So I wanna buy a watch
July 1, 2009 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy a watch. I don't know where to start.

So I want a watch. I am pretty sure I want it to be metal with a square face but that's about all I know. I'd like it to be classy rather than trendy. Other related questions were either out of my budget or possibly talking about men's watches and I'm not sure if that makes a difference (I'm a woman).

The budget is about 300 British pounds (or let's say $500).

What brands would be good? Where would I find them? (what should I avoid?)
When I try them on what am I supposed to be looking for?

This is in the UK but I can even wait til Christmas to try to buy in the States. No rush, just want something good quality and lasting.
posted by like_neon to Shopping (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you are interested in mechanical movements (as opposed to quartz) read all about them at timezone.

Some things to be wary of are a huge amount of fake stuff coming from the internet and the vast range in pricing at the retail level. A watch found at a luxury jeweler can be had for less than half of that at a factory outlet or discount jeweler.

Movado, a brand that carries a lot of women's watches in your price range, is a prime example of this - I have a watch on my wrist that they sold for $1500 and it cost under $500 at their "Factory Store" at an outlet mall.

A whole lot of the movements in a lot of different watch brands are made in the same factories (ETA is the big one if it's marked "Swiss Made". You are essentially buying jewelry at that price range, so make sure that the aesthetic of the piece appeal to you as much as the mechanics.

In the US (specifically their big New York store) on the pricey side Tourneau is a very reputable retailer and has a pretty wide range of stuff. I've also been surprised at some of the stuff I've seen pop up at retailers like Macy's, too. Good luck.
posted by bensherman at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: Take a look at the Hamilton American Classics Collection. I love my Boulton model, which was about the price you are looking at.

When you try on, you are really just looking at readability and comfort. If you come to DC, I recommend Afram Jewelers, a family business near the White House.
posted by jgirl at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: If you want to entertain the thought of a vintage watch, consider 1930s men's watches. Many men's watches of the era are too small for men to wear now without getting funny looks, but they are fine for you. For $500 or near it, you can get a superb solid gold watch with some left over for the servicing it will need. I think the Hamilton Brock is a perfect classic solid gold watch. It has the Hamilton 982M movement (M = gold Medallion on the movement, a premium model.) It is American-made. If you take care of it, it will hold its value forever.

Google image search for Hamilton Brock will find you some nice photos.

There are oodles of options in 30s vintage men's watches. The Brock is a simple elegant watch; you can find art deco or other "wilder" designs if that's what you like. If you know a trusted jeweler, maybe they could help you find something. Many online dealers of antique watches are excellent and trustworthy too. (But do your homework.)
posted by fritley at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I second (or third) recommendations for a mechanical (no battery, no quartz crystal) movement. You'll have slightly less accuracy, and the watch will need the occasional service (every 5 years or so), but the aesthetic and historical benefits make it worth it, imho. is your friend. Their sales corner usually has lots of great deals on second-hand pieces, and their forums contain tons of info. Also try Watchuseek and the Poor Man's Watch Forum. And Here is an rss compilation of all the major watch sales forums on teh internets.

For modern watches, try the brands Hamilton, Christopher Ward (UK), Tissot, Stowa, Seiko, Orient, and Oris

For vintage watches, look into Gruen, Hamilton, Bulova, Tissot, Omega, and Elgin.

Steer clear of : Invicta brand, Chinese-made watches that pretend to have a long history and Swiss pedigree, and shopping on ebay (until you know what you want, and its market value).

MeFi mail me if you have specific questions. I'm happy to opine!
posted by reverend cuttle at 12:01 PM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a watch guy. You seem to have a pretty easy list of quals for your new watch.

This search can be as easy or hard as you want it to be.

You don't want an automatic unless you want a seconds hand, and view missing 15 sec/day a burden rather than an effect of an automatic watch. Get a quartz.

I don't know if you're in San Diego or the UK...but dropping into a Macy's like store would solve that problem for you in 10 minutes. Bvlgari, D&G...a lot of the better designers usually have surprisingly affordable watches.

Although, if I were you, I'd get something from the Bedat No. 3 collection....and if money were no object.

