Watch Buyers Guide
Selecting a watch that you will use and enjoy for many years to come can be a fun and easy process with a little bit of knowledge.
|If you’re not sure what kind of watch to buy and what kind of functions it should have, consider the following.
Choosing Your Style
The watch that you select should be appropriate for the activities for which you intend to use it. If your primary purpose is athletic, you might consider watches that are shock-proof. If you will be using the watch for work and play, do you need water-resistance, and if so, to what degree? If you will be using the watch for swimming and diving, you might want to consider a watch that has a screw-down crown or a plastic strap.
You’ll also want to consider how much you want to spend on a timepiece. The $50 to $200 range brings durability as well as accuracy and stylistic flourishes. You’ll find some models sporting chronographs and other multifunction complications, as well as some with gold-plated stainless steel cases and bracelets. In the $200 to $500 range, style gets ramped up, often with more sophisticated movements, diamond accents, or solid gold cases and bracelets.
When shopping for a timepiece, whatever the price or style, the brand name can play an important part in determining the right watch for you. Brand choice can be very subjective and will vary from person to person. Ultimately, it comes down to how you perceive a brand and what it represents, as well as what speaks to your sensibilities – high style or horological history, modern or traditional, collectible or affordable.
Choose a casual watch that fits your personality and lifestyle. Think about the colors you wear the most and try to match them to the watch.
The watch face should be comfortable and easy to read. Look for watch features such as a seconds hand or date window that are useful to you.
Choose a comfortable band material. Keep in mind that leather is typically lighter weight with a closer fit, but is not water-resistant. A metal bracelet is usually heavier, water-resistant, and more durable. A rubber band typically has a casual look and is water-resistant.
Think thin if you want the watch to fit under your sleeves, or think bigger if you want to stand out.
Both men and women can add diamond or gemstone accents for formal occasions.
Metal bracelet bands are usually preferable, but fine leather shouldn’t be overlooked.
Look for a sport watch that is easy to read, such as a digital watch. The case of the watch is typically larger to house the timer, alarm, and other features found in sport watches.
Choose a water-resistance level appropriate for your needs. For instance, scuba divers should look for a minimum rating of 200 meters.
On analog watches, look for a rotating bezel to aid in timing specific events. For serious runners and bikers, a digital watch provides a wider range of timing features.
Watch band material should be based on personal preference and type of sport. The most popular material for sport watches is plastic or rubber.
If you’re in the market for a fashion watch, the rules go out the window. A great way to update your look or accentuate an outfit, fashion watches can be a rather personal choice.
Look for a watch that speaks to your artistic sensibilities, or can be thought of as an extension of your personality. Today, oversized and chunky watch cases are in, with some men’s watches measuring well over 50 millimeters (2 inches) wide. To try out a new trend, try playing with your accessories. Not everyone can wear the hottest color in clothing, but everyone can wear it in a watch. Don’t be afraid to try different styles and colors in your watches. Now is the time to be fashionable.
With high-end luxury watches from Cartier, Omega, Movado, and TAG Heuer, you’re paying for the finest materials, expert craftsmanship, and exclusivity (fewer numbers are manufactured for individual models). A fine watch is a wonderful heirloom to pass down from one generation to the next.
Consider one with automatic movement and a skeletonized dial or exhibition caseback which display the craftsmanship of the watchmaker. While fine watches are made all over the world today, Swiss watches still enjoy the highest reputation due to the wealth of knowledge and infrastructure built up in the Swiss watch industry over centuries. Keep in mind that a watch can only be given the coveted Swiss Made label if its movement is made, assembled, and inspected in Switzerland. A watch may have Swiss movement if the automatic movement was made in Switzerland and the watch was subsequently assembled elsewhere.
How Watches Work
In addition to their exterior beauty, watches are also an incredible feat of engineering and craftsmanship. This section contains an overview of the major parts of a watch, as well as an explanation of how watches operate.
Many complicated parts must all work in tandem in order to not only tell time, but perform a myriad of other functions. These could include a chronograph, altimeter, alarm, day/date calendar, moon phase, and slide rule bezel. Below are descriptions of the major internal and external parts and their functions.
The crystal is the cover over the watch face. Three types of crystals are commonly found in watches. Acrylic crystal is an inexpensive plastic that allows shallow scratches to be buffed out. Mineral crystal is composed of several elements that are heat-treated to create an unusual hardness that aids in resisting scratches. Sapphire crystal is the most expensive and durable, approximately three times harder than mineral crystals, and 20 times harder than acrylic crystals.
