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Selecting a watch that you or someone else will use and enjoy for many years to come can be a fun and easy process with a little bit of knowledge. If you’re not sure what kind of watch to buy and what kind of functions it should have, consider the following.
Choosing Your Style
More than just something you wrap around your wrist to help keep you punctual, a watch can help punctuate your personal style, as well. The first thing to ask yourself is, when and how will I be wearing this watch? In the end, a watch is a reflection of you and your lifestyle, just like the clothes you wear or the car you drive.
The watch that you select should be appropriate for the activities for which you intend to use it. If your primary purpose is athletic, you might consider watches that are shock-proof. If you will be using the watch for work and play, do you need water-resistance, and if so, to what degree? If you will be using the watch for swimming and diving, you might want to consider a watch that has a screw-down crown or a plastic strap.
You'll also want to consider how much you want to spend on a timepiece. The $50 to $200 range brings durability as well as accuracy and stylistic flourishes. You'll find some models sporting chronographs and other multifunction complications, as well as some with gold-plated stainless steel cases and bracelets. In the $200 to $500 range, style gets ramped up, often with more sophisticated movements, diamond accents, or solid gold cases and bracelets.
When shopping for a timepiece, whatever the price or style, the brand name can play an important part in determining the right watch for you. Brand choice can be very subjective and will vary from person to person. Ultimately, it comes down to how you perceive a brand and what it represents, as well as what speaks to your sensibilities - high style or horological history, modern or traditional, collectible or affordable.
With high-end luxury watches from brands like Movado and TAG Heuer, you're paying for the finest materials, expert craftsmanship, and exclusivity (fewer numbers are manufactured for individual models). A fine watch is a wonderful heirloom to pass down from one generation to the next.
Consider one with automatic movement and a skeletonized dial or exhibition caseback which display the craftsmanship of the watchmaker. While fine watches are made all over the world today, Swiss watches still enjoy the highest reputation due to the wealth of knowledge and infrastructure built up in the Swiss watch industry over centuries. Keep in mind that a watch can only be given the coveted Swiss Made label if its movement is made, assembled, and inspected in Switzerland. A watch may have Swiss movement if the automatic movement was made in Switzerland and the watch was subsequently assembled elsewhere.
Choose a water-resistance level appropriate for your needs. For instance, scuba divers should look for a minimum rating of 200 meters.
Watch band material should be based on personal preference and type of sport. The most popular material for sport watches is plastic or rubber.
How Watches Work
In addition to their exterior beauty, watches are also an incredible feat of engineering and craftsmanship. This section contains an overview of the major parts of a watch, as well as an explanation of how watches operate.
Many complicated parts must all work in tandem in order to not only tell time, but perform a myriad of other functions. These could include a chronograph, altimeter, alarm, day/date calendar, moon phase, and slide rule bezel. Below are descriptions of the major internal and external parts and their functions. For more detailed explanations, visit our watch glossary.
External Watch Parts
The crystal is the cover over the watch face. Three types of crystals are commonly found in watches. Acrylic crystal is an inexpensive plastic that allows shallow scratches to be buffed out. Mineral crystal is composed of several elements that are heat-treated to create an unusual hardness that aids in resisting scratches. Sapphire crystal is the most expensive and durable, approximately three times harder than mineral crystals, and 20 times harder than acrylic crystals.
A watch's hands are the pointing devices anchored at the center and circling around the dial, indicating hours, minutes, seconds, and any other special features of the watch. There are many different types of hands.
Alpha: A hand that is slightly tapered
Baton: A narrow hand, sometimes referred to as a 'stick hand'
Dauphine: A wide, tapered hand with a facet at the center, running the length of the hand
Skeleton: Cutout hands showing only the frame
Luminous: Hand-made of skeleton form, the opening filled with a luminous material
The bezel is the surface ring on a watch that surrounds and holds the crystal in place. A rotating ratchet bezel moves in some sport watches as part of the timing device. If rotating bezels are bi-directional (able to move clockwise or counter clockwise), they can assist in calculations for elapsed times.
