Watch Buying Guide

Buying a watch today serves two purposes, first is for time telling and second as a fashion statement and not necessarily in that order.  There are many watches below $500 which serve a particular functional purpose whether it is a sports chronograph such as Timex or a fashion piece from a department store such as a Calvin Klein.  Beyond watch brands in the Watch category are brands of varying levels of luxury and sophistication.

The First Watch on The Moon - Omega Men's Speedmaster Professional Mechanical Hand Wind Legendary Moonwatch 31130423001005

Watch Functions
Watches can perform a number of functions and have a number of features commonly referred to as complications.  A date indicator for example is a complication.  Watches are built for certain functions such as for diving, dress, sports, chronographs, navigational, aviation, fashion/style, etc.

Buying a watch under $500
Look for some characteristics that you care about such as the style, cost and function.  These watches are typically not serviceable except for the occasional battery replacement.  In short, buy a watch that you like based on aesthetics and some function such as water resistance or a chronograph, alarm, size, color, etc.

Most of these watches will have a mineral crystal and if the watch is a mechanical automatic the movement is likely made in Asia, perhaps a Citizen  Miyota variant.

Buying a luxury over $500
These watches will often perform similar functions like the lower cost watches do but they cost more, much more, and in some cases such as Philippe Dufour or Dewitt can cost much much more - as in millions of dollars.

The key criteria behind a quality Luxury watch are:

  • Sapphire Crystal - the glass
  • The movement - usually mechanical automatic self-winding while more advanced pieces using tourbillons
  • Quality of the craftsmanship
  • Precious metals and stones
  • Brand heritage and history
  • Exclusivity (number of pieces made)

The crystal in any quality watch must be of Sapphire which is second in strength only to diamond.

There are two types of movements.  Quartz or Mechanical.  Quartz is battery driven while Mechanical means that it has some sort of spring mechanism wound manually or automatically by gravity and natural movements of the arm.

Watches made in Switzerland bearing the mark "Swiss Made" have distinguished themselves as being quality time pieces for hundreds of years.  A watch is considered to be Swiss Made if more than 50% is made and assembled in Switzerland.  The definition varied over time but the point is that most of the watch is made in Switzerland.

Movements in these watches can be in-house meaning that it is made by the brand itself such as Rolex.  Other brands like Tag Heuer, Tissot, Hamilton, etc. use 3rd party movements such as the ETA's Valjoux 7750 which is considered to be the workhorse of the industry.

So what are the attributes that make the very expensive watches such as Patek Philippe, Breguet, Jaeger LeCoultre and Urwerk so expensive?

  1. Complications and innovations
  2. Craftsmanship and attention to detail
  3. Precious metals such as gold, platinum and diamonds
  4. Exclusivity - uniqueness and scarcity

Refining on characteristics of Luxury watches, distinguished watch makers will use precious materials in hand-made unique or rare complex watches that approach an art form resulting in astronomically priced horological marvels.  Examples are Patek Philippe Henry Graves Pocket Watch estimated at $11 million and the Chopard 201 Carat Watch estimated at $25 million.

So how do I go about buying a luxury watch?

A good place to start is cost.  Again, use our watch-rankings to gauge what category you can afford.

Then look for the function you want for the watch (diver, sports chronograph, aviation, trains, fashion, etc) and consider the person you're buying the watch for.  For a young person under 20 years old consider a fashion watch, perhaps a Movado, Calvin Klein, or even a Breitling.

For somebody in their early 20's consider adding Sapphire and start getting closer to the Swiss Made brands such as a fun Tag Heuer or a Tissot.

A meaningful purchase will consist of sapphire crystal and a mechanical automatic movement.  The price of the watch increases when the movement is higher ETA or Sellita grade or better yet an in-house movement meaning that it is bult by the brand itself.  The price continues to rise when the watch workmanship and refinement increases, certain complications are added and precious metals such as gold and diamonds are used.

Someone in their 30's can have a couple of Automatic watches, perhaps a Cartier, IWC or perhaps a Corum.

Someone in their 40's can start having a Rolex, Harry Winston or a Zenith while someone in their 50's can go all out with the likes of Patek Philippe, Breguet, Jaeger LeCoultre.

