Buying Watches have always been a bit of a mystery to some of us. With all of the different variations and options, it’s easy to find yourself lost in the details. Modern watchmaking has evolved at an incredible rate with many new brands coming to the fore, and many of the more established watch brands adding new collections almost every year.
In this comprehensive watch buying guide, we’ll look at all of the important factors that govern choosing the right watch for you and your lifestyle.
There are a few major categories that watches can fall into. From sporty to dressy and everything in between.
- Dressy Watches: Watches, despite how you view them, play a part in our wardrobe. As such, it is important to have a few different types of watches to accent your different looks. Dressy watches are characterized by clean lines, a thin watch case, and usually a dial has no additional bells and whistles. I say usually because there are some complications that are still dressy, especially astronomical complications like a moon phase or a calendar. Dressy watches often feature case materials like gold or stainless steel or ceramic.
- Sporty Watches: These watches look robust in terms of their case size, and carry rubber straps or metal bracelets, which lend to the sporty aesthetic. Sport watches are usually cased in stainless steel, and titanium because of the strength of those metals. Sporty watches usually have a chronograph, and feature algorithmic scales like tachymeters.
- Dive Watches: As the name suggests, dive watches are watches that can handle extended underwater exposure. Dive watches have a minimum of 200 meters of water resistance, but some go up to even 3000 meters. A common and important feature is a unidirectional bezel. These bezels rotate counterclockwise and can be used as an auxiliary timer as a backup in case your dive computer stops working. Dive watches are usually fitted with metal or rubber straps instead of leather, because of the effect that moisture has on leather. Lastly, a good dive watch features a screw locked crown as opposed to push/pull crown, which stops the ingress of water into the movement.
- Aviation Watches: Aviation watches, sometimes referred to as aviator watches, are distinguished by large flat cases. Leather, nylon, or metal are usually fitted as the band or bracelet. The large dial displays are necessary for easy readability of the data on the watch. On many of these watches, the chronograph features a bi-compax layout, which means as opposed to three smaller subdials, there are only two larger ones. Aviator watches also feature a slide rule, which is a algorithmic scale used for making any rule of three calculation. The circular slide rule was adapted by Breitling for their legendary aviation themed watch – the Navitimer.
Analog Vs. Digital Watches
Analog display was first used to measure time with the sundial. Of course, since then we have come a long way. Digital watches aren’t a synonym for watches with an LED display, as there are mechanical watches that have a digital readout. For this purpose though, we will be looking at analog watches against watches with an LED display as this constitutes 99% of digital watches.
Analog watches are still more popular than digital watches, but digital watches have the potential for many more functions at a fraction of the cost than analog watches.
Watchmakers use a myriad of metals and materials to encase the movements. Each material used has its own set of unique properties.
- Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is by far the most popular choice for watchmakers in the creation of timepieces. This metal s used mainly because of its hypoallergenic properties, and the low price point to the consumer. Stainless steel is highly malleable and can be made into different colors like gold tone or black using PVD or ion plating techniques.
- Polycarbonate or Resin: These are essentially high-density plastics. The benefits are that this is cost-effective, and the watch is very durable. Many brands on the lower spectrum of price points use resin for the watch case, notably Casio in their most noteworthy line – the G-Shock.
- Titanium: Titanium has been used in watchmaking for around 80 years now, when Citizen first launched a watch using this revolutionary metal. Titanium weighs a lot less than steel, an is just as strong. Titanium is characterized by its matte grey color.
- Ceramic: Many watch brands use ceramic as either the material for the case or for specific parts like the bezel as found especially in some of the higher end brands like Rolex or TAG Heuer. Ceramic is one of hardest materials in the industry and extremely resistant to scratches. Even the sapphire crystal used as the dial cover is an example of a ceramic.
- Gold: Gold is a precious metal, and as such a gold watch does not come cheap. However, there are many different grades of gold. These grades are measured in karats, not to be confused with carats which is used to as a measurement of weight for gems. These grades are 18kt, 14kt, 10kt, or even 9kt. Pure gold is not used in watchmaking as it is too soft for this purpose. Gold normally comes in yellow, rose, or white variations.
