A Watch Buying Guide: How To Buy A Watch

In the world of watches, there are watches, and there are watches. The former is a simple tool that accurately tells you the time, while the latter is a well-crafted timepiece that tells the outside world what kind of person you are and if you are someone who cares about craftsmanship and tradition.

Buying a new watch can be this enjoyable and exciting process of finding the perfect timepiece to accompany you on your day-to-day challenges. But buying a watch can also be a nerve-wracking and bewildering experience. Unlike choosing a new car, laptop, or headphones, choosing a watch is a lot more difficult. The specifications and functions shouldn’t be the only deciding factor when it comes to choosing a watch. Also, important to note, is that just because a watch costs you an arm and foot, it doesn’t automatically mean that this watch is superior to other, less expensive options. A secret tip from me, if you really want to impress avid watch collectors and experts, do your research. Usually, the quieter, more understated options show that you’ve done your research, which shows that you are on your way to becoming a proper watch collector.

It doesn’t matter if you are a watch enthusiast looking for your 18th piece in your collection or are someone that just wants that one stunning piece for everyday wearability. I’m here to help you. Together we break down the basics of buying a watch and go over some important aspects when trying to decide on a watch. And hopefully, at the end of this article, you will have clarity on what timepiece will take the next spot on your wrist.    

So, this are the most important things to consider when buying a new watch:

The Movement

To start it off, let’s take a look at the most important part of every watch. Also known as the calibre, the movement is the mechanism inside the watch, which keeps it accurate. To make it easier, you can compare it to an engine of a car. Just like the engine of a car, the movement of a watch keeps the gears and screws inside the watch in motion. And in the same way car enthusiasts care and talk about their big and loud engines, real watch enthusiasts also care about what’s keeping their watch alive. Of course, this is a very simple and banal comparison, but it shows why the movement of a watch is crucial when choosing a watch.

Now that you are aware of the importance of the watch movement, let’s look at what kind of movements will cross your way on your decision journey.

Image credits: Seiko

First up, the infamous Quartz movement. Highly accurate and mass-produced, these movements feature a piece of quartz and are powered by a battery. You should know that the whole topic around Quartz movements is highly controversial. For the origin of this controversy, we have to go back in time to the 1970s. This when the Quartz movement was introduced and when things got bad for the old guard of mechanical watchmaking. See, Quartz movements were cheaper to produce, cheaper to maintain, and even more accurate than your ordinary mechanical movement. This meant that watch manufacturers were now able to manufacture precise and more affordable watches in large quantities. This development in the 70s is what we know now as the Quartz Crisis. Today, the Quartz movement is still more widely available and easier to produce than your mechanical watches. That being said, in today’s world, as people start to appreciate the quality and heritage of a watch more and more, esteemed brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, or Patek Philippe are doing very well.

Image credits: Omega

On the other end of the spectrum are the mechanical movements. As mentioned above, watch enthusiasts consider these movements superior due to the heritage and the way they are produced. But what does mechanical even mean? A mechanical movement uses energy from the wound mainspring to power a watch, rather than a battery. This spring transfers energy through several springs and gears, powering the function of the watch hands and the different complications. Within the term mechanical movement, we usually differentiate between automatic and hand-wound. Remember the mainspring from above? Good. Basically, the only difference between an automatic and a hand-wound watch is the way this mainspring gets wound. Automatic watches do this with the help of kinetic energy. So, every time you move your wrist, the movement stays powered. It’s like a dynamo on your bicycle. On the other hand, can you guess what winds the mainspring in hand-wound watches? Exactly, hand-winding. This can be done with the help of the watch crown.

So now that you know the difference between the two kinds of movements, why is it you think that watch enthusiasts, collectors, and experts consider mechanical watches superior to quartz watches? A lot of it comes down to one phrase: “The least important thing a watch does is tell the time.” People like mechanical watches for the same reason they might prefer classic cars over the newest Hyundai. It’s not just what something does, but how it does it. And for many, that’s pretty important when spending a lot of money on something. But mechanical movement is not just something you know about your watch. You can actually see and feel it. Mechanical watches feature a sweeping motion and continuous vibration as the watch continues to power itself; quartz watches are more in line with your traditional wall clock, with a single tick along per second. One feels a lot more like craftsmanship.

Type Of Watch

After covering what’s ticking inside the watch, let’s look at what’s on the outside. Namely the style and design, which takes on an equally important role as that of the movement. When managing your day-to-day life, there will be different situations, which demand different types of watches. Be it wearing a suit in the office, at the beach in Spain, or casually sitting in your garden.

Usually, we differentiate between 5 types of watches. Sports/Dive watches, Dress watches, Field watches, Pilot watches, and Racing watches. Let’s take a look at each one of them and determine, for which type of watch you should be looking for.

