How to choose a watch: the ultimate guide

Rolex watch

A quality classic watch could become a family heirloom
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Want to buy a watch but don’t know where to start? With so many styles, movements and price tags, watch-buying can be a confusing business.

Never fear. If you’re wondering how to choose the perfect watch, we’ve consulted some of the UK’s greatest online horology experts to help you buy your next timepiece.

Why wear a watch?

Garrick Portsmouth watch

A watch makes a style statement about the kind of man you are
Image source: The Watch Consultant

‘Why wear a watch?’ you might ask. ‘These days all you need is a smartphone.’

Not true. A classic watch outperforms the upstart smartphone in several ways. It looks better, has gallons of class, allows you to check the time with the discretion befitting a gentleman, and will never embarrass you in a silent moment at the theatre.

A watch is not just a means of telling the time; it’s a statement about the kind of man you are. David Brailsford, aka The Watch Consultant says that the right watch radiates success: ‘Throughout meetings you will constantly be delivering the subliminal message, “my professional advice works”.’

And a good watch finishes off your outfit. John at The Everyday Man blog explains: ‘A watch is key. Watches are the pieces of jewellery that are most likely to catch someone’s eye.’

Which watch movement is best?

The movement is the part of the watch that makes it work. It’s the engine, the workings, the heart, if you like. So what is the difference between quartz, manual and automatic movements? And does it really matter?

Mechanical watches – manual or automatic

movement of watch

The movement inside a mechanical watch is a thing of beauty
Image source: Shutterstock

Mechanical watches are either manual or automatic. There was a time when they were all manual – in other words, they needed regular winding by hand. If you choose a vintage (pre-1960) watch, it will inevitably be a manual.

Automatic movements became standard post-1960. These watches are ‘self-winding’; the wearer’s natural, day-to-day body movements provide the energy needed to keep them ticking. Automatic watches require the wearer to stay active. So if you like to switch watches at the weekend, you’ll need to reset the time on your automatic and wind it up by hand come Monday morning, explains the team at the Creative Watch blog. Automatic watches also tend to gain a few seconds per day, meaning they can gain up to a minute a week.

Manual and automatic watches are by no means as accurate as quartz watches. But they are classier. As the Creative Watch team puts it: ‘The watch is a statement of the individual’s appreciation for art and craftsmanship. Automatic mechanical watches possess an inner beauty, a sense of history, authenticity and worth like no other!’

Quartz watches

quartz watch

A quartz watch runs on battery and is regulated by a tiny piece of quartz
Image source: Shutterstock

‘Quartz: what is it about these six letters that seem to upset so many watch nerds?’ the Watch Nerd asks himself.

Enthusiasts certainly tend to be dismissive of quartz watches and it’s true that lower end high-street watches use quartz movements because they are cheap to manufacture. Powered by battery, these watches are regulated by a tiny piece of quartz, hence the name.

But if efficiency is required on a budget, the quartz watch wins hands down. Quartz watches are incredibly accurate and can still look handsome despite their inferior pedigree.

How to tell the difference


Mechanical watches tend to be more expensive
Image source: Shutterstock

There are a couple of clues to help you tell a quartz watch from a mechanical one, without needing to prise off the back. The first is price. A brand new watch priced close to, or more than, a thousand pounds is likely to be mechanical.

The second test relates to the watch’s second hand. If it ticks robotically with the passing of every second, you have a quartz watch. If however, ‘the second hand of your watch makes more of a quiet – or “sweeping” – type of motion, you own a watch with a mechanical kind of movement,’ explains the team at Time Tutelary.

Choosing the right style

There are a huge number of men’s watch styles, but choosing the correct watch for each occasion is a subtle art. We’ve picked out three of the most enduring and distinguished styles: pilot; dive; and dress or classic. If it’s not one of these, you don’t want it.

Pilot watches


The Breitling Navitimer is one of the most respected pilot watches ever made
Image source: Rama, via Wikimedia Commons

The first pilot watch was made for pioneer aviator Santos-Dumont by his good friend, Louis Cartier, who, according to the team at Official Watches, ‘was more than happy to create a cockpit-ready timepiece (i.e. one you could consult without taking your hands off the steering yoke) for his famous pal.’

Pilot or ‘aviator’ watches, as our friends across the Atlantic like to call them, continue to provide all the information a pilot would have needed in the pre-electronic navigation era. They incorporate a bezel, slide rule, and a black face with luminous dials and numbers that allow pilots to use them in the dark.

‘Often designed to be unconditionally functional for the most demanding conditions which is crucial for pilots,’ explain the team over at Plane Talking, these watches are comfortable, beautiful and super-reliable.

Dive watches


The iconic Rolex Submariner will never go out of style
Image source: FrankWilliams, via Wikimedia Commons

Tough, rugged and versatile, the dive watch has been a gentleman’s favourite since the 1950s when watchmakers battled to create the first truly submersible timepiece.

‘Technical solutions soon cropped-up with increasing frequency and wristwatches began to follow divers down into the depths of their undersea adventures. It was during this period that the rotating bezel appeared, designed to measure up to 60 minutes, with notched trackers to indicate the elapse of time,’ explains Watch Tag Mag.

Diving watches continue to share the same features: ‘What all have in common are an adherence to the suitability for the sport, so they tend to feature stainless steel cases, highly legible dials and steel bracelets or rubber straps,’ says Ken Kessler of Watch Words.

Dress and classic watches

dress watch

A dress watch should be slim, elegant and discreet
Image source: Shutterstock

Dress and classic watches are simple, elegant and thin enough to slip under the cuff of your best suit. The watch dial should be uncomplicated and the numerals clean and unfussy.

‘It’s a timeless kind of design, one which will never go out of fashion and never looks out of place’ says the Banks Lyon blog ‘and much the same can be said for its owner.’

Yet elegant and simple need not mean spartan. The most luxurious dress watches are fashioned from precious metals. If wearing gold or platinum day to day feels extravagant, that’s ok, says Rolex expert Rob in Rob’s Rolex Chronicle:

‘After all, a luxury watch purchase is more of an indulgence than a necessity, so the most important factor to consider before your daily watch purchase should be the way you feel when you’re wearing it.’

When it comes to big occasions, the more luxurious the better, adds the Wristwatches Blog: ‘There are recurring events in everyone’s life – accompanied by a certain dress code – where the only option is to wear a decent Dress Watch or none at all.’

You’re now armed with all the information you need to make an informed choice about your next watch purchase. Head over to our Facebook page to tell us which style is your favourite.

Posted in How To - Style.