If limited to two watches, a good option would be to have a normal wear watch as a Rolex and a dress-up watch as a Patek Philippe.

If your budget has no limits AND you're in the circles where a rare timepiece can be appreciated then pick from the Ultra Luxury brands.

See our fun related article: Goldman Sachs Elevator explains the hierarchy of watches on Wall Street

23 thoughts on “Watch Buying Guide

  1. Brad Knutti says:

    I have some nice timepieces, but not many on your list. I do have a Gevril GV2 Giromondo that I really like. As of late I have gotten 3 Heritors: A Ganzi, an Edmund and a Gregory. I did not see this maker on your list and I am wondering if they are even worthy of making the list at all?

    • Admin says:

      Brad, I did a bit of research on Heritor and found the following information. The brand is owned by Resultco, Inc. out of Detroit, Michigan USA. The company owns a total of 17 watch brands which are marketed to appear European charging over €500,00 which would make it even higher cost in US Dollars. The individual brand websites do not mention the parent holding company but do offer the same phone number for support 888.782.2080.

      Unfortunately the crystal for these watches appears to be Sapphire coated Mineral Glass and the movements seem to be cheap Asian type. These watches therefore appear to be a bit overpriced.

  2. Graeme C says:

    I have a Longines Flagship (about 14 years old) love the watch but for good or bad, have always wanted a Cartier. In a watch I like relatively clean lines (cannot stand all those moon dials etc) and I guess I am a bit of a “style victim”. Longines Tissot and Cartier all seem to have the styles I like. So, I am now considering the Cartier Rondo de Solo, Steel or Leather strap – not the gold, will they hold their value? I’d love a Patek – Calatrava probably, but just outside my price point for now… Any comments welcomed

    • Admin says:

      The FC-285S5B6 is a nice looking watch for sure. Very clear and classic. However the movement being quartz is just that, quartz. Most horologically significant timepieces are mechanical. Your phone has a digital time already, having a quartz doubles down on that. Ultimately it depends what you like, your interests and your preference. If you like the FC-285S5B6 then by all means get it.

    • Admin says:

      Added Zannetti to the 2 star Basic Luxury Watches Other Countries category $1,500 – $5,000. The handmade designs seem pretty nice. Thanks

  3. Colin Barclay says:

    My son works at Rolls Royce, Berlin, and having recently been promoted I ordered for him a Rolex GMT with jubilee bracelet from an AD in Wolverhampton and at the same time an entry level Oyster Perpetual for myself. This was In May 2019. I am still waiting. Lovely watches and advertising , a shame you cannot actually buy them.

    • Admin says:

      Congratulations on your successes. Sometimes these special timepieces are indeed hard to acquire. It’s partially why their value is maintained over time. Consider changing the AD. Perhaps make it a family trip to Switzerland to pick up the watches there. That will add to the sentimental aspect. Or believe it or not consider going over to Dubai to pick them up. Enjoy your quest.

    • Matthew Burden says:

      Please Sir, there is no such thing as an entry-level Rolex – – that entry-level Rolex accompanied by a brass sextant is capable of navigating you across the North Atlantic which it was made to do. My $550 entry-level DATE chronometer housed in her oyster shell did just that for me in the summer of 1978 when under sail I solo crossed from Cape May to Den Helder. Since then, the watch was serviced (cleaned & oiled) by Robert Mills in Philadelphia and it still keeps under two (2) seconds a day slow three-quarters wound in all positions and temperatures. I plan to donate this entry-level Rolex back to it’s maker – Rolex.

  4. Goc says:

    I think that “Meccaniche Veneziane” deserves to be in Swiss Made Entry Luxury Watches or at least Swiss Made Watches group. They’ve made very good divers and GMTs, much better then some other startup brands in your rankings. Regards.

    • Admin says:

      Added Meccaniche Veneziane (Italy) to the 1 star Entry Luxury Other Countries Watches category $500 – $1,500. While they use Swiss Made movements, the brand is incorporated in Italy hence the placement in the Other Countries section. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Rishab Anand Rai says:

    I did not see Nebula (by Titan Watch Company Limited) here. I wanted to know how it will rank among other luxury watches and will it have a good resale value and how it will stand from heritage point of view?


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