How to Buy Your First Mechanical Watch: A Short Guide
I remember when I bought my first mechanical watch. It was around a year after I graduated from university, and since I was living at home and earning a fairly good salary, I thought I would treat myself for my hard work and buy a Tag Heuer.
If you’re anything like me, you will have always had a bit of an interest in watches, but this interest often does actually extend to knowing the right things when the time comes to buying a watch. Looking back, I think actually that had I done a bit more research, I may have bought something different (which is not to say that I don’t love my first watch – I still do).
What is a ‘proper watch’
It’s a reasonable question. You can get some good mechanical movements from Japan, but for now we’re going to largely focus on ‘Western’ mechanical watches. By mechanical watches, I mean those that are not quartz. These watches need to be wound – either by hand, or automatically (look for ‘automatic’) by the movement of your wrist.
So, in this guide, I’m going to talk you through the main things you should be thinking about, looking for, may want and may not want when buying your first watch. I hope it may also prove useful for those early into their watch love affair.
Let’s start simple, with filthy lucre. I say simple, but actually, I’m lying to you, and it’s not that easy to work out how much you should spend. The simple answer is ‘what you can afford’. In reality, the price of your watch can basically be broken down into these main contributing factors:
- Brand ‘Value’ The more prestigious the brand, the more expensive the watch
- Complications This is the number of features or functions the watch has. More on this later. Basically, mo’ complications, mo’ money.
- Jewels Not on the face. You’re not 50 Cent. Jewels are a way watch manufacturers improve the accuracy of their watches by reducing friction. They have to be specially ground, and thus, add cost. Mo’ jewels, mo’ money.
- Materials You can get all sorts these days from steel to ceramics. Expect to pay more for precious metals (obviously), but also in-vogue materials like titanium and carbon fibre.
- Special Editions From time to time watch manufacturers produce special edition watches, and obviously, the price on these is often greater than a comparable watch with the same above ingredients. You’re paying for the ‘rarity’.
That’s about the size of it. For simplicity, I’m going to break sections down into examples for three budgets – Entry Level (£1000 to £2000), Mid-Range (£2000-£5000) and High-End (£5000-£10,000). If you’re able to spend more than this (watches over £200,000 are not that unusual these days), I should hope that this guide will still prove useful.
Putting it in non-watch terms, think of it like cars. You’ve got your good brands (VW, Audi), your mid-range (BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover), then your top end (Porsche, Aston Martin, Bentley). In general, they all do the same thing, but for a lot of them you’re paying for heritage and brand value. As is always the way, there’s a fair bit of overlap, and most of the brands have their ‘Basics’ range right up to their ‘Taste the Difference’.
Things get complicated (geddit?!) here. Essentially, the challenge faced by watch makers is to try and fit as much as possible into that tiny little case. You want a date? Needs more cogs. How about a day? More cogs. Want it to do anything other than tell the time? More cogs. Each additional function is called a complication.
I’ll break these ones down from no complications at the entry, to more at the top end.
There’s really not much difference from jewellery here. Entry level is generally stainless steel, and then from then up it’s on to plated precious metals, solid precious metals, diamonds… pretty much anything you can imagine.
Brick and Mortar
I recommend you don’t buy online. As tempting it might be, out of convenience and potentially cheaper prices, this is a big purchase. You need to try watches on, feel them on your wrist, see them in daylight. Go and buy with the three dimensional people.
Don’t be afraid to haggle. I got a discount of around £200 on my first watch, and all I had to do was ask, and you should too. You wouldn’t pay sticker price for a new car.
Obviously, you’ve spent a lot of money, so you you’ll want to look after your watch. Mechanical watches, like cars, need servicing. Depending on the watch brand, these can be quite expensive, so for entry-level watches you may not see the benefit of doing so. That being said, having watches serviced keeps them ticking accurately, so it can be worth doing.
Manufacturers will recommend anything from three to every five years. I recommend this: service it when it starts telling the time irregularly. If it starts getting faster/slower than normal, then it’s time to get it tuned up. Some watches will go 25 years without needing one.
So that’s my brief guide to buying your first mechanical watch. I could write many thousands more words on the intricacies of the types of movements, complications, different brands, certification and on and on. It’s a massive topic. If you would like to dig a bit deeper, I suggest you have a read of www.tourneau.com‘s very comprehensive Education section.