You're ready to drop a chunk of money on buying a watch.
Maybe it's your first real ‘status symbol' watch. Maybe it's just your first real watch. Either way… you DON'T want to waste your money.
You want to look sharp. You want to look like you know watches. But DO you?
Buying a watch can be a confusing minefield.
I'll be your guide through it. Let's find your perfect watch.
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1. Question When Buying A Watch: Why Do You Want One?
As with any major purchase, you'll need to decide what you want out of your watch. Obviously you want something that looks good, but is that your main concern?
You may be looking for practical features like durability and accuracy, especially if you're going to be using it for diving, racing sports, or other activities where a cheap watch won't work.
Maybe your biggest concern is your investment – not all watches hold value the same way over time.
Once you know your priorities, you'll be able to narrow the field in a logical way when you start shopping.
2. Analog Or Digital Watch?
‘Analog' means the old-fashioned kind of watch with the hands and the ticking. This is still considered the most stylish option, and if you want something you can wear to smart as well as casual occasions, you definitely don't want digital.
However, some watches offer the best of both worlds with both analog and digital displays. Some of these look sharp enough to be worn with a suit.
3. Type Of Strap: Metal, Leather, Or Rubber
Leather watch straps are like leather belts – the slim, sleek, plain kind are as formal as you can get, but anything on the chunky matte side is casual.
Leather is hot in summer and will be damaged by sweat, so if you go with a leather strap you'll want to switch it out for a nylon or mesh strap in summer.
Straps made from metal links are known as ‘bracelets'.
A watch with a metal bracelet is a versatile masculine look that works with anything short of the most formal business attire. It's also suitable for wearing year-round. For good quality, look for a bracelet with screwed links.
Finally, rubber (also known as resin) watch straps are a casual look, but can be dressed up with a suit if the watch looks sharp enough. A resin strap doesn't mean a watch is poor quality, just that it's designed for tough functionality – it's not jewelry.
4: Mechanical, Automatic, Or Quartz?
Mechanical watches are the oldest type of watch, with a movement powered by springs and cogs. They have to be wound by hand almost on a daily basis. Some men find this a nuisance, others enjoy the ritual.
Automatic watches are similar, but you don't have to wind them yourself – when you wear them, they rely on the motion of your wrist to wind themselves automatically. They may require a watch winder when not in use.
Quartz watches are powered by batteries, which have to be replaced every 12 to 36 months. These are the most accurate and often cheaper.
5: What Features Do You Want?
A good alarm is extremely useful if you want to keep your phone out of the bedroom for a good night's sleep.
A stopwatch is also an easier option than your phone for timing workouts, and comes as standard with a chronograph watch. Consider the length of time the stopwatch will run for – a good one will go up to 24 hours.
A countdown timer is useful for work and appointments. Again, you're looking for one that goes up to 24 hours.
Do you travel a lot or have colleagues abroad? Look for a watch that can display different time zones simultaneously.
Do you want awesome ‘spy' gadgets like a compass, thermometer, or pressure gauge?
For a digital watch, do you want it to sync with your computer or phone? You should be able to update it with the latest software so it doesn’t go out of date.
6. What Can You Afford?
Familiarize yourself with the economics of watch buying before you set your heart on a particular type of watch. Decide how much you're willing to spend, and then just google “watches under [upper limit dollar amount].” Many brands have choices ranging from hundreds to thousands in terms of price.
If you're new to the watch world or at the lower end of the pricing pool, you might be tempted by fake versions of prestigious watch styles – but don't take the bait. Fakes may look just like a luxury watch, but they won't run like one.
A cheaper watch from a trustworthy brand will serve you a lot better – and save you the embarrassment of having it clocked as a fake.
If you want to buy a watch specifically as an investment, there are other things to consider. How do watches in your price range hold value? Do you know if the brands you're looking at have investment-grade models, or limited production watches that will become more valuable in the future?
If you specifically want to pass the watch down as an heirloom, you'll want to make sure it's not only a secure financial holding but a timeless accessory as well. Face it: it just won't be the same if your son never wants to wear it because it looks dated, so make sure it never will.
7. Water Resistance
Water resistance is not what you think. No watch can honestly be labeled ‘waterproof' because it's too hard to guarantee. And 100m water resistance does NOT mean you can wear it 100m underwater with no problems.
Water resistance is tested by a pressure test in a laboratory that's comparable to static water pressure, coupled with immersing in 10 cm of water for one hour. In real life, watches often come in contact with water pressure that is anything but static – e.g. diving, waves in the sea, or even a shower.
What The Numbers Mean
- No water resistance = don’t even get it wet
- 30m water resistance = splashproof – you can take a walk in the rain
- 50m water resistance = you can PUT it in water but don’t swim with it
- 100m water resistance = you can do a bit of swimming on the surface
- 200m water resistance = the closest you can get to waterproof without buying a luxury diving watch
If you're just boating and swimming normally and not actually scuba diving, a 200m watch will hold up just fine as long as you take good care of it and don't try to push the buttons underwater.
Don’t shower in your watch regardless of water resistance – the steam and soap will damage it over time.
Mud resistance is not the same as water resistance. Small mud particles can get in around the buttons on a normal watch. Mud-resistant buttons use cylinder type guard structure with gaskets for shafts and cylinders.
8. Signs Of Quality
Seal Of Geneva
This seal is a certification of quality and origin. Of 30 million watches produced in Switzerland each year, only a fraction – 24,000 – bear the prestigious Geneva Hallmark.
