A watch has two kinds of value. First there’s the pounds and pence you spend and might, possibly, get back in the future. If this is what matters to you in a timepiece, then buy a Rolex or, if funds stretch, a Patek Philippe. Get it in steel, put it in a safe and in a few years you’ll almost certainly be able to part with it for more than you spent.
Emotional value, on the other hand, is harder to quantify. But it’s what really matters in a piece of machinery that is, let’s be honest, less accurate than your smartphone. Forget your head and let your heart guide you to either Swiss heritage or German ingenuity. To Japanese finesse or design that seems to question why we bother tracking time in the first place.
While value is hard to define, lack of it is not. If your timepiece has a four-figure price tag but a quartz movement, for example. “You can get a lot more watch for that money,” says Terry Markham, head of buying at WatchShop.com. Here, with Markham’s help, we break down what to look for at every price point. So you never have to settle for a dud on your wrist.
You’re not looking after it for the next generation. But advances in mechanisms and materials mean that what was once the realm of tacky designer brands is now rife with well-designed, well-made watches. Bar a jumping seconds hand (a sign a watch is powered by a quartz, rather than mechanical, movement) today these could pass for something with an extra ‘0’ on the receipt.
“At this price, it’s about feel,” says Markham. Weight is synonymous with quality; so pick metal over plastic and look at details like the finishing on the links. “They should feel solid, not tinny,” he adds. “The markers on the dial should also be crisp.” If you spot fuzzy edges or misaligned numerals, move on.
When you don’t have to weigh up technical terms like escapements and release valves – any quartz movement is likely to be reliable enough – you can afford to think superficially. “At this price point, you’re mainly judging on look,” says Markham. However, don’t let affordability tempt you towards picking a model that won’t fit your everyday style: a £100 watch becomes expensive if you never wear it.
FashionBeans Pick: Citizen Eco-Drive
The Japanese brand has the heritage and innovation to pack an enormous amount of watch – stainless steel case, genuine leather strap, water resistance, date functions, light-powered Eco-Drive movement – into a very affordable package.
Available at Watch Shop, priced £125.
Stepping up a price bracket presents a choice: you can find a handful of quartz pieces from some of Geneva’s most storied brands, but also some entry-level mechanical watches from names with less heritage. “Go for the automatic if possible,” says Markham. At this price, the margin you spend on the label eats into what you get from the watch. And anyway, there’s no romance in quartz.
Avoid complications at this price, instead focus on three-handers in steel, without the steel bracelet. That way, all the money goes on the watch, not what keeps it on your wrist. You can upgrade the band later, but you can’t swap in a new movement. Glass made from sapphire crystal, which is virtually scratchproof, is also a must.
Japanese brands punch well above their weight, but you can also start to get Swiss-made quality. Look for ETA movements (one of the most venerable manufacturers), which are reliable, accurate and, because they’re mass-produced and sold to a variety of brands, more affordable than those crafted by in-house watchmakers.
FashionBeans Pick: Tissot Le Locle
An automatic, from a Swiss brand with more than a century and a half of heritage, and enough change to buy an everyday quartz too.
Available at Tissot Watches, priced £395.
“Buy from established brands,” says Markham. Entry-level watches from Swiss luxury watchmakers, like Tag Heuer or Omega, will hold their value. Plus, since the brands are going nowhere, you’ll always be able to get spare parts and servicing, which isn’t necessarily the case with Kickstarter timepieces.
“If you care more about what’s under the bonnet than the name stamped on it, look for a chronometer-rated watch from a lesser-known brand,” says Markham. This certification means the movement has had its accuracy confirmed by the independent Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.
If you aren’t obsessed with Swiss, then looking further afield means you won’t pay Geneva prices. German brands like Junghans and Nomos craft in-house movements across the border, so you get all the quality for less.
FashionBeans Pick: Junghans Meister Chronometer
The German brand’s Bauhaus-inspired watch features a chronometer-rated movement and styling that looks as good now as it did in the 1930s.
Available at Jura Watches, priced £1,810.
You can buy a Rolex, now. And you probably should. “They hold their value and they’re beautifully made,” says Markham. A Rolex Oyster Perpetual will neither date nor lose you money and it boasts enough watchmaking expertise to satisfy even the snobbiest horologist.
Though precious metals appear at this price, steel holds its value much better as opposed to gold, which oscillates in and out of fashion, says Markham. This also means your outlay goes on what’s inside the case, rather than what it’s made of.
FashionBeans Pick: Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
As the name suggests, it’s based on the original 1969 Speedy that was strapped to Neil and Buzz.
Available at Goldsmiths, priced £3,440.
“This is where you fall in love,” says Markham. Iconic Rolexes, like the Paul Newman-favoured Daytona or James Bond’s erstwhile favourite, the Submariner, start to appear in gold and platinum. But those concerned more with what turns the hands, rather than people’s heads, should think more esoteric.
“Some of the best watches at this price come from Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Sohn and Jaeger-LeCoultre,” says Markham. Each has centuries of heritage, which they put to use testing the limits of mechanical watchmaking. Vacheron’s Quai de L’Ile Retrograde Annual Calendar tracks the day, date and month as well as telling precisely what the moon looks like that night. Not necessarily useful, but an extraordinary expression of the watchmaker’s art.
FashionBeans Pick: Rolex Yacht-Master 40
The apparently rose gold case is actually made from a special, patented compound called Everose. The rubber bracelet is actually a bespoke polymer, with titanium inserts to give it strength and shape. In other words, it’s a Rolex.
Available at Rolex, £POA.