Choosing a watch can be mind-boggling. They all have their unique selling points and if you aren’t sure what they do in the first place, no amount of labelling will help you. What can be done about this? Where do we start?
How about my ultimate rule for starting your watch collection…
Buy a watch because you love it
This may sound like the most obvious thing to say, but I think this is the cornerstone of any collection, certainly from my point of view. I do not subscribe to the notion that you should own a particular brand of type of watch before you can be considered a proper collector. You should collect from the heart rather than be a completist or purchase items just because they convey a level of prestige or glamour on the wearer. You can love a watch for lots of reasons, how it looks, how it works, the complications (more on that later) or even the watches’ individual stories. Find something to love about it and it will be a treasured part of your collection rather than an overlooked one.
Love of a watch will take you so far, but a basic knowledge in some of the key areas that make up a watch and the options they offer to you, will provide an excellent starting point for future purchases. With this is mind let us delve into deeper into some of these options and see where it takes us.
Choices In FUNCTION, Elements, Design & Style
Some key things to consider when buying a watch:
Quartz or MECHANICAL
One of the more fundamental choices when purchasing a watch, this determines what drives the heart of your timepiece and there can be strong views on which is best.
I have very briefly summarised the two styles of watch movement as I am trying to avoid this section being overly technical, I have provided links for further reading.
A quartz-powered watch uses quartz crystal pulsating at a precise frequency to give very accurate timing (typically only +/- 15 seconds a month). They are battery-powered and use electronics to control and drive the movement of the watch. Quartz watches can also feature rechargeable batteries powered by a solar cell (eg Citizen Eco-Drive) or recharged by your own arm movement (eg Seiko Kinetic) often running for many years without requiring any maintenance (Read more on quartz movements).
A mechanical watch features a collection of moving parts all working together to keep time, they are powered by a main spring, this is the watches power reserve, its mechanical battery. To power the watch the spring must be wound, this can be done one of two ways, by manually turning the crown or automatically by a weighted rotor that uses your movement to wind the spring. Mechanical watches are less accurate than quartz counterparts but modern timepieces suffer to a lesser extent, with some of the best modern watches only deviating by +/-5 seconds a day (Read more on mechanical movements).
One consideration is power reserves: where a quartz watch can be left for a considerable time off the wrist, most mechanical watches only have reserve of 48 hours. Once this is up, the watch will need to be reset and rewound before use (Winders are available to keep watches running when off the wrist but this is an additional expense).
The choice on this matter again is down to the owner. Purists may only consider mechanical watches a true collectable timepiece and owners who strive for accuracy may look down their noses at the inaccuracy of mechanical watches. The choice is yours.
There are three main types of watch crystal, acrylic, mineral crystal and sapphire. Acrylic (plastic) is not uncommon on vintage watches and is frequently used on cheap watches. Unless you are buying vintage watches or cheap sports watches I would suggest avoiding this kind of watch crystal as it scratches easily.
Mineral crystal is found in almost every watch that is considered entry level, (under £400 in the UK) there are some exceptions but it is a very common crystal in this price bracket. Mineral crystal is much better at resisting scratches than plastic and is very impact resistant, a well looked after watch with this crystal is unlikely to have many scratches.
Sapphire crystal is exceptionally scratch resistant (but not impossible to scratch) and it is not uncommon to see a well worn watch whose case is heavily scratched but with a pristine sapphire face. Sapphire is not without its drawbacks, it is less impact resistant than mineral (but this can be overcome by producing a thicker glass) and it is priced at a premium so expect to pay more for a watch with a sapphire face.
A basic timepiece will show hours, minutes and seconds (some simple movement timepieces skip the second hand completely). Any additional feature is referred to as a complication. It is quite common for most watches to have complications – for example a date/day display or alarm. Depending on what you are looking for in a watch complications can be included for aesthetic or practical reasons. Complications can range from the simple such as chronograph, dual time, world time, or day and date indicators, up to the more complex such as perpetual calendar, moon phases or split-second chronographs. They are available in quartz and mechanical watches but are often far more complex to produce in a mechanical watch and that will be reflected in the price.
The material your watch is made from is almost always driven by price. The more you pay, the more materials become available to you. Stainless steel, titanium, ceramic, gold and platinum are the most readily available materials in watch case design. Stainless steel is the most common; it is a good all-rounder, it is tough enough for day to day use (but not scratch resistant), is cheap to manufacture and has a range of finishes.
Both ceramic and titanium are lightweight materials, with ceramic being highly scratch-resistant.
Gold and platinum are premium materials that have the highest prestige finish but are more expensive. They also suffer with being much softer metals and will be more prone to knocks and dents, but at the same time they are denser and heavier than stainless steel. Stainless steel and titanium can be made more scratch-resistant with a coating of PVD or DLC but this will change the appearance of the material.
There is a vast range of strap styles available when purchasing watches, but don’t feel limited to the one that happens to come with the watch.
Many retailers specialise in alternative straps and watch manufacturers frequently offer watches with an additional secondary or different style strap at point of purchase.
Watches tailored to specific uses often come on a strap that best fits with that type, for example a dress watch coming with a premium leather strap or a sports watch on a rubber strap. Again this is something that comes down to personal choice, and your own sense of style. Feel free to experiment with different straps on different watches, they are often inexpensive to purchase and simple to change with the correct tools.