The crown is the nodule extending from the watch case that is used to set the time, date, etc. Most pull out to set the time. Many water-resistant watches have crowns that screw down for a better water-tight seal.
The dial is the watch face that contains the numerals, indices, or surface design. While these parts are usually applied, some may be printed on. Sub-dials are smaller dials set into the main face of the watch. These can be used for added functions, such as elapsed times and dates.
The watch case is the metal housing that contains the internal parts of a watch. Stainless steel is the most typical metal used, but titanium, gold, silver and platinum are also used. Less expensive watches are usually made of brass that has been plated with gold or silver.
A bracelet is the flexible metal band consisting of assembled links, usually in the same style as the watch case. Detachable links are used to change the length of the bracelet. Bracelets can be made of stainless steel, sterling silver, gold, or a combination.
A strap is simply a watchband made of leather, plastic, or fabric.
Internal Watch Parts
A watch’s movement is its main timekeeping mechanism. Today’s watch movements fall into two categories, automatic mechanical or quartz. Automatic mechanical movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms. Most automatic movements are wound by the normal, everyday movement of your wrist, which charges the watch’s winding reserve. Quartz movements are powered by a battery and do not stop working once removed from your wrist.
The balance wheel is the regulating organ of a watch with a mechanical movement that vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation.
This series of small gears in both quartz and mechanical movement watches is responsible for transmitting the power from the battery (in a quartz watch) or spring (in a mechanical watch) to the escapement, which distributes the impulses that mark the time.
This part of the watch restricts the electrical or mechanical impulses of the gear train, metering out the passage of time into equal, regular parts.
The motion work is a series of parts inside a watch that receive power from the escapement and gear train, which distribute and generate the watch’s power. The motion work is responsible for actually turning the watch’s hands.
The mainspring is the energy source responsible for powering the watch movement (as opposed to a battery in a watch with a quartz crystal movement). The spring is wound, either manually (using the winding stem) or automatically, by the motion of the wearer’s wrist. Potential energy is stored in the coiled spring, then released to the gear train which transmits the power to the escapement and motion work, which turns the hands on the watch dial.
Putting it all together
Watches essentially tell time by the integration of three main components, an energy source, a time regulating mechanism, and a display. The energy source can be electronic (as in a battery) or mechanical (as in a wound spring). A watch’s main timekeeping mechanism is called its movement.
Today’s watches fall into two categories, mechanical movements and quartz movements. Here’s a breakdown of how each type of movement works:
Mechanical (Automatic) Watches
Mechanical watches are made up of about 130 parts that work together to tell time. Automatic mechanical movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms, and are wound by the movement of your wrist as you wear it. The gear train then transmits the power to the escapement, which distributes the impulses, turning the balance wheel. The balance wheel is the time regulating organ of a mechanical watch, which vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation. A series of gears, called the motion work, then turns the hands on the watch face, or dial. See illustration below.
Quartz Crystal Watches
Quartz watches work with a series of electronic components, all fitting together in a tiny space. Rather than a wound spring, a quartz watch relies on a battery for its energy. The battery sends electrical energy to a rotor to produce an electrical current. The current passes through a magnetic coil to a quartz crystal, which vibrates at a very high frequency (32,768 times a second), providing highly accurate timekeeping. These impulses are passed through a stepping motor that turns the electrical energy into the mechanical energy needed to turn the gear train. The gear train turns the motion work, which actually moves the hands on the watch dial.
Shock-resistance confirmed by free-fall test simulating actual usage conditions.
Vibration resistance confirmed by vibrating for 20 minutes or longer with a testing machine generating a 19.6 m/s sine wave.
Shock-resistance further confirmed by striking the watch at rest with a hammer in a 180-degree rotating trajectory.
Retention of water-resistance capability confirmed by underwater pressurization at 200 meters for 5 minutes or longer.
