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Watch Buyers Guide

Watches are commonly seen as a functional item needed in everyday life, however they are increasingly appreciated as forms of jewelry or collectible works of art. As a result, there are many different types and prices of watches from the simple and inexpensive to the ornate and pricey. With such a wide variety of choices it's easy to become overwhelmed, so let's explore the basics of buying a watch. First, we'll consider several different types of watches, then look at watch features and conclude with some hints on how to buy a watch.

Types of Watches

As one of the most popular forms of functional jewelry, watches come in a wide range of types. When considering the purchase of a watch, it's helpful to understand the basic types of watches to appreciate the benefits and drawbacks of each. To start, let's consider the basics of watch movements and displays.

Watch Movements

A watch movement is the mechanism that measures the passage of time and displays the current time and sometimes other information. They can be entirely mechanical, electronic or a mix of the two. For the purpose of this review, we'll only look at mechanical and electronic watch movements.

A mechanical watch movement is the original method developed to power wristwatches and appreciated by many for their detailed craftsmanship as well as aesthetic appearance. Mechanical movements use an escapement device, which enables the gradual release of stored energy to power the timepiece. Energy can be stored in several different ways, such as a spring that is manually wound, a self-winding mechanism driven by the movement of the wearer, a battery or others.

An electronic watch movement has few if any moving parts and employs energy created by the interaction of small crystals to power the watch. The resulting resonance created by the crystals creates a specific and highly stable frequency to accurately pace the timekeeping mechanism. Electronic watches are frequently called quartz watches and most of these movements drive mechanical hands even though the movement itself is electronic. Seiko watches were the first to use a quartz movement. Since electronic movements require electricity to operate, many watches with electronic movements have batteries.

Watch Displays

A Watch's display is an important component to the look and feel of every watch, especially when worn as jewelry. Watches can display time and related information using two primary methods, analog and digital. Traditionally, watches have displayed the time in analogue form, with a numbered dial upon which are mounted at least a rotating hour hand and a longer, rotating minute hand. Analog display of the time is nearly universal in watches sold as jewelry or collectibles, and in these watches, the range of different styles of hands, numbers, and other aspects of the analogue dial is very broad. Movado Watches are often seen as a good example of a styling analog display presentation. Digital display, on the other hand, is often primarily used when the timepiece is used as a timing device. Generally considered more exact, digital displays can measure time with great precision and are perfect for exact timekeeping, including everything from timing industrial processes to athletic events. Although incredibly useful, digital displays require less craftsmanship to manufacture and are considered less attractive, so they are seldom offered in watches worn as jewelry.

Watch Appearance

Beyond the many types of movements and displays, there are a number of aesthetic components to every watch that dramatically impact the appearance and desirability of this popular form of jewelry. Some of the most important include:

Watch Finish

The finish of a watch is normally deemed as one of the most important when selecting a watch, because it dramatically impacts the jewelry's appearance. Even so, the idea of finish is frequently more complex, in that the internal finish also affects the timepiece's dependability and sturdiness. The visual finish of a watch--the dial, case, strap, and buckle--is what the average person sees, and there's a vintage saying among watchmakers that, in selling a watch, one need only sell the dial. The external finish of a watch is crucial and the excellent watch should be beautifully finished, but the finish of these external parts alone cannot warrant the cost of a costly watch. In truly excellent watches, the external components are a small part of the finishing that goes into the watch.

Watch Movement

Although the movement plays a key role in the functionality of a watch, it can play a big part in is appearance. While the movement is often hidden from view in most watches, there are quite a few that employ a Skeleton movement which adds both interest and value to watches. As the name implies, a Skeleton movement uncovers the inner working of the watch allowing the wearer to see the various mechanical components of the watch as it operates. For many, this borders on wearable art and from a jewelry perspective this feature adds a level of interest that most pieces simply don't have.

Watch Band

Overlooked by many when considering a watch, the watch band is perhaps the most visible component to a watch and one that can truly turn the timepiece into an interesting form of jewelry. Although there are many brands that employ various types of watch bands to achieve interesting looks, Skagen watches seem to do it exceptionally well. Here are some of the most frequent types of watchbands:

Brass - Brass is often used as a base metal for watch bands. Base metals, which can mean any non-precious metal, can be finished with plating that gives the band the look and feel of gold, silver or even black. Both cost-effective and fashionable, brass has been used to create jewelry since ancient times. Brass is mainly a mixture of copper and zinc and radiates a lovely warm reddish-copper glow. Brass items also generally contain nickel, aluminum and occasionally tin, so those with sensitivity to nickel may find brass jewelry difficult to wear. Items made with brass are usually exquisitely detailed. One drawback to brass is its propensity to change color. A coating of oil can usually prevent brass from turning.

Ceramic - Ceramic watch bands are popular for many reasons. Ceramic carbide is a man-made product - not the ceramic usually found in stoneware or pottery. Industrial ceramic carbide is extremely durable and nearly impossible to scratch and can be manufactured in a wide variety of colors. Ceramic carbide is also a material that people with metal allergies and sensitive skin can enjoy since it is completely hypoallergenic.

Gold - The literal "gold standard" of watch bands, most high-end watches feature a bracelet fashioned of 10K, 14K, or even 18K gold. When buying a gold watch, look for a stamp with a karat mark, the manufacturer's registered trademark and the country of origin.

