Hello everyone! I am not anywhere close to becoming a watch expert as you may already tell by the question but I am still curious about the ins and outs of watch buying. Particularly, I am interested in learning more about what makes a watch a quality watch? What features do you look for in a watch that makes it stand out and a good buy?
What do you guys look for in a watch?
Hey bud, this checklist you can take with you to the watch store to ensure you arrive home with a watch that is as close to perfect as possible. I'm assuming you're buying a new watch here but most of these tips will apply to used watches also.
Check the crystal under various lights at oblique angles to see if there are any scratches. If your eyesight is not the best, ask to borrow a loupe. Have a cleaning cloth handy to remove any lint or dust.
Are the sides of the cases free from scratches? This is the area most likely to have some issues as salespeople and customers are not always as careful as they should be. Many customers don't remove their own watch when trying on a new one either and their crown can easily scratch a new watch as they flail around the store admiring themselves in the mirrors.
Make sure you look at all sides of the case from various angles as a small dent or scratch may not show up easily.
Check the top and undersides of the lugs. If the strap/bracelet has been changed or adjusted, there may be minor scratches here.
Make sure the bezel, crown and pushers are free from any visible damage. If it's a chronograph with cap-style pushers, are they straight and true? There aren’t normally any issues with the straps or bracelets but if it's a leather strap, do the holes look worn? If metal, make sure it's not scratched either. For me, a few minor scratches on a bracelet are OK as it's going to get scratched pretty quickly once I start wearing it anyway.
Now for one we all skip. If the watch is lumed, are there any lume pieces missing? This happens rarely but it would be a shame to get home and find there's a pip missing or the lume wasn't applied on the hour hand.
For a standard three hander, the checks are pretty simple. If it's an auto, try winding it to make sure the winding mechanism isn't binding. If you can see the rotor, does it swing freely?
Does the second hand sweep smoothly? If it's a quartz watch, the second hand should stop precisely at each second marker. If it doesn't (and most don't) can you live with it? I know that behaviour bugs me.
Next, pull the crown out to the time setting position. Slowly move the hands around the dial and make sure that the date changes appropriately and that the date is centred in the date window. I've tried on a number of watches where the date mechanism was broken but no one ever noticed.
Ensure you are out of the date-setting period (between 21:00 and 03:00) and advance the date through all the days. This will ensure that multi-numeral dates (i.e. 28) are centred and visible in the date window and that none of the numerals are defective.
If you are really, really picky, you may want to note that when you set the watch so that all hands (including the seconds hand if it hacks), are at say the 12:00 hour marker, move precisely into their correct positions when the seconds hand makes a complete sweep. In other words, the minute hand moves exactly in line with the next minute marker and the hour hand points precisely to the hour marker when the minute hand reaches the 60 minute mark.
If the watch has a rotating bezel, rotate it through all the click positions and ensure the 12:00 pip is centred over the 12:00 on the dial. If it's a unidirectional bezel, make sure you can't turn it in the other direction. Check the bezel from a horizontal view. It should evenly lie on the same plane as the watch case.
There are way too many types of complications to walk you through all of the types of tests you should perform so I'll focus on a few of the common ones.
Chronograph functionality is something that should also be checked at the store. Make sure the chronograph isn't running. Are the chrono registers all at zero? Does the chrono seconds hand line up with 0/60 marker at the top of the dial? If not, you can try running the chrono and resetting it to see if that works. Otherwise, it's a trip to the service centre for that watch.
Run the chronograph for at least one minute. When the chrono seconds hand passes the 0/60 mark, does the minute sub register advance correctly? I don’t like chrono subdials that start advancing before the minute has passed. If that bugs you too, pass on a watch that does this.
Reset the chrono again to make sure that all hands correctly return to their zero positions. Sun and Moon complications are quite common. They should move in accordance with the position of the hands and should not show a sun when the date is changing!
The GMT hand should should line up precisely with one of the hour markers when both main hands are also lined up with an hour marker. When moving the main hour hands around the dial, the GMT hand should advance in proportion with the main time. Note, this behaviour will depend on the type of GMT function built into the movement.
If your watch has other complications such world time, day, month, etc. Ask the the salesperson to demonstrate that they are working correctly. On very expensive perpetual calendar mechanical watches, they won't be able to do this as the watch will already have been set by the factory or the watchmaker.
Below is a handy cheat sheet that you can bring with you to the watch store on your phone or tablet. I hope this helps ensure that your next watch purchase is a pleasant and trouble free experience. If you are still interested in learning more about watches I would definitely check out my watch guide where I go more in depth about watch buying and making sure you are getting a watch you want.
Crystal(s) free of scratches
Case free of scratches/dings/scrapes
Bezel is good
Lume is all there
Date changes OK
Bezel works fine
Chronograph is all good
Other complications working fine
I would seek out what other watch experts are saying about the type of watch you are interested in. Amazon has a huge selection of watches in a big price range. You will definitely be able to find a watch on there. Also, usually each product page on amazon has a nice little 360 video that shows off each. This is probably the closest you can get to actually wearing the watch. Hope this helps!