Looking for a watch that does the basics extremely well
April 5, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a watch that tells near-perfect time, doesn't require winding or battery replacement, has a comfortable band in hot and cold weather and will last at least 10 years. It just needs to show the time and preferably the date. It's either got to be something very special, or at the lowest price which meets the above standards. Style and uncomplicatedness a bonus.
posted by DirtyCreature to Shopping (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Seiko Kinetic
posted by ReiToei at 5:21 PM on April 5, 2007

Most watches will do this, you might want to narrow it down a little. It might help if you state your budget precisely.

How about an Oris? Conservative, stylish, no winding and very high quality.

If money is not an object then try here.
posted by fire&wings at 5:22 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: Let's say under $5000 for something very special. Under $1500 otherwise (but can go lower!)
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:25 PM on April 5, 2007

Casio Wave Ceptor, about forty bucks at JCPenney. As someone with a very clock-centric job, it's a god-send - automatically sets itself every day via satellite, comfortable band, etc.
posted by jbickers at 5:26 PM on April 5, 2007

Automatic is nice, but it often means sacrificing something in terms of pinpoint accuracy, ruggedness or price. Think atomic, and think solar. Casio makes a few of these in their G-Shock line, and you can get 'em for less than a hundred bucks (as f&w notes, anything related to price in watches is a relative term). Style is... in the eye of the beholder.
posted by box at 5:27 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: And let's say "near-perfect time" means - less than a minute's error per year.
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:31 PM on April 5, 2007

If I was spending your cash it would be on an IWC as linked above.
posted by fire&wings at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2007

I got this Tag Heuer Automatic as a gift to myself when I got my first promotion/raise. I have loved this watch for a couple years now. It goes with everything from a tuxedo at the opera to water skiing. The time was a little slow for the first couple months that I owned it and it required manual winding but now for two years I haven't wound it at all and it's kept perfect time. (I think this is a common problem with automatic watches.) I don't know if this was the price range you were looking for, but I think this is considered pretty reasonable for a nice watch like this.

If you have the money, a nice watch is a really great thing to own. You will wear it every day and it will last years and years.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:39 PM on April 5, 2007

On preview: less than a minute per year. That's a pretty high standard for an automatic but I think my watch can do that (or come close).
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:43 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips. Keep 'em coming. I am checking every single one of them out and will let you know what I eventually buy. As you can imagine, I either buy something immaculate or am otherwise a bit of a tight-ass.
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:44 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: I should stress that comfort is a big factor. Moreso than accuracy (I have no idea what I can expect in terms of accuracy). But lack of comfort in bad weather = I take it off more often = higher probability of losing it.
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:50 PM on April 5, 2007

You say no batteries, no winding. The energy to run it has to come from somewhere, you know.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:58 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: Steven : Yes it does. Some watches are able to draw energy from the movement of your arm. Others are solar powered etc.
posted by DirtyCreature at 6:01 PM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: Seiko Kinetic

I had one, and it died after four or five years. It is probably fixable, but I never really fell in love with it enough to bother getting it repaired. (I paid $400 for it, so the cost per year was about $100.) In retrospect, I think it is a lot smarter to either spend a lot less or a lot more -- buy a series of cheap disposable watches, or buy something that is effectively jewelry and will be worth handing down to a child in thirty years.

Are there actually automatic watches that can realistically meet the 1 minute per year standard? I think the last Timex digital watch I bought claimed +/- 30 seconds per month. This site has a chart of expected accuracies by type of watch, and claims that a "certified" modern mechanical watch will typically gain or lose 3 seconds per day. So you may want to scale back your accuracy expectations somewhat. (I travel enough that I have to reset my watch for timezone changes sufficiently frequently that I don't know what its long term accuracy is -- the watch is probably more accurate than is my ability to set it to any precise time source.)
posted by Forktine at 6:05 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Under 5gs, if you dont want to go digital, get a tourbillion mechanic from a reputable like Breitling, Panerai...5grand would be borderline...
posted by stratastar at 6:47 PM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: If accuracy and keeping good time is important to you then I'd say avoid anything labeled "automatic", "self winding", or "perpetual". They have a typical accuracy of only +30/-5 seconds per day, which means you'll be adjusting them monthly at least. You don't want mechanical, you want quartz. In the recent decade or so mechanical watches (and especially automatic mechanical watches) have come into fashion because people like the idea of having something that is intricate and made by a craftsman. But in terms of long term stability, the $5 quartz Casio in the bargain bin will beat the living pants off of anything mechanical, no matter how expensive.

FAQ on automatic watches
posted by Rhomboid at 6:52 PM on April 5, 2007

A mechanical watch is going to have a tough (impossible?) time meeting a minute/year standard. That's an incredibly high standard for any consumer timepiece. In fact, I think the only way you'll be able to get that kind of accuracy is by getting a watch that syncs to an atomic clock (of which there are plenty, of course).

