The five vital signs of a great watch
What to look for if you want to buy an excellent timepiece
So you’ve just spotted an excellent wristwatch at your local store or e-commerce website. It ticks—ha ha—all your boxes. It satisfies your every demand. But a niggling doubt persists in your mind: Is it really worth the money? Or perhaps you have been offered a used watch by a close friend or work buddy. The piece is in excellent condition, and to be fair, you have had your eye on it. The price is too good to ignore. But…is it a lemon? Or a fantastic bargain?
Here are the top five signs to look for in a wristwatch before you buy it. They work for brand new purchases, but are also useful if you’re in the market for a used piece.
No.1: Who made it? It is always best to buy a watch made by a bona-fide brand. I am not being snobbish here. So I don’t just mean Rolexes or Omegas. I mean any brand, from Breguet to Casio to Titan, with an established history as a specialist watchmaker. Such history usually translates into well-made watches convenient to service and repair.
Watches that are simply line extensions by brands that make other things—clothes, perfumes and so on—often seem like good value. But they can be more packaging than substance and slightly overpriced. And they are rarely made for long lifetimes of service.
There are exceptions to this rule. But most of the time you would be better off getting a watch made by the pros. A Brioni suit is the sizzle. A Brioni watch could fizzle.
No.2: Is it overpriced? You know what really hurts me? When people spend way more than they should on a watch. Of course, I don’t mean this in an “absolute” sense. Every branded good in the world is overpriced. But within that consumerist framework you should be looking to spend a fair price. Watches are priced opaquely. Throw in the vagaries of taxation and discount all over the world and price discovery can be a problem. Nonetheless, there are two ways in which even the uninitiated can estimate prices.
First, quartz watches should always be significantly cheaper than comparable mechanical watches from the same brand. So always get a broader sense of a brand’s pricing at the store. Second, figure out the movement inside a watch. Then see what other brands charge for watches with the same movement. You might be shocked at the premiums some brands charge for what are essentially movements mass-produced in a factory.
No.3: The small details. There is a Seiko Kinetic Diver watch in my collection that I just adore. It has great value and looks…well, it looks like a proper diver piece. There is just one problem: the second hand is misaligned with the second markers on the watch face ever so slightly. This irritates me no end even if I am the only person in the world who notices it. This is actually a common problem with many mechanical watches, and easily rectified. I just haven’t gotten around to doing it.
But these are the things you should keep an eye out for. The alignment of the hands, the finish on the straps, the quality of the buckle, the polishing on the case, the feel of the crown, the finish on the caseback…. Even a mid-priced watch should show good-quality finishing on all these features. And minor flaws could be piece-specific. Ask for another piece of the same watch.
No.4: Consistency. Whenever possible, ask the salesman to show you two pieces of the model you are keen on. Compare them to each other. Are there differences? Any inconsistencies? Also, compare the display piece to a new one. This could give you some sense of how your watch will look after some wear and tear.
No.5: Is it authentic? No, really. Always, always make sure you are buying an authentic watch. Especially if you are buying a used, high-end watch. If the watch is particularly expensive, you can always ask the owner to let you get it checked at a service centre. There is such a thing as a “high quality fake”, which can be very deceptive.
One way to sort them out is to compare the piece to pictures of originals on the brand’s website. Most fakes will show minor differences in finish, typography, face finish, movement details, even function. Oh, and yes, even shops can foist fakes on you. Beware.
Bonus No.6: Really, really like a watch and can’t be bothered to wait? Then buy it, boss. Ultimately, the idea is to get a watch to make you happy. Don’t overthink it if you don’t want to.