Buying Guide to Watches

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A watch tells more than time. Situated on your wrist, it also tells a story about your tastes and sense of style. Today's watches are often worn as a fashion accessory as opposed to telling time.

Use this guide to learn more about these interesting and fascinating timepieces. Plus, get insights that will help you choose a watch that tells your story best.

Jewelry: Watches

There’s More To A Watch Than You Think

Watches are intricate and complicated mechanisms, and some of the finest ones in the world are hand made by masters who use small tools, microscopes and a lot of patience to carefully build these miniature machines. Switzerland is particularly famous for its high-quality watchmakers who have developed the craft of watchmaking over hundreds of years, so a Swiss timepiece is valued among watch owners for its accuracy and reliability. When a watch is labeled as being Swiss made, it's guaranteed by law to have the majority of its components made in Switzerland.

Your watch should do two things:
1. Accurately keep and display time, and
2. Serve as an extension of your personal style.

Anatomy Of A Watch

For being such a small object, a watch is a very complex machine with an interior made of many small moving gears and springs along with exterior parts that make it a statement piece. Knowing the basic parts of a watch will help you understand this complex object.

Although you may never see them, the internal gears and springs inside a watch are what make it tick. This part of the watch is called the movement, as the timepieces' movements work in concert with each other to do the work of telling time.

Covering the movement, the dial displays the face of the watch. Dials can have many different styles, but their main function is to display the time. Located on the dial, the hands of a watch are the two arms that point to the numbers on the dial in order to help you read the time. In order to adjust the hands or wind the watch you twist the crown, the knob on the side of the watch that connects to the movement.

A crystal, or clear cover, is located on top of the dial and hands and protects those pieces from the elements. The entire mechanism is housed by the case. At the top and bottom of the case are lugs, to which the wrist strap or bracelets attach to, allowing you to wear the timepiece.

Which Shape Do You Prefer?

Every watch has a case that acts as a protective housing for its moving parts. The shape of this case is arguably a watch’s defining feature. Several shapes are on the market today, ranging from square to asymmetrical designs. Which one reflects your tastes?

The Many Shapes Of A Watch Case

Watch with Straight Lines Watch with Traditional Shapes Watch with Striking Combination of Straight Lines and Traditional Shapes

From rectangular or "tank" styles...

to traditional round shapes ...

to striking asymmetrical.

Other shapes not shown are square, oval, carre, carriage and tonneau.

Which Hands Grab Your Attention?

The hands of a watch pivot around a fixed point in the center of the dial to indicate the time in hours, minutes and, on some watches, seconds. The design of a watch's hands often follows its overall aesthetic. These examples represent some popular shapes, sizes, and styles.

Baton

Sword

Mercedes

Arrow

Spade

How Will You Adorn Your Wrist?

A watch’s bracelet or strap is designed to keep the watch secured around the wearer’s wrist while serving as a fashion accessory. Bracelets are typically made of metal or ceramic links, whereas straps may consist of leather, canvas, or other materials.

The buckle is responsible for keeping the bracelet or strap securely fastened around the wrist. Most leather bracelets are paired with an ardillon buckle (also called a tang buckle). This traditional fastener works by using a pin to secure the end of the strap that has been folded through the buckle. Most straps also contain "keepers" for securing the excess strap.

Deployant buckles are usually found on metal link bracelets but can also be found on some leather strap models. Also known as a foldover clasp, this buckle uses interlocking metal pieces to secure the bracelet or strap. If a deployant buckle pops open, the bracelet or strap remains intact, keeping the watch from immediately dropping off the wrist.

How Will You Read The Time?

A watch’s dial, or face, displays the time via Arabic or Roman numerals or representative stick or dial marks that are typically aligned along its periphery. However, there are watch dials with no markers at all! The 12-hour dial consists of numbers one through 12, over which the watch’s hands pass twice a day. The 24-hour dial, used widely in military applications, uses numbers one through 24, and requires just one daily rotation of the hands. Depending on the watch’s overall design, different markings and materials may be used to create the dial.

