From the early 1800’s, telling time was the function of either a clock or a pocket-watch. In 1868 a new era in timekeeping was born as Swiss manufacturer Patek Philippe & Co. introduced the first wristwatch. In 1926 the Rolex Oyster was released. This was considered to be the first waterproof wristwatch and proved to be true a year later when Hans Wildorf of the Rolex Watch Co. sponsored swimmer Mercedes Gleitze successfully crossing the English Channel wearing one.
Since then, wristwatches have become important not only as a way to keep time, but as jewelry pieces, collectables and pieces of history that stimulate memories of events past. There are wristwatch shows all over the world today where buyers, sellers and collectors gather to share stories of their favorite pieces and the times that they represent.
All fine wristwatches exhibit the skill of the watchmaker and the craftsmanship and engineering technique of the manufacturer. Each brand is created differently and is shaped, toned and skilled with unique properties and parts. A wristwatch today can cost a few dollars or several thousand dollars and it is often difficult to figure out what is a good value and what is not. The following sections will help identify different aspects of shopping for and purchasing a wristwatch.
What should I look for in a watch?
Buying a wristwatch can be a daunting task. This section will deal in large part with value. Though value is not the only thing to think about when purchasing a watch, as we get to want the next watch down the road it is definitely something to be considered. A large percentage of customers will tell sales people that they do not plan on ever selling the watch that they are considering, therefore the particular value is not of importance in their purchase. It is just not wise to assume that there will never be a time that the investment does not mean anything. It would be like not really caring if you overpay when buying a house because you don’t think you will ever move.
Most people buy watches with a specific budget in mind. Typically watches that retail for under $500 are basically a fashion purchase. These watches will usually have very little to no resale value and should be purchased based upon the look, the functions and the price. Usually, with these watches what you see is what you get and the question should be ‘does this watch make you happy for the money?
Watches retailing between $500 and $2,000 should be researched a little more closely, this price range can be a deceptive one because many factors should be considered. The brand of watch should be checked to a point for resale or trade when buying in this price range. There are many good brands out there under $2,000 retail, yet there are many brands that are not in the mainstream of well known manufacturers that superficially put a high retail on a very small value watch. Thousands of times across the country every day, a person walks in to a watch buyer and wants to get a bid on their watch. They might have paid $1,000-$1,500 for this piece after reading the hype in a magazine or had impulsively bought it after a good sales job in a jewelry store. The bid comes back extremely low, sometimes $10-$100 and a lot of the time they will be told “we just don’t buy those particular watches”. It is highly disappointing to find out that even though the watch might have a high appraised value, there is nobody around willing to pay anything that they thought might be reasonable for their watch.
Another thing to consider in this price range is the possibility of a pre-owned watch in really good condition. In many cases you can save 50% or more of the price of the watch by doing so. There are also some fake or replica watches floating around in this price range on some of the more well known brands. It is best to buy from a reputable company and have a pre-owned watch checked out by a service center for its condition and authenticity.
Watches retailing over $2,000 should be researched carefully. Brand recognition should definitely be considered and a knowledgeable sales staff is a must. Ask as many questions as you can about the manufacturer and the particular piece you are looking at and if you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you are getting, back off and get a second opinion. If you are looking on the internet, do as much research as possible and on multiple sites. Make sure any information you are get about a particular piece is accurate by checking other sources. Most of all, if a price seems too good to be true in this price range, it probably is. There is something about the piece or the seller that is not right and one misstep can be a nightmare in trying to get your money back after the fact.
The importance of warranties and repairs
First and foremost, when taking a watch in for any type of repair; get a claim ticket with a brief description of the watch and any serial numbers from the watch either visible, or obtained with the aid of the salesperson. This can only assure the customer and the service center that what was brought in is what will be returned.
Make sure to find out exactly what normally could go wrong with the timepiece and whether it is warranted through their company or the manufacturer. Always beware of watches sold as-is with no guarantee. Often times, a warranty directly from the company the piece was purchased from can be as good, or even better than the manufacturers’ warranty. If the watch has a warranty from the company it was purchased from, make sure that the company is reputable, so should anything happen to the watch, depending on the severity of the problem, it can be fixed correctly and in a timely manner. In these cases, ask if the company does the repair in-house or does a third party to do the work. A third party is not necessarily a bad thing. The comfort level of insuring the safety of the timepiece and a quality repair are the important issues at hand.
The manufacturers warranty is usually always a good thing. The only drawback to having the watch sent back to the manufacturer would be the amount of time involved in performing the repair.
How does my watch work?
Quartz watches are the easiest to maintain on a daily basis. A quartz movement is powered by a battery and the watch should keep very accurate time for the life of that battery. A vibrating quartz crystal drives a step motor to move the hands at a constant rate. Passing an electric current through the quartz crystal keeps it oscillating at over 32,000 vibrations per second, which makes the movement extremely reliable. A quartz movement is also a cost effective design for any manufacturer and the most affordable watches usually have this feature. On average, the life expectancy of a battery should be about 1.5 years. When the battery gets weak, some quartz watches will appear to skip a few seconds at a time. Other quartz watches will work just fine until the battery just dies and the watch stops running completely.
A mechanical movement uses a spring that must be wound by hand using the crown. The spring slowly unwinds to release the energy that powers the timekeeping functions. These watches must be hand wound every few days to keep their continuity. Mechanical movements are fairly accurate timepieces, usually not to the standards of a quartz movement as they can gain or lose a few minutes per month as a rule. Mechanical movements are however unique pieces that truly display the skill of the watchmakers that crafted the piece.
Automatic movements are merely mechanical movements that capture the energy produced by the wearer's arm to wind the spring. Thus, the wearer does not need to manually wind the watch every day. When fully wound, an automatic movement ‘theoretically’ should not have to be wound by hand at all. The movement can remain motionless for small periods of time such as over night; however after a short period of non use, the movement will begin to wind itself down and when it gets to the bottom of its wind, time loss or stoppage can occur. It is recommended that you manually wind the movement every two weeks or whenever there is a period of more that a complete day when the watch has not been worn. Use of a watch winder is strongly recommended. A common misunderstanding with automatic movements is that to wind the watch, just shake it. An automatic watch on the bottom of its wind can run for brief periods of time with shaking, but shaking alone does not wind the movement. Make sure to get the particulars of any automatic movement watch purchased from the sales staff as most service issues can be avoided with simple instruction. Automatic movements can gain or lose a few minutes per month and cannot be compared to quartz movements for accuracy.
Care and Cleaning of your timepiece
Good watches can last for decades with proper care. Wipe your watch regularly with a jewelry cloth to remove any dirt and oils and use a mild soap and water solution with a soft toothbrush to clean metal bracelets. Avoid exposing your watch to extreme hot or cold temperatures. Even water-resistant timepieces should not be worn in a hot tub or extremely hot shower. If the watch should show signs of water or moisture in the case, seek immediate attention so as to avoid expensive or permanent damage to the movement or dial.
Chemicals such as perfumes, colognes or chlorine may damage the sealants. Lightly rinse a water-resistant watch in fresh water after swimming or snorkeling. Keep the watch case away from magnets as they can cause damage to the movement. Also avoid any shock the watch might receive through sudden harsh actions by the wearer.