Leather - The classic leather watch brands are always a popular option because they are very simple, comfortable, and stylish.

Military - Crafted from a variety of materials, military watch bands can offer both a casual and sophisticated look.

Resin - Tough, durable and available in many colors, resin watch bands are a stylish and sporty look. Resin is a high-impact plastic that can be used as an inset or accent on each bracelet link, or to create the complete watch band. Resin is easy to care for, usually requiring only a wipe down with a soft cloth.

Rubber - Soft yet surprisingly durable, rubber watch bands are a great option for the person on the go. Typically used with sport watches or for children's watches, rubber watch bands can be manufactured in a variety of colors and textures.

Stainless Steel Bracelets – Considered durable and long lasting, stainless steel watch bands are popular with both men and women. Easy to wear and take off, they offer flexibility by matching formal and informal attires, much like other forms of jewelry.

Titanium - Titanium is commonly used these days as watch bands or bracelets for sports watches. Light and durable, these bands are an obvious choice for many divers' watches.

Exotic - Growing in popularity, exotic watchbands can be crafted from materials like alligator, pigskin, shark or sheepskin. Offering an interesting look and story, exotic watchbands can often elevate a fairly ordinary watch into an interesting jewelry piece that adds interest to any wardrobe.

Common Watch Features

All watches measure time by providing the hour and minute, but beyond that watch features are diverse. While displaying the current date, day of the week and seconds seem fairly common, there are also many additional features that you may want to consider when selecting a watch. Functionalities beyond basic time keeping are known as Complications, and a watch that has one or more functions beyond basic functionality is considered a Complicated Watch. Bulova watches offer a good example of watches with complications. Here is a selection of the more popular features or complications for non-digital watches:

Audible Alarm – An alarm featured in more expensive watches
Chronograph – The ability to function as a stop-watch.
Moon Phase – Displays the lunar phase.
Tourbillon – A device used to counter the affect of gravity, said to improve accuracy.
Perpetual Calendar – A continual calendar that needs no adjustment

As you can understand, the type and variety of features available in digital watches are seldom limited by the mechanical nature of the watch itself, so there are a wide variety of features available in today's digital watch. Here are only several of the most popular features:

Calculator - A self contained mathematical calculator
Heart Rate Monitor – A receiver that monitors heart rate during athletic workouts
Global Positioning System (GPS) – A locational system using satellite technology
Digital Camera – The ability to take and store photographs

The uses for a watch can be as diverse as each person that wears them, so it's important to consider what types of functionalities, or complications, you may want when selecting a watch.

Watch Water Resistance: An Explanation

To meet the demands of today's consumer, water resistance is a watch feature that many consider a requirement. Therefore, it's a wise to consider what this feature means when shopping for a wristwatch to ensure that you make a wise decision when shopping for a watch. Water resistance is an indication of the degree to which a watch can withstand exposure to water. A static pressure test is used to assess leakage and the result is then expressed in bars, atmospheres or meters. Since this test is performed only once on newly manufactured watches, a watch's ability to withstand water can be expected to degrade over time. However, watches used in more demanding environments, like a diving watch, are subjected to much more strenuous testing and must meet established guidelines.

Frequently, there's a great deal of confusion surrounding the terminology used to grade the degree to which a watch is water proof. As a result, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has issued standards for the use of the terms Water Resistant and Diver's Watch. Interestingly, the ISO prohibits the use of the term “Waterproof.”

Water Resistant Standard

The ability to use the term “Water Resistant” is administered by the ISO which has defined the standard using ISO 2281 Water-Resistant Watches. The standard is intended for watches employed in common daily uses such as the washing of hands, swimming and light exposure to water. Watches meeting this standard can be worn in different temperature and pressure conditions, as long as they fall within routine daily use. Citizen watches commonly offer a good selection of watches that meet this standard. Testing to meet the standard of Water Resistant is less strenuous than those achieving the designation of Diver's Watch.

Diver's Watch Standard

Like the standards for a Water Resistant designation, the standards for a Diver's Watch are also administered by the International Organization for Standardization, but the similarities end there. Defined by ISO 6425, the international standard for a Diver's Watch requires that every watch receiving the designation be rigorously tested in five primary areas, including:

Reliability Under Water: Immersion in 30 cm of water for 50 hours at 18 °C to 25 °C
Condensation: The formation of condensation during extreme temperature change.
Resistance to Pressure: The functionality of components under pressure.
Water-Tightness: Lack of water intrusion after variance in pressure.
Thermal Shock: Lack of water intrusion after extreme variance in temperature.

Understandably, a watch meeting the Diver's Watch standard is intended for those that are in or around water continuously and therefore need a timepiece with the ability to withstand constant exposure to water.

Watches that achieve the standard of Water Resistant or Diver's Watch commonly receive a mark on the back of the watch that will include the testing pressure which may be documented in bars, atmospheres or meters. Here is a set of common ratings:

Water Resistant (30M, 50M) - Normal Wear, Low Water Exposure
Water Resistant (100M) - Recreational Water Sports
Water Resistant (200M) - Professional Water Activities
Diver's (100M) – Scuba Diving
Diver's (200M, 300M) – Scuba Diving
Diver's (300M+, Helium Safe) - Scuba Diving, Helium Environment