How to survive your maiden voyage into the world of high-end timepieces. It’s going to get choppy out there!
Here’s the thing about the watch buying process: you’re going to get lost. There’s going to be a moment when you haven’t a clue what you’re looking at or where to even buy your first luxury watch from. And it can be stressful, especially when we’re talking about big sums of money.
You’re entering a world of Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer, Breitling, Tudor and thousands of other brands. You need a map. This is your map, with the big questions I wish I’d asked and the answers I’ve figured out along the way.
Do I need a luxury watch?
Well, no. But “need” is a dangerous word. If you use it too much, it’ll stop you enjoying yourself. Let’s not use that word here again. Okay?
You want a luxury watch. The reasons for that are almost as diverse as the watches you can buy. A memento of a big birthday or milestone, a great way to use an inheritance to honour a loved one, a vulgar display of buying power, or a strange compulsion that takes over your life.
From divers to dress watches – what do I need to know?
Before we get into the hot, sexy world of luxury brands, we need to talk about some of the different watch types. Depending what your watch is for, it’ll look different and do different things to other watches. It confused me, so maybe I can help you (this isn’t exhaustive, just a guide to the main types):
The GADA (go-anywhere-do-anything):
The name gives it away. This is your one and one watch. It fits you in almost any situation: lounging around the house, at a barbeque in jeans and t-shirt, on the beach for a quick jump in the sea, or slipping under your shirt cuff at a wedding reception. They’ll be elegant yet tough watches on a steel bracelet, with enough water resistance for anything that might happen.
Examples: Rolex Explorer, Omega Aqua Terra, Seiko 5 Sports, Tag Heuer Carerra
Shockingly, this is for those times you want to go scuba diving or, in most cases, get a little too close to the washing basin. These watches are defined by their ability to handle serious water-pressure on a dive, typically making them thicker piece, more suited for casual/sports wear. Unless you’re James Bond and can make it look good on a tuxedo. Usually found on steel bracelet or rubber straps.
Examples: the most famous watch ever, the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster 300, Tudor Black Bay 58 and the Pelagos, Longines Legend Diver
A sexier name for a watch which has a stopwatch built into the movement. These are the watches with little sub-dials on the face, and pushers on the edges of the case. You can use the sub-dials to time the seconds, minutes and hours without interfering with the watch keeping track of time. Chronos tends to be strap monsters, looking good on steel bracelets, leather straps, nato straps or rubber straps.
Examples: Omega Speedmaster (the one that went to the moon), Tag Heuer Monaco, Rolex Daytona
Dress watch: when you want to look your fanciest, you choose a dress watch. These are slim, simple, elegant watches, usually found on a leather strap. They slip under a dress shirt cuff and look brilliant with that more formal look. They aren’t designed for sporty activity, so keep them away from water and angry children.
Examples: JLC Reverso, Omega DeVille, Longines Flagship Heritage
How do I find my first watch?
- Set yourself a budget
- Try on every watch within that budget
- Don’t dismiss anything until you’ve tried it on once
- Don’t buy anything until you’ve tried it on
Story time! I started my watch hunt during a cold November by visiting the Omega boutique and Goldsmiths (a Tudor/Tag dealer). I wanted a simple, classy GADA watch, and was initially interested in the Omega DeVille or Aqua Terra, even though they were hugely over-budget.
It looked like the Aqua Terra was going to win until I randomly decided to try on the Tudor Black Bay 58. I had dismissed it out of hand for aesthetic reasons, but for some reason that day I changed my mind.
It was love as soon as it hit my wrist. The case, the black dial with gilt tones, the snowflake hands (that I’d disliked)… it all just worked.
So go in open minded and get ready for the on-wrist experience…
The on-wrist experience?
This is the watch shopping equivalent of flirting at a singles bar. You walk in the dealer. You ask to try on a few watches (maybe ask for a wild card or two), they seat you and bring the pieces over on a nice tray. And then the hardcore stuff begins.
