Beginner's Guide to Watches
The ownership experience that comes with buying a luxury watch is one to be savoured and enjoyed. With this guide we intend to furnish you with all the information you need to make sure that experience is as good as it can possibly be.
There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to luxury watches, and for someone entering the market with no prior experience, it can be a little daunting. Should you pick Swiss, German, British? Is there a particular brand that presents the best value? The truth of the matter is that, of the 50-plus brands available from Watchfinder, there isn’t one wrong choice. Ultimately what matters is choosing the watch that most appeals to you, that fits your style. And there’s a brand for every style—discovering which speaks to you most is all part of the fun.
Watches don’t just tell the time—they tell a story, too. Whether that story is the exploration of the deep, beating a circuit lap record, or the conquest of the skies, there’s a watch to suit. Different functionality defines different styles of watch—water resistance in dive watches, for example, or a chronograph on a driver’s watch. Ranging from something smart and sporty, to a dress watch to complement a sharp suit, there are plenty of styles to choose from to facilitate your needs. Which one you pick is up to you—or maybe treat yourself to one of each?
It’s said that 39mm is the ideal size for a wristwatch, but who’s to judge? Watches come in sizes from just a few centimetres across to well over 60mm, and the only person who can decide which size is right for you, is you. How do you find out the size you like most? Try some watches on! Or, failing that, cut out a template from a piece of paper and see how it sits. If you think it looks good, that’s all that counts. Remember, the size of a watch is given as its diameter across the case (or width and height in the instance of a rectangular watch).
Do you like your watches rugged or refined? Glamorous or understated? The material you choose plays a part in the style and functionality of your watch in a big way, and is worth putting some consideration into. Stainless steel is the most common material and is available with a variety of matte and polished finishes. Precious metals like gold and platinum add solidity and appeal to a timepiece, while rarities like diamonds and mother-of-pearl further enhance a watch’s allure. For the more adventurous, exotic materials like titanium, carbon fibre, ceramics and even bronze are available.
A well-fitting watch should be so comfortable that you no longer notice you’re wearing it, and to make sure it is, it needs to be sized correctly. You can do it yourself, but it’s best to have a watchmaker do it for you to avoid damage to the watch and to ensure the perfect fit. The first thing you’ll need to do is find out what your wrist size actually is. For this, simply use any flexible tape measure—or even a piece of paper or string that you can measure afterwards. Wrap it around your wrist as loose as you want the watch to be, and that’s your measurement.
A good luxury watch won’t just last a lifetime—it will keep going for much longer than that. This opens up a whole wealth of vintage models to choose from, offering decades of heritage and evolution. For some, the appeal of owning a watch that came from a time when a mechanical watch was the height of technology has an appeal that can’t be matched by new timepieces. For others, the value proposition of buying a watch a few years old is benefit enough. Either way, buying a pre-owned watch is a great way to appease both head and heart.
A watch’s power comes from its movement, also referred to as a calibre, which is usually either mechanical or quartz. A mechanical watch is driven by a series of springs and gears, and is available in either automatic or manual guises. An automatic movement uses a freely spinning rotor-weight to wind its mainspring, whereas the more traditional manual movement requires hand winding, usually every other day. A quartz watch, on the other hand, is powered by a battery that won’t need to be changed for a number of years, adding convenience and accuracy to the mix.
The watch you choose can feature as many functions as you want it to—from simply telling the time, to more complications than you can imagine. Mechanical movements have the capability of tracking the date perfectly for centuries, or mapping the paths of distant stars—but that’s not for everyone. For many of us, a chronograph, GMT function or power reserve are the kinds of complications we can use day-to-day, offering a slice of watchmaking that’s both functional and technically impressive. See the ‘Choosing Your Spec’ guide below for more.
Life would be boring if we all liked the same thing, which is why there are as many variations of watch specification as there are watches themselves. Colours, styles, materials: you name it, chances are you can get it. Whether you’ve a penchant for Roman numerals or a hankering for dauphine hands, a desire for a leather strap or a craving for a sunburst dial, there’s something for everyone. Filter your choices with the specifications you have in mind, and you’ll be sure to find the perfect watch for you. For more, see the ‘Choosing Your Spec’ guide below.
