Buying a watch is an exciting prospect. Reviewing these important facts will help you make a savvy purchase – a timepiece that can be passed down to future generations.

Timepieces have evolved from complex time-keeping mechanisms to cherished heirlooms to expressions of status and style to futuristic, technological wonders. Whether seeking a special collector’s timepiece for a watch enthusiast or an addition to your fine jewelry and watch collection, our guide to buying fine watches reveal what you should know before shopping for a fine watch with your local jeweler.


Types of Watches


Mechanical

The traditional “wind-up” watch. The mechanical movement is powered when the wearer winds an internal mainspring, by turning the crown on the side of the watch. The spring gradually unwinds and turns tiny interlocking wheels, which move the watch hands to measure seconds, minutes and hours.

Automatic or Self-Winding

Mechanical timepieces that are wound by the motion of the wrist. This motion makes the rotor pivot around a staff connected to the mainspring through a gearing. Overwinding is prevented by a clutch. They can also be wound manually.

Quartz

A quartz watch uses a movement typically powered by a battery. The battery sends electronic impulses through a small bar of synthetic quartz crystal, which oscillates 32,768 times per second. A quartz watch should function properly for years, with a battery life of one to up to five years. Quartz watches are generally more accurate than mechanical watches, for two reasons. One, mechanical watches have many moving parts, which results in more friction and less accuracy as the parts interact. Two, the constant vibrations of the quartz crystal allow for unprecedented accuracy of the measurement of seconds. Quartz watches may also be powered by solar or kinetic energy, instead of batteries.

Analog

An analog watch displays time with traditional hands that move about the dial.

Digital

A watch that displays the time through numerals, usually using LCD or LED technology, rather than with a dial and hands (analog) display. Digital watches have no moving parts.

Selecting the Right Watch

Selecting a watch, like selecting any piece of fine jewelry, should be based on personal taste. Men and women make a definite statement by the watch they choose – sporty, dressy, techie, tailored or sophisticated. When shopping with a professional jeweler, consider the following factors.

Metals

The metal used in a timepiece will affect its wear and the price. Generally, fine watches are offered in steel, 14 or 18 karat gold, or platinum, and combinations thereof.  Each metal possesses different benefits.  Gold is softer than steel and may scratch in very rugged conditions. It is, however, a metal of choice for fine watchmaking, as it offers old-world elegance. Platinum, too, is often used by prestige brands, as it is the rarest and hardest of all precious metals. Stainless steel and titanium are durable materials that are also favorites of watchmakers due to their scratch resistance. See our guide to jewelry metals here.

Variable Cost Considerations

The price of a watch isn't always contingent strictly upon the materials used for the case, bracelet or crystal. Often, 50 to 75 percent of the cost of a watch comes from what's inside it. If it's a mechanical or complicated timepiece that offers additional functions and can have as many as 600 or more individual parts, the price is significantly higher due to the complexity of the movement. Price is also varied by a watch’s features, which can make it more valuable and thus more expensive. These include diamond bezels or gemstone markers; world-renowned brands that have established reputations over the centuries for elegance and quality; or fine watches designed and created by highly trained artisans that are works of art.

Consider the Watch Features/Benefits

Besides the time-keeping functions, many watches have more to offer. There are chronographs (watches that combine stopwatch functions for measurement of continuous or discontinuous intervals of time), alarm watches (that offer an alarm mode), dual-time zone watches (that offer the time in more than one zone), watches with moon phase indicators or power reserve indicators (that indicate power life left before needing rewinding), and perpetual calendars (that offer a calendar day/date readout that automatically adjusts for months of varying length and for leap years).

Familiarize Yourself With Watch Terminology

Watches are technological wonders.  They have so many working parts, it is important to understand the terminology.  Knowing the technology and the terminology will help you find the perfect watch for you and your budget. Review our glossary of watch terminology >

Understand Durability & Reliability

Reliability is a key factor in choosing a watch -- especially a sport watch. To be deemed water resistant, most fine watches are subjected to a pressure test equivalent to a diver's depth of 100 feet. If the watch shows no sign of internal humidity or damage, it can be called water resistant. Degrees of water resistance vary: 50 meters is most standard, but many watches are resistant to several hundred meters or more. Chronometers, that are tested in a Swiss observatory under stringent conditions in various positions, and extreme temperatures, heights and depths, and are then certified, are considered among the more reliable and durable wristwatches.

