A watch is your greatest investment piece.

You may wear it every day of your life. It can enhance every outfit you ever wear (except black tie and beachwear, perhaps). It is worth saving up for more than anything.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.

The key to buying a good watch is to understand what you get for your money: brand, movement, design, re-sell or precious metal. Select the things you want to pay for, then find a watch that matches.

(A Lange & Sohne watches pictured above and below – 1815 model above in yellow gold, 1815 Up/Down below in rose gold.)


1. Know the movements

Watches are largely quartz, manual or automatic.

A quartz watch uses a battery, and therefore has a much simpler movement. But that’s not necessarily bad. Cartier watches were always largely quartz movements – because their emphasis was on the watch as a piece of jewellery.

A good example is my Cartier Tank Chronoflex in yellow gold (below), which gets more compliments than any other I have, but involves the least pure watchmaking. 

Crocodile watch strap


An automatic movement is one wound by the movement of your wrist. The vast majority of high-end watches are automatic, but that can be annoying: you have to wear it every day, wind it each time you put it on, or keep it wound in a watch-winder.

A manual movement is the old-fashioned option, winding the spring using the crown. Many prefer that for an occasional watch. Despite its simplicity, however, it is sometimes more expensive than an automatic.

Then there are all the other complications: chronographs, calendars, tourbillons etc. They are beautiful pieces of engineering, but usually you pay through the nose for it.

Unless you have bottomless pockets, or really value that craftsmanship, you’re often better sticking to a simple chronograph at most.


2. Choosing metals and design

Most watches are steel or gold. If you’re going to invest in a dress watch, it should probably be gold – rose or yellow, or, if you’re really fussy about your metals, white gold/platinum.

There are some cheaper watches out there that I love the design of – Junghans x Max Bill, for example, or the UniformWares 302 series (both shown above) – but they are often quartz movements and largely steel cases.

Sports watches are another matter. Most look best in steel, though whether they go with more formal outfits is a style question (addressed below).

Certainly, a man could look well-dressed his whole life with a collection that comprised a good dress watch and a good sports watch. 

Design is most people’s biggest priority in buying a watch, and rightly so.

It’s a good reason to stick with classic designs such as Cartier Tanks, JLC Reversos or Omega Speedmasters. Your watch has to last decades after all – you can’t change your mind in five years, or the investment angle goes out the window.

Yet it’s also important to stick to your own tastes. (I’ve never seen a Patek I liked.) Confidence in those tastes will come with time.



3. Changing the strap

An obvious way to add variation, but one few people do. A canvas NATO strap is a nice change of pace on a sports watch, or a Milanese mesh (as on the Junghans above).

On a dress watch, try a good supplier of straps and see if they can make both your old and new one interchangeable. I did this last year with Jean Rousseau in London, and my Cartier Chronoflex now has brown alligator (above) and navy-crocodile options.


4. Buying second hand

Unless you value that retail hit of walking into a swanky watch store, second-hand watches can be a good option. You’ll generally save 20%-30%, with no damage to quality or longevity (you can get it serviced any time anyway).

This will also give you a good idea of the re-sell value of the watch – perhaps 30% less than what you paid for it. The biggest downside is that the range is often limited to these popular resell items: a lot of Omegas, a lot of Rolexes, and a smattering of Cartier.

jaeger reverso how to buy a watch style


5. Style

But which style of watch best suits you and the clothes you normally wear?

As a starting point, it is generally good to be consistent with metals on your jewellery. If you have a yellow-gold wedding band, best to stick with yellow or rose-gold (rather than silver or platinum) for the case of the watch.

Exceptions to this include steel sports watches and small hardware on jewellery – for example the clasp on a bracelet.

 

5a. Leathers

The most important question for most sartorial men will be the colour of leather strap that is acceptable for different outfits. Let’s use the leather of the shoes in the outfit as a proxy for formality.

Black shoes: A black strap is obviously the easiest choice, but anything else that is either very dark or very pale can work. For example, a navy-blue (as seen on my Cartier) or dark green, and at the other end of the scale, a pale tan.

