The subject of watches can be quite divisive these days for various reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, does any man actually need to wear a watch? Everyone carries a phone in their pocket which updates the time directly from the internet ether. A smart phone is as accurate as an atomic clock so why strap something to your wrist in the first place?
Secondly, does anyone really care what sort of watch you are wearing? Why bother spending possibly several thousand pounds/dollars/whatever on a watch?
Well, possibly surprisingly, watches seem to be immune to the march of cyber technology, especially with men. It is not uncommon to see young women with a bare wrist but by the time a young man pulls on his first suit for his first commute to the office, he is, more often than not, wearing a wrist watch.
Why is this? Watches are men’s jewellery. Simple as that really. Yes, there are some men who like to cover themselves in gold chains and such but for the majority, apart from a signet ring perhaps or a discrete wristlet, a watch is a guy’s chief accessory. It certainly is for me. Some women would not dream of going out without a pair of ear-rings or studs in their ears. I am the same with watches; I feel undressed without one.
But are they necessary? Well, no. Not in the sense that a pair of shoes are but do you really want to be caught checking the time on your phone when you are in an important meeting? A watch allows you to check the time with a quick and discrete twist of the wrist.
Also, a stylish (note: not necessarily expensive) wrist watch shows that you take care over details and that you care about creating the right impression. I am fortunate to own a couple of Omegas, one a 1960s vintage and the other a modern dive watch. I can vouch that wearing a high-quality watch does have a positive effect on how you feel. When you see that classy time-piece peeking out from your cuff it does feel good. It brings a little bit of class into the everyday hum-drum.
For me, there is more to it than that, especially with mechanical watches.
Back in the late 60s the watch industry faced a bit of a crisis.
Quartz watches. That is, battery powered.
Until then watches were either manually wound (my first watch when I was 5 years old, a Timex, was manually wound) or automatic, meaning that they wound themselves by means of an internal weighted rotor which rotated and wound the watch by the natural movements of the owner while the watch was being worn.
Quartz changed the landscape completely. Suddenly watches were much cheaper to manufacture, were less susceptible to going out of adjustment and only needed attention when the battery needed replacing. Many of the grand old watch manufacturing companies found themselves facing a kind of horological Armageddon.
You might expect that mechanical watches ceased to be manufactured overnight but they weren’t. Some might say that this is because there is a snobbery in watch ownership and it is that snobbery which has caused a preference for mechanical watches to endure the advent of quartz which is not only cheaper but superior in pretty much every objective way (time-keeping wise at least).
Yes, there are plenty of watch snobs around who only care about the logo on the watch face and not about what is going on behind the dial. Many others, myself included, remain fascinated at the workings of a mechanical watch. For me this started as that small boy with his first watch.
Hold a quartz watch to your ear. You will hear a dull ‘thud’ every second as the mechanism clunks around. Now hold a mechanical watch up. You will hear an intricate tick-a tick-a-tick. No electricity, just an incredibly minute, precision collection of cogs and springs turning the hands. Mechanical watches are one of the great wonders of human engineering. To fit such an intricate machine together, in such a small space which, properly regulated, keeps time to within a few seconds or so a day is a magnificent feat. That coupled with a beautifully finished case and elegant strap or metal bracelet is an endless fascination for me.
This is not to write off quartz completely. Most of the fine watch manufacturers offer quartz watches as well and, if you are not bothered about the miracle of micro engineering inside a mechanical watch, or just want to save money, quartz is a valid option. Having said that, entry to the world of automatic watches is not as expensive as you might think. Check out my recommendations below, many of which grant entry to the mechanical watch club for only a few hundred pounds.
It has got to be classy though. Just for the record, classy does not mean something the size of a dinner plate or covered in cheap bling. In fact, as a rule of thumb, if a watch has been made by a fashion house, steer clear of it (I’m looking at you, Michael Kors). Hopefully I don’t need to explain why something cheap(ish) and tacky would not mark you out as a man of taste and discernment. Not to mention the fact that you are hardly buying a quality timepiece.
I know that there is a fashion for enormous men’s watches. Watch sizes for men have increased substantially in the last decade or so. Even the luxury brands have been tweaking their design to add a bit more ‘presence’ (size) to many of their models, especially sports watches. Some at the other end of the spectrum have nothing to offer really except size. If you are going to make a statement with a watch it had better be a good one, otherwise why are you drawing attention to it?
