The Gift of Time a Watch Primer

I recently received a comment from a reader about purchasing a high-end watch for her fiancee. Her name was Brittany and she was open to let me help her point her in the right direction to finding something special for her future husband on their special day. The whole process of picking something as personal as a watch for someone else really got me thinking.

So, I thought I would put up a post to help people learn about watches and how to choose one for someone else. Hopefully my experience with buying watches can help guide others to finding the perfect gift for the one/s they love. Thanks Brittany for the comment and good luck with the search!

As with any search it starts with getting the right information. I first asked Brittany some basic questions. I’m going to outline my questions below along with what each question means to me from a watch buying perspective.

  1. Is it for a man or a woman? This makes a huge difference, men’s watches are often there only jewelry as well as often a tool in mans tool box. Where with women they are often much more jewelry oriented and will have to compete or compliment other pieces of jewelry.
  2. Is it the only watch he or she will wear or is one of several or does in need to fulfill a specific need. This is often the determining question, for example if the gift-tee is looking for a dive watch for actual diving it is much easier to focus on that category than a watch that will have to work under all circumstances if it’s the only watch they will ware.
  3. Budget – This is self-evident, the higher the amount to work with the hard it gets and the more choices you have. As the price increases I start to expect more and more from a watch, at $1,000 I expect a quality timepiece that will last a lifetime, at $10,000 I expect a limited edition watch that comes with a pedigree and a piece of history at $20,000 I expect a pedigree and a high precious metal content.
  4. What’s the purpose of the watch beyond telling time? This is a hard one. If the watch is meant to impress, you must ask who it is that your impressing. A watch connoisseur is harder to impress than your average Joe. Something I always find it interesting is that my big, gaudy, showy watches get more comments and attention than my pricier, quality, classic watches. Of course I don’t tend to hang out with watch aficionados, so go figure.
  5. How does your gift-tee dress? Fairly straight forward, if the gift-tee wears a suite and tie every day, you probably don’t want to get them a big honking tool diver watch. Unless of course their other outfits include wetsuits and scuba tanks on a regular basis. As rule; suites = dress watches; casual attire = everyday watches; sweat pants = big bling or G-Shocks; Carhart’s = tough work watches, you get the idea.
  6. Do they have any hobbies that need to be addressed? Again, its straight forward, if they are into boating, go for a yachting watch (see post here). If they are into planes go for an aeronautical inspired watch, if they are into cars go for something car related. If you look around there is a watch for almost any occasion and hobby.

The next step after answering some basic questions is to figure out the details of the watch. Type of movement, case material, legibility, durability etc. I always like to start with the movement, there are three basic types of watch movements, with a few variations that are worth noting. The different type of watch movements includes; Quartz (battery powered), Automatic (powered by the movement of your wrist) and Manual (you must physically wind them.) They each have their strengths and weakness, in terms of accuracy Quartz is First with Automatic Second and then Manual (these are general rules and there are many exceptions.) There are few others that are unique, one of my favorites is the Seiko Kinetic movement, it’s like an automatic movement but instead of winding the main spring of a watch it charges a capacitor that acts like a battery and then powers a quartz movement. I have several of these watches and like them very much, my big problem with them is when I don’t wear them they die and it’s a pain to get them going again. The other big one is solar powered watches, these are again quartz watches with a little solar panel built into the dial that provides power to the movement. Citizen has an extensive line called Eco-Drive which keep great time as long as they get some sunlight on a regular basis.

When you get into the higher end brands, they are almost all Automatic or Manual movements, and many have developed their own in-house movements (part of the reason they cost so much.) This does not necessarily make them better than the mass market movement, just more exclusive. Also, when you get into the higher end brands they tend to make their cases out of precious metals rather than steel, bronze or titanium. The case material will mostly affect the wear of the watch, with gold watch cases being heavy and will possibly show more wear, while titanium is light strong and wears well. Obviously the more precious the material the high the price. Solid gold and platinum watches often start in the tens of thousand of dollars and go up from there.

Next up on my list of decision would be the size of the case. Most watches are listed in millimeters with typical case sizes ranging from around 28mm up to more than 50mm in width. Length is also important as it determines how the band wraps around the wrist, if the lug-to-lug (the little arms that stick out where the band attaches) distance is to short you see a lot of band on the top of the wrist with the watch, if the lug-to-lug distance is to long the watch risks sticking out of the edge leaving a gap where the band starts. The other dimension to consider is the height of the watch, super thin watches start at around 3-4mm with super thick ones running 20mm plus. I find the 9-15mm heights the most comfortable with 10-11mm being perfect for me.

Next up on the shopping list would be dial color, legibility and complications. A watches complication are all the extra features besides telling time that a watch can have. I have watches that have alarms, chronographs (stopwatches), second time zones, depth gauge, thermometer, compass, altitude measurement, barometer and more. Typically, the more complicated a dial the less legible it is, I’ve noticed that the older I get the more important legibility is for me. Color plays a big role in my watch choices, you can only have so many black and white dials before things get boring. But I also don’t want to be rocking a bright orange watch dial with all my outfits. Another thing to consider is if the gift-tee will change bands, a great watch can be worn on multiple bands, letting it match whatever occasion is at hand. Changing my watch bands is one of the things I love most about watch collecting, each watch I own has multiple looks and personalities simply by changing the band.

Hopefully the above will give you some idea of where to start in your watch gifting adventures. Check out my other post on gifts for watch collectors for watch accessories, here. Below are a few links to some of the brands that I own and can whole heartily recommend, I’ve listed them by general price range, so you can start your search based on price. This is by no means a complete list, there are hundreds of interesting watches and watch brands out there, have fun and good luck hunting! Also check out my watch brands by country listing for more ideas.

$250 – $750

Maranez; Seiko Prospex; Zelos; Steinhart

$750 – $1,500

Hamilton; Zodiac; Archimede; Stowa; Halios; Magrette

$1,500 – $5,000

Bell & Ross; Sinn; Christopher Ward; Nomos Glashutte

$5,000 Plus

Omega; Panerai; IWC