As for the comfort of the band, this is a matter of taste. I can't stand a plastic band, but I find either a (well-fitted) metal band or a leather band feels fine.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2007

OMEGA Seamaster Planet Ocean on Rubber strap. 42 mm version.

Very special, coaxial escapement means long service intervals. Rubber strap is Uber Comfy, enough so that you can sleep with it on. Your grandkids will be proud to wear this watch one day when you pass it on.
posted by dawdle at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: Umm, did I miss some criteria that rules out something like the Citizen Eco-drive? They are generally solar-powered and recharge a battery (possibly a capacitor?) that doesn't need replacing. I think they're under $500ish, and there are a variety of designs. It's a quartz movement, so I think they're rated to a few seconds a year?

I actually have (and love) the short-lived Eco-Drive Thermo, which uses thermoelectric power generation to charge the battery/capacitor from my body's waste-heat, but that's just because it's nerd-cool for someone like me who's in the thermoelectrics field. It's not still made/sold, but I found mine (eventually) on ebay.
posted by JMOZ at 6:57 PM on April 5, 2007

jbickers writes "Casio Wave Ceptor, about forty bucks at JCPenney. As someone with a very clock-centric job, it's a god-send - automatically sets itself every day via satellite, comfortable band, etc."

I doubt this uses a satellite. There's a ground based signal that can be received throughout North America. I don't know how practical watches that rely on this signal are for international travel.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:58 PM on April 5, 2007

And from the same site: Battery-less watches - these are still quartz, but the electric charge is generated by movement not a battery. This is likely what you want if you don't want to have to worry about a battery for 10 years but still have long term accuracy.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:59 PM on April 5, 2007

The Seiko Kinetic is good as long as you plan to wear it frequently. I also like the Citizen Eco-Drive. I have a relatively cheap Swatch Automatic that does well considering the price but it doesn't store energy for more than a day (or less). My personal favorite is this brand of watch, of which I own a solar version that is no longer sold. As long as it stays even remotely near a source of light it will keep the time very well.

I got fed up with quartz watches and replacing batteries years ago. The only non-kinetic/solar watch I own is the Timex Ironman. They're cheap enough to just toss when they run down.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:32 PM on April 5, 2007

Another Eco-drive vote. Mine's solar, not thermoelectric (how cool!), but if you didn't know it was solar, you wouldn't be able to tell. I thought they had models that reset from an atomic clock radio signal, but I guess I'm wrong; I can't find them.

But if you're going to spend thousands on it, maybe you want something that costs more.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:36 PM on April 5, 2007

I just bought this Casio which others have mentioned a couple of months ago for under $100. It seems to meet your requirements, and if you buy it from REI it has an automatic lifetime guarantee thanks to their great return policy. I think fancy watches are great, but I know a lot of other uses for that much money. Also, I only wear it once or twice a week and the solar powered battery monitor hasn't dropped below full power. It has an automatic shut off if it isn't in use to preserve power.
posted by Dr. Lurker at 9:34 PM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: Your criteria kind of fight with each other. My 18 year old Tag-Hauer quartz watch loses about a second per month, requires battery replacement every 6 years, and its titanium case and sapphire crystal frankly look exactly as they did they day I bought it. I've worn this watch darn near everywhere - temperatures from 65 below to 120 above (F), was wearing it when I fell out of the raft in a class V rapid on the Kern River, have worn it snorkeling in Molokini. It just works, it's never so much as batted an eye. So if you can deal with a battery replacement every 6 years I'd say you should probably get one.

The word on the street is that the Omega Speedmaster is one of the most reliable watches ever built. The true Speedmaster - the one Neil Armstrong wore on the moon - is manual wind, but the one I've linked here, as well as several others in the line, are self-winding (they wind themselves as your wrist moves.) If you don't wear them every day they run down. They're hugely comfortable as well - they are a serious watch for serious people. No automatic-winding/self-winding watch will ever match a quartz watch for accuracy.

The other watch I'd suggest would be a Breitling, either one of their mechanicals or their SuperQuartz movement. The Breitling Emergency Mission has always appealed to me, but its battery only lasts 3 years. However, if you never use the built-in 48-hour 121 kHz distress beacon, it could conceivably last much, much longer.

While I think they are extremely cool, I do not believe the more fashionable sorts of energy-storing watches can be relied on to last 10 years.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a solar powered Citizen Eco-Drive that, over the 2 year period I've owned it, is 0.25 seconds fast per day, which is about 91 seconds a year. It does not do automatic DST adjustment, so twice a year, I zero the second hand, so it's never more than a minute off during the year.
posted by jaimev at 9:58 PM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: Ok after reading some of the links posted on this thread, I am now backing off from the automatic watches. They are a great concept but I can imagine leaving them in a drawer for a few days and having to reset the time and wind them up. Im too AHDD-ish to bother. Same goes for the solar watches which also have a lot of appeal being quartz usually.

