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Watch Buying Guide

Get watch buying advice from our in-house experts to learn what matters most when selecting a timepiece for your personal style, needs, and lifestyle.
Stacked watches on table

Getting Started

Since their invention in the 16th century, the timekeeping functions of watches have often played second fiddle to their role as status symbols. The eruption of smartwatches in the 21st century has provided timepieces with a new world of functionality. These new types of watches offer some exciting features and tools, but they also convey a sense of status and luxury that has been a defining characteristic of all timepieces since their inception. Although this watch buying guide focuses on classic timepieces, you can learn more about smartwatches on our blog.
Before diving into details about the different types of watches, it's useful to ask a few questions to help you understand which features matter most to you:
  • What style are you looking for? Dressy? Sporty? Everyday? A family heirloom?
  • What complications (features/tools) do you want or need? Day/date? A second hand? Chronograph? Tachymeter?
  • What movement interests you? Quartz (battery-powered)? Automatic?
  • Do you have a brand preference?
  • What are your budget constraints?
Don't worry if you're not familiar with some of these terms. We'll cover them in detail below. But spending a moment to think about what you want from a watch before you continue reading will make the following guide that much more helpful to you.
Movado Watches

Brands

As with any product, different brands have their own strengths and weaknesses. The same is true of watch brands. However, a timepiece is more a work of art than it is a simple tool. As a result, it can be helpful to think of various brands of watches as different artists. Each has their own unique style and personality, threading different themes throughout their collections in ways that may evoke a distinct emotional response.
The brand you choose indicates your tastes, lifestyle, even your status in the world.

The Many Components of Watches

While a basic digital watch is just a simple computer, elegant timepieces are complicated compact machines. They feature an array of sophisticated components, each serving a distinct purpose. This watch buying guide doesn't delve into the mechanics of mainsprings or rotors as it's not essential to understand the intricate mechanics of a watch in order to select a model you'll love. But it is important to understand the various components with which you'll actually interact.

Movements

A watch's movement is what allows it to keep time. It's the "engine" of the watch.

Quartz Movements

The most accurate timepieces include quartz movements. Rather than relying on a wound spring for power, quartz movements pull energy from a small battery encased within the watch. Because they have an electronic power source, you can identify a quartz movement by the regular tick of the second hand, jumping forward with each second that passes. This contrasts with the second hand on a mechanical watch which progresses with a steadier, fluid motion.
The simple mechanics inside these watches allow them to go 10 - 12 years before needing full servicing. However, you will need to replace their battery every 2 - 3 years.

Mechanical Movements

There are two kinds of mechanical movements: manual/hand-wound and automatic. The craftsmanship and artistry of these types of watches have made them the clear choice among collectors and connoisseurs.

Manual Movements / Hand-Would Movements

The earliest watches all featured manual movements. They require you to wind their crown every day in order to keep time. When you do so, the watch stores this energy with a small spring, using it to move the hands and complications throughout the day. Some timepieces with manual movements can go five days or more before needing to be wound again, but these are the exception.
Depending on the timepiece, overwinding can sometimes damage the watch. So be careful to follow the manufacturer's recommendations and remember to remove the watch from your wrist to wind it. And of course, feel free to reach out to the experts in our Time Store with any questions you may have.

Automatic Movement

Those interested in mechanical movements who don't like the idea of having to wind their watch should select a model with an automatic movement. These watches wind themselves, using the natural motion of your wrist and arm for power. However, if you don't wear the watch for an extended period of time, you may have to manually wind the watch to get its gears moving again.

Case Style

A watch case surrounds the movement for protection and is made up of the back, dial, and bezel.

Back

The back of a watch case rests against your wrist when worn. It's the removable component that provides access to the movement.

Dial

Watch can be decided on selecting color and material of dials. There are a wide variety of dials from plain white to mother of pearl, and even a skeleton which shows the movement of the watch.
A watch's movement lives within the middle of its case.
Watch Bezel

Bezel

A watch's bezel is the surface ring around the case. They're used to secure the watch crystal in place and often include functional complications for diving or timing.

GMT Bezel 24 Hour Time scale

The Bezel turns both ways (Bi-Directional) any hour can be set to correspond to GMT, thus instantly tracking a second time zone; utterly genius and incredibly simple.

Diving Bezel / Count-Up Bezel

A count-up bezel features a scale of numbers ranging from 0 - 60, similar to the watch face itself. Aligning the bezel with the watch's minute hand allows it to serve as a timer of sorts. They're often referred to as diving bezels because scuba divers use them to visually monitor their remaining time/air supply.
These bezels are unidirectional, meaning they can only turn in one direction. This ensures that an accidental bump won't mislead the diver into thinking their tank has more air available than it actually does.