Images Courtesy of Casio Watches
At its most basic, a watch is there to conveniently remind you of the time with just the flick of your wrist. But for more timing capabilities, you can add what are known in horological terms as complications, which run the gamut of the stopwatch-like chronograph to a display of moon phases to a calendar window. Below are some of the most popular complications found in today's watches.
One of the most ubiquitous complications, calendar watches include a small window showing the date, typically placed on the dial at 3 o'clock. You'll also find some date watches that include the day of the week in a separate window. Most calendars count out to 31, requiring you to manually reset the date on those months that don't have 31 days.
Some date watches have smarter calendar complications. An annual calendar can run for a full year without resetting until you get to March (as February's 28 or 29 days throws it off). But you won't have to worry about resetting the date for a long time with a perpetual calendar watch, programmed to automatically adjust for the varying lengths of months as well as leap years to the year 2100.
Another popular complication in today's watches is the chronograph, which enables you to use your watch as a stopwatch to time specific events as well as multiple laps. To start timing, you'll press one of the pushers on the side of the watch case. Depending on the watch, you may press that pusher or a second one to stop the timing. Chronographs have two or three smaller subdials (also called totalizers or registers) placed on the dial face that display the seconds, minutes, and hours. Quartz chronographs can measure events down to 1/10 of a second, while their automatic counterparts can get as accurate as 1/5 of a second. In addition to timing your exercise, chronographs can be paired with a tachymeter scale (placed around the outside of the dial or on the rim of the bezel) to determine the average speed covered over a specified distance.
Note: Don't confuse the term "chronometer" with a chronograph. Where a chronograph is part of a watch's mechanics, a chronometer is a timepiece that's been certified by the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres (or COSC, the official Swiss chronometer inspection body) as being highly accurate. Only three percent of watches produced in Switzerland are chronometer-certified. To achieve this highly coveted certification, the movements are subjected to numerous tests over a period of 15 consecutive days and nights, in five positions and at three different temperatures. And a chronometer may or may not be a chronograph.
Moon Phase Indicator
More of an ornamental complication, lunar phase watches depict the illuminated portion of the moon as seen on Earth via an illustrated disc that rotates beneath the dial. Once set, the indicator will rotate completely once every 29 days, 12 hours, and 44 minutes.
Dual Time Zone and World Time
If you do a lot of traveling, a dual time zone watch (also called a GMT watch) can be handy as it will show you the current time where you are as well as the time in a second time zone. This is done either via an extra hand, twin subdials, or a 24-hour scale placed on the dial. If you need to keep track of business time on several continents, a world time watch typically displays 24 city names placed on the dial or bezel to represent each individual time zone. You can read the hour in a particular time zone by looking at the scale set next to the city that the hour hand is pointing to.
This is a generic term for a non-chronograph watch that displays information such as month, day, and date in two or three subdials.
Note: Chronographs, which are an added complication that provides stopwatch functionality, can be found on both quartz and automatic watch movements. Quartz chronographs can provide more accuracy, timing events down to 1/10 second compared to an automatic movement's 1/5 second accuracy. Learn more about chronographs and other watch complications.
Watch cases, the housing of the timepiece that contains the internal movement, can be made out of anything that's durably solid, but today's cases are primarily made of stainless steel. Stainless steel is quite durable and contains a bit of chromium to help protect the steel from corrosion and rust. Typically silver in color, it can be plated with a thin layer of gold (about 10 microns, or 1/1000 of a millimeter in thickness) in whole or in part for added accent. You can also find stainless steel cases in different colors, thanks to a process called Ionic plating or PVD (physical vapor deposition) which usually gives it a matte finish.
The most popular form of gold is still yellow gold, but rose gold, featuring a pinkish tint due to a higher concentration of copper in its alloy mix, is gaining in popularity. When shopping for gold watches, pay attention to the fineness (or purity) of the gold as expressed in karats. A single karat equals 1/24 of the pure metal, so an 18 karat gold watch translates to 75 percent pure gold (whereas 14 karat gold equals 58 percent).