A watch’s hands are the pointing devices anchored at the center and circling around the dial, indicating hours, minutes, seconds, and any other special features of the watch. There are many different types of hands.
Alpha: A hand that is slightly tapered
Baton: A narrow hand, sometimes referred to as a ‘stick hand’
Dauphine: A wide, tapered hand with a facet at the center, running the length of the hand
Skeleton: Cutout hands showing only the frame
Luminous: Hand-made of skeleton form, the opening filled with a luminous material
The bezel is the surface ring on a watch that surrounds and holds the crystal in place. A rotating ratchet bezel moves in some sport watches as part of the timing device. If rotating bezels are bi-directional (able to move clockwise or counter clockwise), they can assist in calculations for elapsed times.
The crown is the nodule extending from the watch case that is used to set the time, date, etc. Most pull out to set the time. Many water-resistant watches have crowns that screw down for a better water-tight seal.
The dial is the watch face that contains the numerals, indices, or surface design. While these parts are usually applied, some may be printed on. Sub-dials are smaller dials set into the main face of the watch. These can be used for added functions, such as elapsed times and dates.
The watch case is the metal housing that contains the internal parts of a watch. Stainless steel is the most typical metal used, but titanium, gold, silver and platinum are also used. Less expensive watches are usually made of brass that has been plated with gold or silver.
A bracelet is the flexible metal band consisting of assembled links, usually in the same style as the watch case. Detachable links are used to change the length of the bracelet. Bracelets can be made of stainless steel, sterling silver, gold, or a combination.
A strap is simply a watchband made of leather, plastic, or fabric.
Internal Watch Parts
A watch’s movement is its main timekeeping mechanism. Today’s watch movements fall into two categories, automatic mechanical or quartz. Automatic mechanical movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms. Most automatic movements are wound by the normal, everyday movement of your wrist, which charges the watch’s winding reserve. Quartz movements are powered by a battery and do not stop working once removed from your wrist.
The balance wheel is the regulating organ of a watch with a mechanical movement that vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation.
This series of small gears in both quartz and mechanical movement watches is responsible for transmitting the power from the battery (in a quartz watch) or spring (in a mechanical watch) to the escapement, which distributes the impulses that mark the time.
A tourbillon, which means “whirlwind” in French, is an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement. It mounts the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (and thus the escapement) is stuck in a certain position.
This part of the watch restricts the electrical or mechanical impulses of the gear train, metering out the passage of time into equal, regular parts.
The motion work is a series of parts inside a watch that receive power from the escapement and gear train, which distribute and generate the watch’s power. The motion work is responsible for actually turning the watch’s hands.
The mainspring is the energy source responsible for powering the watch movement (as opposed to a battery in a watch with a quartz crystal movement). The spring is wound, either manually (using the winding stem) or automatically, by the motion of the wearer’s wrist. Potential energy is stored in the coiled spring, then released to the gear train which transmits the power to the escapement and motion work, which turns the hands on the watch dial.
Putting it all together
Watches essentially tell time by the integration of three main components, an energy source, a time regulating mechanism, and a display. The energy source can be electronic (as in a battery) or mechanical (as in a wound spring). A watch’s main timekeeping mechanism is called its movement.
Today’s watches fall into two categories, mechanical movements and quartz movements. Here’s a breakdown of how each type of movement works:
Mechanical (Automatic) Watches
Mechanical watches are made up of about 130 parts that work together to tell time. Automatic mechanical movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms, and are wound by the movement of your wrist as you wear it. The gear train then transmits the power to the escapement, which distributes the impulses, turning the balance wheel. The balance wheel is the time regulating organ of a mechanical watch, which vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation. A series of gears, called the motion work, then turns the hands on the watch face, or dial. See illustration below.
Quartz Crystal Watches
Quartz watches work with a series of electronic components, all fitting together in a tiny space. Rather than a wound spring, a quartz watch relies on a battery for its energy. The battery sends electrical energy to a rotor to produce an electrical current. The current passes through a magnetic coil to a quartz crystal, which vibrates at a very high frequency (32,768 times a second), providing highly accurate timekeeping. These impulses are passed through a stepping motor that turns the electrical energy into the mechanical energy needed to turn the gear train. The gear train turns the motion work, which actually moves the hands on the watch dial.
The movement of a watch refers to the mechanics that power the ticking of the timepiece, and there are two main choices when it comes to analog watches (watches with hour hands and are not digital), quartz or automatic.
