It’s a watch minefield out there, or a timepiece smorgasbord, or an overwhelming, overcrowded horological marketplace. Whichever way you look at it, we’ve broken it down to a few of the basics and some.
Quartz or mechanical
The issue of how your watch is powered is probably the biggest pre-purchase decision you will need to make. Quartz timepieces are more accurate, invariably cheaper and more convenient – you should only need to get the battery replaced every couple of years. If you love the inner workings of a watch and you have the budget, you should invest in a mechanical one – your choice is hand-wound (exactly that) or automatic – which relies on the movement of your wrist to store kinetic energy to power the watch.
Get with the lingo
The face of the watch is called the dial. The numbers are called indexes. The button that you wind and adjust the time with is the crown. The ring around the dial that protects the glass is the bezel. The parts of the case that join to the strap are the lugs. The amount of time your mechanical watch will last without being wound is the power-reserve. Any functionality that measures time, such as a race, is a chronograph. This is enough to get you through most ‘watchy’ chats with ease.
First up look at your wrist – is it chunky or slimline? If you’re female it’s unlikely you’re going to want a case that’s bigger than 38mm; despite the vogue for mannish watches, you will look swamped. For evening, you can go tiny – down to around 18mm but make sure the execution is exquisite. For men, things have changed considerably – as recently as the 1960s men still wore tiny watches. Now size matters, with anything up to 48mm considered perfectly acceptable – although if you have skinny wrists you’ll want to stay around the 40mm mark.
Sports, dress, cocktail
Dress watches are designed to sit neatly under a sleeve cuff – they’re slimline, often gold and on a leather strap. Dial design is classic and usually subdued. Sports watches are chunkier, on a metal bracelet with added functionality linked to a sport like racing, flying or diving. If you’re a stickler for detail, resist mixing a sports watch with a suit. Cocktail watches are small, often bejewelled timepieces for women, perfect for adding some sparkle to eveningwear.
What do you want your watch to do? Tell the time, of course – but what else? Anything over and above this basic is considered a complication – whether it tells you the date or has an anti-gravitational tourbillon function. The more complications, the more expensive the watch, so you may want to think about whether you really need that split-second chronograph. They are, however, considered the pinnacle of the watch maker’s craft in Swiss mechanical models – men in white lab coats and hair nets spend years training to assemble them. The world’s most complicated has a grand total of 57.
If it’s on leather it’s a strap. If it’s on metal it’s a bracelet. Leather is invariably smarter, but won’t last forever (or appreciate getting wet). Link metal bracelets are hardwearing, waterproof and usually attached to watches with a sporty bent. The Milanese strap fashioned from woven metal is a good compromise – as supple as leather but more considered and streamlined than links, it’s increasingly popular for men and women. Woven versions in gold make beautiful evening watches for women and are a good alternative to impractical (but very pretty) satin.