How to buy a watch?
February 16, 2015 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a ladies watch. What do I need to know? Challenge: My budget is < $300.

Right now I wear a $20 black plastic Timex. I want to upgrade. But I want a deal-- a deep discount on something that will last, that I like.

Even on my modest budget I am finding the selection overwhelming.

So I ask:

What is the best way to buy a watch in this price range?

What is the best, most durable and reliable brand for the money?

I am thinking about a Bulova or Seiko watch because I like a few that i have found. However, I am open to suggestions. I'm not really keen on Fossil, Anne Klein, Kenneth Cole or Guess. I heard that Marc Jacobs is made by Fossil. Does that mean that they too will break after three months? Maybe that is just my teenaged experiences.

Any advice would be appreciated, especially about:

1. The perils of online watch shopping

2. The virtues of brand x vs. brand y

3. Good forums about watches

4. Whether I should consider a thrift store or vintage watch


1. I know I could start on a watch forum. I wanted to ask Metafilter first. There have been interesting comments in the past from high-end watch fans here. Maybe someone will have some insight for me.

2. I am curious about a particular discount shop. Instead of linking to it and creating suspicions of Pepsi Blue, I'd like to hear people's opinions of discount watch stores online, apart from the big online retailers like Amazon and Overstock.

3. I have already thought about and dismissed the idea of getting a Mac-android digital companion for my wrist. It's a classic-looking watch in this price range or nothing.

4. I have never used Ebay and I don't want to start now unless there is good reason.

I am off to check out local retailers so I know what sizes work for my wrist. Maybe I will go to a jewelry store and have them measure and perfume it or whatever it is they do for fancy customers.
posted by CtrlAltD to Shopping (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Seiko is a good watch brand that will look dressy without looking like you're wearing cheap costume jewelry. Beyond that, all quartz watches work reliably, and it is basically impossible to get ripped off at the < $300 range. Also, for this type of watch, there will be essentially no difference between an online discount watch store and Amazon/
posted by deanc at 3:31 PM on February 16, 2015

I don't know about discount site or pricing but I have had 2 Bulova's in the last twenty years as company anniversary gifts that are probably the best selection I made (two different companies). They look good and are very functional - I have received many complements. Just my opinion for watches i didn't have to pay for but I love the current one every time i look at it.
posted by MrsMGH at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2015

Best answer: I would go with Seiko over Bulova, but both are solid watch brands with quality products. I've had Marc Jacobs watches in the past and they last just fine, but they are more of a fashion watch than a really solid watch brand like Seiko with a great history of good-quality timepieces. Also consider Swatch - they have a lot of lovely non-plastic watches (such as the Irony line) that are very reliable and are well within your price range.

Buying online: Tourneau is always a good choice, and many mainstream retailers have an extensive watch selection (Bloomingdale's is one that comes to mind). They often have sales and coupons. I don't buy watches from grey market discount sites, so I have no recommendations there.

Review sites: Worn & Wound is the go-to site for sub-$1k watch reviews. They usually cover mostly unisex or men's watches, but it is a good place to find info on various watch brands you may be considering. (note: I know several of the contributors there as we are all part of the same watch collecting group)

Forums: TimeZone and Watchuseek (direct link to the Seiko/Citizen forum) are my go-to when researching a watch.

Lastly, unless you are really set on specific features of ladies' watches like bling, or you have a tiny tiny wrist, you don't have to limit yourself to watches that are marketed to women. There are many watches that are unisex that work on women too. I have a fairly large watch collection, and only one of them is specifically marketed as a watch for women. All the rest are unisex or even men's watches.
posted by bedhead at 3:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's odd, but if you are looking in the sub-$300 range, you can often get prices comparable with or less than, say, Amazon, at a place like JC Penney, Macy's, etc. Plus you can try them on which is *very* important. I've looked at watches on Amazon, thought "That looks good", then tried them on in JCP and found, oy, not for my wrist!

As for me, I've had pretty good success with Citizen and Seiko in that price range.
posted by Fortran at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I should note one odd thing I noticed when getting a watch at an online discount shop, similar to overstock-- these watches have been sitting in a warehouse somewhere for who-knows-how-long. Thus, your 5-year battery may only last 2 years. Not a big deal, but just something to keep in mind that will be different from buying something fresh from the factory at Bloomingdale's or WatchStation.
posted by deanc at 3:39 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am not a huge watch nerd, but I have a handful of watches, new and vintage, bought on eBay, Amazon and various sites.

My basic advice would be:

Stick to a brand that is known for making primarily watches. Like Bulova, Seiko, Citizen - not Fossil or Marc Jacobs.

Buy from Amazon. You won't find significantly better deals on 'discount' watch sites. Amazon is worth it for the return policies and customer service.

If you can narrow down what kind of band you want (metal, leather, plastic?), what face color, what style/functions you want (chrono, diver, solar, automatic?) - your shopping will be much easier.