I think I have to go the quartz route with a long life battery. The big name brands people have posted have some beautiful watches but some of the other links here to seem to suggest that you can get a very nice looking, equally reliable quartz watch for next to nothing. Question is whether I can get an ultra-comfy cheap quartz watch with a long life battery, or whether I need to go with one of the bigger names....
posted by DirtyCreature at 12:16 AM on April 6, 2007


I actually wear the watch (a GMT Master II with a little less gold) shown on their front page.

Rolex uses a separate organisation to individually test each movement, and in fact their watches are considered accurate to -4 to +6 seconds per day, or a variance of about 0.006%.

You can get a new entry level Rolex for about $2K. I've never regretted purchasing one, they look great, are classic timepieces, and are suitable for any environment ranging from sports (rugged as hell) up to and including formal wear, board meetings, etc.

Some dealers will even give you credit if you upgrade; mine here in the UK gives you full purchase price if you replace it with a new timepiece costing 50%.
posted by Mutant at 1:16 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are not going to find a watch that is accurate to 1 minute per year unless it has a built in radio reception from an external time source, for example the Casio Wave Ceptor cited above.

The very best certified mechanical watches are only good to about 4 seconds per day. The best certified quartz watches are good for about 0.2 seconds per day, but they are extremely rare and expensive. That is only about one part per million. Most quartz watches are lucky to be 1 second per day. It is extremely difficult to produce quartz crystals that are that accurate and over varying temperatures and battery voltages.

So if you can accept about 1 second per day, any quartz watch will probably do, but if you really need something as accurate as 1 minute per year, you need one with a built in radio.
posted by JackFlash at 1:45 AM on April 6, 2007

It sounds to me like an atomic solar watch would fit the bill for you. Casio is the brand that is most mentioned with this feature. Unfortunately, much of their line falls short of the "stylish" criteria.

One Casio brand that might work for you is Oceanus. The watch I like in particular is a 5 motor model that, besides being solar, can grab an Atomic signal in the US, UK, Germany and Japan. It includes a perpetual calendar and multiple time zones. What I think is really neat is that with all of the technology, the presentation is totally analog. They accomplished this by stuffing five motors into the case that control the hands. It's also very much within your budget at $800.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:19 AM on April 6, 2007

You could buy my Timex Expedition, which I believe has been blessed by some combination of deities.

I purchased it in 2002 for under $10. Since then, it's been through the washer and drier countless times, dunked in many pools, buried in sand, run over with a car (I was curious), sprayed with adhesive, and cleaned with acetone.

The battery has never been replaced, and I've never reset the time other than to change the hour for daylight savings twice a year.

The time is still correct (it's less than ten seconds fast), and even the indiglo still works.
posted by dmd at 5:24 AM on April 6, 2007

I'm quite happy with my radio controlled solar powered Citizen eco-drive promaster. (sorry, the link is in german)
To me it's the perfect watch.
I bought it for around 400 Euro.

You should check in what global areas it will work wrt the radio time signal.
posted by jouke at 6:51 AM on April 6, 2007

I think these Casio Executive models are attractive, and I plan to buy this one if I ever find one in a store so I can try it on first. I have 4 other Casio Atomic (gets radio signal from Ft. Collins, CO, overnight every night) Solar (charges via sun or other light) watches, and they're my favorite watches ever. 3 of them are G-Shock models, and one isn't. I also have an older Heuer automatic (before the company was TAG/Heuer) as well as a Citizen Eco-Drive titanium diver, but all I've worn are the Casios for the past few years.

The coolest thing about my Casios is that I also have a couple of LaCrosse atomic clocks on the wall in my house. Since they're all reading the same signal every night, the second hands of the wall clocks as well as the watch on my wrist are always perfectly, exactly, eerily synchronized, to the second.

tick, tick, tick...
posted by Bradley at 6:54 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

DirtyCreature: "... Same goes for the solar watches which also have a lot of appeal being quartz usually. "

I'm the guy with the Citizen Eco-Drive Thermo. I can't speak for the solar (though I'm sure someone else can confirm), but with my watch, despite it being powered by non-conventional-battery means, it's ok to leave it in a drawer for a while/on occasion. In fact, the manual says that a full charge will keep it running for something like 6 months without being worn.

Also, I think I recall seeing inexpensive boxes for solar watches which are, essentially, a watch box with an LED inside to keep them charged.

