Welcome to the first of three articles that offer an overview for watch newbies on what to look for when getting a new watch. Esteemed watch expert readers are going to be familiar with much of what I am talking about, and I encourage your personal additions to the list. For others, I hope to help guide your watch purchase decisions and discuss information that many of us take for granted. Too often am I presented with questions about what watch people should buy, or what makes a watch good. I simply cannot review the hundreds of watch brands and thousands of styles with each person – what I can give people is a general overview of what to look for and ask about, given your budget.
Let me first say, these lists will not discuss complications (functions) that watches have. It doesn’t matter to me whether you are looking for a chronograph (stopwatch), perpetual calendar (does not need to be adjusted very often), GMT (24-hour hand for a second time zone), or otherwise… These three lists will mention aspects of the watch or its construction that are often function agnostic. Plus, these items are overall things to look for. There is no “perfect” watch, so just make sure the watches you are looking for satisfy as many of the items below as possible.
In “Part 1,” I will discuss features you should look for in what I call an “entry level luxury” watch. This is going to be the $300 and above price point. I will not cap it because different watches simply give you more for the money and these features are certainly things you’ll want in upper range watches as well. The next price point will be $1000 and up, and finally we will have the price point of about $20,000 and up. This latter price point will include things at the $20,000 level as well as the $200,000 level.
For $300-and-up watches:
This is a broad range of watches with probably the largest selection of watches in it. For some of you, $300 is a huge sum for a watch, while for others of you, this is a paltry amount barely worth your attention. If you are in the former category, you’ll want to listen up as these are important things to look for. Again, this is just one partial list, and there are, of course, other things that go into a good watch.
1. Sapphire Crystal
A watch crystal is the transparent cover over the face of the watch. Crystals have been made using different materials over the years, but only a few major materials dominate the market today. Most of the watches you’ll look at have one of two types of crystals; mineral glass or synthetic sapphire crystals. Mineral crystals are cheaper and offer one benefit over sapphire – they don’t tend to shatter if struck hard. Meaning they will crack, but not shatter. Shattered sapphire crystals are relatively rare and typically occur with a very harsh impact. The better the watch, the thicker the sapphire crystal will be, and thus, less likely to break. Sapphire crystals are incredibly scratch-resistant though. You often see well-worn watches with beat-up cases, but a “flawless” crystal. Thus, sapphire crystals are more desirable compared to mineral crystals and should be preferred the majority of the time.
2. Solid Metal Construction
To some people, it might be obvious to get a watch out of solid metal, but you’d be surprised at how some cheaper watches cut costs. Steel watches should be made from grade 316L stainless steel almost all the time. Plus, the watch case and bracelet links should be solid pieces of metal, rather than folded metal or anything hollow. It is easy to tell if a bracelet is solid by inspecting the side of it and noticing if looks like one solid piece. In watches at this level, cases are best made from the fewest number of pieces and using the most metal possible. This means the least (or no) amount of materials such as plastic or otherwise.
3. Swiss Movement Or Japanese Movement (if it is a Japanese watch)
Switzerland is known for making high quality watch movements – you knew that. Japan also makes good movements, but not all movements are created equally. Most of the the time, Swiss movements come from ETA – or Ronda, especially if they are quartz movements (though this is not always the case). Japanese quartz movements typically come from makers such as Seiko, Citizen, and Casio. While these countries are not the only makers of movements, at these price points try to get movements from these regions as much as possible. Plus, if a watch is not Japanese, try to find one with a Swiss movement. You generally want to stay away from Chinese movements, though, this is not always a signal of low quality. Japanese watches probably utilize Japanese movements the best, though you’ll find Japanese movements (often Miyota, which is part of Citizen) in timepieces from all over the world. Lastly, at this price point, don’t worry too much about finding mechanical watches – you are just fine with a quartz movement – even though there are plenty of mechanical movements available.