Buying your first ‘real’ timepiece can be a daunting experience. For most people, it means you’ve had to save up for some time before taking the leap, or it’s a something to commemorate an occasion in your life that you want to remember for a long time.
Many variables factor into purchasing first ‘real’ watch, the most important of which we’ll discuss today. This guide isn’t going to tell you which watch to buy. That defeats the purpose of the article. Instead you’ll be provided with a framework to help make your choice more considered, and in the long run, make you happier with your purchase.
If you’re considering starting a collection, then there are also other factors to take into account, which we’ll touch on towards the end of this piece.
The most obvious factor is money; how much are you willing to spend on your first timepiece? Your price range is unfortunately the biggest determinant of what you’re able to get your hands on (if you’re buying something brand new), and therefore you should be sure of what your limit is.
Having a maximum spend in mind is a good way to go about it, as you might stumble across something you really like for less than you expected. If you go into a store saying you want to spend $10,000 on a watch, the dealer is going to try to sell you a watch starting at $10,000, assuming that you’re willing to spend more for upgrades that probably won’t be worth it at the end of the day.
New or Pre-Owned, Modern or Vintage:
Do you want something that you’ll get to take out of its wrapping for the first time, or are you after something with a bit of history behind it? Vintage or pre-owned watches are a great option if the equivalent brand-new watch is out of your price range. If you go with a reputable second-hand dealer and you’re sure the watch has been taken care of properly, then you’ll save quite a bit of money on some models, and get a great watch to show for it. It takes a little more time and research, but you’ll be very pleased with the results of your hard work. You also don’t need to worry as much about getting tiny scratches or marks on it, as it’s a vintage piece.
On the other hand, if you’re going to buy a new watch from an authorised dealer, then you get the whole experience of going to the showroom, trying on multiple new watches, having the dealer take excellent care of you, and maybe even some extra brand-related goodies if you’re very lucky. Best of all, you get a watch that’s fresh out of the box, untouched by anyone else, and in 100% mint condition.
Complications and Features:
Complications can add both to the visual appeal and complexity of a watch, but also add to their price. Make sure you get a watch whose complications you will appreciate and/or use. For instance, Rolex’s Yacht-Master II is a watch that has been created for a very specific market, and won’t be useful for the majority of watch-wearers (or most owners of a YM-II for that matter).
Other features (not necessarily complications) can also determine the right first watch for you. Therefore you need to ask yourself what you’re planning to do with your watch. Are you going to wear it every day to work? In that case, what type of work are you involved with? If you’re an engineer or scientist and work around a lot of magnetic fields, then go for watches with magnetic field protection (IWC Ingenieur, Rolex Milgauss). If you work in an environment where your watch is likely to get wet, or you’ll need to clean it often, then your watch will need to be very water resistant. However if you’re only really planning on wearing this watch to special occasions, then your options are wide open and the entire watch market is open to you, although you may prefer to go for a dressier model.
The material that your chosen watch is made of is almost always driven by your price range, as watches that come in any of the precious metals cost a lot more than their steel counterparts, especially if you get them on a matching bracelet. That being said, if you definitely know you want a particular material, be it steel, or gold, or even carbon, do your research. Gold looks terrific on some watches, but it is a much softer metal than steel, and may dent or scratch more easily if you accidentally knock it on the corner of your kitchen bench (which you will, guaranteed). Carbon is a very lightweight, durable material. So much so, that you may not be used to its (lack of) weight and find yourself wanting a heavier watch.
The particular model you choose might limit your choice of strap, but it should still be a consideration in your decision. Traditionally, dress watches are worn on leather straps under a shirt cuff and suit. However, ‘sport’ watches with full metal bracelets are becoming more and more accepted formal wear, with many professionals opting for ‘desk divers’ with a suit and tie.
Beginning a collection with a brand-new watch might seem like a good idea at the time, and it may well be, but the watch you buy might not end up being ‘collectible’ over time. If this is the path you choose, then do your research on what makes watches more desirable after a long period of time and spend your money wisely. On the flip side, there are thousands upon thousands of vintage watches that have a great pedigree and are up for grabs on the grey market. Once again, this will require a little research on what makes a good buy, but it’s often the hunt that makes the reward worthwhile.
Following the herd:
If you work in certain fields you may find yourself among colleagues and co-workers who consider themselves ‘watch guys’. While some of them may in fact be quite knowledgeable on the matter, don’t be a follower just for the sake of it. If all the execs at your company are wearing Submariners (and trust me, they’re likely to), go for something else, even if it’s only slightly different. If you’re hell-bent on a Rolex, and you’re not much of a diver, try the GMT Master II, or better yet, a Vintage GMT with a two-tone bezel. If you’re feeling more courageous, research some brands with an equally solid pedigree, and a little variation in design. Brands like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Girard-Perregaux and Zenith are doing some excellent things in watchmaking, and provide plenty of choice across many different styles. Anyone can wear a new Submariner (and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great watch), but it takes real horological knowledge to appreciate someone wearing a Reverso or a Portuguese Handwound 8-Days instead. Suddenly you’re the guy with the watch no one else has, and you’ll be glad you spent your money wisely.