All I'm saying is that you need not rule out a solar watch because you're afraid it will stop running on a cloudy day/if you leave it in a drawer for a week. It seems like the accuracy of quartz, the comfort and style of a well-designed watch (though perhaps not as well-designed as a Rolex, Tag Heur, Omega, etc.), the convenience of not being a slave to a battery, and the reasonably low price (I looked later last night and some of the inexpensive Eco-Drive are ~$200) might still be a good choice for you.
posted by JMOZ at 8:33 AM on April 6, 2007

CWC military watches fit all your criteria. I replaced the NATO webbing band on mine with a leather equivalent.
posted by Dr.Pill at 8:44 AM on April 6, 2007

Contrarian opinion: For the past 15 years, I've just used my cellphone for the time. *shrug* It's always with me, it's one less thing to carry (or lose!), and it syncs with the system, so the time is never wrong. (...except when Sprint botched that whole U.S. Daylight Savings Time change...) If you really want something to tell time, and tell it well, this is the way to go.

The whole idea of a single-function device is anochronistic to me -- it tells time, great... what else can it do? But watches, especially mechanical ones, are interesting jewelry. Jump on eBay and check out the wide variety of vintage watches. You can pick up some neat examples for less than $50 -- just don't expect them to be terribly accurate.
posted by LordSludge at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2007

LordSludge has a good point. With ubiquitous cell phones, a watch is just a unnecessary piece of jewelry.
posted by JackFlash at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: JMOZ : Why did they discontinue the Thermo model? I couldnt find it for sale on eBay.

Ok the Eco-Drive is very much back on the list. I think I falsely concluded from fuse theorem's post that all solar batteries didn't last long. Also I didnt take into accounts dmd's point about having to adjust the time twice a year at least for daylight savings anyway.

Thanks for setting me straight on that.
posted by DirtyCreature at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2007

Though rare, there have been occasional several high-precision quartz watch models over the years. Generally they achieve their precision through temperature compensation and/or high-frequency crystals. Probably few fit the requirement of long battery life, but there are a couple of interesting examples:

Seiko Alpinist Prospex - Good looking watch, Japan-only, limited production (currently OOP, I think.) 10-year lithium battery, +/-20 second annual deviation, perpetual calendar.

Longines VHP Flagship - Another classy watch. Perpetual calendar, long-life battery +/-10 sec/yr deviation.

Omega Megaquartz 2400 - The Granddaddy. Got 1 sec/month precision with 1970s technology. Crystal frequency of 2.4 MHz(!) - most current quartz watches use a 32 kHz crystal. Would not be out of place on the wrist of a Sci-Fi hero. Would not surprise me if it ate through batteries. Long out of production. Collectors item.

Breitling Superquartz Movement - 15 sec/year, 8-year battery life. Available in a number of models, but Breitlings tend to be a bit busy so maybe not what you're looking for. Something like the Colt Quartz might fit the bill.
posted by Opposite George at 10:00 PM on April 6, 2007

DirtyCreature: "JMOZ : Why did they discontinue the Thermo model? I couldnt find it for sale on eBay."

I think they discontinued the Thermo because it was expensive for them to make, resulting in a relatively expensive retail price, and demand was not terribly large. Solar really is easier and probably more practical. I had to have the thermoelectric-powered watch since my dissertation is primarily on thermoelectric power generation. Nerd cred is important, y'know. Anyhow, it took me a while (read: weeks to months) of hunting to find one on ebay, and you might note that sometimes ebay.co.uk has different mechandise than ebay.com. The bright side is you end up with a fairly unique watch which is a nice conversation piece.

I did find an Eco-drive Thermo for sale on this website. I know nothing about this site other than it contains quite a bit of info.
posted by JMOZ at 6:56 AM on April 7, 2007

Response by poster: Ok Ive done it. First of all, what I bought and what I decided on are two different things. Purchases were dictated by availability of the models I was looking for at the time on eBay (told you I was ADHDish). A lot of you will be disappointed by the purchases I expect.

I eventually bought a Rado Coupole (for the apparent mega-comfort level) and a Vostok KGB Agent Automatic (I figure if you are going to buy a cheap watch, you might as well get something novel and different). What I would have bought if I was sensible and patient is an Eco-Drive WR100 with titanium bracelet (they really are a great concept and Citizen have some very nice looking watches) and an ultra-cheap throwaway Casio or Timex quartz (although the Vostok's are kind of cool and Im told are quite reliable). The atomic watches sound fantastic but I am unable to use them where I live. Probably would have looked much further into them otherwise.

If I was going to buy an ultra-expensive watch, there are a lot of good choices above. I'd probably buy an IWC or a (un-gadgety) Tag Heuer but there are many other terrific pieces of jewellery discussed above that hold value well according to some of the links people posted.

This has been very enlightening and anyone reading this post months later should not be swayed by my lack of patience or personal tastes. See above for a lot of great discussion and ideas.
posted by DirtyCreature at 1:06 PM on April 7, 2007

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