What you choose really comes down to what you’re looking for in a watch. There are many ways to look at what’s attractive about both types of watches, but one way to look at it is the quartz watch as more practical and the automatic watch as more emotional.
Also referred to as self-winding, watches with automatic movements utilize kinetic energy, the swinging of your arm, to provide energy to an oscillating rotor to keep the watch ticking. They’re considered more satisfying to watch collectors (horologists) because of the engineering artistry that goes into the hundreds of parts that make up the movement. If you do not wear an automatic watch consistently (for about 8 to 12 hours a day), you can keep the watch powered with a watch winder (a great gift for collectors). You should refer to your owner’s manual for recommended service intervals.
Automatic Watch Maintenance
Self-winding automatic watches depend on the movement of the arm to operate and do require some winding, even if you wear your watch on a daily basis.
If you wear your automatic watch every day, it is best to wind it once every two weeks to keep the wheels in motion and oil fluid. Simply wind the crown (the same knob used to adjust the time and date) until you meet slight resistance If you do not wear your automatic watch every day, you should try to wind it at least twice a week to ensure continuous operation, as well as keeping the inside mechanism in complete running order.
What is the difference between a Mechanical Movement and an Automatic movement?
Over the past 20 years, Seiko has created a suite of Kinetic movements, each bringing unique features to the consumer.
It was at the 1986 Basel Fair that Seiko unveiled its first Kinetic prototype. Introduced under the trial name of AGM, it was the first watch in the world to convert kinetic movement into electrical energy. It was the first step in a development that, 20 years later, has made Kinetic synonymous with environmental friendliness, high performance and long-lasting convenience to a generation of users worldwide. From the launch in 1988 of the first commercially available watch (then under the new name AGS) until today, over 8 million Kinetic watches have been sold (as of 2007).
In 1998, Kinetic Auto Relay was released, extending the ‘at-rest’ operating period of the watch to a remarkable 4 years. 1999 brought the launch of the Ultimate Kinetic Chronograph, a masterpiece which fused the very best of Seiko’s mechanical and electronic watchmaking skills, and in 2003, another Kinetic Chronograph was launched. At Baselworld 2005, the Kinetic Perpetual made its first appearance, combining Kinetic convenience and longevity with a perpetual calendar, correct to the year 2100. Most recently in 2007, Seiko’s emotional technology Kinetic Direct Drive was introduced.
Shock-resistance confirmed by free-fall test simulating actual usage conditions.
Vibration resistance confirmed by vibrating for 20 minutes or longer with a testing machine generating a 19.6 m/s sine wave.
Shock-resistance further confirmed by striking the watch at rest with a hammer in a 180-degree rotating trajectory.
Retention of water-resistance capability confirmed by underwater pressurization at 200 meters for 5 minutes or longer.
At its most basic, a watch is there to conveniently remind you of the time with just the flick of your wrist. But for more timing capabilities, you can add what are known in horological terms as complications, which run the gamut of the stopwatch-like chronograph to a display of moon phases to a calendar window. Below are some of the most popular complications found in today’s watches.
One of the most ubiquitous complications, calendar watches include a small window showing the date, typically placed on the dial at 3 o’clock. You’ll also find some date watches that include the day of the week in a separate window. Most calendars count out to 31, requiring you to manually reset the date on those months that don’t have 31 days.
Some date watches have smarter calendar complications. An annual calendar can run for a full year without resetting until you get to March (as February’s 28 or 29 days throws it off). But you won’t have to worry about resetting the date for a long time with a perpetual calendar watch, programmed to automatically adjust for the varying lengths of months as well as leap years to the year 2100.
Another popular complication in today’s watches is the chronograph, which enables you to use your watch as a stopwatch to time specific events as well as multiple laps. To start timing, you’ll press one of the pushers on the side of the watch case. Depending on the watch, you may press that pusher or a second one to stop the timing. Chronographs have two or three smaller subdials (also called totalizers or registers) placed on the dial face that display the seconds, minutes, and hours. Quartz chronographs can measure events down to 1/10 of a second, while their automatic counterparts can get as accurate as 1/5 of a second. In addition to timing your exercise, chronographs can be paired with a tachymeter scale (placed around the outside of the dial or on the rim of the bezel) to determine the average speed covered over a specified distance.
