Quality and Consumerism

People often talk about our “consumer based lives” as if it means anything. Everyone consumes. However not everyone is a “brand whore” or completely tied up into the “mythos” of certain brands. Anyone remember “The Sharper Image” from the 1980s and 90s? They were the coolest store in the mall. They went bankrupt in 2008 and got relaunched as an online store in 2010. However Rolex still seems to be doing just fine. This should illustrate that “price” doesn’t always equal “quality” and “quality” doesn’t always mean “good value.”

And that brings me to a point, the electronic crap you could buy from “The Sharper Image” really was disposable electronic crap, where Rolex has been very careful to not damage their brand equity and keeps putting out a quality product. An older sub-mariner with an ETA movement is still a Rolex, and because of that will get a lot more on the resale market than an equally good ETA based dive watch of the same quality. That’s ok, sometimes paying a premium for a certain brand makes sense (Leupold’s scopes are no better than Nightforce or US Optic, but their customer service is pretty rock solid).

So what is this “quality” thing? What makes a product “quality” and what makes a product “disposable”? And when should we choose “quality” and when should we choose “disposable”? The answers to that are every marketers dream, so I’ll just leave that as a question to ponder, and offer some of my opinions one what is a good “value” to me.

I feel like the Mauser rifle actions just feel like “quality” and will last generations (with barrel replacement of course). I don’t feel that way about ARs, but I do know that ARs will last a very long time just by replacing parts as they wear out, some Vietnam era M16A1s are still going strong in Israel (rebuilt into a newer standard of course), Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. My mind knows this, but it has also seen teeth broken off of an AR bolt, and bolts snapped in half at the cam pin area. The bolt on a Mauser is not a “wear” item, but so many parts on an AR just happen to be “wear” items. Conversely a Mosin Nagant will also last generations, but it feels “cheap” to me and not “quality” (maybe the bolt lift that requires a cheater bar is a bit to get over).

This also extends to watches. I have a very modest collection of mechanical watches, a sum total of two, a Gruen Swiss with an ETA 2824 movement, and a Fossil Skeleton watch with a movement most likely sourced from mainland China (keeps good time though for a non-hacking movement). I feel like these mechanical pieces will be able to get passed down (although if the Fossil breaks it would just be cheaper to buy another one unfortunately). I’m in a business where G-shocks die from severe use (seriously, I’ve killed at least three). I have a Seiko “Orange Monster” on the way, and look forward to using it based on the “built like a tank” reviews. My daily life is too rough for nice watches, so I’m hoping the Seiko lasts, as it will represent the most expensive watch I’ve ever purchased (seriously, unless you are buying something Rolex class, don’t spend more than a few hundred on a really good watch).

My razors also have a decidedly mechanical feel, I’m a fan of vintage Gillette super speed models and adjustables, but you can buy a new Merkur for a very reasonable sum (a new Merkur plus a year supply of blades will be money ahead over a new cartridge razor and blades for a year, and money FAR ahead every year after). I do need to send the 1969 adjustable slim out to be refinished, but that should be expected after four plus decades of use. I can’t say that I expect any Atra or Mach 3 to last even a single decade.

I can’t tell you exactly why a Macbook Pro feels more “quality” than an HP Elitebook, despite having the same processor and RAM specs, the HP will definitely be every bit as rugged. Despite both computers essentially being a 3 to 5 year lifespan before becoming obsolete and/or broken beyond repair one “feels” like quality and one feels like disposable. I won’t get into the OSX versus Windows argument, I’m fairly versatile in whatever OS I happen to find myself, so generally I just adopt what my employer is using unless there is a specific reason not to.

Sometimes people assume that a price point means quality, I can with full confidence tell you that is never the case. You can always buy a Fiat for the price of a Ferrarri, and anyone trying to sell you a Furrary for the price of a Fiat is trying to rip you off. Very few “swiss made” watches are worth the cost (most of them are warmed over ETA movements which retail between 125 and 700 dollars new, slapped in stainless steel cases that retail between 80 and 250 new). All the “new bestest shaving technology” is nothing but marketing hype. The reason why new firearms models are introduced is to sell more firearms and make money (seriously Glock could have stopped at the G17 and G19 and people would still be happy).

I guess I’m a guy who like tough watches from the lower end of the price point, quality hunting rifles, disposable ARs, and disposable pistols, and quality 22s. I think that is where I can get the most “value” for my dollar in terms of performance. Obviously these are all opinions, and as such are meaningless. But I hope that it was either food for thought, or at least entertaining.

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