The process of buying a watch, like buying anything else, depends on tons of factors: style, price preference, trends, and of course a good bit of luck. Watches take on further complexity when you take into account 1) the sheer volume of watch options in the world and 2) the fact that most people want to purchase a watch that will last and that they’ll like for many years to come.
While I am, by no means, an expert on watches, I recently went through the process of picking out a watch for myself – a watch that I know will last me many years to come. I did loads of research (it sounds like a drag, but I actually love doing shopping research) and learned a lot about watches. I also learned that there is a lot more to learn (isn’t that always the case?). So, I decided to write this guide. It’s not for watch aficionados who, no doubt, know much more than me. This guide is for beginners, people buying a watch for the first time or needing to purchase a new one but don’t know too much about the watch world.
Battery Powered Quartz Watch: This is your basic battery powered watch that comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, prices, brands, etc.
Mechanical Watch: A watch that uses a mechanical mechanism to measure the passage of time instead of a battery (i.e. a watch that you wind). Mechanical watches are priced higher than battery-operated watches and are usually only made by high-end watch makers.
Automatic Watch: A type of mechanical watch that winds itself based on the natural movement of the wearer’s arm. Automatic mechanical watches are the most finely-crafted and highly-priced watches on the market.
Analog: Watch that shows time using hour and minute hands as opposed to a digital readout.
Bezel: Ring that surrounds the face of the watch. This is oftentimes decorative.
Chronograph: Watch that includes a built-in stopwatch function.
Crystal: The transparant cover of a watch face. It can be made of crystal, synthetic sapphire, or plastic. High-end luxury watches use sapphire crystal, which is highly resistant to scratches.
There are four basic watch shapes: pictured L to R Rotunde (round), Tank (rectangular), Tonneau (barrel shaped), and Square.
Brief Tier Breakdown
Watches are broken down into many price tiers; here’s a very basic breakdown of those tiers:
Tier 1: High-End Luxury: These watches are for true watch lovers and collectors, ranging in price from $5,000 to millions. Brands include A Lange and Sohne, Alain Silberstein, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Franck Muller, JLC, Parmigiani, Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, and more. If you’re looking for one of these watches, I’m sure your knowledge is above that of my own.
Tier 2: Luxury: These are your recognizable luxury watches, Rolex, Cartier, Breitling, Omega, etc. These watches (like high-end luxury watches) will last you a lifetime and have value as vintage pieces. Prices range from $1,000 -$20,000.
Tier 3: Pseudo-Luxury: These are also recognizable and beautiful watches, just slightly less value-holding than luxury pieces. Brands like Raymond Weil, Tag Heuer, Longines, and Baume & Mercier. Prices range from $500-$4,000.
Tier 4: Basic Luxury Watches: These watches are beautiful, durable pieces but may not last you a lifetime. Brands include Movado, Epos, and Oris. Prices stay below $1000 usually. Also in this tier are fashion watches. These are watches made by fashion brands like Gucci, Burberry, Marc Jacobs, instead of traditional watch-making brands. They’re less reliable than watches from traditional brands, but they’re quite stylish and certainly not low quality.
Tier 5: Quality Traditional Watches: These aren’t considered “luxury” but they’re well-made by well-known watchmakers with a tradition in watch creation. Brands include Bulova, Seiko, Citizens, Casio, Swatch, and Timex. These watches will range from $100 to $400, but you can often find great deals on them. They’ll tell your time for a long time!
Tier 6: Basic Watches: These watches are decorative and functional, but they’re not meant for the long haul. Still with prices running around $50, you can afford to switch them up often! Popular brands include Anne Klein, Kenneth Cole, Nixon, etc.
Basic Steps to Successful Watch-Buying
Step 1: Decide on a price tier and preferred watch style/shape
Know what you want before you go to buy. Do your research, try on different shapes, band types, materials, and brands. Then set some basic parameters for yourself (ex: I want to purchase a Tank-shaped watch with a metal band in the pseudo-luxury or luxury price range). After your parameters are set, you’ll have more direction (ex: Given my parameters, I’ll look at Cartier Tank and Longines DolceVita watches).
Step 2: Look at multiple retailers before making a purchase
Let’s say you decide you’re going to buy a Longines DolceVita watch. Do not buy it at the first store you go to. Check out a few different stores (say a Longines official store, a large department store watch department, a small family-owned jeweler, and online). You never know when you’ll stumble upon a good deal. Small family-owned jewelers oftentimes have better deals than official stores, and there are some reliable online retailers that offer great discounts. Danqing’s Tip: check your local Costco for great deals on a variety of watches, including luxury brands.
Step 3: Check the watch you select thoroughly
Once you’ve chosen to buy a specific watch, check it over thoroughly. Make sure you’re purchasing your watch from a reputable dealer. Look for scratches and any wear and tear. Ask for a new battery if you’re buying a battery-powered watch.
Ask these questions:
– Is my watch water resistant? Up to how many meters?
– Does my watch have a warranty? For how many years? What are the warranty stipulations?
– Does my watch include any free services? (Battery changes, cleaning, etc.)
Step 4: Make sure your watch is sized correctly
The salesperson should help you with this (and if you purchase a watch with a leather band, disregard this step) but make sure the watch is sized comfortably for you. Then, enjoy your new purchase!
I hope this was helpful, and if any of you have your own tips to share please comment!