- Platinum: Platinum per ounce is the most precious metal. In fact, on the periodic table, the platinum line of metals like palladium or ruthenium are highly sought after for use in watchmaking and jewelry. The downside is that these metals are exceptionally rare, thus the high cost of these watches.
There is no specific guide to watch sizes as I’ve seen both men and women cover the spectrum of case sizes. It pretty much boils down to individual tastes. There are, however, fashion trends and for the last decade at least, watches have been getting bigger and bigger. Now it seems that watches are getting smaller again. Some watch brands don’t always designate a watch to be a gent’s or lady’s, but prefer to offer sizes like large, small, or medium. Below is a downloadable chart that gives some actual sizes in mm of the more popular case sizes out there.
Undoubtedly, the most popular case shape is round, followed not so closely by rectangular. However, there are a few more shapes out there that warrant a mention.
The movements governing timekeeping in watches are broken into two distinct categories – Mechanical, and Quartz. From here, each category is further broken into different movement types. The main difference between these two category types is that in quartz watches, there is a battery; and in mechanical there is none. Mechanical watches encompass manually wound watches and self-winding or automatic watches. Quartz watches include quartz movements, solar powered, and even hybrid movements like the kinetic quartz from Seiko. We’ll briefly look at how each of these movements work.
- Manual Wound Movements: Manually wound movements are the first type of movements that were created for wristwatches. These movements are powered when you turn the crown clockwise for about 20 revolutions. Manually wound watches need to be wound every day to maintain the energy necessary to power the watch.
- Self-winding or Automatic Movements: Self-winding watches have been around since the mid-twentieth century. This type of movement uses the movement of your wrist to power the watch. It does this through a rotor in the movement that spins whenever your wrist moves and thus winds the watch.
- Quartz Movements: These are the most accurate movements in the industry. When a current is passed through a quartz crystal, it oscillates at a very constant frequency. Quartz watches made it on the market in the early 70s.
- Solar Powered Quartz Movements: These movements work the same way as a conventional quartz movement, but the main difference is that the watch gets its energy from light. The batteries used are all rechargeable, which negates the need to get battery changes.
- Hybrid Movements: Hybrid movements use batteries and quartz crystals, but also have oscillating rotors, which provides renewable energy to the battery. Hybrid movements aren’t very common, but were made popular by Seiko and their Kinetic Quartz collection.
Watches have been known for many years as not just timekeepers, but also instruments that carry many features. Strictly speaking any other feature apart from the time on a watch is called a complication. So even the date that’s found on many watches is a complication, and the watch is termed a complicated watch. We’ll look at some of the more popular complications and how they work.
- Calendars: There are a few different types of calendars that modern watches are equipped with. Below are the most popular from the basic to Haute Horlogerie. From left to right: Date window,
- Chronographs: A chronograph is essentially a stopwatch that works independently from the watch’s main timekeeping functions. There are also a few variations that we will illustrate below.
- Dual Time Zones: Also known as Travel Complications. These, essentially, offer multiple time zones on one watch. There are a few unique ways that these can be displayed.
Water resistance is very important in choosing a watch. The water resistance rating essentially lets you know what you can and can’t do with the watch. There are a few designations of water resistance, which all have set equivalencies amongst each other. The ratings include Bars, Atmospheres (ATM), Meters, and Feet.
1 Bar = 1 ATM = 10 Meters = 33 Feet
Though some watch manufacturers recommend a water resistance of 50 meters for activities like taking a shower, we at My Gift Stop, recommend a water resistance rating of at least 100 meters for this. Below is a chart that will explain the different levels of water resistance and what activities you can engage in with your new watch.
Chronograph Vs. Chronometer
Though the etymology of the words is similar, chronographs and chronometers are different. A chronograph is a complication that can measure elapsed time independent of the watch’s main timekeeping functions, whereas, a chronometer is a very precise timepiece that has gone through rigorous testing by the COSC – a testing bureau in Switzerland.