We all abide by, lose track of and long for more time. Perhaps this is why the seemingly simple wristwatch comes in more than a thousand different shapes and styles. Finding the watch that accommodates all your personal preferences and needs can be a time consuming proposition.
Whether you’re looking for a snazzy new dress watch, a sport watch to track your workouts, a high-performance altimeter watch with built-in digital compass or a dapper pocket watch, there is a vast array of options to choose from. In this watch guide, we'll take a look at the different roles a watch can play and point out features that might help you select a timepiece you’ll appreciate owning for many years to come. We’ll also provide a glimpse into the internal workings of your watch, including common terminology, and we’ll even tell you about some specific features, from watch movement to water resistance. Finally, we'll wrap things up with some helpful fit tips.
It's important to keep in mind where you’ll be wearing your watch, and what you’ll be doing. Obviously, a mountaineer will need a completely different watch than an international businessman. Other than keeping time, what purposes do you want your watch to serve? In this section, we’ll break down your main options to give you an idea of what’s out there.
From big and bold to sleek and minimal, the fashion watch combines form and function to create an accessory that will complement your individual style. A fashion watch might have a large, analog display with minimalist numerals or it might be a futuristic-looking digital timepiece with a molded silicon band. The possibilities are virtually endless.
This category offers a classy, professional appearance that can be fine-tuned to your particular standard of excellence. Usually featuring a fine leather band or metal bracelet, the versatile dress watch can be paired with a fine Italian suit or a more casual sport shirt and jeans, depending on your preference.
Athletes need a rugged, lightweight watch that can do more than just keep track of time, which is where the sport watch shines. Whether you need a digital running watch with heart monitor function or something to log your elevation gain as you ascend a craggy alpine peak, there is a sport watch designed to do everything you need and much more.
Predating the wrist watch by several hundred years, the first pocket watches were being produced as early as the 17th century. Although the pocket watch has been around for a long time, it’s also a timeless classic and a fun alternative to wearing a wrist watch. Today, many different companies continue to produce high-quality pocket watches in a wide range of styles, from traditional to contemporary.
A watch's "movement" refers to the mechanisms that measure and display the passage of time. The movement may be mechanical, electronic or a blend of the two. Today, most watches have an electronic movement with mechanical hands on the face of the watch. Just like buying a new car, investing in a high-quality watch with good components will equate to more accurate timekeeping and a longer-lasting timepiece.
Quartz movements use a paper-thin piece of synthetic quartz that vibrates as a result of electric charge. Quartz watches have either an analog dial with rotating hands or a digital display, which shows the time with changing numbers. Most modern analog watches and all digital watches have quartz movements.
Swiss movement is another common term you will hear in the watch industry. There are several factors that set this movement apart from standard movements:
Fun Fact! The Tour de l'Ile Swiss watch from Vacheron Constantin was voted the world's most expensive watch in 2005 by Forbes magazine. Worth $1.5 million, this watch took seven years to develop and three years of assembly. Also known as the world's busiest timepiece, it has 834 separate parts and 16 complications, including a tourbillon, power reserve, striking-mechanism torque, moon phase, perpetual calendar, sunrise time, leap-year indicator, sunset time, sky chart and even more.
Whether it’s made of metal, leather, rubber, nylon webbing or another material, the band on your watch adds to the individual look and feel. When choosing a watch band, you should consider the activities you’ll be doing when you wear the watch. If you plan on wearing it during activities like hiking or camping, a strong material like stainless steel, nylon or high-quality synthetic rubber may be a better choice. If style is more important to you than durability, your options are much wider. Of course, the band on most watches can always be replaced or upgraded, so don’t worry too much about the band when you’re picking out a watch.
There are two main styles of watch bands:
Because our wrists come in different shapes and sizes, watch faces also range widely in size and shape. The “watch face” is the front display portion of the watch. The face may also include other elements. For example, chronographs typically include several subdials that can be used to measure elapsed time. Luminosity features provide enhanced visibility in low light and darkness. Luminous elements may include glowing hands or an entire backlit display.
On an analog watch, hands of different lengths are used to tell the time. The hour hand is the shortest, and indicates the hour. The minute hand is longer. Many analog watches also include a second hand, although some minimalist models do not.
“Complications” are features built into an analog watch that do something other than telling the time. Some examples of watch complications include a self-winding mechanism or automatic movement; alarm; date, day and month displays; chronograph subdials; solar and lunar displays; sunset and sunrise indicators; and more.
A watch case is the structure that encapsulates the face, movement, power source and other internal components of a watch. The type of case construction also determines whether or not a watch is water-resistant or waterproof.
The watch bezel is a ring of material that surrounds the watch face and holds it in place within the case. Bezels can be embellished with scalloped edges, jewels, engraving and more. Bezels can also have a rotating function to keep track of elapsed time or distance.
The crystal of a watch is the transparent cover that protects the face.
The crown is a small knob on the exterior of the case that allows you set the time, alarm and other features.
Fun Fact! The English horologist Daniel Quare is believed to have introduced the minute hand to the watch around 1691, though it did not come into general use until the early 18th Century.
Display refers to the way time is shown on the watch. It does not refer to the timekeeping technology used within the watch.