I plan to make this a two-parter and to have a look at some of the more exotic brands in part two. For now, here is a selection of wrist-candy which will firstly fulfil the brief of keeping it classy and secondly, will not require you to go heavily into the red. I have set an arbitrary cost limit of £500. Whilst that still represents a significant outlay for many people, a quality watch will last you many years and look good in the process. It is an investment and worth saving for (or, god forbid, whipping out the plastic).
In my view you should aim, over a period of time, to develop a small but carefully chosen collection which will give you options for every dress-code. To start, I’d suggest going for a classically styled watch if you spend a lot of time in tailoring or something a little sportier if casual is your usual attire. Nothing too flashy for a first watch – you want something that will blend seamlessly with whatever you are wearing not fight it.
If you do a manual job don’t wear your nice watch – get a ‘beater’ (if you don’t already have one) – a Casio G-Shock is the one – cheap, tough as nails and ideal for DIY days, beach days and digging the garden over. Keep the smart timepiece for your leisure time.
So why do you need more than one watch? Well, not every watch goes with every outfit or occasion. In part 2 I’ll cover the styles which I think you should aim to have in your collection.
James Bond has done a lot to popularise the idea of the ‘Desk Diver’ – a chunky sports watch worn with everything, including tailoring – but if you are going to go down this route, the sports watch does have to be really high quality to pull it off. I’m talking Omega/Tag Heuer/Longines/Rolex here. But since we are talking more affordable options, I suggest a good, all-round option which would go just as well with jeans as your 3 piece suit. Choose well and you can get a great daily wearer which you will still be using even after you have added more exclusive brands to your collection.
Just two brands to suggest, firstly as they are both in that sweet-spot of being good quality and stylish and secondly because they offer models in that, completely arbitrary, sub £500 catagory. I’m not getting any kickbacks for recommending these; I just happen to think that they are the best your money can buy in this price range. Other makes which tick both of those boxes are available, of course but you really can’t go wrong with one of these:
This is a Swiss horological house with a fine and lengthy pedigree. Tissot make really quite beautiful watches at a price which leave you wondering how they manage to pull it off. Here are a few models to consider:
A beautiful, classy automatic from a Swiss manufacturer for £400? Are you kidding? Not at all. This is, as you can see, an exceptionally stylish watch with a very cool 60s retro vibe. Right on the 40mm diameter sweet spot too.
If you are looking for something with more modern lines and added wrist presence how about this beauty? It’s a quartz but none the worse for that. As with a lot of Tissot’s there is choice of either leather strap or metal bracelet and black or silver face. This is the nicest combo in my opinion. This is currently £340. If you can stretch to a little more the automatic version is a mere £600. Now that is one hell of a lot of watch for your money.
Just staying on the right side of smart but retaining chunky sports credentials. This is the Quartz version. If your budget will stretch the automatic comes in at around £750 which is, quite frankly, astounding given that similar quality chrono automatics from other makers start at around double that price. This, the quartz version, is a shade under £350. Value for money? I think so. What a looker too, with various bracelet/strap/face options.
Japanese precision and timeless style. If you are going to look outside of Switzerland, you can’t do much better (without spending several thousand quid) than this manufacturer. Like Tissot they make really high-quality watches for amazingly good prices. As well as making beautiful dress watches, Seiko are the undisputed heavyweight champions of high-quality affordable sports watches. See the last example in my list for proof.
Seriously, is this a great looking watch or what? Most of the watches in this collection come in at a little over our self-imposed £500 cut off but this just manages to stay in budget. I think we can agree that it looks much pricier than it actually is.
A quality automatic for £340? Unbelievable. At 39mm a good choice if you have a smaller wrist or just fancy having something slightly more discrete. This is not a shouty watch but one that just oozes refinement.
Ok, I know that I said I wouldn’t include any big, chunky sports watches in this list but, come on, is this not a stunning watch?? £400 will get you this limited edition, automatic dive watch which, frankly, looks as good if not better than many costing several thousand. It is just shy of 44mm diameter making it a really big watch which may look better with jeans and a polo shirt than crammed under your suit sleeve but seriously, how have they made a watch this good for that money? It’s limited edition though so hurry. If you find that they are all gone by the time that you read this check out the rest of the extensive Seiko diver range,