Some watches also have one or more sub-dials. A sub-dial is a smaller dial set within the primary dial. It may display additional information such as the date or day of the week. In some cases, the sub-dial may also measure "power reserve" or the amount of remaining power left to keep the movement working.

What Protects the Dial?

A watch’s dial is protected by a clear covering called the crystal. The crystal may be comprised of synthetic sapphire, mineral, or acrylic.

Synthetic sapphire – The properties of this lab-created element mirror those of natural sapphire, making it the sturdiest of the three crystal types. It’s also the most expensive type of crystal, and is almost always found on watches made in Switzerland.

Mineral – Mineral crystals are not as hard — and are less costly — than sapphire. They’re made of glass and relatively inexpensive to repair.

Acrylic – Although it’s the most affordable type of crystal, acrylic will show scratches easily.

Which Materials Are Commonly Used In Watches?

Traditionally, watchmakers turned to solid gold for their craft. But over the years, watchmakers began experimenting with different types of metals, leading to the array of metals used in watches today, as well as making watches more affordable.

By thinking about which materials may best suit your lifestyle (and budget!), you can make an informed choice when purchasing your watch.

Gold – Once considered the standard for high-end watches, gold remains a favored choice. Because pure gold is too malleable to be used on its own, it’s alloyed with other metals such as copper, silver, and nickel to build strength. The addition of other metals to pure gold also affects its color, resulting in three distinct shades: yellow, white, and rose.

The purity of gold (i.e., the percentage of gold versus the percentage of other metals) is expressed in karats. Measuring 75 percent pure gold, 18K gold is the most commonly used gold in watch making.

Stainless Steel – Known for its lightweight feel and polished finish, stainless steel is arguably the most commonly used metal in watches today. This non-carbon alloy is mixed with chromium and nickel, and is highly resistant to corrosion. Naturally silver in color, you may also see stainless steel plated with gold. Some steel surfaces go through a process known as IP or ion plating, or PVD, Physical Vapor Deposition. This is a process by where a film of compound materials (color) can be made to be deposited on a steel surface. Also IP coatings in black, bronze and other colors make stainless steel an excellent materials choice for today's fashion color trends. This same treatment is used on the metal bracelets for a color match to the case.

Titanium – This gray metal matches the strength of steel yet is 45 percent lighter. In fact, titanium boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal. In addition to being lightweight, it’s extremely resistant to dents and corrosion.

Ceramic – If you’re looking for a watch that boasts a modern, high-tech flair, look no further than ceramic, not to be confused with ceramic found in stonewear or pottery. Created from industrial ceramic carbide put through a heating and cooling process, this non-metallic material is exceptionally durable, lightweight, and resistant to scratching. Its toughness makes it an ideal choice for active individuals. Fashionistas appreciate it for its wide variety of hues and finishes. It's also hypoallergenic.

Let’s Talk About A Watch’s Movement

Generally comprised of mechanical parts such as gears and springs, a watch’s movement, or engine, serves to power its functions. This internal mechanism is responsible for keeping accurate time and for moving the watch’s hands around the dial. Without it, a watch would be useless.

Watch movements fall into one of these two categories: mechanical movements or quartz movements.

Mechanical Vs. Quartz

An easy way to tell whether a watch has a mechanical or quartz movement is to look closely at its hands. If the second hand moves around the dial in a fluid, sweeping motion, its movement is mechanical. If the second hand has a “tick-tock” motion that moves once per second, its movement is quartz.

However, the differences between these two types of movements go beyond appearances.

The Mechanical Movement

Known for its impeccable craftsmanship, a mechanical movement gets its power from a tightly wound spring. When the wearer winds the spring (via a small wheel, called a crown, located on the side of the watch case), the energy created is transferred to the intricate arrangement of gears and springs that drive a watch’s functions. Watches with this type of movement do not require a battery.

Mechanical movements can be manual or automatic.