First and foremost, you should purchase the watch you want, but if you can secure your investment at the same time, why not? It’s one of the great advantages of buying pre-owned—to avoid the pitfalls of brand new depreciation. Depreciation slows with time, and can—as RRPs subsequently rise—completely reverse and come back the other way. It is not uncommon for a pre-owned watch, particularly from brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe, to be sold for more than it was bought for.Get Started
While a good luxury watch starts at around $1,370, there is no upper limit, so it’s good to set your sights on a particular budget and stick with it. The most popular watches sit at around the $5,480 – $6,850 mark, where you’ll find fantastic options from Rolex, Omega and Breitling. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great options for less, Longines, TAG Heuer and Cartier included.
A new watch will always suffer a hit of depreciation in the transition to pre-owned; buying pre-owned leapfrogs that financial penalty, and with RRPs rising year on year, can even propagate a positive investment. On top of that is the immediate benefit of choice: having the option to browse and compare with discontinued and vintage models, as well as with other brands that wouldn’t normally be found together, makes it easier to decide which watch is right for you. With a full warranty included with every watch, there’s no reason not to buy pre-owned.Get Started
It’s worth investing in a watch that’s enjoyed the care and attention of a professional watchmaker. With a fully fledged manufacturer-certified service centre on hand, you can be certain that every Watchfinder watch is the kind of example you can cherish forever.
For complete peace of mind, every Watchfinder watch comes with a full year’s comprehensive warranty—covering non-fault defects and malfunction—alongside the balance of the original brand warranty. Enjoy your new watch knowing you’re looked after.
It can be tempting to sacrifice security for a cheaper price, but be wary of buying privately or at auction—as a consumer, you have no standing if something goes wrong. A Watchfinder warranty gives you the kind of peace-of-mind that can’t be bought at auction.
Choosing your spec
Most cases fall into the category of round, with a circular chassis holding the dial and movement. This design is the most efficient for analogue dial watches.
Typically tricky to manufacture, square-cased watches offer a unique, sporty style. TAG Heuer’s Monaco is a fine example of a square-cased watch.
A tonneau case is an elegant, multi-plane design used in dress watches to curve them discreetly to the wrist. The complex shape makes them exclusive.
A design defined by the transition from pocket to wristwatches, when wire lugs were soldered to cushion-like cases so they could be worn on the wrist.
Framing the crystal, the bezel is either decorative or functional. A fixed bezel is usually decorative, but can also be functional in the case of a tachymeter.
For diving watches, the bezel has a sixty-minute scale on it to time air usage. The bezel only turns one way to prevent divers mistakenly extending their dive.
For non-diving watches with an adjustable bezel, bidirectional is favourable. GMT bezels spin both ways to facilitate quick timezone setting.
Some watches use an internal bezel to protect it from damage. These bezels are often set by an external crown, which can often be locked into place.
The most common type of pusher, there is no obstruction to activation, and the design is kept smooth and simple for ease of use and installation.
As with screw down crowns, screw down pushers prevent water ingress by compressing a seal. They must be unscrewed before operation.
Before the start-stop and reset pushers were separated, many vintage chronographs used a single mono pusher to do all three tasks. It is an unusual feature today.
For watches with multiple functions requiring a wealth of pushers—like a perpetual calendar—the design is kept simple by making them flush with the case.
Unlike a standard crown, a screw down crown requires unscrewing to use. This is a protective function that compresses a seal for increased water resistance.
Similar to the screw down crown, the compressor crown compresses a seal for increased water resistance, however for ease it only requires a single turn.
Another way to compress a seal in the crown is to use a guard-mounted lever, which pushes the crown down tight when folded into the closed position.
For crews working in the confines of ships and submarines, a screw down cover keeps the crown on their watches from being knocked and damaged.
Most modern watches use a synthetic, colourless, lab-grown sapphire—also known as corundum—as a scratch-resistant material for the crystal.
Before sapphire crystals were made possible, manufacturers used acrylic for their crystals. Strength requirements meant they were often thick, with domed tops.
Date displays are limited in size by the radius of the dial, and can often be hard to read. One solution is the magnifying window, positioned above the date display.
A mechanical movement is a work of art, and some are so beautiful they should be on display. A sapphire caseback reveals all while maintaining protection.
