Watch Buying Guide

So, you are interested in buying a new watch? Cool! Here’s a brief guide to help you select the time piece that may best for you. First, let’s discuss a few key definitions used in describing watches that will help in your decision making process.

Watch bands: There are actually two distinct styles: the bracelet and the strap. A bracelet is a series of interlocking metal links and is typically a little looser on the wrist. A strap band watch is made out leather, fabric, nylon, rubber or synthetic and is typically more adjustable.

The Movement: The movement refers to the interior mechanism of the time piece that drives the time keeping (and possibly other) functions. Watches can have quartz, mechanical or automatic movements.

Quartz Movement: A quartz movement is powered by a battery. In this design, a vibrating quartz crystal drives a small motor that move the hands at a constant rate. An electric current passing through a quartz crystal keeps it oscillating at over 32,000 vibrations per second and makes the movement extremely reliable. Quartz movement is also a generally inexpensive design for the manufacturer, and most affordable watches usually have this feature. Swiss quartz combines the movement with the chassis and jewels of a mechanical watch to form the most accurate and most durable quartz watches. On average, the battery needs to be changed every one and a half years. Watches in this price range can start at as little as $10.00.

Mechanical movement: Mechanical movements use a spring that must be wound by hand using the crown. The spring slowly unwinds to release the energy that powers the timekeeping functions. These types of watches are among the most expensive, but well built mechanical watches can last for generations. Consumers who appreciate the skill of gifted watchmakers choose these fine watches for their intricate composite of gears and other parts.

Automatic Mechanical Movements (also known as Kinetic): Automatic watches have mechanical movements that capture the energy produced by the swing of the wearer's arm to wind the spring or to capture energy in a capacitor to power a quartz movement. Therefore, the watch’s wearer does not need to manually wind the watch every day.

Case: The case is the watch’s frame. The case can be round, rectangular, square, and sometimes even polygonal. The case finish can be shiny, matte, patterned, or inlaid with jewels and other crystals. For most watches, the case is usually made of a metal – stainless steel, titanium, gold, silver, and platinum being the most common. Getting a watch with a case (and band) made from the latter three precious metals is going to be fairly expensive. Some common terms you see concerning metals are 24k, 18k etc. This simply means the percentage of metal in the alloy that makes up the case. For example, since pure gold (24k) is much too soft so use in a watch, it is necessary alloy (mix) it with another metal. 24k means 100 percent (or 24/24 parts gold). 18k gold is 18/24 parts gold, or 75 percent gold and 25 percent some harder metal.

Crystal: The crystal is the transparent cover that protects the watch face. It can be made from plexiglass, mineral glass or synthetic sapphire -- an extremely hard, clear, man-made crystal. Plexiglass is the cheapest of watch "crystals." It's the least likely to shatter, but the most likely to scratch. Mineral glass, on the other hand, is more likely to shatter, but less likely to scratch. Synthetic sapphire crystals are the most expensive, and are the most scratch-resistant. The caveat is that this type of crystal, although hard, can be brittle, and thus likely to shatter if dropped or struck.

Bezel: The bezel is the ring which surrounds the watch face. The bezel is usually made of gold, gold plate or stainless steel.

Complications: Complications are one or more features that are added to a watch in addition to its usual time-telling functions. Normal time-telling functions usually include the hours, minutes and seconds but also date and often the day of the week as well. Complications can include perpetual calendars, moon-phase displays, alarms, repeating mechanisms, quarter strikes as well as stop/start chronograph, and even power reserves. Digital watches that have complications are usually called multi-functional.

Crown: Also called a stem or pin, a crown is the button on the outside of the watch case that is used to set the time and date. In a mechanical watch the crown also winds the mainspring. In this case it is also called a "winding stem". A screw in (or screw down) crown is used to make a watch more water resistant. The crown actually screws into the case, dramatically increasing the water-tightness of the watch.

Water Resistance: The ability to withstand splashes of water. Terms such as "water resistant to 50 meters" or "water resistant to 200 meters" indicate that the watch can be worn underwater to various depths.

Now that you have an idea of some of the terms you may encounter while shopping for a watch, you need to ask yourself several questions. The first thing to consider when buying a watch is, “what is its purpose?” Will you use it to time your speed walking, or your lunch hour? The wide availability of watch styles and features allows you to pick the watch that fits your needs, style, and taste perfectly.

If you want a watch that will help keep you on time, you may want to choose a watch with a second hand and clear markers (the numbers on the face). You can even find watches with easy-to-set timers that can remind you when you need to move on to the next meeting.

If you are looking for a casual all-purpose watch look for features that ensure you can keep your mind on taking it easy. Choose a watch with a comfortable band and higher water resistance so you don't have to worry about your watch when you're reaching in the cooler for a drink or slipping in for a swim. If you choose a watch with a metal band, choose stainless steel, which will not rust.

If you are more interested in high craftsmanship and a possible family heirloom, you will want to choose a luxury watch (most likely Swiss made). When considering this time of timepiece, don’t’ be surprised by the price! To start in this market is going to cost a minimum of $2,500 and may cost as much as $40,000 depending on the complications and materials the watch is made from. Of course, these watches, if properly maintained, can literally last for generations.