Five Things To Look For When Buying A Watch

First-time buyers or newbie collectors are often stumped when it comes to choosing the right watch. But a few guidelines will help keep you on track.

If you’re in the market for a watch, it can be daunting. Watches are an extremely personal statement. They say a lot about your interests, your likes, your style, and even your mood – if you are a collector and change your watch often. There are a host of things to consider when buying a watch, so it is wise to do a little self-education about watches, especially if you are looking for watches that will hold their value and even appreciate over time.  However, most of us just want to buy a watch we love and that reflects our lifestyle and tastes. Still, there are few important things to consider before making the purchase.

Personal Preferences and Tastes

Easily the single most important thing to keep in mind when buying a watch is your own personal style and tastes.  You need to be true to yourself. Don’t buy a watch because someone else is encouraging you toward a specific model, buy what you like.

Think about the dial colors you would enjoy wearing. Are you more comfortable with neutral colors like black and white and silver, or do you prefer a daring dash of color?  Today’s watches boast beautiful dial colors that range from red, to blue, green, and everything in between. Additionally,  color can be had by selecting a colored strap, even if the dial is neutral. Many of today’s brands even offer quick-change strap systems for men and women, so you can change your strap color at will. Other things to consider are the size of the watch you want, and even the shape. While round is classically traditional, top watch brands offer vintage-inspired tonneau (barrel) cases, rectangles, square, cushion (TV) shapes and so much more.

Doxa SUB 300 Aquamarine
Doxa SUB 300 Aquamarine

You also need to think about how active your lifestyle is and what your hobbies are. If you are an avid diver, you may want to consider a highly water resistant watch or even a professional dive watch that can weather the saltwater and pressure under the sea with you. The same is true if you are a race car lover or an aviation buff. There are watches out there to fit any lifestyle. There are even watches perfect for hiking and mountain climbing that offer features such as altimeters, compass points, and more. Many people like to indulge in these different genres of watches because, at a glance, they speak volumes about your interests.

Ricard Mille Racing Car watches for car lovers
Calderon Tatiana, Florsch Sophia, Visser Beitske, Richard Mille Racing Team

Think about if what’s inside counts

Just like you consider your lifestyle and your tastes, you also have to consider your comfort levels with what type of movement powers the watch. Essentially, a  quartz movement utilizes a battery, so you can put the watch down for a few days, a week, or even a month and pick it up again and it is still tracking time perfectly. Most of today’s quartz watches house batteries that last three to five years before needing to be replaced. Some people love the ease of use of a quartz watch. The same is true of solar-powered watches, where light is the energy source and there is typically no need to have to reset the time.

Others really love all things mechanical.  This typically means they are altruists and want a watch with hundreds of individual mechanical parts inside that work together like a perfectly built car engine. Mechanical watches also boast two different types of winding: self-winding or manual-winding  — each requiring different attention from the wearer.

What to look for when buying a watch
Assembly of a mechanical watch movement

A self-winding watch houses an oscillating weight (rotor) that provides power to the mainspring as long as the weight is moving with natural wrist motions. If the watch is set down and not worn for a period of time – a set number of hours of power reserve – the wearer will have to re-set the watch when he or she picks it up again. Power reserve times vary depending on the complexity of the movement. Many boast 42 hours, others will go for 72 hours before needing to be reset. (Certain luxury watches even boast power reserves.) With a manual-winding watch, the wearer must wind the watch himself as the power runs low. This requires frequent winding of the crown (typically each day) to power the watch up again. Determining the type of movement, you want in your watch has a lot to do with how involved you want to be with re-setting your watch.

Decide if the Materials Matter

Another point to take into consideration is the material the watch is made of. Platinum and gold are the noble metals that have often been in high demand. However, stainless steel watches are a great alternative, especially for an every-day wear watch. Similarly, titanium offers options especially if you are looking for a sporty watch because the material is lighter in weight than steel and more scratch-resistant, as well as hypoallergenic.  Other light-weight case materials include high-tech carbon fiber, ceramic and other alloys. In fact, some of today’s top brands are turning to all sorts of high-tech alloys and proprietary materials to make watches more durable, lighter in weight, and more unique.  It is important to note that the type of material the case is made of will definitely influence the price of the watch.

Panerai LUMINOR LUNA ROSA GMT
Panerai Luminor Luna Rosa GMT in Panerai Carbotech

What Features or Functions Do You Want

It’s hard to believe that in a space less than two inches in diameter and a half-an-inch thick, watchmakers can chock hundreds, sometimes thousands of tiny pieces inside to offer all sorts of features and functions. While most first-time buyers want a simple watch with two or three hands and maybe a date, others want all the bells and whistles – literally. Some watches audibly chime the time, others have built-in alarms, others offer simple calendars or even incredibly complex calendars that can track time for centuries.

Do you want to know the time around the world? There are GMT, Dual, and Triple time zone watches for that? Do you want to know how fast you ran a lap? There are a host of different types of chronographs for that. Do you want to know how fast your heart is beating? There is a pulsimeter for that.  Just want a beautiful function? Take a look at the moonphase indications on the market. Indeed, the list goes on and on – and is constantly changing as more watch brands develop more useful functions for today’s busy customers. The types and number of complications built into a watch will naturally influence the price, but you should be aware of the features you may want.

What to look for when buying a watch
TAG Heuer chronograph close up

Budget

You should always have a budget in mind before shopping. You should also already argue it out in your head how much over budget you are willing to go for the right watch. It happens. You get the watch on your wrist and suddenly discover the second choice watch is a better fit. It’s more money than the first choice. Will you go for it?  Watches, like cars, have vast differences in prices thanks to materials, the technology within, the amount of hand-craftsmanship, and the rarity or exclusivity of the piece. So being armed with a budget and staying as close to budget as possible is always the best way to go. In the end, though, your personal taste will probably win over.

Start Your Watch Search

We know that buying a new watch can be daunting but embrace this as an exciting adventure. To whet the appetite, stroll TheWatchPages – you can search by brand, by type, by interest, or just browse around to see what awaits you when you ultimately want to buy. The Watch Pages has thousands of watches listed that range from the affordable on up. Be careful, though, once you start, you may not want to stop.

About the Author

Roberta Naas - Watch Journalist
Roberta Naas

Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.

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