To increase legibility of dials used in extreme conditions, manufacturers sandwich a luminous layer with a stencil-cut layer, allowing the glow to shine brightly through.
A radial grain from the centre of the dial outwards gives a sunburst dial its magnificent, almost holographic, display of light and shadow.
A demonstration of intricate machining, a tappisserie dial—or ‘waffle’ dial—consists of a tapestry of raised squares engraved directly into the metal.
Sometimes a movement is just too good to obscure with a dial, and so the dial itself is cut away to the barest minimum to reveal the intricate works beneath.
This letter-based numerical system was developed by the Romans from an earlier Etruscan method and is famous for having no representation of zero.
Simple shapes replace numbers, mainly for clarity and also for aesthetics. Many dive watches use batons for the increased area to apply luminous paints.
With the fall of the Roman Empire in 300 A.D. came the rise of the Arabic numerical system, which finally introduced zero and therefore revolutionised mathematics.
Developed as the visual equivalent of phonetics, the California dial has a display that can be easily read without mistake even in the most extreme of conditions.
Hands (Part 1)
A dress watch staple, baton hands are slender and elegant, and often made with precious metals. Seen more frequently in vintage watches with smaller cases.
Hands (Part 1)
These clear and easy-to-read hands were part of the original design for Omega’s Speedmaster, which underwent changes as part of NASA’s Apollo programme.
Hands (Part 1)
Typified—unsurprisingly—by Breguet, these distinct hands are often used by top-tier brands. Using traditional methods, Breguet hands are very difficult to manufacture.
Hands (Part 1)
Cathedral hands have an imposing style that offers both strength and clarity, having originated from the days of unprotected clock dials. The slots can be filled with lume.
Hands (Part 2)
Sword hands are Omega’s go-to design for dive watches that require an immediate delineation between minute and hour hands, often in combination with bold colours.
Hands (Part 2)
These clean yet bold hands offer the combination of clarity and elegance, sitting somewhere between the baton and broad arrow hands. Lume is sometimes applied.
Hands (Part 2)
Also known as ‘leaf’ hands, these sophisticated hands have curves across multiple planes, making them—like the Breguet hands—very tricky to manufacture.
Hands (Part 2)
Synonymous with Rolex sports watches, mercedes hands were developed for the Submariner in order to clearly differentiate between hours and minutes.
A manual movement is mechanical, and powered by a tightly coiled mainspring. It must be hand wound to keep it in power, typically every other day.
Like a manual movement, an automatic is mechanical, however in addition to being hand wound, it can also be wound by the free movement of a rotor weight.
Battery powered and extremely accurate, quartz technology nearly saw the end of the mechanical wristwatch altogether. Today it is an affordable alternative.
Movements are typically assembled from layered plates, often obscuring the moving parts within. A skeletonised movement has been worked to reveal those parts.
Pusher activated, a chronograph is a timing function that operates independently of the main time display. Also available as a flyback or double chronograph.
A mechanical movement, whether manual or automatic, can only hold so much power in its mainspring. A power reserve indicates how much power it has left.
The transition of the moon through a 29.5-day cycle is defined by waxing and waning through gibbous and crescent phases, indicated by a moonphase display.
A date display typically revolves through 1–31 without correcting for shorter months. WARNING! Do not use the quick date change feature between 10pm and 2am.
French for ‘whirlwind’, the tourbillon is a method for reducing the effect of gravity on the balance by rotating the entire escapement once every sixty seconds.
Where a standard date display does not account for shorter months, a perpetual calendar automatically keeps track of days, months, years and even leap years.
A complication originally intended for use in the darker winter months, the minute repeater chimes the time on command through a series of gongs.
Equation Of Time
The fluctuation of the day as defined by the presence of the sun (apparent solar time) against measured time (mean solar time) is known as the equation of time.
This distinctive pattern is a staple of the dress watch, particularly in black or brown, and with a high gloss. Leather straps can also be stamped with the same pattern.
A supple and comfortable material, leather comes in a variety of forms, from soft suede to mirror-finished shell cordovan. It is typically not water resistant.
The sporty go-to for watch straps. Comfortable and resistant to almost everything, rubber offers a lightweight alternative to a stainless steel bracelet.