The ostrich strap on my JLC (above) is just about pale enough to work with black shoes. Any darker, and it would be too similar to the next leather choice, brown.

In exactly the same way as you wouldn’t wear a dark brown belt with black shoes, a dark brown watch strap looks like a mistake.

Brown shoes: Pretty much any shade of brown strap will work with brown shoes. And unlike a belt, you don’t have to worry about the two leathers appearing similar but slightly different, or about mixing skins (calf/alligator).


5b. Size

Everyone knows watches have got bigger in recent years.

I express no opinion on whether they look good or bad, but bear two things in mind: a larger watch is usually less formal, and therefore less suited to a suit; and your watch should really fit under your shirt cuff. Those two things should deter most men from buying oversized watches.

 

5c. Sports

Given that point about formality, a larger watch is better suited to casual clothing and sporting activities. I normally wear my IWC Portuguese (above) or Rolex GMT (below) with jeans and knitwear, for example.


Do keep in mind that a smaller watch in such situations can be a nice change of pace, however, and often appears more sophisticated than a big rubber chronograph. A NATO strap is also a nice alternative with a steel watch.

Speaking of steel sports watches, I understand why many men buy them as their only watch. They can seem more versatile than a leather option, good with both suit and jeans.

But unless small (and probably vintage) they rarely compliment formal clothing. I would suggest to such men that a leather-strapped, modestly-sized sports watch would be a better choice. A diving watch can be the next investment – in two or three years’ time. 

 

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Lvt

Looking at the first photo, why do you have one button of your cuff unbuttoned?

Gabriel

Generally, people unbutton one button of a bespoke jacket to demonstrate that it is bespoke, as generally off-the-peg suits don’t have working sleeve buttonholes.

Matt Spaiser

I love to hear about watches. I got my Speedmaster 13 years ago and I’ve worn it every day apart from when it was being serviced and on some trips I didn’t want to take it on. I’d like to get another watch someday, but it’s not going to be soon.

Dexter Dunstable

So glad you’ve written a more detailed article on watches Simon. I’m looking forward to future articles. Keep up the fantastic work!

James

I have a Christopher Ward London (and a few other brands) and they are excellent watches, good movements, really well made and you don’t see too many of them about. Great customer service too.

Scott

I’d like to know more about Christopher Ward watches and other brands that are well made with high quality movements and good design. I’ve always believed that there are excellent watch makers out there that make beautiful,long lasting, and classic dress and more casual watches at very reasonable prices. Simon, if you can provide that type of information that would be great and much needed. Patek Phillippe may not like you writing other companies who make a great watch at a fraction ofthe cost of a Patek,but the rest of us will! Thank you so much for this first article and the ones to come.

Scott

Beautiful and classic design is paramount! You’ve got me thinking now. I’ll start the hunt for a well maintained second hand JLC Reverso and Cartier Tank.

James

Hi Scott, Christopher Ward, Hamilton, Maurice Lacroix all make fantastic beautifully designed watches IMO without costing an absolutely huge amount and personally I wouldn’t really want to walk around with 5-10k worth of watch on my wrist!

Scott

Thank you James. I’ll investigate these companies.

Scott

Love the Cartier tank and the JLC reverso. You can’t go wrong with either one of these companies and those two designs just mentioned have stood the test of time.

Colin

Nomos make some beautiful dress style watches at a comparatively reasonable price point. Elegant, sensible size, in-house movement. I prefer vintage but that can be a minefield.

Scott

Those Nomos watches look fantastic! The Ludwig model is really attractive,at least on the website. Which Nomos do you have?

Scott

Yes sir they are! So far, of all the watch companies models mentioned in this ongoing discussion of reasonably priced quality watches, I like Nomos the best.

Scott

Simon, I think I like the Orion model the best for a simple,elegant and classic dress watch. I’m also intrigued by some of the other models that would be more appropriate as a more casual watch. I like that the company makes it’s own movements in house and has received multiple design awards,very impressive.

Scott

However, the Junghans Meister series has a steel case that’s rose gold plated that’s beautiful,but it’s manuel wind. Should one be concerned about the rose gold plate? Do you have a preference of manuel wind of automatic?That design reminds me a bit of the Patek calatrava.

