For the uninitiated, being able to tell what a quality watch can be a headscratcher. Luckily, there are a few things to look out for that can give you an idea. It isn’t that difficult either, especially if you do a quick Google search into the watch you’re interested in as all the information you need is there, you just need to know what you’re looking for.
Although if you’re worried you can always buy from a trusted brand as many have reputations to maintain so low-quality products are something they avoid.
First and foremost are the materials used when making the watch. Typically, a quality watch will be made from at least stainless steel. There are better materials, but stainless-steel is the minimum. Even saying that, there are varying qualities of stainless steel. 304L is found on cheaper watches as it is prone to corrosion and is darker in appearance due to the higher carbon content. The most common is 316L steel, but if you want the top shelf stuff, 904L is what Rolex use on their watches.
Titanium and ceramic are harder/better materials, but they are more expensive. The same goes for platinum or gold (obviously).
Another mark of quality is whether the materials have a PVD coating which ensures that the material will keep its colour over time.
While the case materials have a wide variety of options, to tell the quality of the glass is simple – is it sapphire? Sapphire provides protection and clarity for years. Cheaper watches will tend to use crystal glass or mineral glass which will scratch and start affecting legibility after a short time.
It’s easy to say that if the watch has a quartz (battery operated) movement, it isn’t a quality watch. That isn’t the case as you can find some of the big brands like Breitling, Grand Seiko, and F.P. Journe all using quartz movements in their collections. So put that out of your mind.
However, the main way to discern quality here is with mechanical movements. These are what you want if you are after the sweeping movement of the seconds hand on the dial as quartz watches’ seconds hands tick. The best mechanical movements are Certified Mechanical Movements (COSC) and they are more expensive. This usually means that the movements are hand-made or hand-finished and polished.
It isn’t just about how the movements are made. Accuracy is important here too. High quality watches have an accuracy of at least +6/-4 per day.
This is a tricky one as nowadays a watches weight isn’t the immediate mark of quality it used to be. It does still play a part, but it isn’t where you stop your investigation as many luxury brands are purposefully making watches lighter and thinner without sacrificing quality.
Typically, the reason you want to check on the weight is because it relates to the materials used. Platinum and gold are much heavier than steel so there’s a mark of quality, but just knowing that it is made from those materials should be enough to gauge quality.
Weight could also be affected by the complications on the watch. The more complicated a watch, the more materials are used thus adding more weight. But even this isn’t a hard rule anymore as a lot of brands recently have been using materials like silicon in their movements to reduce weight. Some have even starting using micro-rotors to reduce the weight of the winding mechanism.
Basically, if it’s heavy, enquire about the materials and you will then be able to tell if it’s quality or not.
Straps & Bracelets
Let’s talk straps. Straps are often made from leather of some sort and the highest quality leather is “full grain.” Below that is “top grain” and the lowest quality is “genuine leather.” However, luxury brands often use exotic materials like alligator, ostrich, and shark.
Besides the materials used you have to look at the stitching. You want it to look even and smooth whilst all being the same colour. Lower quality stitching often has slight variations in the colour, or the ending appears rough and stringy.
Bracelets have a larger checklist. Let’s assume that the bracelet is made from the same material as the case. What you are looking for is solid end links, tight tolerances (it doesn’t stretch first thing out of the box), no unfinished surfaces, no sharp edges or burrs, the quality of the brushing/polishing. Typically, the heftiness of the bracelet is a good indicator but as we mentioned above, weight isn’t always a reliable indicator.
For more, check out our beginner’s guide to fashion watches.
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