Metal links pinned together form a robust and decorative strap. From stainless steel to precious metals, a bracelet gives a watch a sense of solidity and presence.
Sleek and simple, the tang buckle is much the same as the buckle found on a belt. The strap slips in through the loop, with the metal tang keeping it held in place.
For those who like the tactility of a clasp with the comfort of a strap, a deployant will fit the bill. The single deployant hinges from one side for easy access.
Like a single deployant, but with a double fold. More often seen on metal bracelets, the double deployant can be made to fold more comfortably to the wrist.
For diving applications where a watch is the prime source of monitoring dive duration, a flip lock clasp provides additional security with a locking tab.
A watch worn frequently will need routine care and maintenance to keep it looking and running well. Giving it a gentle clean will keep it not only aesthetically sound, it will also prevent accelerated wear on moving parts and finishes. For water resistant watches, use a soft brush dipped in warm water mixed with mild detergent, gently agitating to remove debris. Dry throughly with a microfibre cloth. Do not use heat.
A polished watch can begin to lose its shine as it picks up minute surface scratches. These can be removed with a light metal polish and a microfibre polishing cloth. Be aware that polishing a watch removes material from its surface, so use this technique sparingly, and only remove marks that cannot be felt with a fingernail. Anything more prominent will need the work of a professional to remove.
There can be some confusion with regard to the actual water resistance of a watch in comparison to the water resistance specified by the manufacturer. Manufacturers test the water resistance of their watches in controlled circumstances, which do not allow for high pressure surges experienced in shallower water during routine diving. With that in mind, the rules to follow can be seen on the table opposite.
There are some rules of thumb to follow to avoid damaging your watch. Do not change the date using the quick date change between 10pm and 2am. Do rinse your diving watch off with fresh water after diving in salt water. Do not position your watch near or on a magnet. Do not force any moving parts—everything that should move, will move with minimal pressure. Do not exceed the limitations of your watch’s water resistance.
How To Videos
Measure your wrist
Set the time
Wind a watch
Set the date
Use a chronograph
Use a GMT function
Use a bezel
Set the day
Use a power reserve
Set the moonphase
Every manufacturer has different servicing requirements, usually between 2 and 5 years. As a watch operates under normal daily usage, moving parts generate friction, causing wear, and that wear needs to be inspected, with any worn components being replaced with brand-manufactured parts.
The expense of a service depends entirely on the level of work required and the type of movement involved. A simple, time only watch may cost as little as $275, whereas a high complication with many hundreds of parts can cost much more due to the additional skill and expertise required.
Every watch receiving a full service is dismantled entirely into its component parts, with each being inspected and cleaned, and replaced if necessary. The reassembled movement is oiled and tested for timing, while the case receives a refinish and thorough clean to get it looking as new again.
The Service Center
See the level of work that each watch requires as it goes through the Watchfinder manufacturer-certified service centre
It takes dedication to become a manufacturer-certified service centre—every brand has incredibly strict requirements and processes that must be adhered to at all times to produce the level of work demanded. Tools, equipment and machinery must be to manufacturer specification, while training is monitored and assessed, with only the best results making the grade. At Watchfinder, we’re proud to be a manufacturer-certified service centre for a range of exquisite brands, showcasing our dedication to providing only the best watches.
Sell or Upgrade
Not all relationships last forever, and when they end, it’s good to move on swiftly. That’s why we offer a hassle-free service to sell or upgrade your watch quickly and easily. You can start the process online or you can visit our boutiques for the personal touch.
Selling your watch can be a real slog; online auctions and private sales lack the security preferred when selling a high-value item. With Watchfinder, your sale is quick, easy and secure, with payment made directly to your bank account for ultimate peace of mind.
Make sure you keep the original box and papers for your watch, as these can increase the value when you come to sell. Likewise, keeping your watch in excellent condition and regularly serviced will ensure your watch achieves the highest value possible.
Watchfinder offers a quick, hassle-free service for selling your timepiece. Watch our 'It’s Time To Move On' advert, as seen on TV.Value my Watch
Find out everything you wanted to know and more in the Watchfinder glossary of watchmaking.
Click the button below to view our glossary of terms
Need to know the age of your watch? Our Serial number guide will help you find out.
Click the button below to view our serial number guide.