Scott

If I were married then, I would say no to a plated wedding ring of course. Interestingly I spoke to Junghans distributor in the United States yesterday,his name is Terry, and asked about the plating in terms of durability etc. He told me that the rose gold plating is thick and he’s had no reported problems with color changes,chipping etc. Terry told me that he’s actually visited the Junghans production and design facility in Germany and it was very impressive how much attention the company pays to quality.

Scott

Simon, upon further reflection concerning Nomos watches,the final candidates are the Ludwig and the Tangent. Both are very beautiful and classic. A very important question however is: if the watch needs to be serrviced and there’s no dealer in your area what do you do?

Simon

Great article! Is there a particular shop/website you would recommend for purchasing second hand watches?

Dexter Dunstable

I’d recommend watch recon for online purchases.

facebook_edward.rising

For what it’s worth, I’d recommend buying from auction. Not Ebay though, as I think trade listed “buy-it-now” prices are often too high. Stick with Bonhams, Christies or Sotheby’s or try Watches of Knightsbridge as they have regular auctions with about 500 watches and they are extremely helpful and give lots of invaluable advice.

Richard

At the risk of being a pedant, you say you’ve never seen a Patek you liked, but in your accessories quizz on 20/4/2008 you say you’d pick the Patek over Audemars Piguet, Bell & Ross, or Cartier.

nick inkster

Watchfinder is a great site for sourcing second hand watches; their quality control is of a very high standard, as it their service.

Richard

I’d suggest a well-dressed man should have just one good watch. A nice “sports” watch goes as well with a suit as a “dress” watch with casual outfits. No-one in their right mind would wear, say, a £7k JLC sports watch while actually exercising. Prince William may not often cited be as a style icon, but he wore his Omega Speedmaster, which I think he received as a gift from his mother, for his wedding. The rationale for changing clothes is that they need laundering, rest between wear, and change according to weather. There is no such motivation for changing watches. Plus of course, you can wear only one watch at a time, so any additional one will diminish the pleasure of wearing the one you already own.

facebook_edward.rising

At last, I find myself in disagreement with you, which is an oddly satisfying experience after hanging on your every word for so long!
I believe a man needs at least three watches.
1. An everyday gold watch with a brown leather strap. This could have an automatic movement and some complication; at least show the date as well as the time.
2. A steel sports watch. As this will be worn less, this can be a manual wind and could maybe have chronograph function.
3. This is where I differ in opinion from you, one does need a dress watch with a patent leather black strap, for wearing in the evening and especially with black tie (though never with white tie). This should be as simple as possible, manual wind, just tell the time and be as miraculously slim as a hand made, precision instrument can be.
Suggestions to fit this bill are:
1.Patek Phillipe annual calendar
2. Omega seamaster (the 1970s “soccer timer” with a white dial)
3. Jaeger le Coultre “ultra-thin” preferably in the smaller, older case or a Patek Calatrava (though I think the second hand is superfluous).

Obviously if one spends much of the time under the sea (intentionally), then one needs a Rolex. Though, of course, this should be replaced with something more tasteful once safely above the waterline. In the same way it is simply impossible to safely pilot an aircraft without first strapping on a Breitling.

facebook_edward.rising

Personally, I think the “no watch with black tie” rule is one which can be broken, but only if done correctly.
My theory is that it only came about as most men only have a watch with a brown strap and/or one with a chunky metal bracelet. These clash dreadfully with a black dinner jacket and so it is far better to let your wrist ‘go commando’ for the evening. Then, when questioned as to your horological abstinence (presumably after arriving so late that the first course was missed), one can make the frankly lame excuse that “a gentleman wouldn’t want to cause offense by checking the time”.

In my opinion, it is better to be properly prepared in the first place. Nothing compliments a dinner jacket better than a subtle, ultra-thin wristwatch on a black patent strap. Baume et Mercier and Jaeger LeCoultre both do fabulous ones and Stuhrling do more affordable examples.

