Why Own a Watch?
If you are like most people, you’ve probably owned a watch some time in your life. Even if you don’t currently wear one; somewhere along the line you owned a Timex, or a beat up old Bulova that your grandfather gave you, or a Mickey Mouse watch that played “It’s A Small World.” Maybe you got in on the Swatch craze of the 80s. Or you received a cheap digital watch with your Burger King kid’s meal. Heck, if you’re lucky, maybe a generous relative left a solid gold Rolex to you in their will!
Whatever your experience has been, one thing is certain; watches are here to stay. I know what you’re thinking—That’s not true, you don’t even need a watch these days. I can just use my iPhone/Blackberry/cell phone. Sure you could. But let me ask you this. Is it acceptable to whip out your iPhone during a black tie affair? What about at a nice dinner? Or at a meeting? At the movies? How about on a first date? Or even a twenty-first date, for that matter? If you did, could you do it subtly?
Yet, there are other reasons a watch trumps a cell phone as a time-telling device, reasons that have nothing to do with appropriateness, and everything to do with style. Cell phones may be “of the time,” but watches, as it happens, are timeless. A watch is classic, and can tell the story of the wearer (or wearers). It has an intrinsic beauty that can last for decades or more if you take proper care of it. If you doubt this, let’s see where your Blackberry is in 50 years.
They say that the first item of clothing a woman looks at when she meets a man are his shoes. She evaluates the man by judging the condition, the style, the brand, and yes, how much money his shoes may (or may not) have cost. But perhaps what she should be noticing first is his watch. After all, men are known to love gadgets, and what is a watch, if not a gadget that can be worn every day? So it would make sense that he pays more attention to what kind of watch he’s wearing than any other part of his wardrobe, even his shoes. (What is that Mickey Mouse watch saying about you?)
Another reason watches are such an important detail on a man is that, with the exception of Mr. T, most men don’t get to wear much jewelry. While women typically have numerous rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings at their disposal; men only have a few choices as far as accessories go: a simple wedding band (if they’re married), cuff links (if it’s formal), and after that, a watch. Of course, if you’re only wearing one or two pieces of jewelry, it’s advisable to choose them wisely. After all, the perfect timepiece is an essential finishing touch for any man’s wardrobe.
So how do you ensure your watch is making the right statement? With literally thousands of models to choose from, ranging from sub-$15 Wal-Mart specials, to platinum Tourbillons* that cost more than many people’s homes (and everything in them), it can be overwhelming. Here are some handy guidelines to help you on your hunt.
*A tourbillon (French, meaning whirlwind) is an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement. Invented in 1795 by French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, a tourbillon counters the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage, ostensibly in order to negate the effect of gravity when the timepiece (and thus the escapement) is rotated. Originally used as an attempt to improve accuracy tourbillons are still included in some expensive modern watches as a novelty and demonstration of watch making virtuosity. The mechanism is usually exposed on the watch’s face to show it off.
Watches as Status Symbols
If you are simply looking to project an image of success in the boardroom or country club, your choices are fairly straightforward. Since there are only a handful of brands that the average person will even recognize as being prestigious, you’ll do best to stick with brands like Rolex, Cartier, Omega, Breitling, Movado, and Tag Heuer. Wearing one of these is the watch-world equivalent of driving a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, etc.; while you won’t get any points for originality, people will make certain assumptions about you based on the brand itself. That’s not to say these watches are unfairly priced. All of the aforementioned brands are premier Swiss manufacturers, and you get a certain level of “fit and finish” for the extra money you’re spending. It’s up to you to determine whether the premium you are paying is worth it.
Of course, there’s a major difference between buying an expensive watch versus an expensive car; while people would certainly notice if you went out and glued a Lexus symbol onto your Kia, most won’t know the difference if you’re wearing a fake watch. So why even bother with the real thing when a knockoff will accomplish the same result? Even if you are okay with the fact that fakes are illegal; the real question you have to ask yourself is: What sort of person wears a fake watch, anyway? Probably the same kind of person who has a bogus tan or wears a rug. And do you really want to be the equivalent of the guy with the spray-on tan and a toupee?
So, you’ve smartly ruled out a fake yet you don’t feel like shelling out (or have) what amounts to a 60” flat screen for your wrist. However, being a discerning individual, you are still concerned about style and quality. Not to worry. There are a number of options out there that you may not have considered. Brands such as Accutron, Zodiac, ESQ, Hamilton, Tissot, and Swiss Army-Victorinox, can deliver some serious Swiss quality for significantly less than some of their pricier competitors. Many of these “mid-tier” brands will surprise you with their level of bang for the buck. Also, don’t rule out a watch just because it doesn’t have a Swiss pedigree. As with many other consumer goods, the Japanese produce timepieces that often equal or rival their competitors. The latest offerings from Seiko, Citizen and Pulsar are some of the best deals going, Swiss or not. Put away any notions you have of these being “cheap” watches, they can be every bit as nice as their Geneva-based counterparts.
