Help a man buy a wristwatch
August 22, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me buy a men's dress wristwatch?

I wear a sportswatch with a rubber strap which works great but doesn't fit in with dress clothes.

I'm looking for a dress watch to be worn with dress shirts and suits. This would be a watch worn on a regular basis to work and special occasions.

I would prefer a design or material that would be water resistant (so i don't have to take it off when washing hands) yet not so bulky that I would need to take it off before passing through metal detectors.

Perhaps the watch isn't even so important as understand what factors I should consider in buying a watch. Perhaps the comfort and reliability of a particular design or brand? Or what the difference is between a $50 and $500 watch?

I gather that dress watches, after accounting for the movement, are priced like jewelry. Which means a high markup for brand names and new designs. I'm not opposed to paying for a brand name - but I don't really know what sets a Citizen watch from a Rolex or a Seiko from an Omega.

If there is such thing as a classic watch, or one that is well reviewed, I would like to know.
posted by abdulf to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I love my Timex Ironman Data Link dress watch, but only because I can upload hundreds of alarms, countdown timers, schedules, appointments, contacts, notes, my grocery lists, etc, etc... Try doing that with an Omega :P
posted by Theloupgarou at 1:16 PM on August 22, 2009

Best answer: First, do you prefer quartz (battery powered, cheaper, more accurate), or mechanical (spring-powered, more expensive, requires winding and a service every 5-7 years)?

Most will tell you that the country of origin is one of the most telling factors of a watch's quality. Swiss watches have always been the top of the market, but there are a number of quality brands out of Germany and Japan.

Here are some well respected brands:

Seiko (Japanese) makes solid kinetic-powered quartz and mechanical watches. They are in all segments of the market (Seiko 5 is low-end model, Grand Seikos are top), and the mechanicals have a reputation for being bullet-proof.

Citizen (Japanese) makes light-powered quartzes in a variety of models. They are low to mid-range of the market, but they have a wide variety of designs and are generally dependable.

Orient, Orient Star, and Orient Star Royal (Japanese) are partially owned by Seiko, under-appreciated, and make great quality mechanicals.

Some of the mid-range mechanical models that fit in your price range are made by Stowa (e.g. the Antea models), Tissot, Oris (e.g. the Atelier line), Christopher Ward (e.g. the Henley or Malvern Automatic), and Hamilton (e.g. the Jazzmaster).

You might consider a vintage mechanical... this is trickie, but you end up with a rare piece with a history. Do your homework, but good brands are Hamilton, Gruen, Tissot, Omega, and Bulova.

Finally, do lots of browsing through the sale forums at the major watch sites like Timezone, Poor Man's Watch Forum, and Watchuseek. I'm happy to answer more questions via MeFi Mail.

Good luck and happy hunting!
posted by reverend cuttle at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Consider Tag Heuer also. A bit more high end, but good quality.
posted by Spacelegoman at 2:01 PM on August 22, 2009

You can spend anything you want on a dress watch. $100, $100,000. Higher prices get you three things. A better movement, fancier jewelry materials, and a known brand.

You should decide if you want a mechanical movement or a quartz movement. Quartz watches are cheaper, keep better time, and smaller. Mechanical watches are much, much cooler. If you're trying to impress people you want a mechanical watch. If you just want something that looks nice on your wrist a quartz is just fine. 90% of people have no idea what the difference is.

If you want mechanical you should then decide whether you want an automatic movement or are willing to wind it every day. Automatic watches are self-winding, but are a bit more expensive and a bit thicker. If you're really interested in watches, consider buying a watch with "complications": fancy movements, calendars, date, etc. Prices can quickly go through the roof.

If you decide on an automatic mechanical watch, now you need to decide on price. Can't imagine going cheaper than $300, and $800+ will give you a lot more options. At that point you're mostly shopping for style and brand prestige. Look for something you like. The strap is almost as important to the style as the watch itself.

Consider buying a used refurbished watch; much cheaper and can find some beautiful things. If you're buying new, consider how you feel about grey market imports. (Personally I think they're fine.)

If you want to join a watch geek forum to see what people who really care think, Timezone is the place to go. If you want to browse a bunch of watches online to get an idea of prices etc, there are a lot of online watch stores. I bought a new watch from Wingate's and was very happy with their service a few years back.

Personal opinion? Get a slim gold-coloured automatic with a black leather band. Simple, classic, elegant. The gold standard for this kind of watch is something like this Patek Philippe. Assuming you don't want to spend $18,000 on a watch, though, you can happily find a beautiful mechanical watch that looks similar for under $1000 from many manufacturers.

Don't get a Rolex.
posted by Nelson at 3:02 PM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

My "dress" watch is a bit cheap, really. What I have is a Skagen, in my case with a leather band.

I chose Skagen because of two reasons. One, many/most of their models are thin. Very, very thin in some cases (about 5, 6 mm). I can't stand the g-dawful chunky watch look. I hate it with a passion. If I'm wearing a dress shirt, there should be no visible bulge if the cuff goes over the watch (I like my shirts to about half-cover my watch.) Thin also means light, and I like a watch that doesn't weigh me down. (Note, though, that thin also means not many 'complications'. My watches don't even have a date wheel.)

Second, they aren't too expensive, so I'm not worried about my watch all the time. They are "hand-washing" water resistant, which is all I really need in that department, but G-Shock they aren't. Plus, since they aren't too expensive, I was able to buy two...