Thanks to you, I now agree that wearing the correct brown shoe in town is perfectly acceptable (and I now own a pair of Edward Green dark oak brogues for this purpose), however, I would never go so far as to wear brown in town in the evening. In a similar vein, I would never wear a wristwatch with white-tie.

DKP

Do you limit this to wristwatches or all watches, ie pocket?

Manfred Rode

I also thought I should not start my flight training
without my Rolex GMT master, the ‘official’ PanAm pilots watch and was most amused when I saw that all planes came with a clock in the cockpit.

Dimitrios Kants

Simon – an excellent post and another reminder that a watch (like a bespoke suit) is as much about how it looks and fits on the individual. I have several watches (inc JLC and Rolex) and my day to day watch is a Uniform Wares (believe it or not) as I feel comfortable with its look and feel I wish you (and all the readers) best for Easter D

Rob o

Good post. I’m a Junghans man – these are automatic movements, not quartz as you implied. Never missed a beat in five years of continuous wear.

James

Hi Simon, from a style point of view do you think that a watch with a stainless steel strap is the most versatile in terms of looking good with many different outfits/styles i.e. business casual, a suit, casual etc.

Scott

Thanks for the tip Rob. I really like the Meister series that’s plated in rose gold. This series appears to be manual wind however.

Jamie Berry

I can’t believe you’ve never seen a Patek Phillippe that you like! They are the pinnacle of watchmaking – in a wholly different league to anyone else and possibly the only watch that one day will return your original outlay. If you visit the factory the only wonder is that they’re not even more expensive!

Julian

A great article. I’m developing an interest in watches whilst at the same time discovering that the watch word seems to be moving away from me. As a man with very small wrists the promotional copy on the IWC site for the Portofino Automatic probably says all that needs to be said regarding my problem: “The case has grown to a contemporary 40 millimetres in diameter”. Grrrrrrrr. Men’s watches in 38mm and smaller are becoming increasingly hard to find. Dimensions don’t say it all though. I was recently surprised that a friend’s 40.9mm IWC Portuegese Chronograph seemed fairly well proportioned on my wrist whereas a 38mm Hamilton Intramatic seemed surprisingly big. They’re both beautiful watches though.

– Julian

Manfred Rode

I do not think that Cartier watches were mostly quartz, they have been around much longer than quartz movements. Their mechanical movements were nothing special in the past but nowadays their top models have very sophisticated movements. Kind regards Manfred

James

Its the same with clothing isn’t it. Just because something is made by an an extremely well respected brand and very well made doesn’t mean you like it or that it would suit you and your lifestyle etc.

john

Simon, congratulations on your post, i would just like to point out an aspect of watchmaking i find very important which you haven’t really mentioned (idk if you will do it in a latter post). I personally value a watch a lot more if it has an In-House movement, meaning that the movement inside is designed and produced by the brand of the watch rather than buying third party movements and placing them in a custom made case.

Jamie Berry

Movements that are made in house are fundamentally higher quality because the watch make controls every aspect of the watchmaking process. Movements made elsewhere are almost always mass produced for anyone who cares to buy them – it is not a question of farming it out to someone whos’s better at it. Watchmaking is not like that. For a long while I believe that Cartier did not make their own movements, and even Panerai have only quite recently brought it in house,. To do so is considered a major coup for a watchmaker.

Scott

Cartier actually bought its movements from Swatch for years. To Simon’s point,they were concentrating on the jewelry aspect and not so much on the craft of wachmaking. Apparently that’s changed somewhat in that Cartier has a new line the Tank MC where all the movements are made in house. Of course the prices are 3 or 4 times higher than a watch from Junghans or Nomos. The view from this very interesting discussion,as I understand it,is that in terms of quality of design,movements, materials and workmanship,there are a few companies that make a superb watch that are not well known that are much less expensive. It’s interesting that Junghans has been in business for 150 years and is virtually unknown in North America.

facebook_edward.rising

I too prefer a watch to have an “In-House movement”. I think there are watches which are clothing accessories and watches which are fine-art (hence Christie’s and Sotheby’s both having specialist Wristwatch departments.) Somewhere in the middle of this Venn diagram are attractive and practical luxury watches. The watch enthusiast will only be interested in watches with matching movements and cases, in much the same way a painting signed by Titian is of less interest to a purist if it is not actually entirely by him – even if the painting is extraordinarily beautiful. One has to decide; are you buying an attractive watch, in which case the examples above, which are essentially reproductions of 1950s chronographs, are fine or are you investing a piece of art which you can savor and enjoy whenever you check the time?