Water Resistance: A watch’s ability to withstand water pressure to a stated depth. Watches marked as “water resistant” without a depth indication are designed to withstand splashes of water only. Watches with high levels of water resistance will reflect this by stating the number of meters the watch is resistant to (usually between 50-200 meters) on the dial or back of the case. This resistance is indicated in ATM, or atmospheres, which is a unit of measure for pressure. A smart shopper will match their needs and personal wearing habits to the right level of water resistance. Review the chart of the most common ratings.

A Guide to Water Resistance

ATMMax Depth (m)Max Depth (ft)Wearability
1 10 33 Safe from limited exposure to moisture like rain and hand washing
3 30 100 Safe when immersed for very brief periods
10 100 330 Designed for swimming and snorkeling
20 200 660 Designed for snorkeling and scuba diving

Ask About After-Sales Service

Before buying, know about the back-up support of the brand and the retailer. Be sure to find out if the retailer has an after-sales service facility on premises if repairs are needed, and if the brand has a U.S. service center.  If you buy a name brand watch from a jewelry store and feel that it is not authentic, contact the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC), a not-for-profit trade association, formed in 1912, whose mission is to maintain the jewelry industry's highest ethical standards.  Find JVC contact information at its website: www.jvclegal.org.

Warranties & Repairs

Every watch manufacturer offers a warranty on its timepieces. A professional jeweler should be able to explain the warranties available. Typically, the warranty is for one year, but some companies offer several years or extended warranties. Make sure the watch comes with its original packaging, box and documents. Get a detailed, itemized receipt. Ask your professional jeweler about the after-sale support of the brand and the retailer. Ask how the watch will be repaired if it becomes necessary. Find out if there are repair facilities on site or a professional watchmaker on staff. In addition, check if the brand has a U.S. service center. 

Where to Buy Your Watch

In order to be sure you are getting a true quality watch, buy watches only from authorized retailers. Shop for watches at a professional jewelry store or watch dealer that is authorized to sell the watch brand. This is especially true in the case of luxury watches when the watch warranty or guarantee may not be considered valid by the watchmaker if the dealer is not authorized.

While you can find timepieces in many types of stores, to ensure you the watch you purchase is high quality and will last for years to come, follow a simple rule: buy from a professional jeweler, someone you can trust. Choose a retailer who has demonstrated a commitment to professionalism and has an established reputation. Ask if the jeweler is a member of Jewelers of America, our members commit annually to the highest ethical business practices. Look for the “J” logo on company’s door or website. Their commitment to customer service ensures that they will be there for your future purchases, repairs or custom design needs. JA members have signed and abide by a Code of Professional Practices, so you can buy with confidence from a JA jeweler.

How to Care for a Watch

Only an expert jeweler or watchmaker should be trusted to repair your watch. While you’ll want to take your watch in for regular “check ups” to your jeweler for optimum performance, there are jewelry care steps you can do at home to ensure your fine watch lasts a lifetime and beyond.

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions and warranty information carefully.
  • Oils from your skin can build up on a watch. If your watch is water-resistant, clean it with a damp cloth and a mixture of warm water and mild soap. For watches with non-metal straps, consult your professional jeweler on how to clean.
  • Wind your watch in a clockwise direction about the same time each day. Remove from your wrist when winding.
  • Although many watches are equipped with shock-resistant devices, it's not wise to subject it to overly vigorous treatment.
  • Replace broken or scratched crystals immediately at your jeweler. Even a hairline crack can threaten the timekeeping mechanism’s accuracy.
  • Unless the degree of water-resistance is clearly specified when you purchase your watch, do not expose it to water or moisture.
  • Always ensure that locking crowns and cases are secure before immersing a water resistant watch. Be sure to wash your watch off in freshwater immediately after exposing it to saltwater.
  • Have the battery in a quartz watch replaced by a professional before it runs out. Dead batteries left in a watch can leak or corrode, ruining the timepiece.

Finally, if you have any questions, ask your professional jeweler. Your jeweler values you as a customer, and you should trust their expertise and judgment.

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