Buying a Watch
These days, there are as many different kinds of watches out there as there are types of watch-wearers. So where should you buy your watch? It used to be you only had one choice: a jewelry store. Not anymore. With the popularity of auction sites such as eBay and Yahoo, as well as the proliferation of dedicated online stores, not to mention buying in the pre-owned market, the modern consumer has a variety of possible avenues to choose from.
Buying from a Dealer
As long as they’re an authorized dealer* (approved by the manufacturer to sell their product), this is still the safest choice. At a dealer you can try on a variety of makes and models in person, with a knowledgeable salesperson right there to answer any questions you might have. Remember, even in this day and age, there is still no substitute for handling the goods in person. Plus, with a dealer there is a physical place to return the watch if you ever have any problems. Of course, you’ll pay a premium for a dealer’s services. While some will knock 10-20% off MSRP if you negotiate, with certain prestige brands like Rolex and Cartier, dealers may offer little or no discount. Still, for the novice, the peace of mind that you get is well worth the extra dollars spent at an authorized dealer.
The other major place people buy watches today is online. From a seller’s point of view, watches make the perfect online product; small items that are easy to ship, yet commonly sell for big bucks. It’s often a win from a buyer’s point of view as well, since today’s online shopper has access to thousands of watches from all over the world, at prices most stores can’t touch. Online, a shrewd bargain hunter may be able to locate the model of their choice for 30% or more off retail. Sounds great, right? The catch: You’ll have little or no recourse if something goes wrong. In order to dissuade the public from buying online, most manufacturers will not honor the warranty of any watch not purchased from an authorized dealer. AD’s do exist online, but their discounts will understandably be less than other dealers’.
Another downside to buying online is the risk of being taken for a ride. While the majority of online dealers are honest; to a scammer, online auction sites look like digital versions of Canal Street, only more anonymous. As with most dealings you have on the Internet, you need to exercise common sense here. Check the seller’s feedback* (a system used by online auction sites to gauge a seller or buyer’s trustworthiness). Don’t just give it a quick “once-over” either—scrutinize it. Is there a long history of sales for related products, with positive responses from buyers? Or are there a number of dissatisfied customers, leaving remarks like “seller won’t return emails” or “problems with the watch?” While sterling feedback is no guarantee of a good seller, a poor history is almost certainly a sign of a bad one. Also look closely at the photos. Are they of the actual product or stock photos pulled from the manufacturer’s website? Why are they only showing it from one side? Check other sellers’ pictures of the watch. Does it look significantly different? If so, then the watch may be a fake.*
If you have any doubts about a seller at all, don’t buy from them. Remember, on the Internet, another seller is just a click away. That brand new Rolex Daytona for $1,500, today only? Run away. Fast.
*A word of caution about fakes: Certain brands are more likely to be knocked off than others. Remember the list of status brands I mentioned earlier? Not surprisingly, these are the same brands that are most often copied. Be extra wary when shopping these brands online.
There’s no shame in buying a pre-owned watch, no more than there is in buying a car with a couple thousand miles on it. Often you can get into a model you simply couldn’t afford otherwise, allowing the original owner to eat the cost of buying new. In some cases you can get a bargain if the seller doesn’t know what they have, antique shops and estate sales are great for this. When purchasing pre-owned, use the same caution you would with a car. Ask questions like: Has it been serviced? Are you the original owner? Why are you selling it? If the seller is online, current photos of the watch are a must. So is a seller’s real name and phone number, as well as references, if available.
There are also many watch sites out there that provide a wealth of free information for the prospective watch buyer, and they often include a special forum to buy and sell watches. Some of the more well-known forums are TimeZone, WatchUSeek and Chrono24 (dedicated sale site), to name a few. These sites are populated by countless WIS’ (Watch Idiot Savant). These are long-time watch collectors who are extremely knowledgeable about horology (the study or science of measuring time) and can usually provide helpful guidance to watch newbies.
Shopping for a watch doesn’t have to be a headache. It can actually be a lot of fun! If you follow the advice in this article, you’ll be well on your way to scoring the perfect timepiece that others will be sure to notice. With so many brands to choose from, there’s a watch out there to fit just about anyone’s taste and personality. Who knows, maybe after doing some research, you’ll even become a WIS yourself!