So what do you need to know about watches and types of watch movements? Well, you can't really talk about watches without talking about movements. You can think of a watch movement as the engine inside the watch that keeps it running. It powers the hands and any other features on your watch. There are basically just three types of watch movements that you need to know about: quartz, mechanical and automatic.
A quartz movement is what you typically find in an everyday watch. Sports watches come in a wide variety of quality from less expensive versions that you might find at mass retail to higher end brands. Quartz watches are battery powered and their movement causes that signature ticking of the second hand.
They are called quartz watches because they actually have a tiny piece of quartz crystal inside. And the energy from the battery vibrates that crystal at exactly 32’768 times per second. These vibrations get measured and converted into one pulse per second.
The pros of quartz watches
- They're more accurate.
- Quartz watches have fewer moving parts, so there are fewer things that can go wrong inside them. Besides swapping out your watch battery every few years they don't really require that much maintenance.
- As a general rule, quartz watches are almost always less expensive than mechanical or automatic watches.
- They are more durable. If your job involves getting dirty and dusty all day, then a quartz watch might be right for you.
The downsides of quartz watches
- The hands don't have a smooth movement. If you're looking for that sweeping smooth movement of a mechanical watch, then you're not going to find that with quartz. That sort of exaggerated second hand ticking action is just kind of a signature of the way that the mechanism operates in quartz watches.
A mechanical movement doesn’t require a battery. Instead, it needs to be manually wound periodically to keep on running. Mechanical movements use a spring driven mechanism called the mainspring, which once it's wound up transfers energy to smaller springs and gears that power the hands and other functions of the watch.
Here's some pros and cons of mechanical watches:
- They generally last longer. A quality mechanical watch, if properly maintained and cared for, will last your entire life. You might even be able to pass it on to another generation.
- With a mechanical movement, you never need to worry about batteries dying or needing to be replaced and rewinding your watch each day can become an enjoyable ritual.
- Many mechanical watches might have gears exposed so you can see the inner workings and oscillations of the watch.
- Smooth movement of the hands. A lot of people really like that sweeping movement of a mechanical watch and even find it a little hypnotizing. So if that's important to you, you should definitely consider a mechanical watch.
Here's some of the downsides to mechanical watches:
- They require regular winding. With a quartz watch you can put it in a drawer and it's just going to keep on ticking and stay on time for several months or years. But with a mechanical watch, you really can't go more than about two days without winding. Some people enjoy winding up their watch at the end of each day and look forward to it while others find it a nuisance. If you fall into that latter category, then maybe a mechanical watch isn't the best choice.
- They aren't as accurate. Even the best mechanical watches are less accurate than quartz watches. Over the course of the years your mechanical watch will get less and less accurate. You'll need to take your watch to the jeweler to get it adjusted from time to time.
- They're environmentally sensitive. Mechanical watches are full of tiny gears and springs. So exposure to dust, shock, moisture and even magnets can be harmful to them. If you're constantly working with dirty parts all day or hammering, then it might be easier to wear a quartz watch at work and then just reserve your mechanical watch for when you get dressed up.
- They're generally more expensive. More work and craftsmanship goes into making a mechanical watch. Naturally that is reflected in the price. It's hard to find a quality mechanical watch for under 200. Most of them are going to be well over 500. And with luxury brands like Rolex or Cartier, you could be looking at tens of thousands.
Automatic movements use the kinetic energy from the motion of your wrist to drive the mechanism of the watch instead of relying on being manually wound. Automatic watches are often also called self-winding watches. So if you think the idea of having to wind your mechanical watch every day sounds annoying than an automatic watch might be worth looking into. These movements use a metal weight called a rotor, which spins when you move your wrist and the spinning transfers energy to wind the mainspring inside the watch.
Here's some of the pros of automatic watches:
- No winding or batteries required. An automatic watch almost works like magic. As long as you wear it regularly it will continue to function. They come with the same sophisticated look and smooth hand movement you'd expect from a mechanical watch, but without the added hassle of having to wind it every day.
- Automatic watches tend to be a little thicker than other mechanical watches, because they need to accommodate the extra space for the rotor. An automatic watch feels more weighty and significant on your wrist. A lot of people like that heaviness. But if you're looking for something a little more minimalist that actually may be a downside for you.
The cons of an automatic watch are similar to those of a mechanical watch. So they're less accurate than quartz and they're more sensitive to environmental factors.
The five C’s of watch terminology
The world of watches has its own entire vocabulary, but here are just five terms that you might hear when shopping for the perfect watch that don't have immediately obvious meanings.
Caliber: this is just another fancy word for movement.
Chronograph: a watch that has a stopwatch function in addition to being able to tell time.
Chronometer: this is a watch that has been independently tested by the COSC, which is the official Swiss chronometer testing Institute.
Complication: sounds negative, right? But it is really just any extra feature beyond telling the time. A watch might have a calendar built into it or a moon phase indicator or something. Each of these features is called a complication.
Crown: the crown of your watch is the little knob that sticks out on the end that allows you to change time.
How to buy a men's watch when it comes to buying a watch for yourself or finding a gift for someone else.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
First, what kind of movement does it have? We've already talked about quartz, mechanical and automatic movements. The main thing to keep in mind is that mechanical or automatic watches generally are more expensive to buy and more expensive to maintain. Quartz watches are going to be better if you're on a budget and they can still look great.
What about the case size or diameter? Now this one really depends on your purpose. So I'd recommend going out to a jewelry store and trying on several watches to see what size works for you. If you're a bigger guy, you might want a really large and hefty watch, or if you're smaller, you might also want something that matches your proportions. For most guys a diameter of around 42 millimeters tends to be ideal. Though, in addition to the diameter to match your proportions, you should also pay attention to the thickness of the watch. Especially if you wear tightly fitted sleeves.
Watches come in all different types of cases and faces and in different materials and different colors. Some people love all black watches because they're easy to match to anything while silver and gold are a little bit more traditional. I'd recommend looking at what other jewelry you usually wear. Trying to find something that matches your wedding ring, rather than clashing with it might be a good idea for example.
What kind of band do you want? A leather band or metal links can be great for a business or professional setting. Fabric or canvas is great in terms of comfort and durability, but style-wise generally is on the more casual end of it. One thing to look for is whether the materials have been glued together or stitched together because often stitched materials are going to hold together a little bit longer than their glued counterparts.
And then the real question: how much money do you want to spend? There's almost no limit to the amount of money that you can spend on a quality men's watch. Now, literally there are mechanical watches out there that are upwards of a million. But don't worry, you want have to spend that much to get a high quality watch. Most quality watches are going to be in the 300 to 700 range.
So now that you know the fundamental things to think about when buying a watch, you are ready to shop for your new timepiece!