Manual movements date back to the 16th century. Regarded as the most traditional type of movement, they’re most often seen in antique watches or in modern luxury watches. Manual movements must be wound at specified intervals (depending on its reserve power capacity) to build energy into a watch’s mainspring. Some manual movements must be wound daily, while others must be wound once a week.

Automatic movements (also known as self-winding movements) essentially wind themselves by harnessing the motion of the wearer’s wrist. Although these movements do not need to be wound on a regular basis, an automatic movement will need to be wound if it stops, or if it sits for a long period of time. Automatic watches can be kept wound by placing them in a battery or electric box known as a "watch winder."

The Quartz Movement

A quartz movement differs from a mechanical movement in that it relies on a battery for its power (no springs!). Because of this, it’s considered the most accurate type of movement. Its reliability and minimal maintenance requirements have no doubt led to its inclusion in the majority of watches manufactured today.

An auto-quartz movement combines the hands-free convenience of an automatic movement with the accuracy of a quartz movement. A watch equipped with an auto-quartz movement is virtually maintenance-free. It does not require a battery, nor does it have springs that may wear over time. Instead, it works by harnessing the energy created by the wearer’s natural wrist movements to power a miniature electrical generator.The generator charges the movement's capacitor, which is like a rechargeable battery.

Some quartz watches are light-powered, meaning that the battery charges when exposed to natural or artificial light. Light-powered watches don't have to compromise on design, as the solar technology needed to enable this function can be either a solar ring hidden between the crystal and the dial, or a cell laced underneath a transparent dial. When exposed to any light source, even dim light, the solar cell converts that light into energy to power the watch, meaning that you never need to replace the battery or wind it to ensure the watch keeps functioning.

What Else Can a Watch Do?

Some watches go above and beyond keeping time. Those that have additional functions — called complications — are designed to make the wearer’s life easier. Common complications include a calendar, a moon phase indicator, a stopwatch (also called a chronograph), and a time-zone feature, which is helpful when traveling.

A complication may use a small window (often used for date displays), a wheel that surrounds the dial, or a more complex sub-dial to display information. A watch with multiple complications will likely have several of these features.

Watch with Date Window Watch with Date Wheel Watch with Small Seconds Sub-Dial

Date Window

Date Wheel

Small Seconds Sub-Dial

Is Your Watch Water-Resistant?

No watch is fully waterproof. Even if a watch is stamped with the phrase "water-resistant," it cannot be submerged in water without risking damage or failure. Water can leak through the case and small gasket protecting the watch components. When a watch is submerged in water, the pressure of the water can build up against the watch and cause that gasket to fail.

However, a watch can be stamped as being water-resistant, sometimes up to 50 or 100 meters. This can have different meanings, depending on how the watch is designed. At its most basic, a water-resistant watch will be able to withstand brief exposure to humidity, meaning that if you get caught in a rainstorm or accidentally splash water on your watch when washing your hands, the watch won't completely break. However, it's not designed for wearing in the shower, where it's subject to constant sprays of water.

When a watch says "water resistant to 100 meters," it doesn't mean you can continually expose the watch to water up to 100 meters deep. It's referring to the amount of pressure the watch can take. When you dive into a pool repeatedly, the sudden change in pressure when you hit the water puts a lot of stress on the component-protecting gasket. Even moving your arm through water quickly puts more pressure on the watch than when you're wearing it on dry land. If that pressure is too great--and even repeated exposure to water over time can cause similar amounts of stress--the gasket will fail and water will leak into the watch movement, causing it to also fail.

If you want to wear your watch while swimming, you may want to consider buying a diver's watch. This type of watch is extremely durable because it's specifically engineered to withstand extreme conditions, including depths of at least 200 meters. Diving watches have a sturdy case and extra heavy gaskets to withstand the extra pressure water causes.

A watch’s use and care requirements will be specific to the type of materials it includes. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions and warranty information.

Water-resistant watches should be checked annually to make sure the gaskets are lubricated, in place and properly sealed.

If your watch gets damaged by water leakage, you should take it to a watch repair shop as soon as possible to have it examined and repaired.