Talk to some people about their luxury watch, and suddenly they become a horological expert. These are the men and women who have invested a great deal of time and energy learning about the world of luxury timepieces. It makes sense: if you love cars, you learn about cars. If you love watches, you learn about watches. But everyone must begin somewhere. If you’re new to the luxury watch world, have no fear, we’re here to offer you 10 tips on what to look for when shopping for your first watch.
1 – SOLID METAL CONSTRUCTION
With any luxury watch, the case should be made from solid metal. The fewest number of pieces, using the most metal possible, should be used in the construction of the watch. Steel watches need to be at least a grade 316L stainless steel, but high-end timepieces will always be a better quality metal. May luxury brands produce their own proprietary alloys. Rolex, for example, patented Rolesium in1932. Rolesium is a combination of 904L stainless steel superalloy and 950 platinum.
2 – SAPPHIRE CRYSTAL
The watch crystal is the transparent cover over the face of the timepiece. Luxury brands use sapphire crystal. Less expensive watch brands use mineral glass. Although mineral glass is difficult to shatter, it can crack. Sapphire crystal, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to crack and will only shatter on hard impact. But the better the watch, the thicker the sapphire crystal will be. Sapphire crystal is beautiful and durable, which is why old watches may have a scratched case, but the crystal is in perfect condition.
3 – SIGNED CROWN AND BUCKLE
With luxury watches, you will often find the name of the watchmaker in four places: the face, the back of the case, on the crown, and on the deployment clasp or buckle. How the watch is “signed” will vary depending on price point. Luxury watches typically have logos or graphics done in relief. This means the logo is raised rather than being etched into the metal by way of laser engraving. Names, logos, and graphic on crowns and deployments mean those small parts are made by the brand. It’s a sign of quality.
4- ANTI-REFLECTIVE COATING
Anti-reflective (AR) coating is applied to the watch crystal to prevent glare. If you were to compare a luxury watch to a less expensive watch in the light, you’ll find the less expensive watch difficult to read. This is why, like eyeglasses, an anti-reflective coating is key. The AR coating can be applied to the front or the back of the crystal, but a high-end timepiece will have a double AR coating. This means the coating is applied to both sides of the crystal.
5 – MECHANICAL MOVEMENT
Watches operate with either quartz or mechanical movement. Luxury watches utilize mechanical movement. This is not to say quartz movement is bad; Brietling thermocline quartz movement is accurate to 5 seconds per year. But mechanical movement is the classic way watches are made. Mechanical movement does not require a battery. The better the watch, the better the mechanical movement—meaning the watch maker designed and constructed the movement in-house. Many luxury watch brands have the Seal of Geneva applied directly on the movements, indicating quality and origin.
6 – CHRONOMETER CERTIFICATION
Not all luxury watches will have a chronometer certification, but you should know what it means if you are entering the world of high-end timepieces. Chronometer certification is a process in which the watch movement is sent to the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) to be tested over a period of days. This is a test of the movement design. For a watch to be chronometer certified by the COSC, the movement must not lose more than 4 seconds or gain more than 6 seconds over a 24-hour period.
7 – LIMITED PRODUCTION
Considering the amount of man hours that go into constructing a luxury watch, it’s no wonder there is a limit on the production. Sometimes, the production limit is manufactured to create a waitlist (which creates exclusivity). But limited production increases the value of the watch. Ask how many of a particular model has been made before you purchase a high-end timepiece. At this price point, you want a watch you know is crafted by hand (and one you won’t see on everyone’s wrist).
8 – COMPLICATIONS
Complication is a term used to describe a watch’s complex mechanical movement. It’s about more than telling time; it’s about telling time in a sophisticated manner. Luxury watches tend to have more complications (this is a good thing). Common examples of complications are multiple time zones, perpetual calendars, moon phases, rattrapante (split second) chronographs, and sonneries (bells). But don’t purchase a watch for the complications. Purchase one that has the complications you will use and appreciate.
9 – BRAND PEDIGREE
If you are a watch novice, chances are there are watchmakers out there you have never heard of. Rolex and Patek Philippe are incredible watchmakers. They are also household names. When shopping for your first luxury watch, do your research. Just because you have not heard of the brand, doesn’t mean it isn’t a reputable watchmaker. Vacheron Constantin is the oldest continuously operating watchmaker in the world. As a novice, you may have never heard of them, or Ulysse Nardin, for example. But those in the luxury watch world are very familiar with these names. Don’t buy the Rolex because it’s the only luxury brand you’ve heard of. Find one that speaks to your aesthetic.
10 – VALUE RETENTION
Some brands will hold or increase their value over time. Rolex is a great example. Not only does the watchmaker limit production to make certain models more desirable and collectable (like the Daytona), but, again, Rolex is a household name. It is difficult to determine whether a watch will increase in value over time, but if you follow the aforementioned tips, you’re sure to purchase a quality watch that may turn out to be a great investment down the road. And, as always, if you have any questions, DavidSWis here to help.