An analog watch denotes time by the continuous motion of a rotating hour hand and a longer, rotating minute hand on a circular, numbered dial. Many watches also incorporate a third hand that shows the current second of the current minute.
A digital watch display denotes time by showing numeric digits that track time in a digital sequence, such as "12:01," with A.M. or P.M. indicators.
Fun Fact! Digital watches were very expensive and out of reach to the common consumer up until 1975, when Texas Instruments started to mass-produce them housed inside plastic cases.
Choosing what powers your watch is yet another factor to consider when buying a timepiece. Traditionally, all watches had to be wound manually to keep the mainspring ticking. Modern watches, however, are powered by a variety of energy sources.
Manual winding requires regular hand-winding of the crown on the watch case. This is the oldest method of powering a wrist watch.
Cell batteries are one of the most common energy sources for watches today. Their small size and ability to dispense extremely small amounts of power over a long period of time makes them a practical choice for most watches, though battery replacement usually requires a trip to a watch dealer or jeweler.
Solar power works through a photovoltaic cell on the face of the watch. This cell converts light to electricity, which in turn charges a re-chargeable battery. As long as you expose this type of watch to fairly strong light regularly, you will never need to replace the battery. Some solar-powered models can run for weeks after being exposed to sunlight for only a few minutes!
Kinetic-powered quartz makes use of the motion of the watch-wearer's arm. As you move, a rotating weight turns a generator which then supplies power to a rechargeable battery. This source of energy gives the wearer the advantages of quartz without the environmental impact of batteries.
Automatic watches, also called self-winding watches, use the same concept as a kinetic watch, only the motion of the wearer actually winds the mainspring of the movement itself. These watches cost more than others because they are far more intricate and expensive to produce, with many delicate moving parts. They are assembled by hand and offer the utmost in precision. They can be stored in a watch winder when not in use to maintain timing.
Fun Fact! The first electrically powered watch, named the Hamilton Electric 500, was released in 1957 by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pa.
Before you set out on that kayaking adventure with your newfound timepiece, you'll want to have some knowledge regarding the level of water resistance it offers. There are several features that help make a watch water resistant. Most importantly, every water-resistant watch is armed with gaskets or O-rings. These can be made of rubber, nylon or Teflon. Gaskets and O-rings form a watertight seal where the crystal, case back and crown meet the watch case. Water-resistant watches will also be lined with a sealant.
So how much water exposure can your watch take? Well, when a watch is labeled "water resistant" without providing a maximum depth rating, it means you're getting the lowest level of resistance. These types of watches can withstand a splash here and there, but should never be submerged.
When a maximum depth is given for a watch, it should be interpreted as a general guideline only, as depth designations are hypothetical and based on a best-possible scenario. A depth rating denotes how deep a watch can be submerged before water pressure will cause the watch case to potentially fail and begin leaking. This rating also takes into account that the surrounding water and wearer are both motionless. Depth ratings are usually shown in feet, meters or ATM, which stands for "atmospheres" or multiples of standard air pressure. Two ATM of pressure occurs at a water depth of about 10 meters.
|50 meters/165 feet/6 ATM||Swimming and Bathing|
|100 meters/330 feet/11 ATM||Snorkeling|
|200 meters/660 feet/21 ATM||Recreational Scuba Diving|
|1,000 meters/3300 feet/101 ATM||Deep Sea Diving|
Quick Tip: Never wear your watch in a hot tub! Hot water can cause the gaskets to lose their shape and their ability to keep out water. High exposure to chlorine can also increase gasket wear and tear, so avoid frequent usage in heavily chlorinated pools.
The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines barring watch manufacturers from labeling their watches “waterproof.” Even watches built to withstand the depths of the deepest seas are only considered “water resistant” to a certain depth recommendation, because no watch can ever truly be fully waterproof in all possible conditions.
Fun Fact! There are dive watches designed for extreme depths that are filled with silicone oil instead of air. This keeps the inside and outside pressure of the watch roughly equalized, so these watches can be certified to a depth of 12,000 meters! That's deeper than the Challenger Deep, the deepest surveyed point in the oceans!
Watch crystals can be made from three different materials, and each offers varying degrees of scratch resistance.
Fun Fact! Sapphire, whether natural or synthetic, measures 9 on the Mohs scale--a system for rating the relative hardness of a material--making it one of the hardest substances on earth. But because a diamond measures 10, a diamond can actually scratch even the most expensive of scratch-resistant watches, so it is best to keep your watch face some distance from your diamond rings and jewelry!
Watch fit can generally be broken down into three categories:
Case size and band size are the two most common differences between men's watches (wider bands, larger faces and sizing for thicker wrists) and women's watches (thinner bands, smaller faces and sizing for thinner wrists).
Watch bracelets are customizable, featuring removable links and/or adjustable clasps. Your watch manual should explain how to resize the bracelet. If you’re having trouble or need special tools, a watch specialist or jeweler can help you adjust the fit for an affordable fee, or no possibly no charge at all.
These have bands made of leather, rubber, nylon or another flexible material. One side will have multiple small holes punched through the material. The other side will have a corresponding buckle, allowing you to select between several sizes. If none of the sizes are ideal, you may be more comfortable purchasing a different type of band.