October 20, 2013 / The Josh Sway Watch Guide: Part 1, Introduction
Josh Sway brings you an introduction to watch buying.
Images (c) Diesel, Jaeger LeCoultre, and Rolex
I am not a huge fan of male jewelry. I don’t have my ears pierced, I have no tattoos, and I never wear any jewelry except for a watch. A watch is one of the most common forms of male jewelry. There is a watch for just about any occasion and any environment. Besides adding some style and flair to your appearance, a watch can also make a great conversation piece with men and women alike.
Unfortunately, the world of watches is a very complicated one where mistakes can prove very costly to your wallet! While there are many relatively inexpensive watches, many timepieces are expensive, sometimes upwards of $20,000 for BASIC models! Clearly, if you are going to spend anywhere close to that kind of money on a watch, you want to know what you are doing! I was an uninformed buyer once and it cost me money. This guide, which will be published over the coming weeks, will help you learn the basics and help you avoid the mistakes I made when buying my first watch!
Types of Watches
There are countless watches to choose from; however, I like to breakdown the watch world into three main types. One is the functional watch. This would be something like a digital watch with a stop watch feature. These watches focus on functionality and are generally very inexpensive.
The second is the fashion watch. The fashion watch, as the name suggests is a watch whose sole purpose is to look good. Watches you see in a department store are often fashion watches. Fashion watches are generally made by the same brands that make clothing, such as Guess, Armani, Michael Kors, etc. They are almost always battery operated (Quartz in watch terminology) and are built with appearance as the utmost priority. They are more costly than most functional watches but the focus on appearance over other things allows them to be modestly priced relative to the third type of watch.
The third type of watch is a ‘timepiece’. A timepiece is a high end watch such as a Rolex or a Patek Philippe. In addition to a focus on appearance, a timepiece also emphasizes craftsmanship and history. Most timepieces are mechanical (they do not require a battery), and many of them are hand finished (decorated by hand) and made of precious metals. Their product is often limited to small numbers to ensure the cache of the watch. These are the most prestigious of watches but also naturally, the most expensive.
Components of a Watch
A watch has a few main components. The first one is the “movement” The movement is the guts of the watch: the components of the watch that keep the time. For a watch with a battery, the movement is just a very simple electronic process. For higher end timepieces, the movement is generally entirely mechanical, operated by a spring and carefully crafted to keep very accurate time despite not benefiting from advances in digital technology. Very high end timepieces often have a clear back so that you can inspect the movement. The movements are also often decorated with jewels and engraved; sometimes even by hand.
The display is the second main component of a watch. The display is what you look at when you look at the watch and the component most other people see. This is the key component when it comes to the appearance of the watch. Displays can run in many shapes and sizes. Most fashion watches and timepieces display the time in the typical clock format. Functional watches almost always display time digitally, as the time would appear on the computer.
The third appearance related component is the strap. Straps can be made of anything from rubber to gold and come in varying dimensions. Many watches allow for interchangeable straps. Most straps made of anything but metal are called straps, and straps made of metal are generally called bracelets. Typically, leather straps are considered formal or fashionable, rubber straps sporty and metal bracelets more all-purpose.
The last component I will talk about is the features of the watch. Many watches do more than just tell the time. A functional watch may act as a stop watch, calculator, and more. James Bond had watches that can emit laser beams that cut through metal (not sure that exists in real life though!). In general, if a watch is digital and runs on a battery, it can easily have many other features. For watches that are mechanical, features are often very costly additions but also associated with added prestige. Mechanically, knowing whether a month is a thirty day month or a thirty one day month is a technical feat. Obviously, for a lot of features on a budget, digital is the way to go, but most high end timepieces are not about functionality (who uses a watch to tell the time anyway, that’s what cell phones are for!) but appearance and status.
Considerations for buying a Watch: Budget
There are several considerations for buying a watch. First, you should identify your budget. Watch prices vary wildly, from several dollars for a functional watch to tens of thousands of dollars for a high end timepiece. Think about your budget. Depending on what it is, you may be restricted to only looking at functional watches or fashion watches. If your budget is very high, you have a much wider selection of watches to choose from.
Considerations for buying a Watch: Purpose
Why are you buying a watch? Do you want a stopwatch for the gym? Do you want something that will complement your outfit when you go out to the local dive bar? Do you want a watch that looks great with a suit? Do you want a watch that will impress women? Do you want a watch that will act as a status symbol?
If your watch is strictly for functional use, then the choice is easy, go look at functional watches from makers like Casio. If you want a watch that looks good, it becomes a little trickier. There are many good looking fashion watches that can really be chosen to complement your style without breaking the bank, but even those who do not know much about watches can tell the difference between a fashion watch and a true “timepiece.” Women have an uncanny ability to tell a fashion watch from a very high-end watch, even if they don’t know the brand. Men are surprisingly also very attracted to watches (not sexually); I would say I get more compliments on my high end watch from men than women which acts as a nice form of social proof and a status boost. However, with that said, many low end models from mid-range or high-end watch manufacturers appear “cheaper” and more bland than a well-chosen fashion watch.
Also, don’t forget certain types of watches go better with certain outfits. A sporty chronograph might look good out at the bar but might look silly with a suit. Before buying a watch, know what you are buying it for.
Considerations for buying a Watch: Brand
Like any other fashion product or luxury good, brand matters. I will cover the major brands in a later part of this guide, but suffice to say, there are many to choose from, each having their own pros, cons, and reputation. When it comes to fashion watches, I would say brand is less important, but if you are looking for a high-end timepiece, brand is a huge factor. After all, the main point of buying an expensive piece of jewelry is for attention. Different brands will lead to different types of attention from different people. Brands run the gamut from extremely high end models like Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Sohne to more mainstream high end brands like Rolex to $20 Casio watches. If you want to see a ranking of some of the well known high end brands check out our high end watch brand rankings article.
Further Reading About Watches
Buying a watch, given the potential cost, is serious business. I bought my first watch with little to no research and I regretted it. This introduction was meant to give you a very brief overview of watches. In the next part of the Josh Sway Watch Guide I will discuss the different types of watches in more detail, with a particular emphasis on timepieces.