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A Swiss Watch Buyer’s Guide
- Know your budget. There’s a reason fine watches are often compared to cars, and it isn’t just because of the mechanics involved. A good Swiss watch can range from $500 to $5,000, so start your search for the perfect watch based on how much you want to spend.
- Plan on maintenance. Just like a car, luxury time pieces need maintenance over the years, especially mechanical ones. Since lubricants degrade and need replacing to ensure the moving parts don’t wear out, new watches should be serviced every 3 to 5 years.
- Go below the surface. There are two general types of watches: mechanical movement and battery-powered quartz movement. Mechanical movement watches are made up of hundreds of parts and assembled by hand which makes them more expensive to buy and maintain. They are, however, considered to have a longer value, and are preferred by most watch enthusiasts.
- Understanding movement. Only a few watch houses make their own movements; the vast majority source them from specialist manufacturers like Sellita or ETA. These companies make excellent Swiss made movements, and are less expensive than in-house movements. Brands with their own movements make a big deal of it, and charge more for these watches, since they are very costly and time consuming to develop.
- Size does matter. Watch cases range from 20mm for a small woman’s watch, to over 50mm for a large man’s watch. Traditionally speaking, 30-36mm width watches are acceptable for men, although in recent years the trend has been to wear larger watches: 39mm and 42mm being quite popular. It is also important to keep in mind the thickness of the watch; anything deeper than 10mm and you’ll have trouble wearing it and keeping your cuff straight. Watch straps, including those with metal links, should be fitted to your wrist.
- Dive deeper. Water resistance is easily misunderstood and the numbers listed should almost never be taken at face value. If only need your watch to repel the rain, 30 meters is sufficient. If you want to wear your watch while swimming, look for one that lists 50 meters water resistance. Planning on doing snorkeling or extreme water sports? You’ll want 100 to 200 meters of water resistance. SCUBA divers will need watches with at least 500 meters water resistance, although many watches designed for diving come at 1000mm or more. Water resistance isn’t permanent; if you regularly use your watch under water you’ll need to get it re-proofed every couple of years.
- It’s complicated. The fun with mechanical watches really starts when you start adding in different complications, or functions. Useful complications you may want to look for in a Swiss watch include chronographs, annual calendars that show the day, date and month of the year, or a second time zone. Other mechanical watch complications are less for practicality and more to showcase the art and craft of watch making. These include perpetual calendars that never need adjusting, minute repeaters that give the time on command, and tourbillions that counter the effects of gravity on the watch movements.
If this is your first foray into Swiss made watches, you might find a classic design fits nicely. Consider looking at a TAG Heuer Carrera, a Rolex Air King or an Omega Speedmaster. Not only do these watches hold their value well, their classic designs make them timeless. If you’re looking for something a little beyond that, consider a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor or a Panerai Luminor.
For the ultimate gentleman who doesn’t want to mess around, the ‘Big Three’ when it comes to Swiss made watches however, are Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.
About Ben Davis
A serial entrepreneur, Ben Davis is founder of The Gents Place and a leading investor in gentlemen's refinement and confidence.
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This article is a guest post by Randall Hanauer. He runs family-owned R. Hanauer Bow Ties, founded by his father.
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