Note: Don’t confuse the term “chronometer” with a chronograph. Where a chronograph is part of a watch’s mechanics, a chronometer is a timepiece that’s been certified by the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres (or COSC, the official Swiss chronometer inspection body) as being highly accurate. Only three percent of watches produced in Switzerland are chronometer-certified. To achieve this highly coveted certification, the movements are subjected to numerous tests over a period of 15 consecutive days and nights, in five positions and at three different temperatures. And a chronometer may or may not be a chronograph.
Dual Time Zone and World Time
If you do a lot of traveling, a dual time zone watch (also called a GMT watch) can be handy as it will show you the current time where you are as well as the time in a second time zone. This is done either via an extra hand, twin subdials, or a 24-hour scale placed on the dial. If you need to keep track of business time on several continents, a world time watch typically displays 24 city names placed on the dial or bezel to represent each individual time zone. You can read the hour in a particular time zone by looking at the scale set next to the city that the hour hand is pointing to.
This is a generic term for a non-chronograph watch that displays information such as month, day, and date in two or three subdials.
Note: Chronographs, which are an added complication that provides stopwatch functionality, can be found on both quartz and automatic watch movements. Quartz chronographs can provide more accuracy, timing events down to 1/10 second compared to an automatic movement’s 1/5 second accuracy. Learn more about chronographs and other watch complications.
Whether you’re a scuba diver or just a frequent dishwasher at home, you’ll want to pay attention to the water-resistance of your watch. Water-resistance ratings are listed in certain depths, typically in meters, but the numerical depth shouldn’t be taken literally. The depth rating actually represents the results of tests performed in a lab’s pressure chamber, and not real-world sea depths.
A watch marked as water-resistant without a depth indication is designed to withstand accidental splashes of water only. Do not submerge such a watch. Higher levels of water-resistance are indicated by increasingly higher acceptable depths, usually indicated in meters.
A watch with a back that screws onto the case provides a higher degree of water-resistance. Some crowns with a winding stem actually screw into the case to further increase water-resistance.
We do not recommend swimming or diving with your watch unless it has a screw-down crown (also known as ‘screw-lock’ or ‘screw-in’ crown) and is water-resistant to at least 100 meters.
Note: Water-resistance is sometimes listed using the abbreviation ATM, which stands for “atmosphere” and 1 ATM represents 10 meters. In Europe, “bar” is often used instead of ATM.
Below are typical water-resistance ratings and their corresponding parameters for real world usage.
|30 meters (100 feet)||3 ATM||Can withstand rain and splashes of water, such as car washing and showering, but it shouldn’t be worn swimming|
|50 meters (165 feet)||5 ATM||Suitable for swimming, as well as higher altitude sports, such as skiing and parachuting|
|100 meters (330 feet)||10 ATM||Suitable for snorkeling, as well as swimming|
|200 meters (660 feet)||20 ATM||Suitable for recreational scuba diving|
|300 meters (990 feet)||30 ATM||For use when scuba diving to a depth of 30 meters for up to 2 hours|
|500 meters (1650 feet)||50 ATM||For use when scuba diving to a depth of 50 meters for up to 2 hours|
Like everything in life, a watch’s water-resistance isn’t guaranteed forever. The gaskets or O-rings that make up the watch’s watertight seals can degrade over time, and even opening the caseback for changing the battery can affect water-resistance. To make certain that your watch will stand up to the pressure that was designed for, a watch can be tested and repaired by a service center authorized by the manufacturer. Here are some tips on maintaining your timepiece’s water-resistance.
Care for a Water-Resistant Watch
After swimming or diving in salt water, immediately rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it. This will prevent salt buildup and corrosion of the bezel ring.
Leather straps can be made to be water-resistant too. Generally however, leather straps are more easily damaged by frequent exposure to water. If you are going to wear your watch while swimming, think of buying one with a metal bracelet or a rubber or nylon diver strap.
|Caring for Your Watch
While a watch can be considered a decorative accessory, it is also a tool that needs cleaning and tuning from time to time to ensure its accuracy, looks, and longevity.
Read the Manual
The Case for Cleaning
After wearing in salt or heavily chlorinated water, rinse the watch in fresh water and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Wipe your watch with a soft cloth after heavy perspiration.
In the summer, wear leather straps loosely to avoid absorption of perspiration (and to prevent perspiration rash on your wrist). Dry with a cloth, or let it dry in a well-ventilated spot.
If a crystal has even a hairline crack, replace it immediately.
If you don’t wear your automatic watch daily and don’t have a watch winder, wind the watch twice a week and try to do it at approximately the same time of day. (A fully wound automatic watch will keep running for approximately 40 hours.)
