Today there are thousands of watches on the market. Even though a watch is an accessory that we usually consider in isolation, with no reference to what we are wearing, there are certain occasions that call for a specific watch style. For men, a watch is like a piece of jewellery. It says a lot about you, more than you would imagine. It deserves the same sort of care that you devote to your clothes.
Quartz or mechanical?
There are several factors involved in choosing a watch. The first big divide is between quartz, mechanical and smartwatches. Quartz watches are cheaper and more accurate, but they have a battery that has to be changed approximately once every two years. Mechanical watches are distinctive for the “sweep” movement of the seconds hand, which advances in one-sixth or one-eighth second increments, differently to the one-second jumps of a quartz watch. There are many more components in the movement of a mechanical watch, and they are typically assembled by hand. For this reason, mechanical watches have prices starting from at least a few hundred euros. A mechanical watch stops when it has run down, but of course there are no batteries to be replaced.
Manual or automatic?
Within the category of mechanical timepieces, there is another major divide, between so-called automatic watches, in which the movement of your hand constantly winds the watch by means of a swinging oscillating weight, and hand-wound watches, that have to be wound manually every couple of days.
There are many different watch types. The simplest are time-only watches. Most watches have a date window. Beyond this, additional functions are often referred to as “complications,” and the most familiar is the chronograph, which can be used to time events by means of the pushers on either side of the crown. Other complications include complete calendars with day, date and month, perpetual calendars that keep track of the differing lengths of months and the leap year cycle, world timers, GMT watches, split-second chronographs and many others. In their mechanical versions, complication watches are incredible pieces of micro-engineering and they have prices starting from a few thousand euros.
Case and strap
Other factors determining the choice of a watch are linked to the case and strap. For men, watches are generally from 38 to 46 mm in size, and from about 10 to about 16 mm in thickness. Straps can be in leather, or the so-called Nato straps in canvas, or bracelets formed of large links, or Milanaise bracelets in metal mesh. We are seeing a move towards straps that can be easily replaced by the owner so that he or she can quickly modify the watch’s overall appearance. In the case of metal bracelets, the type of metal usually corresponds to the case material, whether this be stainless steel, black PVD-finish steel, or gold in its various colours, such as white, pink or yellow gold. Dial colours provide further choice: the commonest are silver, white and black, while other popular colours include blue (this has been a trend colour over the last few years), green, and all other colours though in smaller numbers. The caseback can be solid, in the same metal as used for the rest of the case, or with a window in transparent sapphire, displaying details of the movement.
One very important aspect of the case is its water resistance. Most watches are specified as having a 3-atmosphere water resistance, which corresponds to 30-metres depth, but this is a misleading figure. In fact, a watch with a 3 atm, 30-metre water resistance rating should never be taken to a depth of 30 metres. It should never be taken swimming, or into the shower. A watch with this water resistance rating will withstand at most occasional splashes and raindrops. A timepiece with a 10 atm, 100-metre water resistance can be used for surface swimming, and one with a 30 atm, 300-metre water resistance can be used for scuba diving.
Certain occasions call for specific watches. A tuxedo requires a dress watch, which is 10 mm thick or less, so that it slips under the shirt cuff easily. It has a very simple dial, usually black, with baton hour markers, and a discreet white gold or stainless steel case. Purists prefer it without a date window, perhaps even without a seconds hand.
Business outfit watches
An office suit is best with a slim, straightforward watch, no more than 10 mm thick for the same shirt cuff functionality as in the case of a dress watch. For businessmen, the display of time in a second time zone can be very useful, and likewise the world timer function that shows the time in each and every principal time zone of the world. Other mechanical complications are possible, but slim complication watches become very expensive. There is no doubt that a quality mechanical wristwatch adds distinction to your look, an indication of good taste and affluence.
For sportier looks that express a lifestyle that includes a range of outdoor activities, a diving watch is a great choice. Even if you are not a scuba diver, the fact that it has a 300-metre water resistance means that you can wear it even while swimming, in the rain, on a boat, on a golf course or in the mountains. A watch of this type also has a rotating bezel with a triangular marker, and you can use this to approximately time the duration of an event, or to programme a countdown.
There are a few specific professions for which there are specialist watches, but in today’s digital age, these are more nostalgic curiosities than true tools. Examples are pulsometer watches, chronographs marked with a scale that enable you to take a patient’s pulse, pilot’s watches with circular slide rules for calculations regarding fuel consumption and flight times, regatta watches with a reverse countdown for the initial stages of a race, and others.
Watches as an investment
The final considerations on buying watches for your look regard the purchasing process. It’s a good idea to go to the boutique in your usual everyday wear so that you can check the appearance of your timepiece. While there is no need to coordinate a watch to your look, if you prefer black suits, you may prefer a watch with a black strap. Likewise, if your favourite look is blue, a watch that has a touch of blue on the dial can be a good idea.
Lastly, it’s best not to buy a watch thinking that it could be a good investment. For just about all brands except two, the watch that you have just bought decreases in value by about 20% as soon as you leave the store, and it continues to progressively decrease in value over the years. Eventually its value will start rising again, some years after the model has gone out of production. So, buy a watch that you like and that gives you pleasure. If it’s a mechanical watch, it will still be working 70 years from now and you can leave it to your children. Their happiness is your best investment.