Scott

excellent analogy Edward. Personally I fall into the former camp. Perhaps that makes me a bit plebian,but I’ve noticed that quite often people who have a Patek on their wrist are more interested in making sure other folks know that.It has nothing to do with having a reliable,well made and attractice watch,but rather it’s a staus symbol and that’s something I try to avoid.

facebook_edward.rising

I agree that having a status symbol on your wrist is vulgar. I don’t like the fashion for large watches like the big IWCs (whose movements are made by Swatch) you are just paying for a brand and an in-your-face watch. I find Pateks for far more discrete; only someone in-the-know would recognise a Patek. It must be frustrating for the people who bought one hoping to get attention and then finding they have to actually mention it in order for it to be noticed! Pateks are not just clever movements though. The Nautilus (designed by Gerald Genta) is easily the most attractive sports watch in the world (in my opinion).

Harry Morton

Hi Simon, another very helpful post, thank you. My current budget dictates that I must look for a second hand watch – is there anywhere in particular that you, or indeed the above repliers, would suggest looking in London? The temptation to browse eBay is great, but I’m not convinced it is a true indication of value (?) and certainly without seeing a watch first hand I’d be reluctant to buy.

facebook_edward.rising

I would agree with Simon (as always!) about not going to one of the Mayfair shops for anything other than a discrete browse to see what you like. The prices can be stupendous though. I’m a great believer in auctions, the experts are fountain of knowledge and never do any hard selling (most of them are more interested in the pieces than the money they sell for). Try the top three, search on theSaleroom.com and look out for the next catalogue from the specialist watch auctioneers; Watches of Knightsbridge.

David C

Simon

Can’t understand your difficulty with Patek. Surely an 18ct Rose Gold Calatrava is a permanent statement of good taste. David

Anonymous

I find it interesting that some seem reluctant to actually wear their 5k watch, and have them insured. I bought a Rolex explorer II in 2007 as a gift to myself for a certain occasion. This became my daily beater, and yes, it gets scratched but will look almost as new after it is serviced. The advantage of Rolex is of course that depending on the circumstances you can always say “it’s a fake from HK”. Also, due to their price increases, it’s now going for almost the same price second hand.

Personally, I’m more concerned about my more expensive clothes, as they, while costing 5-25% of the watch, can truly get destroyed if I’m uncautious or unlucky while wearing them. And I’m not anywhere near Simon’s bespoke shoes (at 3k), suits etc. but at most wear Zegna and Caruso MTM and C&J shoes.

To Julian: I’d advice to go vintage. I’m also blessed with slim wrists, and most new sport watches are very big. Thickness also makes a huge difference to how the watch looks on the wrist.

/A

Scott

Any thoughts on Mont Blanc watches?

Scott

I’m not bothered at all about the big name thing. I agree with you that make and the design are both very good,comparable,if not better,than a number of other manufacturers that charge much higher prices. I’m focusing on the star classique model.

Ola

I have seen Simon wear two of my most coveted watches and oh my God the Cartier yellow-gold Tank Francaise chronograph is beautiful. Do you know of any trusted second hand retailer you can recommend?

hafiz

Im buying a tag heuer but still contemplating on automatic or quartz, both same design..
Automatic is much more expensive.
Im fine with both. Which one should i buy and which have better resale value?

DONALD STE HENDERSON

Good morning,
I am looking to purchase my first Cartier and like the idea of vintage. I own several antique auto’s and the link to the past is compelling. However, I am confused as to some reputable places to purchase vintage watches. Do you have any recomendations?
Regards,
Donald Henderson

DKP

Quite like the Max Bill but my concern is that it has such a domed crystal that it might not be practical under a shirt cuff. Any thoughts on this Simon?