I'm a big fan of the Seikos in your price range. I have my dad's 40 yr old Seiko bullhead chrono that he beat to crap but it still runs. I wear a new Seiko automatic diver that I hope to wear for decades. You don't need to spend $1000 to buy a watch you can wear for life.
posted by gnutron at 3:51 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I heard that Marc Jacobs is made by Fossil. Does that mean that they too will break after three months?

The main issue with Fossil and its multitude of fashion brands is that you're not getting much added value for your $300. That sort of money does give you significant quality upgrades from Japan -- Seiko, Orient, Citizen -- over their entry-level watches. Bulova's owned by Citizen and though it isn't exclusively a Japanese maker, it fits that category. It also potentially opens up the lower end of the Swiss market (Hamilton, Tissot) if you find the right discount.

Whether I should consider a thrift store or vintage watch

Hard to recommend, because you have to factor in repair costs. That said, used women's watches do sell at a big discount compared to men's watches of the same vintage (yeah, that drags you into eBay territory, I know) and you could potentially find a very nice older watch for your budget where the men's equivalent sells for two or three times that much: 1980s high-end quartz is a sweetish spot there.

On bedhead's point: men's and women's watches represent two different traditions, although there's now lots of crossover. Your visit to the shop should make clear whether you suit something, um, dainty, or more unisex in character.

And if you're asking about J*m*sh*p, they're grey-market and you don't get the manufacturer's warranty, only their own, so usual grey-market caveats apply; Amazon may be a better deal there because you can go to Amazon within the return window, and to the manufacturer for long-term warranty service.
posted by holgate at 4:01 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can occasionally find good designer watch deals on sites like ruelala, myhabit and beyondtherack.
posted by egeanin at 4:11 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The first question you should answer is: quartz or mechanical. There are a lot of really great quartz options in your budget. If you want mechanical, that's even easier, as there are far fewer great options at $300.

I really like vintage watches, especially for mechanicals, since you'll get something far more interesting than new for the same money, but I wouldn't recommend it for you unless you're specifically looking for them. They're going to have a lot of character (scratches, dings, corrosion, maybe won't keep very good time, and will sooner or later require servicing). When I look at vintage watches, I assume it's going straight to the watchmaker, and figure that into the cost.

There's no reason not to ask about a specific retailer. There are a few grey market merchants with good reputations... but plenty I would not buy from. Also, if it's important to you, consider where the warranty lies; many online retailers provide their own warranty (incl. Amazon on watches they're not authorized dealers for) and the manufacturer warrenty isn't valid.

There's a reason why you're seeing a lot of the same names: Seiko, Citizen, etc. They make great products. There's also a reason why they're mostly Japanese--unless brand matters to you, at that price point I would consider Japanese to be a much better value than Swiss or elsewhere. But there's nothing wrong with fashion brands, and ultimately, it's more important to get a watch you LIKE than one that is the "right" one to get. Try it on first if at all possible. Sizes are notoriously difficult to gauge via specs.

Another thing to consider is that there exist some really nice "design" watches (as opposed to "designer"--think, Braun, not Marc Jacobs). They are all going to be modern rather than classic, quartz, and typically made of synthetic materials but should fit within your budget. Check museum stores (MOMA, etc.) for some ideas.

Finally, are you a costco member? They have a wide range (from $99-25,000), and while they are not authorized distributors of many of their watches, they have a legendary return policy and stellar customer service. Discount on retail was 20-30% off the last time I looked.
posted by danny the boy at 4:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I got my Bulova cheap at $300 at either Ross or TJ Maxx, it's been a while, can't remember. Kohl's has steep discounts after holidays and always has great sales. You can check their website.
posted by smashface at 4:23 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Fortran's advice about trying things on. Aesthetically, a watch needs to be seen in person -- so much of it is about how materials catch the light as they turn, or how they feel against your wrist, or the weight of its buckle.

You don't mention whether you're considering digital or analog. Note that if you buy an analog watch, and it has a second-hand, it will tick. Audibly. Maybe not right when you put it on, maybe not that night. But soon, and for the rest of its life.

(This doesn't bother me at all, but mrs_goldfish has preternaturally sensitive hearing. She managed to find me a Swatch without a second-hand. Every few years or so it breaks and we scramble to find a warehoused replacement.)

I'm pro-Swatch, for the record. And pro-analog.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:29 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know absolutely nothing about watches or brand reputation, so this may be a recommendation that an aficionado would cringe at. Nonetheless, the Skagen I was given when I graduated from law school about 15 years ago still looks beautiful and runs perfectly (the battery needs replacing from time to time). It's very lightweight and comfortable and well within your price range.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:33 PM on February 16, 2015

My Mom bought me a Movado at the PX about 10 years ago and I've thrashed it around something shocking. So instead of getting a new strap and replacing the crystal (if anyone can figure out the Movado website, drop me a line,) I decided to buy a watch I really wanted.