Avoid wearing mechanical watches when playing high-impact sports or those that require continuous arm motion (such as tennis).
1. Never submerge even the highest rated water-resistant watch in a hot shower, sauna or hot tub. The extreme heat can cause the metal parts to expand at a different rate than the rubber gaskets. This creates small openings that can allow water droplets to penetrate the watch. Sudden temperature changes are especially harsh. Take care not to jump into a cold pool after wearing your watch in the hot tub.
2. If your watch has a screw-down crown, make sure to screw it tightly into the watch case to help prevent any chance of water getting into your timepiece.
3. After swimming or diving in salt water, immediately rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it. This will prevent salt buildup and corrosion of the bezel ring.
If you detect any moisture in the watch or the crystal begins to fog, take it to a service professional as soon as possible.
Leather straps can be made to be water-resistant too. Generally however, leather straps are more easily damaged by frequent exposure to water, so if you are going to wear your watch while swimming, think of buying one with a metal bracelet or a rubber or nylon diver strap.
Let the Professionals Handle It
While some metal bracelets can be sized on your own with the purchase of a sizing tool, a watch professional can take the stress out of it and help you size it correctly.
Changing batteries in quartz movement watches (about every two to three years).
If you notice your timepiece running slow or fast, bring it in to a professional for a tune-up that includes internal cleaning and oiling.
What if my watch bracelet is too big for my wrist?
If you ordered a watch with a metal bracelet, you may need to have one or more links removed for the watch fit your wrist properly.
You can take your watch to a reputable jeweler or watch repair shop for sizing. Expect to pay a small fee for this service. If you choose to size your own watch, exercise extreme caution and ensure you have the correct tools for the kind of watch band links you’re removing. If sizing is done incorrectly, a watch can be scratched or damaged. Be aware that most retailers will not accept returns once a watch has been sized, so be sure you want to keep it before you size it.
Tip: Keep the removed links. Watch bracelets occasionally break, and it is a lot easier (and cheaper) to have the bracelet repaired with your own links rather than order new ones. You will also be able to adjust the watch with the extra links if you prefer to wear your watch looser in the future. The best place to keep them is in the watch box with your insertion manual.
What’s the difference between quartz and mechanical (or automatic) movements?
A mechanical movement that does not have to be wound is known as an automatic movement. These self-winding movements are wound by the movement of your wrist (you don’t have to shake it to work – the normal, everyday movement of the watch on your wrist charges the winding reserve). When this type of watch is removed from your wrist, the movement winds down in 10 to 72 hours, depending on the size of its winding reserve.
Quartz movements, on the other hand, are powered by a battery and do not stop working once removed from your wrist. When activated by a battery or solar power, the thin sliver of crystal very predictably vibrates at an extremely high frequency (32,768 times per second), providing very accurate timekeeping. The battery in a quartz watch generally needs to be replaced every 1.5 years.
What’s a watch crystal?
Are watches really water-proof?
There are a variety of ways to make a watch water-resistant. All such watches use rubber gaskets or “O” rings to seal the case back. A watch with a back that screws onto the case provides a higher degree of water-resistance. Some crowns (the “winding stem”) actually screw into the case to further increase water-resistance.
We do not recommend swimming or diving with your watch unless it has a screw-down crown (also known as “screw-lock” or “screw-in” crown) and is water-resistant to at least 100 meters.
What is a dive watch?
How do I get the functions on my watch to work?
The typical functions on an analog chronograph watch are a seconds hand, a 30 or 60 minute timer, and 1/10th of a second. These functions are controlled by the buttons above and below the crown.
What do the different movement types mean?
Mechanical Movement: A watch’s mechanical movement is based on a mainspring which slowly unwinds in a steady motion to provide accurate timekeeping. As opposed to a manual mechanical watch, which needs to be wound on a consistent basis, an automatic mechanical watch requires no winding because its rotor winds the mainspring when the wearer moves their wrist. Read the section on automatic watch maintenance for more details.
Quartz: Quartz is a caliber that uses the vibrations of a tiny crystal to maintain timing accuracy. The power comes from a battery that must be replaced about every 2-3 years. In recent years, new Quartz technology enables the watch to recharge itself without battery replacement. This power is generated via movement similar to an automatic mechanical watch, or powered by light through a solar cell (Kinetic and solar-tech).
What is a screw down crown?
What does it mean if a watch is Swiss Made?