Timing Bezel

Timing bezels also include a scale of numbers ranging from 0 - 60. However, timing bezels are bidirectional, allowing them to spin in either direction. Like diving bezels, they're used to measure time passed from a given point.

Case Material

Various case materials have physical properties that make them more or less suitable for specific lifestyles and uses. However, the aesthetics of the different materials are every bit as important, maybe even more so. So think carefully about when and where you plan to wear your watch and the appropriate attire for these situations while deciding which case material best suits your needs.
The Mohs scale of mineral hardness is used to quantify the hardness of the various materials. The 1 - 10 scale uses higher numbers for harder substances. Softer materials are more susceptible to scratches. Harder substances are more prone to shattering on impact.

Platinum

  • 4.5 on Mohs scale
  • The rarity of this substance bestows it with a level of nobility or luxury

Gold

  • 2.5 - 3.5 on Mohs scale
  • Available in yellow, rose, and white
  • Offers a similar sense of luxury similar to that of platinum
  • Highly susceptible to scratches

Gold plate

  • Made by coating a base metal with a gold exterior
  • Very similar to actual gold, but the plating wears off over time

Stainless Steel

  • 5.5 - 6 on Mohs scale
  • The most popular choice
  • More scratch resistant than gold
  • Can be refinished back to its original state

Titanium

  • 6.0 on Mohs Scale
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Hypoallergenic, making it a better choice than stainless steel for those with nickel allergies

Ceramic

  • 8 - 8.5 on Mohs scale
  • Can only be scratched by diamond
  • Lightweight
  • Higher shatter risk

Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD)

  • Made from steel with a thin coating of carbides, oxides, or nitrides that improve its durability and minimizes friction

Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC)

  • Made from steel with a thin coating of carbon
  • Extraordinarily hard and nearly impervious to scratches
  • Low friction
  • Resistant to damage and dents from impacts

Crystal

The transparent material that protects the watch face is referred to as the crystal. The primary kinds of crystals are synthetic sapphire, mineral, and acrylic.

Synthetic Sapphire

Sapphire is one of the hardest elements known to man, second only to diamond. Thus, sapphire crystals are incredibly scratch resistant. This makes them a popular choice for luxury watches. However, their hardness makes it possible to chip or shatter the crystal on impact.

Mineral

Mineral crystals are made of glass. Most have been tempered to improve their scratch resistance, meaning they've been treated with high temperatures. Mineral crystals are commonly found on mid-range timepieces.

Acrylic

Acrylic crystals are the softest option. As a result, they are the least likely to shatter but the most likely to suffer scratches. However, small scratches can often be polished or buffed out of acrylic.

Complications (Features/Tools)

Any feature of a watch that does something more than telling time is called a complication. Complications typically provide some other form of practical information, ranging from chronographs (stop watches) to multiple time zones. Romantic complications serve less practical purposes, like detailing the current phase of the moon.
Watch with Date Complications

Date Complications

While there are several styles of date complications, they all serve the same primary function: reporting the day of the month. Some display the date in a small window set into the watch face. Others feature an additional watch hand which points to the dates listed around the edge of the face, making only one full revolution per month. Still others use multiple small dials on the face, each of which notes the day, month, or year.
Watch with Chronograph Complications

Chronograph Complications

Another common complication is a chronograph. While there are a handful of different kinds of chronographs, at their core, chronographs are simply stopwatches. A chronograph with a single button is referred to as a monopoussoir. While these sleek designs are perfectly suitable for most needs, you may want to consider a two-button chronograph if you plan on measuring interrupted time spans.
A rattrapante chronograph adds a third pusher to the case and features an additional seconds hand directly above the watch's normal seconds hand. The upper most pusher starts both seconds hands spinning around the clock face. The second pusher freezes the additional seconds hand in place. And the third pusher realigns the additional seconds hand with the still-moving normal second hand. The dual seconds hands make rapprantes particularly useful for timing repetitive actions such as multiple laps in a race.
These basic chronographs are the most common types. If you're looking for more precision, a Flyback chronograph is an excellent option. Originally meant for pilots, these complications feature a second button that restarts the chronograph from 0 when pressed.

Tachymeters

Tachymeters are another popular complication and are used to measure speed. They feature a scale around the inner or outer bezel of the watch that allows you to easily determine the average rate of whatever it is you're trying to measure. The scale typically stretches from 0 to 3,600, the number of seconds in an hour.
To use a tachymeter, simply start the watch's chronograph at the first marker of a known distance. Once you reach the second marker, stop the chronograph and note the location of the second hand in relation to the scale. This number signifies the average speed of travel during the measured span.

