Purchasing your first watch can be a daunting task. The marketplace is abundant with choices: brands, movements, bands, complications, materials… the list goes on and on.
So far we’ve learned a lot about the individual components of a watch, but now we’re ready to examine what goes into buying a watch.
Naturally then, you want to make the right decision. The goal of this lesson then is to help you narrow down your options. We couldn’t hope to identify an exact watch for you, but following the steps below will help you substantially narrow the pool of potentials and arm you with the knowledge you need to make the right choice.
To begin with, you should recall that there are some major distinctions between watches — namely the movement. Here is a quick recap of the 3 types of watch movements:
Quartz movements. Watches with the Quartz movement cover the largest share of common watches. They are powered by a battery and usually having a ticking second hand. While usually considered disinteresting due to their simple anatomy, there are also a few noteworthy models, such as the Rolex Oysterquartz or the Grand Seiko 9F range.
Mechanical movements. This movement is by far the most popular choice amongst watch enthusiasts. Rather than running with electricity, the mechanical movements function with interior gears and cogs, exhibiting a much celebrated sweeping second hand. These again are split into two major categories; automatic and manual.
Automatic watches wind themselves purely by the movement of your wrist, and hence, they will keep running as long as wear them. Automatic watches are a great first choice for beginners who wish to collect fine timepieces.
Manual wind watches require that you wind them regularly, the frequency of which depends on the power reserve of the individual watch. A normal power reserve (meaning how long the watch can run when fully wound) is usually about 48 hours, and it is most often advised to wind them daily.
Watch complications are the mechanical features of a watch. For example, a watch bearing a second hand that can be stopped as in a stop watch is a complication known as a chronograph. There are many kinds of complications, but they fall into three general categories:
Timing complications are just that, complications designed to measure time above and beyond that of the minute and hour hands of the watch. Examples of timing complications include the various types of chronograph.
These types of complications measure astronomical related timing, such as simple or annual calendars, phases of the moon, all the way to complex complications such as a complication that calculates the date of Easter.
This class of complication deals with alarms and various repeaters.
Any watch that includes a complication from all three of the above categories is termed a grand complication. This can be something so simple as a modern standard chronograph design to extremely complicated watches that include over a thousand individual parts and can include upwards of 30 different complications.
Often grouped with time-related complications, the non-horological complications include barometers, compasses, thermometers, altimeters and a number of others. Some horologists include these in the count of complications for a watch, and others do not.
Watches are made from a wide range of different materials including stainless steel, gold, titanium, ceramics, plastic, and platinum. Gold, ceramic and platinum usually require extra care and are not as widely available, and plastic is often visually unattractive and lacking in durability.
Therefore, in your first watch you should probably look for a steel or titanium model. Titanium has the added benefit of being substantially lighter, though they do not have as high of a polish as you can find with steel models. Usually steel is your go to option, though if you look for something more special consider a titanium watch.
Finally there is one last major consideration when buying a watch — the band.
Watch bands fall into three general categories; metal, leather and synthetic.
Metal bands are most common on men’s watches and can range from high quality, well crafted ergonomic designs to simple spring loaded bands. While easily the most durable, the major disadvantage of metal bands are their weight. They add significantly to the overall weight of a watch, so those who dislike heavy watches are better off looking at other options.
Leather bands are for those that like a natural feel to their watch. Comfort and style are the main advantages of leather bands, they are soft and light and easy on the wrist and can be made in many styles including high end fashion. Disadvantages are many, ranging from not withstanding contact with water well to a general lack of durability.
Two rarer yet also fairly popular options are Nato and silicon straps, both of which are usually fairly inexpensive. Nato straps are good at securing your watch safely. They are waterproof and very cheap, as well as available in an abundance of colors. Silicon straps are a great option for dive watches, as they are highly waterproof. This however, can also make them somewhat uncomfortable and sweaty in warmer environments.
While day dreaming is a common thing in the world of horology, before you dive into the realm of possibilities, you should save yourself from sticker shock and ask yourself you what your budget is. You will hear a lot of people telling you that there is nothing worthwhile under $5,000, but do not let this frighten you as there are certainly very fine timepieces available in each price range. Value is the keyword here. A good, solid watch from the $500 range could be a far better value for you than a $100,000 watch. It’s all about how much ‘watch’ you get for your money, and what you’re looking for in such a piece.
It’s important to consider not only how much money you’re willing to part with, but also how comfortable you’d be wearing an expensive watch. A beautiful Rolex may be a great watch, but if you are too scared to wear it, you may find that is simply sits and collects dust in your drawer. Consider your environment, and remember that what matters is purely how you feel about your watch.
When you are looking to buy a watch, the simplest approach is to go to a jeweler. Most jewelers specialize in new watches, but some do sell used timepieces. Going to a jeweler has the benefit of guaranteeing you a flawless piece and a complete set. However, this comes at the cost of a hefty premium.
To avoid this cost, you could take a look through the used watch market, in the form of websites like Chrono24 or eBay. There are also high quality niche dealers who specialize in used watches; like Bobs Watches, who specializes in Rolex timepieces. Not only will you be able to save money, but the range of possible watches is much broader. However there are also some downsides. It’s important to conduct substantial due diligence, as the internet is rife with scams and things are not always what they seem.. It may also be possible that the watch you want may not be available instantly, so a little patience might be required.
If you are considering buying a used watch, here are some additional tips you might want to take into account. First of all, you should check if you are getting a complete set (one that includes the box and papers), a mixed set or just the watch on its own. Generally speaking a complete set is preferable, and will strengthen the resale value. However at the end of the day you can’t wear the box nor the papers, so if you are on a budget, you may as well buy the watch on its own.
Buying online is a bit tricky, mainly because a lot has to be taken into account, and if you come across any problems your salesperson may be on the other side of the world. You will not get the option to wear the watch first, and see how it looks on your wrist, which is something I would definitely recommend, as many watches may wear very different when compared to how they look.
If you’re going the eBay / internet route, we have found Hodinkee’s guide to be a very good and detailed starting point.
If you still feel fairly lost, don’t worry. It’s not easy to find the perfect timepiece. Many watch collectors toil over the tiniest details for months on end. There’s no rush — it’s a hobby afterall. Enjoy the hunt!
If you’re absolutely itching to get started, here are some watches which are commonly considered to give you your bang for your buck.