...which is why I chose leather. I bought one with a brown leather strap and one with a black leather strap. As you can guess, I have both brown and black shoes/belts. I find the brown watch is good as both a casual and dress watch, and tend to wear it by default. The black one is put on for black/dark suits.

Beyond Skagen, I think the next ones I purchase, if I have the money and the patience for a bit more thickness, will be a Citizen. They have some nice leather-banded watches as well.
posted by Fortran at 4:15 PM on August 22, 2009

Check and look at their "Vintage" line. These watches are not outrageously expensive and they are bullet-proof. Classic and very "less is more".

And you can dress them up with a calf or alligator strap instead of the stainless.

Look at their BR line, too. Maybe not what you're looking for but worth looking at. A superb ceramic watch.

Look at and click on "in-house movements". You will get an idea why well-made watches cost what they do.
posted by Zambrano at 4:26 PM on August 22, 2009

If you have a Tourneau any where near you, I'd pay them a visit. They can definitely provide you lots of help in finding something.
posted by Funky Claude at 4:32 PM on August 22, 2009

At lot of really expensive "dress" watches are as tacky as shit. Some of the classiest people I know just wear a plain Timex quartz camper watch, or a similar very very plain (and perhaps military) watch, on all occasions except for those that call for something more jewelry-like. Coronations and the like. They look better than some of their compadres with tricked-out, fantasy-of-a-12-year-old gadget watches or watches with a lot of bling. You definitely don't need a watch with a million functions, especially in the age of smartphones. The band on watches like this is grosgrain (ribbon), not leather or metal, and you can switch it out with different designs or colors if you want.

See this pic, for instance. (I don't know whether that's a nice watch or not: I just pay attention to plain + ribbon.)

Don't pay more than $50 or so for a quartz watch. Other posters here can point you toward finding a decent mechanical watch if that's what you desire. I like mechanical watches, but I can't exactly afford them and it's not like they keep better time. I did once buy a mechanical military watch for under $30, but pretty much today traditional movement watches are crammed onto the high end.
posted by yesno at 5:16 PM on August 22, 2009

I absolutley love my Seiko 5 - it's about the coolest and cheapest automatic mechanical you can buy, I think. Have to adjust it about 5 min every month, but that's just character. Try ebay.
posted by Mid at 5:46 PM on August 22, 2009

Another vote here for Skagen. If you prefer slim to chunky and don't want to spend jewelry $$$, Skagen is the go-to goes-with-anything watch among my trendier friends. Who, admittedly, are all computer wonks. Trendy ones though. I love mine and it's my only accessory I get compliments on.

They make particularly comfortable metal mesh bands if you like that look.
posted by mindsound at 6:08 PM on August 22, 2009

The $500+ range gets you into high-quality Swiss-made movements. Watches with mechanical movements are considered to be high end - most Rolexes, Omegas, and Breitlings have mechanical movements. reverend cuttie has good recommendations on watch forums.

Pretty much any quartz movement is going to be reliable in terms of timekeeping. Mechanical watches vary more in reliability, but most mid-range mechanical watches ($500-2000) contain movements that are made by one of a few large watch movement manufacturers, so really the differentiating factors are the design and quality of the case and strap/bracelet. Sometimes the movements are "dressed up" a little bit, but are essentially all the same.

Stowa (German), Hamilton, and Tissot make very nice "dress" watches that are a fantastic value; they use Swiss movements and are very well made.

Consider that a watch is really a piece of jewelry rather than something that is used for keeping time; you can always read the time off of a cell phone or your computer. Most people don't really need a watch anymore, but it's just something nice that you can wear like a suit and tie or nice pair of shoes.
posted by kenliu at 6:25 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding what kenliu said. Quality? That only mattered in the 1800's, when timekeeping and building a really awesome movement was pretty tough. Now? Have you ever heard anyone complain about their watch's accuracy, unless it's automatic?

Thus, get something you think looks nice. Even a Kenneth Cole will keep time nicely, if you think it looks cool.

On another note, I got an automatic rolex explorer for graduation, and you have to keep wearing it, winding it, resetting it once a month, etc. It's kind of cool to perform this kind of maintenance, but not at all practical. Personally, I think Uboat, Tissot, and Panerai are pretty sweet looking, and the latter two will for sure not look dumb in 15 years, which to me is pretty important if you are dropping 1K and up on a piece of jewelry.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:03 PM on August 22, 2009

I forgot to mention - the current fashion is large watches, 40mm in diameter or larger. However, personally I think a real "dress watch" to be worn with a suit should not be oversized and thin enough to be worn comfortably under a shirt cuff. Also the overall appearance should be understated and have a leather strap instead of steel/gold bracelet. Just guidelines, not a hard and fast rule - plenty of people wear steel rolex submariners with suits.
posted by kenliu at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2009

My good friend is a watchmaker. He thinks the best bang for your buck is a TAG. Not overly pricey and looks great on your wrist.
posted by kaizen at 8:09 AM on August 23, 2009

Oh, and according to my watchmaker friend, there really is a difference in quality / price for mechanical watches. A Patek Phillipe is beautiful on the inside.
posted by kaizen at 8:13 AM on August 23, 2009

Yes, high-end mechanical watches like Patek use custom in-house developed movements but these watches start in the $5k+ range. I believe the vast majority of Swiss-made watches less than that price range use movements supplied by ETA.
posted by kenliu at 3:26 PM on August 23, 2009

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