DKP

Simon, what are your thoughts regarding “matching metals”, ie if one wears a gold wedding band, does that mean he must only ever wear a gold watch? What of matching bands, ie if a gentleman is wearing black shoes is he only to wear a watch with a black watch band?

DKP

Thank you Simon. I asked because it looked to me like your wedding band was not gold yet many of your watches are. My challenge is the reverse, ie I’ve a gold wedding band but don’t tend to like gold watches very much.

hugh

DKP -I am with you on this. My wedding band is, in fact, the only yellow metal I own. Instead of worrying that my watches or cufflinks don’t match my wedding band, I instead view it as a positive point of distinction. My wedding band is just different than any other piece of jewelry I wear, and I rather enjoy that the different metal makes it stand apart

-hugh

DKP

Perhaps an odd question Simon but what’s the serial on your Jaeger? I ask because I see Reversos with the serial 252.0.08 described as either a Men’s watch or “Unisex”. I also find Reversos that look exactly the same but are described as a Women’s watch or “Unisex” and their serial is 250.8.08. Have spoken to a number of dealers and none seem to agree.

Tim

Hi Simon, I know this thread is a bit old, but I have a question about watches I wonder if you can help me with. I have inherited a number of watches from my grandfather, which have been sitting in a safe for many years. The collection has some interesting pieces, however as they have been sitting in a safe for so long and are quite old all need quite serious servicing. In some cases this may cost more than the value of the watch, which other than for sentimental reasons, makes little sense. I have decided to do this in parts. However, my question is this there are two watches I am most interested in, a rose gold Rolex and a Gold JLC Memovox. One is clearly more valuable than the other, though to be honest I prefer the JLC, even if it makes no financial sense to service it. My concern is that a rose gold Rolex day date, even with a leather strap, is a bit over the top and showy. I wonder if you consider that such a watch would look good as a dress watch or is it more to be worn at some swish bar in St Tropez?

Tim

Thanks Simon

Anonymous

Simon, have you thought about covering Christopher Ward? They make absolutely great watches in my opinion and have a very interesting approach.

Erik Syverson

Buy vintage good advice. LA has the best vintage selection and dealers.

Stas

Hi Simon, enjoying your guides. I see your sport watches are vintage, so probably not suitable for water / sun exposure. How about summer vacation / sea time watch? Do you have a special watch for it? Thanks!

Stas

Thanks Simon

p goh

Hi Simon,

May I know what size is your cartier watch??

Jérôme

Hello Simon,

You note here the need for a right match between leather strap and shoes.

By the way, a question comes to my mind about belt : What do you think of wearing this one with color and material matching my brown / beige nubbuck boots ?

If that doesn’t seem like an exaggerated matching, could you recommend any products or brands,
in order to see it for myself ?

jmehpg

Hi Simon,

I appreciate watches aren’t your niche, but I would appreciate advice on overall outfit coordination.

I have always steered to dress watches, but looking to add a steel sports watch of some description. I am not a Rolex guy so looking at Vacheron Constantin Overseas (interchangeable bracelets). Steel watches have gone berserk apparently the past year and it is difficult getting hold of any.

I would ideally have gone for the blue face, but there is no supply in the market. That leaves either silver or black.

I am thinking silver would be more versatile? I wear pretty much no black ever. I have a rose gold wedding ring. I generally don’t wear t-shirts, but maybe a polo once every couple of weeks. I would probably wear this with jeans and a shirt (90% time blue, solids or striped) type outfit. Colours for me are blues, browns and greens.

Would you avoid black face in this instance, or do you think it wouldn’t clash with overall outfits? Or do you think steel sports watches don’t need too much thought?

Thank you.

Alex

Have you tried either dial variation on your wrist? If not, I would suggest doing so – the VC Overseas is a lovely watch, but does wear a little big for its stated size due to the integrated bracelet and lugs. I wouldn’t be too concerned with dial colour (other than to choose what you like the most), but consider how the watch sits on your wrist – depending on your wrist size and shape, the watch may fit perfectly or look too big.