I wanted a silver toned bracelet watch with a small face. I bought a Seiko for about $180. I used my discounts at Macy's and went on a sale day. I'm VERY happy with my watch and I expect it to give me service for a very long time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:51 PM on February 16, 2015

I agree with the previous poster who pointed out that you want to stick to a brand that is known for watches. With brands like Marc Jacobs, you are really paying for the 'marc jacobs' stamp and not the watch.

I have two citizen watches that are well within your budget that have lasted great for the past five years (here and here). These have also worked better when adjusting for my small wrist size.
posted by seesom at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2015

I would buy a swatch! or three.
posted by sabh at 5:29 PM on February 16, 2015

Pawn shops often have good deals on watches. You may have to hit a few, and return a few times, until you find something you like. And you can always negotiate the price down a bit from what they have listed.

Personally, I like Movado and Nixon watches, in your price range.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:55 PM on February 16, 2015

I've been very pleased with my Skagen watch, and have also enjoyed some of the more unusual watches I've gotten from Watchismo.
posted by alms at 6:20 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you looking for something more dressy or more sporty?

There is a subReddit for watches. They publish a brand guide that might be helpful.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

My Anne Kline watch was beautiful but it broke after a few years. I had a Pulsar watch for a number of years before I accidentally ran it through the washer and dryer. I'm quite happy with the Bulova I got to replace it. I found it on clearance at Kohl's for $50.
posted by Nolechick11 at 8:02 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for these helpful comments so far.

I went to a bunch of stores to check out watches. Most of the dressy watches have huge faces. There were very few that did not look ridiculous when I put them on. My wrist is 5'5'' around. The styles I liked online are going to be too big for how I want to wear a watch.

There will be a better selection of small faces among older watches? I'd rather get one that I really like and take care of it, so I am going to read about the options for used watches mentioned in this thread.
posted by CtrlAltD at 11:00 PM on February 16, 2015

Something like this? The Mondaine Swiss Railway Watch is a minimalist design classic. Mondaine also have these new models, inspired by the Helvetica font.
posted by iviken at 5:17 AM on February 17, 2015

Also recommending Swatch Irony line for something classically styled, dressy looking and solid. It's a major upgrade from your existing watch, yet well below your budget.
posted by NikitaNikita at 5:34 AM on February 17, 2015

I like Citizen, Seiko, and Bulova in that order. I usually buy watches at Kohls, but any department store will do. In your price range, it's not really necessary to comb through watch forums because your price line is one that is pretty low for someone into watches (not saying its not a lot of money or that you should spend more, just that it's not getting you some dog whistle watch that will show you "know watches")

I like Citizen because I like smaller watches and they seem to have the best selection. I've had a lether band Citizen for 15 years, a metal band one for 10ish years, another leather one for 6 years, they all work perfectly fine still. NEwer ones have some solar thing that makes teh battery last way longer.

I currently wear an "ESQ" which is some "fashion" offshoot of Movado and while at original price it would be out of your range, I got it at a Kay Jeweler's outlet store, so check out chain jewelry outlet stores because you might be able to find something there too, but if that's too much hassle, just stick to teh departmetn store and a Citizen (or Seiko, or Bulova, but I love the Citizens)
posted by WeekendJen at 9:07 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of the dressy watches have huge faces. There were very few that did not look ridiculous when I put them on.

Sounds like something with a case diameter in the 24-26mm range is going to suit you, perhaps even smaller.

There will be a better selection of small faces among older watches?

To some extent, because watches as a whole were smaller, and women's watches especially so, reflecting that distinct jewellery heritage that I mentioned upthread. You're also more likely to see narrower and lighter bands, which makes a difference in how they look on the wrist. (Here's a random but fairly repesentative gold-tone Seiko quartz from the 1980s.) But there are still makers who serve that market and follow that tradition: they might not be taking up as much store space, because current fashion is for chunkier watches with bigger faces, but they're there.
posted by holgate at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: holgate: yes, I tried on one of those watches at Kohl's. I still felt the face looked silly. Maybe it's too shiny. That is about as big as I want to go. The salespeople could not tell me the name of the size, so knowing it is 22cm is helpful.

Favorites for all!
posted by CtrlAltD at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2015

Sounds like you should consider a Tank-style watch. The originator of the style, Cartier, is going to be a bit out of your budget, but there are plenty under $300.

Oh one more note. At your price point, I would personally prefer leather bands to metal bracelets, especially if you're going for gold or two-tone watches. Metal bracelets will be good but not amazing, and if it's gold plated/finished, it will eventually wear. There's a good chance you'll be ready for a new watch before this happens, but just a FYI.
posted by danny the boy at 2:44 PM on February 17, 2015

You may like some of the Hermes watches, which are approachable used.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:22 AM on February 27, 2015

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