January 02, 2014 / The Josh Sway Watch Guide: Part 3, Aesthetics
In Part 3 of our watch guide, I will take a look at the basic aesthetic features of timepieces.
Welcome to part 3 of the Josh Sway Watch Guide. In parts 1 and 2 I covered the basics. In part 3 I want to cover aesthetics in more detail. Buying a watch isn’t just about watch type and watch brand, it’s also obviously about how the watch looks!
Basic aesthetic components of a watch
While many watches have elements of history and technology in them, at the end of the day, a watch is a piece of jewelry and as such, it’s aesthetic qualities are important. The basic components that make up a watch’s appearance are it’s face, it’s casing, and it’s strap (or bracelet). The face of the watch is the appearance of the "front" part of the watch where the hour and minute hand are, along with any other elements visible when looking at the watch. The strap or bracelet is the part of the watch that wraps around your wrist. The case is the outside of the watch, the component which holds the internal parts (the movement) and external parts together. The image below makes it more clear:
There are many different watch faces, many of which were discussed in Part 2. The key components of the face are it’s appearance (color, material, etc.), the number of complications, and the size. The face is perhaps the most important aesthetic component of a watch and also one of the most complicated to choose from. What kind of face you choose depends on your specific needs for the watch, what you will wear it with and your budget among other things. Here are a few factors to consider:
1. Light or Dark Color
While there are no set rules, I generally prefer a lighter color face (one on the right below)
versus a darker color face (the left) for formal occasions.
This is in line with tradition as well. A darker face usually looks best in conjunction with a more sporty or casual look.
2. Diamonds / Gems
I personally do not like watches with diamonds or any kind of jewelry on the face; however, some people do. I would personally buy a higher quality timepiece from a better manufacturer than spend the money on a diamond encrusted face.
3. Feature "richness"
A watch with many complications is a great eye grabber, so be sure you want that if you are buying a watch that is "feature rich". A feature rich watch, such as the one shown below, can work in both formal and less formal settings.
However, buying one from a high end manufacturer is extremely expensive.
4. Face "Centering"
The watch dial can be centered of off center. One of my favorite designs features an "off center" main dial, the Lange One.
An off center watch is a great attention grabber and can be used in formal settings as well as some less formal ones.
The casing of a watch is a very noticeable component as well. Some of the main features you should consider with casing is the material, color, and size.
1. Material and Color
Cases are often made of stainless steel or precious metals (gold, platinum) in more expensive brands. Colors are often one of: stainless steel, white gold, rose gold, yellow gold or platinum. Other options also exist. Traditionally, precious metals (particularly gold or rose gold) were considered most suitable for formal occasions while stainless steel was generally reserved for less formal use but that has changed. Nowadays, the "silver" colored metals can be used in formal situations just as much as the "yellow" colors. It is yellow gold and rose gold that sometimes look out of place in very casual settings.
In the past, small faces and cases were considered more formal and elegant; however, that trend is changing. Big seems to be here to stay. A typical man’s watch diameter will range from 36mm to 42mm and up (many popular models are as large as 48mm+). While big is in, remember that big appearance is as much a function of your wrist size as a function of the watch size. Also, formal watches should generally be smaller than fashion watches or watches for more casual occasions. I recommend sticking in the 38mm-41mm range unless you have big wrists, in which case you can safely venture higher.
Strap / Bracelet
The last major aesthetic component of a watch is the strap or bracelet. The distinction between a strap and a bracelet is convention: when a strap is made of metal, it is called a bracelet. The main aesthetic components of a strap/bracelet are material, color and design.
Historically, a leather strap was the gold standard for formal wear while a bracelet made sense for less formal occasions. Nowadays, the lines are pretty blurred. I still prefer a leather strap for formal settings and a bracelet for more casual, but for the most part they are interchangeable. There are also rubber straps on various watches that seem to be "in", such as on a few Panerai’s.
When it comes to bracelets, the metal is usually chosen to match the casing of the watch. I personally do not like gold / rose gold looking bracelets as I feel they look very tacky (kind of like what a drug dealer wears in the movies) so I will generally opt for a leather strap if the watch I am wearing is yellow gold or rose gold.
Color is often chosen to match or complement the casing and face of the watch. Many combinations are possible, but below are the pairings I like:
Case: Yellow Gold/Rose Gold -> Strap: Dark Brown leather / black leather for formal occasions only.
Case: White Gold / Platinum / Stainless Steel -> Strap: Black Leather or Metal Bracelet.
Other combinations are possible, these are just my preferences.
Strap designs are far from generic. Besides different materials and colors they come in different thicknesses, different link patterns, and with different buckles (among other differences). A good general guide is to stick with the standard straps by the manufacturer who makes the watch itself.
With that I conclude Part 3 of our watch guide. Entire books can be written about the subject, and I am far from qualified to contribute that much on the subject; however, I hope in these 3 parts completed so far I have covered the basics every man about to spend real money on a watch should know. In Part 4 I am going to talk about the more advanced topic of watch movements and complications in greater detail.