, pretty much. Now, I’m being honest here when I say that those are impressive stats for a mechanical watch to have. At the very least, it’ll pad up the brochure and give you ammo when comparing watches with your mates.
With that said, get back down to Earth, face reality and answer me this honestly. Do you really need a watch with those specifications? Really? If you do, then I’d like to buy you coffee and find out what you do for a living because I sure as heck know it’ll be something out of the ordinary. For the good majority of us, a watch that deviates by mere seconds isn’t going to ruin our day, right?
Oh, your watch is running 4 minutes slower after a few months of use? Big deal! Malaysians run slower by a whole half hour after a week of working. Seriously, why pay such a big deal to insane (and I mean that in the best possible way) levels of accuracy when most Malaysians are on GMT+/-/÷9 to whichever timezone they are in!
So why bother with COSC-certified watches, then?
I’ll tell you why. Bragging rights, or colloquially known as ‘having/wanting face’. See, having a COSC-certified watch is like owning a BMW S1000RR or a Ferrari 488 Pista. Unless you’re using it regularly on track, we all know the real reason you bought one. It’s nice to know the performance is there but 99% of the time, you can’t even fully appreciate or put it to good use. Also, I have to clearly state that this is not a stab at the good folks at COSC.
The Germans have their own version of this and so do the Japanese. In some cases, the margin for excellence is even narrower compared to COSC standards. Look, mechanical accuracy is fine but it should not be the final word in what makes a watch good. Heck, certain movements can even be regulated to within COSC specifications if need be.
In conclusion, is the notion of COSC-certified watches appealing? Heck yeah! Is the pursuit of accuracy a fundamental task for watch manufacturers? Most definitely! Is it a deal-breaker if my grail watch is somehow not COSC-certified? No, absolutely not.