Titanium has become popular in higher-end watches as it's a bit more expensive and harder to work with. Offering a lighter shade of silver, titanium is 50 percent lighter than steel, but 30 percent stronger. For watch enthusiasts who have allergic reactions to stainless steel, titanium is an excellent alternative as it doesn't contain nickel (the allergen found in stainless steel). It's also a great choice for diving and water sports as it's very resistant to salt water corrosion. On the downside, it's a bit more apt to picking up scratches.
Additionally, you'll find watch cases made of precious metals, such as platinum (used in luxury watches) and sterling silver, ceramic, tungsten, aluminum (also very corrosion-resistant), and carbon fiber. Sport watch cases are typically made of hardened rubber, plastic, or resin, and are a good option for use during more rugged activities.
Wrist watches come in a few basic shapes: round, square, and rectangular. A fourth popular shape is Tonneau, which has a tall orientation with a flattened top and bottom, and bulging sides that resemble a barrel. Round watches are the direct descendants of the pocket watch and are the most popular shape. The majority of sport watches will be circular as it's the shape that's easiest to make water-resistant. Square watches provide more of a canvas for adding decoration to fashion watches. Rectangular watches are considered dressier as they can be better hidden under the sleeve. Tonneau-shaped watches present a unique retro style and are also considered dressy thanks to their slimmer profile.
At Amazon.ca, you'll find these measurements listed in the Product Specifications section of each product detail page.
Here are some basic guidelines for case diameter:
|Extra Small||Less than 36 mm||Less than 24mm|
|Small||Less than 36 mm||Less than 24mm|
|Medium||37mm to 40mm||24mm to 30mm|
|Large||42mm to 46mm||32mm to 36mm|
|Extra-Large||48mm and beyond||40mm and beyond|
Here are some basic guidelines for case thickness:
While you can get a sense of a watch's size from its width measurement, be aware of the dial's design. Consider two watch cases that have the same measurement. One might appear larger because its dial extends to the very edge of the case, while the other seems smaller because it has a thicker bezel that frames the dial. Ultimately, this visual measurement is rather subjective.
One measurement you won't find is the weight of a watch, but one thing to keep in mind is that adding a metal bracelet will add to the watch's heft on your wrist. If weight is a concern, consider a bracelet and case made of titanium, a metal that's far lighter than stainless steel.
The display of time in numbers instead of hands on the dial. The numbers can appear in an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), which shows a continuous reading or an LED (Light-Emitting Diode), which shows the time at the push of a button.
An analog display watch shows the time by means of hands. The analog display has a traditional dial with hour, minute, and sometimes second hands.
An analog-digital display watch shows the time by means of hands (analog display) as well as by numbers (digital display). This feature is usually found on sport watches.
The clear covering over the face and hands of the watch is called the crystal. The material used in making the crystal determines its scratch-resistance.
Acrylic crystal, made of plastic composite, is the least scratch-resistant, though shallow scratches can be polished out. Mineral crystal is made up of several mineral elements that are manufactured and treated by heat procedures to create a hardness that helps in resisting scratches. Sapphire crystal is the most durable and scratch-resistant crystal. It's approximately thre times harder than mineral crystal and 20 times harder than acrylic crystal. We recommend a watch with mineral crystal, at a minimum.
Whether you're a scuba diver or just a frequent dishwasher at home, you'll want to pay attention to the water-resistance of your watch. Water-resistance ratings are listed in certain depths, typically in meters, but the numerical depth shouldn't be taken literally. The depth rating actually represents the results of tests performed in a lab's pressure chamber, and not real-world sea depths.
A watch marked as water-resistant without a depth indication is designed to withstand accidental splashes of water only. Do not submerge such a watch. Higher levels of water-resistance are indicated by increasingly higher acceptable depths, usually indicated in meters.
A watch with a back that screws onto the case provides a higher degree of water-resistance. Some crowns with a winding stem actually screw into the case to further increase water-resistance.
We do not recommend swimming or diving with your watch unless it has a screw-down crown (also known as 'screw-lock' or 'screw-in' crown) and is water-resistant to at least 100 meters.
