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The Beginner's Guide to Buying a Watch

November 23, 2012

Introduction

As the name suggests, this is a “Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Watch.” We designed this guide to help those readers that are new to watches, and need assistance in determining the basics of a watches, so as to make an informed decision when buying one.

Quartz vs. Mechanical

One of the first things to consider when buying a quality timepiece is if you want a “quartz” or a “mechanical” watch.

Quartz watches are generally inexpensive, easy to maintain and highly accurate (typical accuracy is 15+/- seconds per month). They run on battery power, a long-life lithium battery lasts approximately 3-years. In some cases the battery is rechargeable, in which case sunlight “solar-powered” (like a Citizen Eco-Drive) recharges it; or wrist movement “rotor-powered” (hybrid like a Seiko Kinetic) recharges it (not to be confused with a rotor that winds the mainspring on a mechanical timepiece).

Mechanical watches are generally more expensive than quartz, and although they are not as accurate, most modern timepieces are very accurate (the best watches, some of which are officially certified chronometers, are accurate to 5+/- seconds per day, or better). Power comes from a mainspring which is either wound by hand (the old fashioned way) or automatically wound (self-winding) by a rotor that oscillates as your wrist moves, which in turn winds the mainspring. Unlike quartz, the power that is reserved is typically only enough for a few days, so if left unattended, the watch will need to reset and wound (this is why there are automatic watch winders). Good automatic mechanical timepieces allow you to also manually wind the timepiece (although some cheaper models do not, so be aware of this). Maintenance is more expensive on a mechanical timepieces than quartz, but it is not too bad considering the time between maintenance is very long.

Purists might argue that mechanical wristwatches are the only true watches. The first wristwatches were, of course, mechanical. And there is definitely a certain something about owning and wearing a mechanical timepiece. But everyone has to start somewhere, and many people who enjoy mechanical timepieces also own a quartz as well. The worst thing you can do is say “my cell phone gives me the time I don’t need a watch” and not wear a watch at all.

Case and Caseback

When selecting a watch, the case is very important. You should consider factors such as: material, shape and size.

The majority of watches are round, so you definitely cannot go wrong with that. Rectangle, square and tonneau shaped watches are the other main watch shapes.

The diameter of a watch case is a a very important because everyone’s wrists are different, therefore it is highly recommended that you try on any watch before you buy it. Old vintage watches have much smaller diameters than many of the timepieces being made nowadays. Not only does the diameter of the watch affect the overall look, it also affects the comfort. If you buy a watch that is too big, it could dig into your wrists and be very uncomfortable to wear. The thickness of a watch is important as well. Too thick can be uncomfortable, so once again, try it before you buy.

Material is another important factor when buying a timepiece. Stainless steel, ceramic, titanium, gold and platinum are the most prevalent case materials. Stainless steel is the most common, and maybe the best all around metal for watchmaking in regards to quality, price and value. Titanium and ceramic are very light, with ceramic having the added advantage of being very scratch resistant. Titanium and steel are not highly scratch resistant, but with a coating of PVD or DLC (generally black or grey), both titanium and steel can become very resistant to scratching. Gold (which mostly consists of white, yellow, pink) and platinum provide the most flashiness, but they are also the most expensive case materials, not to mention gold and platinum are extremely heavy.

The case back of a quartz timepiece is going to always be solid, there is not point in being able to see the mechanicals of a quartz movement. Mechanical watches, on the other hand are typically beautiful and therefore many watches have open or clear case backs. Some brands will use a mineral crystal in the back, as opposed to sapphire crystal, to reduce cost. But most timepieces with an clear case back will use a sapphire. For diver watches, professional instrument watches sports watches, the caseback is typically solid (steel, titanium are most common) to ensure water-resistance and robustness.

Watch Crystal

Plexiglass (acrylic), mineral crystal and sapphire crystal are the three most common types of glass on timepieces. Plastic is common in vintage watches, as well as low priced timepieces. Mineral crystals are found mostly on entry level timepieces. Sapphire crystals are the most premium type of crystal, as they are very clear and virtually scratchproof (however be careful as there hardness makes them extremely brittle which means they can shatter).

Unless you are buying a watch for under $500, or a vintage timepiece, then you should always look for a sapphire glass. Also, it is best to have one or two coatings of anti-reflective treatment (inside and outside). Some companies forgoe anti-glare treatment, or do a poor job. When you look at a timepiece with and without a glareproofing treatment on a sunny day, you will quickly realize the importance of an anti-reflective coating.

Functions or Complications

A basic three hand timepeice displays hours, minutes and seconds (some timepieces may even come with just the hours and minutes, or in rare cases just the hours). Some popular functions include: dual time zone, world timer, chronograph, alarm, power reserve and date. Some advanced functions (also called complications) inlcude: tourbillon, split-second chronograph, flyback chronograph, perpetual calendar and minute-repeater.

Strap or Bracelet

There are many great choices when it comes to straps or bracelets. Calfskin leather straps, alligator straps, suede leather, vintage leather, rubber, textile, metal bracelets and Nato. It is nice to own a few different straps or a strap and bracelet, so you can switch them out for different outfits or occasions.

Conclusion

Price, brand, heritage, resale, discounts, reliability and durability are other important factors to consider. If you read this website and other watch publications, as well as shopping around, you will find many of the answers to what brands have the best heritage, reliability, etc.

Many watch brands now sell directly online, and buying online is safer than it has ever been, however, be careful in who you deal with. We highly recommend only purchasing from “Authorized Dealers” or directly from the manufacturer.


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