Dive watches

Dive watches. For everyone ranging from the most passionate watch collector to the absolute watch newbie, dive watches are a very popular field of watches. Originally designed to be used deep underwater, diving watches usually have a very simple design, an overall rugged look, and a dominant bezel. This is what makes them so popular nowadays.

Dress watches

It’s time to suit up! Dress watches are meant to be worn with more formal attire like a suit, a tux, or just any other formal outfit that you have in mind. That being said, the requirement for formal attire in offices around the world slowly starts to get looser, making the original idea of a dress watch obsolete. But this doesn’t mean the end of the classy, understated, and moderate proportioned watch. With the dress code getting looser and looser, the dress watch can now be worn with everything you like. Combine the watch with just a pair of chinos and a casual white shirt, and almost every dress piece will look stunning on your wrist.

Field watches

The origins of the field watch date back many years, with the purpose for it being used in a combat situation where soldiers would have to coordinate attacks and be able to tell the time accurately in every situation. Field watches usually have a military-esque feeling to them, have a rugged look, and are super durable. When looking at different field watches like the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical or the Rolex Explorer, you will notice the size of the watches being more on the conservative side, usually ranging from 36mm to 39mm. This differentiates them from the dive and sports category.

Pilot watches

This may come as a surprise to you, but one of the first purpose-specific wristwatches was actually classified as a pilot’s watch. The watch was the Cartier Santos, which will sound familiar to most watch enthusiasts. The Santos was built for a pilot named Alberto Santos Dumont in 1911 and kicked off the era of pilot’s watches, which to this day are still very relevant, due to their perfect balance of mechanical aspects (multiple dials essential for dispensing large amounts of information to a pilot), classic touches and iconic designs that date back all the way to over 100 years ago.

Racing watches

Are you familiar with the Rolex Daytona that was worn by the famous Racing Driver and Actor Paul Newman which was sold at auction for more than 15 million USD? Thought so. And that should tell you everything you need to know about the connection between wristwatches and the racing culture. And this connection is still strong, even after over 90 years. Racing watches usually have a chronograph complication combined with a tachymeter scale on the bezel or on the outer dial ring, which enables the racing car driver to measure speed and distance.

Why Size Matters (A bit)

Image credits: Chopard

So, after you have chosen the right movement and the right type of watch, it’s now time to face the size question. And contrary to what everyone says, size does indeed matter to some extent. Of course, I’m talking about the watches, not the other thing…

Anyway, back to what I was trying to say. Just as there’s no typical wrist size, there’s no typical size of the watch. You will find that almost every wristwatch you will come across, will have a case diameter of between 34 and 44mm. If you’re someone like me, that has slimmer wrists, a 34-40mm case will work best. If you are on the other hand someone that has more rugged wrists, you can extend the range up to 44mm. Of course, you can wear whatever you want. If you like it, buy it. But please keep in mind that a 46mm watch will just look odd on your 16.5 cm (6.5inch) wrist. That’s just a fact. Also, when choosing a watch, look at the height of the case. When choosing a dive watch, this is not that relevant since you will most likely only wear it with casual clothing. But if you are planning on getting a dress watch that you can wear under your suit, keep in mind that the watch has to be thin enough to slide effortlessly under your shirt and suit.

Brands & Pricing

Image credits: Flughafen Zürich

Choosing a watch based on a certain brand is a two-sided sword. On one side, brands like Rolex, Omega, AP, and Patek Philippe offer a great history and therefore have a lot of heritage. Also, you can trust them to make great timepieces which you will probably be able to pass on to your son or grandson. You just know that you get a timepiece that was produced with the highest quality and care. But quality comes at a premium. Don’t expect to get a watch of that caliber for anything less than $4,000. At that amount, you can get into some of Omega’s most iconic watches like the Speedmaster or the Seamaster, while Rolex doesn’t even list a watch under $5,000. That being said, if you spend that amount on a Rolex for example, chances are that the watch will retain or even increase its value, while you wear it on your wrist.

On the contrary, there are also great watch brands out there, that offer a lot of quality for far less money. Take for example Seiko, Hamilton, Frederique Constant, or Nomos Glashutte. Each of them offering high-quality mechanical movements, nicely finished cases, and modest price tags. Just be aware that most of those watches will not have the same high-quality movements and they will probably not hold their value like watches from Rolex and co. So, if you are planning on buying a watch that holds or increases its value, save up and go for one of the more prestigious brands. If not, feel free to choose whatever you like. Just inform yourself what previous buyers have to say about the watch and brand.