Note: Water-resistance is sometimes listed using the abbreviation ATM, which stands for "atmosphere" and 1 ATM represents 10 meters. In Europe, "bar" is often used instead of ATM.
Below are typical water-resistance ratings and their corresponding parameters for real world usage.
|30 meters||3 ATM||Can withstand rain and splashes of water, such as car washing and showering, but it shouldn't be worn swimming|
|50 meters||5 ATM||Suitable for swimming, as well as higher altitude sports, such as skiing and parachuting|
|100 meters||10 ATM||Suitable for snorkeling, as well as swimming|
|200 meters||20 ATM||Suitable for recreational scuba diving|
|300 meters||30 ATM||For use when scuba diving to a depth of 30 meters for up to 2 hours|
|500 meters||50 ATM||For use when scuba diving to a depth of 50 meters for up to 2 hours|
Like everything in life, a watch's water-resistance isn't guaranteed forever. The gaskets or O-rings that make up the watch's watertight seals can degrade over time, and even opening the caseback for changing the battery can affect water-resistance. To make certain that your watch will stand up to the pressure that was designed for, a watch can be tested and repaired by a service center authorized by the manufacturer. Here are some tips on maintaining your timepiece's water-resistance.
Care for a Water-Resistant Watch
It is not recommended to wear your water-resistant watch in a hot shower, sauna or hot tub. The extreme heat can cause the metal parts to expand at a different rate than the rubber gaskets. This creates small openings that can allow water droplets to penetrate the watch. Sudden temperature changes are especially harsh. Take care not to jump into a cold pool after wearing your watch in the hot tub.
After swimming or diving in salt water, immediately rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it. This will prevent salt buildup and corrosion of the bezel ring.
Leather straps can be made to be water-resistant too. Generally however, leather straps are more easily damaged by frequent exposure to water. If you are going to wear your watch while swimming, think of buying one with a metal bracelet or a rubber or nylon diver strap.
Without a band of some type, you'd have a pocket watch (though there's certainly nothing wrong with that). But today's watches are primarily wrist watches, bound to your wrist with a strap made of leather, rubber or fabric, or a metal bracelet. Save for a few activity-specific guidelines, your choice of band comes down to personal preference.
A leather strap is suitable for everyday wear. Finer grades of leather, ranging from alligator to patent, are a great choice with dress watches. However, if you are planning on wearing your watch during water sports, you might prefer to go with a rubber strap instead. Leather straps are not as durable as metal bracelets, but they are easier to replace. Finally, leather straps are typically connected using a standard buckle, but you can also find some that are joined by a deployment buckle (or a butterfly clasp), which opens symmetrically.
Metal bracelets are typically composed of individual links and are joined by a metal-hinged clasp, such as the aforementioned deployment, as well as a fold-over or jewelry clasp. The bracelet attaches to the watch case at the lugs, usually with spring bars, which enables you to easily switch to a leather or rubber strap. However, some higher-end watches have an integrated bracelet, where the watch case and band are designed as a whole, and it usually can't be replaced by a strap.
Sizing a Metal Bracelet
While leather straps are pretty easy to fit around your wrist with its buckle and punched hole, a metal bracelet can be trickier as one or more links may need removal to correctly size to your wrist. While this can be done on your own using a bracelet tool accessory, we recommend taking your watch to a local jeweler for precise sizing, which can usually be done for $10 to $30. Be sure to keep any links that are removed in case you need to replace a link somewhere down the line.
|Caring for Your Watch|
While a watch can be considered a decorative accessory, it is also a tool that needs cleaning and tuning from time to time to ensure its accuracy, looks, and longevity.
Read the Manual
Timepieces with chronographs or specialized complications, such as dual time functions or day-and-date subdials, can be complicated to set for the first time (or remember after several months of not using the function). The first resource you should turn to is the manual that came with your watch, and you should keep it for future reference, as well as warranty and service information. If you have a watch with automatic movement, the manual will also specify maintenance intervals. Should you lose your manual, be sure to check your manufacturer's website as many provide downloadable PDFs.