The seal is applied directly on the movements of specific watches that satisfy the stringent rules as applied by Swiss law. The movements must also have various technical and decoration requirements in addition to their place of origin.
Only a handful of watchmakers have movements with the Seal, and it is very hard to get. Just because a watch does not have the Seal does not make it bad, but those that do boast the Seal of Geneva are almost always impressive high luxury timepieces.
Chronometer Rating – Independently Tested
All analog watches tend to gain or lose a few seconds over a period of time. COSC is the official Swiss institute responsible for certification of wristwatch movements.
To earn chronometer certification, a movement must not only be made from the highest quality components, but also be the object of special care on the part of the finest watchmakers and timers during assembly.
Each uncased movement is individually tested for fifteen days, in five positions, at three different temperatures.
COSC testing generally applies to watches manufactured/assembled in Switzerland. Each officially certified COSC chronometer is identified by a serial number engraved on its movement and a certification number given by the COSC.
Can you see the watch in person? This matters because you want to try on watches before you buy, especially if you're looking to spend big. The right watch ‘sings' to you when you try it on – and it may not be the one you thought you'd like online.
Do you have a stomach for risk? If so, you might be interested in saving money by looking online for watches on the gray market (sold by individuals who are not licensed dealers). If you want to be sure your watch is genuine and will be properly serviced, it's better to buy direct from the manufacturer.
10. New Or Used?
Choosing between a used watch and a new watch is ultimately a personal decision. Yes, used watches are usually cheaper, and if you're a history buff you might actually enjoy owning a vintage watch more than a new one.
However, buying new is less risky – assuming the dealer is licensed, you know what you're getting with a new watch. And for most people, there's no beating the thrill of owning a brand new watch that is theirs and theirs alone.
If you're thinking of going for pre-owned, make sure you check these three factors first:
Watch Dealer’s Reputation – Check reviews and the dealer’s reputation online. It’s better to buy a used watch from a great dealer than buy a new one from an dishonest one.
Condition Of The Watch – In order to justify buying a pre-owned watch, the condition should be close to perfect. Buying a watch that belongs in the trash is a false economy – it won't last long or make you happy.
Watch Price – It should be significantly cheaper than buying the same model new – otherwise you might as well spend the few extra dollars and enjoy that ‘new watch' feeling.
Weight often signifies solid construction and is a sign of quality. Feel the weight of a case and bracelet to make sure it is substantial enough to justify your investment.
On the flipside, is it TOO heavy for daily use? Some oversized watches are very heavy.
12. Signed Crown, Buckle, Or Clasp
Prominent logos don’t necessarily mean quality. There are typically four places that you’ll watch to see the name of the watchmaker: on the face of the watch, the case back, the crown, and the deployant clasp or strap buckle. These are also known as “signed crowns or buckles/deployant clasps.”
Cheaper watches have bare crowns and deployants, which make it too clear that these parts are taken from a parts bin and have no personal touch.
The manner of “signing” can vary, but at lower price levels it's usually some type of light laser engraving. Higher priced watches have logos and graphics done in relief (raised, versus etched into the metal).
13. Good Dial Illumination
Not all watches are expected to have dials that illuminate in the dark for low light viewing – these are typically the more classic or formal watches.
Almost all sport and casual watches have some type of luminant that is applied on the hands as well as somewhere on the dial.
The quality of watch luminant varies greatly. Make sure you test your watch in the dark!
Some is so impractical that it shouldn't even be there – for example, if you need to shine a bright light directly to the face of the watch for a minute or so to get the dial to glow dimly for a few minutes.
When buying a watch, look for large surface areas of luminant that is applied richly (it looks raised up a bit).
Steel watches should be made from grade 316L stainless steel almost all the time. Plus, the watch case and bracelet links should be solid pieces of metal, rather than folded metal or anything hollow.
It's easy to tell if a bracelet is solid – inspect the side of it. Does it look like one solid piece?
In watches at this level, cases are best made from the fewest number of pieces and using the most metal possible. This means little to no plastic.
15. Designed By Actual Watchmakers
Consider that two types of people are designing watches: those that care about how well a watch functions as a timepiece, and those that just care about how they look. The best watches are designed using fundamental watch design principles that value function AND form.
The alternative are “fashion” watches that might look nice, but actually have superfluous or vestigial design cues. The worst-case scenario is a watch that is so poorly designed, it does not even function properly.
The last thing you want is your nice-looking watch to function like a movie prop.
Examples of this are missing chronograph subdials, erroneous markers on the dial, inoperable measuring scales just placed for show, and my all-time biggest pet peeve – hands that are too short or the wrong size.
16. Locking Deployment Clasp (Metal Bracelets Only)
Cheaper watches with metal bracelets still have what is called a single locking clasp. This is the type of bracelet that literally just snaps or clicks into place… that means it can snap or click right out again just when you don't want it to.
The best metal bracelets have what are known as “double or triple locking clasps.”
The piece on the left “locks” via clicking down when it attaches to the bottom segment. That is the first “lock.” The second is the little metal flap that “locks” again over the first piece to secure it being closed.
A triple lock often features a push-button in the mix, or there are also “double locking clasps” with a push button instead of a fold over flap.
The bottom line is that you want a watch bracelet that will stay secure on your wrist no matter what you are doing or if you accidentally hit the bracelet on something.
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