If your watch is on a strap, this is dead easy. Just adjust to fit and see how it sits.
If it’s a bracelet, you need to learn to pinch the bracelet in to get a closer fit. And then you need to imagine what it’ll be like when it isn’t under bright, dazzling lights.
The dealer will try to convert you into a buyer if they see you respond to something. I’m all for an impulsive purchase, but not when it’s this expensive and the risk of disappointment is so high.
Don’t listen to their interest free offers or free watch winders or take the free alcohol. It’s all designed to get you to buy there and then and, unless you’re a grizzled veteran of watch testing already, you will regret it.
Getting the watch on wrist is when you’ll know if you love it. For example, I don’t like watches made from titanium. They look great and are insanely tough, but they’re too light for me.
And, as I shared earlier, if I’d been tempted by the sales chat, I’d have bought the Aqua Terra and regretted it (although, the 2022 Aqua Terra with sandstone dial is a hot favourite to be my next purchase).
Do I want a bracelet or a strap?
As a rough guide, bracelets will look more sporty, while leather straps will look more dressy. You can also get rubber straps which do a good job of covering both looks, and NATO straps, which are tough-woven fabric.
Whichever you prefer, consider buying your watch with the bracelet, because buying it later will cost a lot more if you change your mind.
Are there any watches or brands I should consider when I’m getting started?
Your budget will determine some of this, but I would personally look at the following:
Tudor… is owned by Rolex, so you’re getting a lot of the same heritage and you can actually buy the watches (mostly). They are, in my opinion, the best mix of brand, build and design you can get in the price segment.
Recommended watch: the Black Bay 58. This dive watch looks and wears beautifully, works flawlessly, and it will hold its value if you want to sell or trade it down the line. They’re the best value out there, pound for pound, in my eyes. And it was my first high-end watch, so I’m biased.
Omega… is iconic in its own right, with classic designs like the Speedmaster, as well as some of the best technology in any watch right now (with a higher price though). They’re incredibly accurate, with great designs, and a variety of looks to help you find the watch that’s best for you.
Recommended watch: The Speedmaster Professional is the modern day take on the legendary first watch on the moon. It’s a chronograph with a manual-wind movement (you need to wind it, basically) and one of the best bracelets out there.
Tag Heuer… is one of those great entry-level luxury brands with a deep history and a variety of models that cover all the bases. They’re stylish, well-made and really easy to get your hands on wherever you live.
Recommended watch: the Carerra 39mm is a beautiful, versatile GADA watch that gets the right mix of size and build quality, plus it looks great on its steel bracelet and on a strap.
I’m ready to buy my watch, where do I buy it from?
You should really buy your first high-end watch from an authorised dealer (AD), a jeweller who is chosen by a brand to represent their watches.
Going through an AD means you get the manufacturer’s warranty, direct support if you need it, and you’re building a relationship if you want other watches in future. Also, they’ll be experts in watches, so can help you find the one for you.
I’ve seen some amazing deals online, should I go for them?
You can save some money online, especially if you’ve tried the watch on and know that’s the one for you. I’d still recommend buying through an AD’s website to get the warranty and customer care.
You can sometimes find grey market dealers, who offer lower prices with the same guarantee as an AD. They’re buying stock at a discount from ADs and then passing on some of the savings to consumers. They’ll go direct through the AD if you have any warranty issues.
It’s totally legal and might be worth considering if you can visit the dealer in person.
No, I meant on eBay. And I’ve heard about Chrono24 too…
Both eBay and Chrono24 are good places to find second-hand (and often new) watches, but they are not a good place to buy your first luxury timepiece.
While they’ve made huge improvements for buyer safety, you’re still buying goods on the back of a few photos and no real guarantee they’ll be what you expect. Save these sites for when you’re further on your watch journey.
Perfect. I’m buying my first watch. What’s next?
Probably a new hobby that absorbs all your money and leaves your friends and family baffled at why you’re so obsessed. Enjoy!