The Case for Cleaning
Just as you wash your car to keep its exterior looking fine and protected from corrosion, you'll want to periodically take a few moments to make sure your timepiece is a clean machine. Here's a few tips for overall care and cleaning.
Wipe with a lint-free cloth and use a toothpick to extract dirt from crevices. If your watch is water-resistant, you can wipe it with warm water and mild soap, and dry it with a cloth.
After wearing in salt or heavily chlorinated water, rinse the watch in fresh water and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Wipe your watch with a soft cloth after heavy perspiration.
A watch may have a scratch-resistant crystal, but no crystal is truly scratch-proof, so you shouldn't toss your watch onto the dresser or into a drawer at the end of the day. It's better to store or wrap it in a soft cloth before placing it down. The more care you take with the watch, the less scratches the watch will acquire. Replace broken or scratched crystals immediately. Even a hairline crack can let dust or moisture into the mechanism, threatening its accuracy. If you place the watch in a drawer with other jewelry, this too may scratch the watch, as it might rub against the other pieces. You might also store the watch in its original case since these cases are generally soft and made specifically for the watch.
Wash it in warm, soapy water and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to extract excess grime. Dry with a soft cloth.
To keep a leather strap looking its best, avoid submersion in water. If it does become wet, wipe it dry with a cloth. Never use a hairdryer.
In the summer, wear leather straps loosely to avoid absorption of perspiration (and to prevent perspiration rash on your wrist). Dry with a cloth, or let it dry in a well-ventilated spot.
No crystal, whether it be mineral or sapphire, is scratch-proof, so you should take care in storing your watch at the end of the day. Wrap it in a soft cloth for optimal protection.
If a crystal has even a hairline crack, replace it immediately.
Automatic watches require a bit more care than those with battery-powered quartz movements, as the self-winding mechanism is more complex. For one thing, an automatic watch is powered by the kinetic movement of your arm, and it will require winding if not worn for several days. Automatic watch mechanisms also benefit from continued movement to keep it calibrated and prevent lubricants from congealing. If you have more than one automatic watch that you switch between, you should consider a watch winder, a device that holds one or several timepieces and moves it in a circular fashion to emulate the human motion that keeps it ticking. They're also a great way to display your watch collection. When choosing a watch winder, look for devices that have a "turn-and-rest" program, which stops the motor after a specified cycle of spins to more accurately emulate daily activity.
If you don't wear your automatic watch daily and don't have a watch winder, wind the watch twice a week and try to do it at approximately the same time of day. (A fully wound automatic watch will keep running for approximately 40 hours.)
Avoid wearing mechanical watches when playing high-impact sports or those that require continuous arm motion (such as tennis).
To help keep your watch protected from the elements:
1. Never submerge even the highest rated water-resistant watch in a hot shower, sauna or hot tub. The extreme heat can cause the metal parts to expand at a different rate than the rubber gaskets. This creates small openings that can allow water droplets to penetrate the watch. Sudden temperature changes are especially harsh. Take care not to jump into a cold pool after wearing your watch in the hot tub.
2. If your watch has a screw-down crown, make sure to screw it tightly into the watch case to help prevent any chance of water getting into your timepiece.
3. After swimming or diving in salt water, immediately rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it. This will prevent salt buildup and corrosion of the bezel ring.
If you detect any moisture in the watch or the crystal begins to fog, take it to a service professional as soon as possible.
Leather straps can be made to be water-resistant too. Generally however, leather straps are more easily damaged by frequent exposure to water, so if you are going to wear your watch while swimming, think of buying one with a metal bracelet or a rubber or nylon diver strap.
Let the Professionals Handle It
While there are several things you can do on your own to ensure that your watch can be handed down to the next generation, you'll need to turn to professionals for a few things.
While some metal bracelets can be sized on your own with the purchase of a sizing tool, a watch professional can take the stress out of it and help you size it correctly.
Changing batteries in quartz movement watches (about every two to three years).
If you notice your timepiece running slow or fast, bring it in to a professional for a tune-up that includes internal cleaning and oiling.