Opinion, written by Matthew Cole
-May 18th, 2020, Colorado Springs, CO
Everybody has their own unique tastes, philosophies, and requirements for buying a watch. There are millions of unique watches to choose from, so how do you know if you're getting a good watch or something that will break in a few months? Well, it depends... here's how I navigate the world of watches. I've assembled a sizable collection, and had my fair share of duds.
Over the years, I've collected several Swiss watches, a handful of bargain watches from overseas, and several department store brand name watches. This is my guide to choosing the right watch:
Is it even waterproof, bro?
There's a difference between "Water Resistant" and "Waterproof". My favorite watches are the ones I can wear every day, no matter where I am. This means they need to stand up to handwashing, swimming, sweating, cooking, spills, e.t.c. without having to take it off. My only exception is when I'm wearing a suit. A lot of classy watches to be worn with suits aren't waterproof, but I'm usually more careful in a suit about avoiding water & spills.
I love watches with screw-down crowns! A watch with a screw down crown is a great sign that it will stand up to normal, everyday use. The crown is the part you pop out to set the time. If it pops out freely, without having to thread or unscrew anything, I generally don't trust it as "Water-proof". It costs more for the watch maker to machine the tiny screw thread, so most cheap watches don't have screw-in crowns.
There are exceptions, and you can also judge by the Depth Rating. This will be listed many ways, and the higher the number the better for keeping water out. The most common examples are written as ATM, Bar, Feet, or Meters. 1 Bar (1 ATM) is approximately 33 feet of water.
For example: my favorite watch is rated to 330 Feet. This is about 10 ATM (atmospheres), also known as 10 Bar, or about 100 meters.
The reality of the rating
To completely trust it as "waterproof", I generally will go with watches that are rated for 200 feet or more that also have a screw down crown. Why so much if swimming pools are usually no more than 10-15 feet deep?
When the watch is static under water, not moving, it is under minimal water pressure. When you're moving around, like swimming or diving, the water pressure on your watch increases dramatically. I recommend to go with 10 times the depth you plan on actually going to.
Anything above 1 ATM (33 feet) (10 meters) (1 Bar) is suitable for handwashing, as long as you don't immerse it completely or run the faucet on it for too long. Most "fashion" watches are minimally "water resistant".
Okay, it's "waterproof", so what next?
The next thing is a combination of weight & materials used. I like a heavy weighted watch and bracelet, because it feels like more of a presence on my wrist. A heavy bracelet (metal watch band) is a good sign of a solid-link bracelet & usually better quality. A lightweight bracelet that's made of metal typically has a hollow link bracelet, and can be an indicator of lower quality.
Swiss watchmakers are famous for being the best in the world, but I've had plenty of watches with Japanese movements that lasted for many years. If you're buying a Swiss watch, please research the company thoroughly to make sure you're getting an authentic Swiss-made watch. Search engines make it easy to find out more information about watchmakers.
In my experience, anything with a Sapphire crystal (or sapphire-coated crystal), Hardlex crystal, mineral crystal, or a Krysterna crystal (Stuhrling proprietary) is a really good sign of a good quality watch. Top-end watchmakers like Rolex have used sapphire crystals & denser steel for many years, along with precious metals & gems.
316L stainless steel is pretty standard and has been my favorite metal type because it doesn't tarnish & almost always stays shiny.
Price, price, price...right? Almost.
The price of a watch can be another way to determine whether or not you'll get a good watch. I've bought cheap watches under $10 from China, $75-ish watches from department store cases, a $2,000 investment grade watch, and everything in between. I've even been a member of "watch-of-the-month" clubs. Price is helpful but should NEVER be a rule.
One watch I bought a watch from a well known Chinese site... I "wish" I could remember the name, lol. Anyways, I paid $9 plus a buck or two for shipping, not expecting much. This watch lasted for 9 years! It took a beating and was scratched beyond repair, but it was still ticking and accurate on the original battery. Most of the other watches I bought from there were knock-offs of big brands & general junk. Those averaged a month or less before breaking down or falling apart.
As far as the midrange, $50 - $200, you'll most likely get a good everyday watch. This price range will give you name brand quality like Relic, Citizen, Timex, Smael, and many other recognizable names. This category gives you a balance of budget vs. quality.
For watches over $200, you're starting to get into the low end of "investment-grade" watches, or those with precious metals & gems. It's always best to buy these from a reputable dealer and with thorough research & documentation. When buying these kind of watches, I always try to be careful. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
So many choices... you got this!
Hopefully by now, you've learned the basics of watch buying. Once you get more into watch collecting, you'll fine-tune your must-have features & know how to quickly decipher a watch product description to get exactly what you want.