The search for a new watch can be extremely overwhelming. With a wide variety of brands, styles and features, beginner watch enthusiasts may not know where to start. You may have searched “Best watches Under $500 and saw brands like MVMT or Vincero… Yikes! That’s where this blog comes into play. We wanted to write a quick guide to help you in your search for your first truly high quality watch. We aren’t getting paid for recommending or linking any of our watches in this guide.
We could probably write an entire book discussing every detail and feature that makes up a watch. Luckily for you, we have identified a few general categories to familiarize yourself with.
Mainstream vs Microbrands:
Let’s start with mainstream. These are the brands that already have an established name such as Seiko, Tissot, Citizen, etc. These brands typically have a lot of credibility due to familiarity of the brand. Some say the downside to wearing a mainstream watch is that too many people have the same ones and there isn’t anything unique about them. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone should wear what they enjoy, regardless of how many others are sporting the same piece.
Microbrands, on the other hand, are usually made up of small teams and make only a few hundred watches per year. Microbrands typically are known to have great customer service because the owners themselves are the ones communicating with customers directly. It should be noted that there is more risk involved when buying from a microbrand because new companies could potentially go out of business, and then they can no longer provide service to their customers. Some of this risk can be eliminated by reading through forums to see which brands are well-established and will likely be around long-term! It’s always cool to support an artisan following their passion in designing special watches.
The three main types of movements can be classified as quartz, manual, and automatic.
- A quartz movement is battery-powered and the second hand “ticks”. They’re usually more affordable but the battery has to be changed about every two years. One upside is that they are by far the most accurate of the three movement types.
- The second type of movement is “manually wound”. Some people love manually wound movements because they require the wearer to slow down and appreciate the simple things for a moment each day. They’re often beautifully decorated and the second hand sweeps, unlike on a quartz watch.
- The third and final option is the “automatic” movement. Similar to the manually wound movement, an automatic second hand sweeps. The main difference is that they are powered by a rotor that spins with movement of the wrist. So, as long as you wear it, it’ll run! Most luxury brands focus on automatic movements. However, there are many great affordable automatic watches to be bought too!
Let’s start by categorizing wrists into three sizes: small, medium, and large. Wrists under about 6.5 inches are small, 6.75 to 7.25 inches is considered medium, and wrists above 7.5 inches are large.
- For small wrists, we recommend watches 40mm or less. 36-38mm is ideal. Vintage watches around 34mm also look amazing on small wrists. A watch like this Hamilton would be a great choice if you want a more classic style!
- Medium wrists get the best of both worlds. They can wear smaller watches and still look fine. They can sport bigger watches (42mm+) which works as well. Forty millimeters is typically the sweet spot for medium wrists. Our favorite 40mm choice is the Nodus Duality. It’s currently sold out, but sign up for their newsletter to be notified when they have more in stock. The value is unmatched and Nodus is a prime example of microbrands providing excellent customer care. Wes, one of their founders, is the Michael Jordan of microbrands.
- Finally, the big boys. If your wrist is above 7.5 inches and even into the 8-inch territory, you can still pull off a 38mm watch. However, our observation is that most people with large wrists prefer watches that are 42mm+ and sometimes 44 or 46mm. If you’re looking for a big watch and even bigger value, you won’t likely beat the Seiko Samurai. It’s big (44mm) and feels hefty. It’s got some serious weight to it. Swap out the bracelet for a nice chunky leather strap and you’ll be in heaven.
A few other things to consider:
Customer service: The advantage, in many cases, goes to microbrands. Since they’re only sending out 200-300 watches per year, they can give a more personal level of attention to each client and will go out of their way to keep everyone happy. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In some instances, running a microbrand can overwhelm the brand owner and they become unresponsive.
Japanese vs. Swiss Movements: Both get the job done, but Swiss movements are usually more beautifully decorated. Do you value the aesthetic of the movement? If not, get a Seiko or Citizen and call it a day. You’ll be happy with it and it’ll last forever. If you want a watch with a well-finished movement (perlage, Cote de Geneve), then you may want to consider investing in a Swiss watch. They’re usually more expensive than Japanese, but there are many under $500.
Water ratings: Water rating is often misinterpreted. If a watch is rated to 30 meters, many people think “Oh okay cool, I can wear it wherever”. In reality, a 30mm WR means you probably shouldn’t even shower in it. One hundred meters of resistance is the minimum we would recommend for someone who wants to wear their watch under water for activities such as casual swimming. Two hundred meters is the standard for “dive watches” and are a safe bet.
Aesthetic: At the end of the day, watches are eye candy and you should buy what you enjoy looking at. You can read every opinion on the internet about why the Seiko 5 is the greatest value in the watch market, but if you don’t like the way they look, you aren’t going to be happy with one. If you love a MVMT and would smile when wearing it, go ahead and buy one. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a definitive right or wrong choice. What you wear on your wrist should be an expression of yourself.
Value: Back in high school, my father bought my grandfather an old Waltham watch. After my grandfather passed away, my father held onto it as a keepsake. After about 20 years, it was beginning to age and needed to be overhauled. Although we knew the cost of the repairs would greatly outweigh the value of the watch, my siblings and I decided to get it fixed anyways. We went through with it because it possesses sentimental value to my father. What does this story have to do with anything? Simply put, before beginning the search for a timepiece, be sure to come up with your own definition of value. If you’re looking to splash the cash on a more expensive watch because you like the prestige it carries, do it. If you want to buy a smartwatch because of the technical capabilities it offers, do it. If you want a calculator watch because you thought they were cool when you were a kid, then buy one. Wear whatever holds the most value to you.
Still unsure where to start? No worries! Below is a list of a few brands that we recommend to get you started on your search.