Dual Time Zone / Travel Complications

Travel / dual time zone complications allow you to keep an eye on time in multiple locations at a single glance. Some timepieces feature dual movements to accomplish the task, each of which can be set independently from the other. Each of the two movements also require their own power source. Dual time watches, on the other hand, use a single movement and power source to display the time in two separate locations.
To monitor the time in multiple locations around the world, consider a watch with the World Time Zone feature. These include a 24-hour display linked to the watch's movement which sits within the inner bezel of these timepieces and completes one full revolution each day. Major cities from each of the world's 24 time zones are displayed along the outer bezel. While the inner bezel is fixed, you can adjust the outer bezel at will.
GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) complications are another popular way to keep track of multiple time zones. Any watch that displays multiple time zones is said to have a GMT complication. However, independent and fixed hour hand variations offer specific means of telling time in a second location. A GMT complication with an independent hour hand includes a 24 hour hand which is set separately from the regular hour hand. Conversely, a GMT with fixed hour hand complication includes an hour hand that makes its way around the watch face once each day. The top of the dial signifies midnight while the bottom is used as a stand in for noon.
Watch with Moonphase Complications

Moonphase Complications

An essential tool for our seafaring ancestors, moonphase complications now serve more romantic than practical functions. They indicate the phase of the moon from new to full, quarter to half.

Tourbillon Complications

If you're looking for an especially precise timepiece, consider one with the Tourbillon. This complication eliminates timekeeping errors that can result from changing the watch's position as well as those caused by the force of gravity. It does so by improving the overall balance of the watch.
Most modern watches are highly accurate with or without the Tourbillon. However, this complication can be found on a handful of high-quality watches. Because it requires an immense amount of skill and time to construct, Tourbillons are still incredibly rare.

Watch Bands / Watch Straps

Although a watch's face attracts the lion's share of attention when shopping for a new timepiece, selecting the perfect band can be every bit as important. There are a wide variety of materials to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Finding a band that matches your tastes and lifestyle can be the difference that separates a watch you wear every day to one that's worn only on special occasions.

Gold

Gold watch bands are one of the oldest types of options. They're known as the standard for elegance and luxury which explains their enduring popularity.

Leather

Leather straps can be used to dress up or dress down. Especially expensive timepieces often include a leather strap, allowing the band to highlight the beauty of the case without drawing attention away from it. If you spend a lot of time around water, it's best to steer clear of leather straps. Over time, the moisture can warp or crack the band.

Nylon

Nylon straps work well for the active person. They absorb water easily and are remarkably durable, making them a great choice for individuals who spend a fair amount of time outdoors.

Plastic / Rubber

Resin / Rubber straps provide the comfort of a leather strap with an added bit of durability. Although they aren't quite as resilient as metal straps, they'll almost always outlast leather. Just be aware that rubber straps are susceptible to being cut easily. Because of this, we don't recommend them for activities like rock climbing that regularly bring the band in contact with sharp surfaces.

Ceramic

Ceramic bands are more durable than most other options. Its hardness is roughly 3-4 times that of stainless steel and is almost entirely impervious to scratching. However, ceramic bands do run a slight risk of shattering due to their hardness.
The material is both lightweight and hypoallergenic, making it an excellent choice for those looking for a comfortable band or anyone with a nickel allergy. Ceramic watch bands even maintain their color more effectively than other materials because they aren't affected by ultraviolet light.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel watch bands are both sleek and stylish. One of the most common band materials, manufacturers use stainless steel straps for their durability, strength, and ease of restoration.

Titanium

Sturdy and stylish, titanium watch bands are perfect for those who live an active lifestyle and want a more aesthetically pleasing strap than either rubber or nylon. They're especially light weight and hypoallergenic, making them a good choice for individuals with a nickel allergy. Plus, titanium watch bands often have a protective coating that makes them scratch resistant.

Other Things to Consider

Water Resistance

If you plan on spending time underwater with your watch, be sure to find a model that's water resistant. Standard water resistant watches are capable of withstanding pressure as low as 30 meters under water. You might see water resistance measured in either "atmospheres" (ATM) or "Bar." A single ATM or bar is equivalent to 10 meters, meaning that watches that are water resistant up to 30 meters are resistant up to 3 ATM or 3 bar.

In Summary

Selecting a timepiece is a highly personal endeavor. Before you start comparing models, consider which style best suits your needs, the complications in which you're most interested, and the type of moment you'd like. Think about which brands distill the emotional impact you're seeking to achieve and determine a budget you'd like to observe. Next consider what materials best suits your needs for the case, crystal, and band, weighing aesthetics and the physical properties of the material. Finally, compare specific models with your desired characteristics to find a timepiece you'll love for years to come.
For more help deciding on the perfect watch, feel free to reach out to our experts at 800-860-3577. Our extensive experience has equipped us with the knowledge and skills necessary to narrow down the multitude of choices and help you find the ideal timepiece for any occasion.

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