Good luck...and I'd appreciate a meMail telling me what you bought.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:05 PM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: what i wear:
i like seiko. they make everything (even the lubricating oil for the gears) themselves and i have found their peices to be high quality and excellent value.

what i am likley to buy next:
i also like nixon watches. they begin to cross the tredny/classic ideal but some of them are very nice watches (obvisouly its all about personal taste though). they do not make their own movements but do have some awesome designs using inlaid hard woods and enamels in a metal shell... nice touches. they would be at the lower end of your range.

nixon UK watch catalog
posted by chasles at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: I would recommend a Citizen brand watch. They have this technology called "Eco-drive" where the watch is powered by light. I got one of the early early eco drive watches for around 300$ and didn't need a new battery in it for about 6 years. I believe the new eco drive models never need a battery. They also have quite a selection of ladies watches with a square face in your price range (search using the "find a watch" option).

My eco-drive was my second Citizen watch, the first being from about 8 years before the second and that watch, though not and eco drive, still works beatifully and looks great. I have only replaced the leather band once after years of beating on that one.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: Also, I would second chasles's recommendation for Nixon watches for a more borderline trendy angle. I own 2 of their watches and they are great for swimming (not as expensive if prone to looseing things as well). Be careful though with models that dont have a removable back, as they need to be sent back to Nixon for routine battery changes (these models usually have the molded polyurethane (?) wrist strap).
posted by WeekendJen at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2009

I've had a Citizen solar watch for a decade and never had a problem or battery swap.
posted by D.C. at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2009

Best answer: N-thing a Citizen Eco-drive watch. I've had mine for about 5 years now and it never stops or needs a new battery. The solar charging panel seems to be sensitive enough that working indoors will charge it. I bought mine on eBay, where the prices range from really cheap to stupidly extravagant. I think I paid about $60 for mine (add 5 years' inflation and price-rises; expect to pay about $80-100). eBay is especially good for end-of-line watches. Many of these guys are legit. watch sellers, who offload old stock on eBay. You still get the Citizen (or whoever) warranty, just not the absolutely latest model. Other eBay sellers import from Singapore, so you get a "worldwide" warranty (my SO bought one of those and Citizen honored it with no problems, when one of the little setting buttons stuck). If you can live with that, look at people's feedback to identify a good seller.
posted by Susurration at 2:04 PM on July 1, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

I have a Fossil watch that I love. Very simple, classy, goes with everything. I have to get the battery replaced every 5 years ago, but I don't mind at all - a $10 battery fix is much better than having to find a new watch. They run less than your budget - about $100.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:32 PM on July 1, 2009

Response by poster: Wow thanks, Mefi!! Some really great answers in here and it's hard to favorite just one.

Some things you have already helped me further clarify my watch desires:
- I have also added "tank" as a shape I'd consider in addition to square. I think it might be a better option for my small wrists.
- I looooove the idea of a vintage men's watch!
- I particularly like the faces with each hour with a number so that should help narrow things down for me.
- The Citizens seem to have very classy ones right up my alley at a great price as well.
- I am actually a stickler for time (ironic that I don't have a watch) so it has been very helpful to understand the difference between mechanical, quartz, automatic, etc. Not sure what would suit me best but now I know what to look for!

Followup question though. I adore the looks of the Hamilton Brocks from the 20's and 30's (you guys are awesome, never heard of it before) but those seem to mainly have leather straps, as do images of most of the other vintage brands recommended.

Is it possible to replace leather straps with metal chain straps? Would you just go through a reputable jeweler? Or would that be committing ultimate watch blasphemy?
posted by like_neon at 1:26 AM on July 2, 2009

Response by poster: Just in case others with similar questions wander in, I think this page of novice vintage watch collection advice is superb. (from timezone, so thanks for that suggestion all). Fascinating and very helpful.
posted by like_neon at 2:22 AM on July 2, 2009

The problem with metal watch bands is they tend to cut the inside of the watch's lugs. Worse, cheap modern metal bands have self-adjusting tabs that spring outward so they can be used on watches of various strap widths without being skillfully installed. The springy bits cause the damage to be much, much worse, and will extensively damage a solid gold watch case in only a few years.

Older metal bracelets, in addition to being gold filled and not just plated, had overly wide ends that the jeweler would cut to match the watch before installing. This of course took extra time and effort, and you cannot find new metal bracelets like this (at least not cheaply).

Like you, I like having actual numbers on the dial. It's so much easier to read. The Hamilton Brock has solid gold numbers and hands too.
posted by fritley at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2009

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