Materials

Image credits: Rolex

When it comes to materials, there isn’t that much choice as with the brands and sizes. Usually at price points under $5,000 don’t expect to get your hands on anything else than stainless steel. When it comes to brands like Rolex and Omega, prices start at around $10,000 when wanting a watch that is made from precious metals like gold and platinum.

Let’s assume you don’t want to have a gold watch. What options besides stainless steel do you have? In my opinion, there three materials that are worth considering when wanting a watch that won’t cost you an arm and leg and won’t get you robbed the first evening you take it out. The first and more popular one is Titanium. This ultra-lightweight material is known for its durability, making it perfect for watches that are expected to take some beatings. A perfect example of a titanium watch would be the Tudor Pelagos or the new Omega Seamaster 300M 007 edition.

The second option would be silver or a metal mix that includes mostly silver. Silver has a unique look to it which reflects the light completely different than stainless steel would do. Not many watch manufacturers decide to use silver for their watch cases, due to the corrosion that occurs when silver has been exposed to oxygen for a longer time. But brands like Tudor mix the Silver with other metals, keeping the unique look of silver but shielding the case from corrosion. With their Black Bay 58 925, Tudor recently released their first-ever silver watch. The watch is a huge success and earned approval from almost every renowned expert around the globe.

Complications

Image credits: Patek Philippe

The last decision you will have to make is deciding if your watch has to have a special complication like for example a date field or a chronograph functionality. Me personally, I don’t care about complications. I very much appreciate the amount of work that goes into a complicated watch like a perpetual calendar from Patek Philippe. But this isn’t a deciding factor for me. On the contrary, I like very simplistic watches and even a misplaced date window ruins the aesthetic and makes the watch a lot less attractive for me. I appreciate the watch being just a watch. But that is highly individual and something you have to decide completely on your own. There is no right or wrong decision when it comes to complications. Just be aware that with the complications getting more and more complicated, the price will rise very fast. Just keep that in mind, when making your decision.

How To Choose Your Next Watch

Image credits: Zenith

So now that you’ve heard the most important aspects of choosing your next watch, how should you decide in the end? As demonstrated above, there are lots of variables coming to play when you are in the process of deciding on a new timepiece. To make it short and easy, just go for what your gut tells you. You’ve got your own tastes. You’ve got your own requirements. You know what you really like and want. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ve got your own, very individual budget. You don’t have to spend 10 grand on a watch, know that there are a lot of very good options out there that will serve you very well even on a tighter budget.

If you are looking into buying a Swiss watch on a budget, I would suggest you look into brands like Mido, Rado, Certina, Farer, or Nomos. And if you don’t care about the Swiss-made label, you can look beyond Europe to East Asia, where Seiko and Citizen have forged great pieces which start at around $200. The more money you are willing to spend, the more options you will have. Ranging from brands like Omega to Rolex to even Patek Philipp. There isn’t really a limit on how much you can spend on a wristwatch. Well, that isn’t entirely correct, there is indeed a limit. The most expensive wristwatch was sold for $15.5 Million at a Philipps auction. But to be honest with you, if you have that much money to spend, you probably shouldn’t invest it in a watch…

Are Expensive Watches Worth Buying?

Image credits: Patek Philippe

Sure, you are not planning to spend $15.5 Million on a watch, but even a price of $4,000 is a lot of money for most people. So now you may ask yourself, is it even worth spending that much money on a watch? And in my opinion, yes. I think a wristwatch is one of the most valuable things that someone can buy. I mean just imagine this. With the proper service, luxury watches will last your lifetime and probably even the lifetime of your son or grandson. I mean the thought of a few springs and gears to be able to achieve this is mind-blowing to me. So yes, I think spending a big amount of money on a wristwatch is worth it. Also, something to consider, is that depending on the choice you make, the watch will hold or even increase its value, making buying a watch even a great investment with more return than your bank will ever be able to give you.  

But I have to admit, that after all, I’m a big watch enthusiast and would be happy to spend a lot of money on a watch. This is probably not the case for someone that just wants to have a watch to tell the time. This argument goes back to the beginning of the article, where stated the following:

“A lot of it comes down to one phrase: “The least important thing a watch does is tell the time.” People like mechanical watches for the same reason they might prefer classic cars over the newest Hyundai. It’s not just what something does, but how it does it.”

And I think this describes the reason why someone would spend a lot of money on a watch perfectly. It’s not just being able to look down at your wrist and tell the time. For me personally, it’s much bigger than that.

And I think I will leave it with that. This buying guide gave you all the necessary information when it comes to buying a watch. Now it’s your turn to choose one. And if you need more help, we even have a free tool that we made especially for you, that will help you find your dream watch. Head over there and check it out.

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