5 Ways to Identify a High Quality Watch
When it comes to choosing watches, there are so many options to choose from. Often, people end up paying for the brand name and not the inherent value of the watch.
The quality of components and craftsmanship makes the huge difference between a "throwaway" fashion watch that falls apart after a few months, and a solidly-built watch that looks and works great for years, if not decades.
Here are 5 tips on what to look for when buying a watch.
Linjer The Automatic, Rose Gold/Mocha
Tip #1: A high price does not mean "high quality"
The retail price of watch is determined by a number of factors, including:
- The cost to make the watch (i.e. materials, labour, the factory's margin)
- The number of middlemen between the brand and the consumer (i.e. distributers, retailers' markup)
- Brand positioning (is it mass market, mid-range or luxury?)
Ultimately the final retail price of the watch is often completely disconnected from the cost of making the watch.
Many fashion watches selling at a $200-$250 price range cost less than $12-$15 to produce. They are made with poor quality materials and have high markup.
However, at the same price point, you can get a high quality watch with luxury standard components that are made to last.
Tip #2: Check the Crystal
The crystal is the transparent covering over the watch face. Most watches produced nowadays have a crystal made of mineral or sapphire.
Mineral crystals are very cheap to make and are used mainly in lower-end watches. It scratches easily, so if you swipe your watch against a wall or drop it, you will likely get an unsightly permanent scratch on the glass.
Scratched mineral crystal on a watch.
Sapphire crystals are more expensive to make. It is scratch resistant, highly durable and as close as indestructible as you can find (it ranks 9 out of 10 in the Mohs scale of mineral hardness). You can literally take a knife to the glass and it won't leave a mark.
Sapphire crystals are the gold standard today and luxury brands almost exclusively use them.
Linjer The Classic, Gunmetal/Black with domed sapphire crystal and anti-reflective coating. Source: The Modest Man
If you want a watch that will look great for years, you should absolutely choose a watch with a sapphire crystal over one with a mineral crystal.
Tip #3: Check the Movement
The movement is the engine of the watch that keeps it ticking and powers the watch's functions (such as calendar, chronograph etc.).
In a quartz movement, the battery provides electric power which causes the piezoelectric quartz crystal to oscillate at a precise frequency of 32,768 times per second.
This is what a quartz movement looks like:
When choosing a watch, the Japanese Miyota is considered reliable and highly accurate (much better than unbranded Chinese movements). It's also one of the most widely used quartz movements in the world.
The renowned Swiss Ronda series 5 movement - which powers Linjer's quartz line, is a high-end quartz movement. It features a date complication, which has a clean, simple calendar window letting you keep track of the date. The date function is surprisingly one of the few useful basic features that many fashion watches lack.
Below is what an automatic movement looks like. Automatic watches often have a glass on the back so you can see the movement at work.
The back of a Linjer Automatic watch, which has an ETA 2824-2 movement. Source: The Modest Man
Movements are not made equal. A good movement will keep time reliably; a badly made one will not. This is known as “losing time”, where a watch with a bad movement has tick speeds that are inconsistent. A bad watch can lose minutes a day.
Swiss, Japanese and German movement makers have the best reputations whether it’s for automatic or quartz movements. They lead the industry in innovation. Some of the most well-known Swiss movement makers are Ronda (particularly for quartz movements), ETA and Sellita. (Linjer watches use Ronda and ETA movements.) In Japan you have Seiko, Miyota and Citizen, etc. There's also a number of independent movement makers, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.
However, as with any "Made in" designation, it's impossible to say, "all movements from [country] are good". Any country has good suppliers, not-so-good suppliers, and downright bad suppliers. Best is to ask who the manufacturer is for the particular model and do some searching for yourself online.
Tip #4: Check the leather
If the watch comes with a leather band, check how the leather is described.
"Full grain" is the highest quality of leather — it means that the leather retains its top layer, the most durable part of the hide. Only the highest quality of hides can be used for full grain leather.
A step down in quality is "top grain", which uses slightly lower-quality hides with more imperfections and defects; the top layer is removed so it's somewhat less durable. Depending on how much of the top layer has been removed, top grain leather can range in quality level.
Avoid "genuine leather". It sounds like an innocent term that verifies that it's real leather (vs fake leather) — but it's actually an industry term used for the layers of the hide that remain after the top part is split off for higher grade leather. The fibres here are very loose, making for a not-so-strong leather that will hold its shape poorly.
Full grain leather ages nicely and is the most durable. It's unlikely to rip or disintegrate in the same way that lower quality straps will.
Most leather bands are made of top grain and genuine leather. If you're paying a pretty penny for a watch, it would be worthwhile to check what quality of leather you are paying for.
Tip #5: Check the Small Details
The devil is in the details! Examine the watch carefully for others signs of cut corners in materials and workmanship.
Here are a few details that betray a watch that hasn't been made with high quality standards:
- Plastic spacers between the glass and the dial
- Uneven brushing (if the watch has a brushed finish)
- Unexpectedly light in weight (it could mean that they've skimped on materials)