Watch buying guide
If you’re new to watches – or even if you’re not – the sheer amount of choice can sometimes seem overwhelming. What’s more, the terminology can be confusing too, with words like chronograph, tachymeter and rotating bezel all appearing in the lengthy lists of specs.
At Geckota, our aim is to make great watches more accessible to everybody. We love the look, the feel, and even the stories behind the watches we make, so we have created this watch buying guide to help make the decision about what to buy a little easier. We’ll cover the different types of watches, the different movement systems and first, a little history. Enjoy – and please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.
Watches – a brief history
Before we begin, we thought it best to provide a little context. The purchase you’re about to make is one tiny part of a long and distinguished history that dates back over 500 years, spanning continents and cultures, and involving some of history’s greatest minds.
Jump this section if history isn’t your thing, or read on for a brief backstory to the watch you’re about to buy.
The first mechanical clocks are believed to have been made around 1300 (Salisbury Castle has one of the oldest known examples). Watches followed relatively soon after (in a historical context at least), with the first designs appearing in the 16th century. These first ‘clock-watches’ were rather beautiful ornaments, spherical in shape and often adorned with intricate engravings and were hung onto clothing as a statement of sophistication.
Fashions changed in the 17th century and people began to wear their watches in their pockets. Charles II introducing the waist coast was considered to be one major catalyst for this change, though practical reasons surely played a part as well; a watch worn in the pocket was less likely to be damaged by weather or accident.
This remained the most popular way to wear a watch for nearly three centuries. When the change to wristwatches did eventually come about, in around 1880, the reason was again a practical one, as it was made for soldiers fighting in the British Army. Taking a watch in and out of a pocket wasn’t practical in the heat of battle, so designs were drawn up that allowed the watch to be worn on the wrist.
These were refined over the following decades, and wristwatches become more slim line and recognisable to the modern eye as a watch. These slimmer designs were popularised during World War I, when a watch was part of a soldier’s standard issue kit. Indeed, these wristwatches played a major part in the tactical manoeuvres of the war.
All the watch designs mentioned so far have one thing in common: they were powered by a mainspring that required winding to keep the watch running. But in the 1960s there was a dramatic shift in the way watches were powered, when Japanese company Seiko invented the quartz movement system. A small battery inside the watch gives out electricity that makes the quartz crystal vibrate at a very precise frequency. This then generates a regular electric pulse that drives the motor at an exact speed, turning the gears and moving the hands around the dial.
As this technology improved it became far more accurate and reliable than the mechanical wound technology, and in the 1980s quartz movement systems overtook mechanical equivalents as the most popular technology underpinning watches. Innovations continue to be made in quartz technology, with brands striving for even greater accuracy, while high-end brands still produce mechanical watches, mainly for collectors.
All of which goes to show that there’s an awful lot of history behind that new watch you are considering!
How watches work
Psychologists have a term called ‘the illusion of explanatory depth’. It refers to the idea that we often think we know how the things around us work, but actually when we examine this notion, it turns out to be false. Well, we’re about to help conquer at least one of these illusions, with a brief explanation of what makes your watch tick.
We’ve already identified two different types of movement system in the history section above: mechanical wound and quartz. There is one more major movement technology too: automatic. Here we’ll run briefly through how each of these works.
● Hand wound
Also known as manual movement, this type of watch requires hand winding. The energy created by the winding is stored by a mainspring, which then turns the gears of the watch to move the hands. A balance spring helps control the speed of the hands and keep the time regular.
● Automatic movement
This type of movement technology relies on the wearer’s movements to generate the energy. Motion causes gears to turn that wind the mainspring, which then releases energy into the balance wheel to turn the gears and drive the hands on the dial. As long as the wearer keeps moving, the watch keeps working!
● Quartz movement
This is the most common movement system these days, due to its high accuracy and relatively low cost. A battery releases energy, which causes the quartz crystal to vibrate at a precise frequency. This creates a regular pulse that drives the motor of the watch at a reliable speed.
Which movement system is right for you?
These days, hand wound watches are mainly for collectors, though if you’re the type with a fascination for the mechanics of things then this type of watch might appeal. They tend to have a higher price tag due to the engineering involved, though it is possible to begin a hand wound watch collection at an affordable price. Our hand wound tourbillon models, for example, combine the craftsmanship of a high end watch with an accessible price point.
Quartz movement systems tend to be much more affordable, and are now used by many high-end brands as well, due to their accuracy and longevity.
Automatic movement systems combine qualities of each, as they don’t require winding but still have some fascinating engineering behind them. This does mean they usually come at a higher price tag, and many luxury watch brands utilise automatic movement systems. Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference and how much the technology behind your timepiece matters to you.
Different types of watch
It can be surprising if you’re new to watches just how many different types of watch there are. But stop to think and it makes sense; different professions have needed different features from their watches over the years, and a watch can perform many functions, from pure style items to essential pieces of military kit. Four of the most common watch varieties are:
Few professions need to be aware of time to such a precise and minute degree as racing drivers, so it is little wonder that a style of watch has grown around the sport. Features of a racing watch include a high contrast dial for easy visibility, as well as a chronograph and tachymeter. These are two separate dials that allow the driver to record lap times and make distance calculations. Racing watches aren’t all about practicality though, and the undeniable glamour of the sport has led to this style of watch boasting some of the most attractive and fashionable designs around. Straps to pair with a racing watch are typically made from leather, with perforated leather style being particularly iconic, though some choose to wear a racing watch with a metal watch strap for a more formal look.
As you’d expect with any piece of equipment built to withstand the pressure of hundreds of square meters of water pressing down on it, dive watches are incredibly robust and hardwearing. This doesn’t mean they can’t look great though, and some of the most fashionable and attractive watches on the market fall into this category, meaning they are also suited to wear in the office or out on the town as well.
Typical features of a modern dive watch include a super luminova dial for easy legibility underwater and a rotating bezel to measure how long a diver has been under. They typically pair well with a sturdy metal strap, though rubber and nylon straps also work well too. A great choice if you are planning to wear this for any kind of outdoor adventure – under or above the water – and want to look great in more formal settings too.
When the occasion demands you look your best, it’s time to reach into your collection for your favourite dress watch. This kind of watch is designed purely with style in mind, and dress watches are typically slim enough to fit comfortably under a shirt cuff, with minimalist dials and understated design pallets. Some luxury bands incorporate precious metals into the design, but this isn’t necessary to give the desired look of class. Dress watches are best paired with a high quality leather watch strap.
During the golden age of aviation, no pilot would be seen without their trusty timepiece, and pilot’s watches have become one of the most popular watch designs in their own right. Distinguishing features of a pilot’s watch include a high contrast and highly legible dial, easy to read at a glance, and a chronograph function that allows timing of specific manoeuvres or journeys. Vintage style pilot’s watches are equally suited to casual and more formal wear, so are a great option if you are looking for one watch to wear for multiple occasions. They are traditionally paired with a comfortable leather watch strap, though a NATO style strap or a metal watch strap can add a different aesthetic.
You’ve chosen your perfect watch – but don’t forget that a great watch needs a great strap! In fact, the appearance of a watch can be transformed by simply changing a strap, so it’s useful to have a few options in your drawer. We’ve touched upon which watch straps are best suited to the different types of watches above, but for a more detailed breakdown, head over to Watchgecko to read the guide to buying watch straps. And while you’re there, don’t forget to have a browse of the full collection of watch straps.