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November 24, 2014


How to Buy a Watch, Part 2: The Right Watch for You

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Let us assume you have reflected on the styles of watch available, the brands on offer, the functions you desire, and that one special piece has caught your fancy.  It's easy to fall in love with a fine timepiece, but your friends at TimeScapeUSA are pleased to play escort and keep you from missteps owing to irrational exuberance.

Questions of price are outside the range of our inquiry.  Some buy watches as an investment, but this is an arena best left to experts where ignorance is especially costly.  The question of value is similarly fraught, though the wilds of the Internet are thick with opinion.  Our advice: purchase the watch that appeals to you, if you can afford it, after testing it against the following criteria.

Retail or Resale

eBay has made it simple to have one too many glasses of wine and wake up the next day with a used deLorean and a bad headache, but is it the place to buy your new watch?  Is it ever a good idea to purchase a pre-owned piece, or is brand-new your best bet?

The InternetThere are extraordinary deals to be had on-line, but the onus is on the consumer to do the proper research.  Legitimate Internet watch sellers of used product almost always have a pre-existing reputation and should make references available.  Be warned: the purchase of new watches from a dealer in cyberspace usually happens outside the guidelines of the brand in question, and it is often impossible to take advantage of the warranties offered on these gray market pieces.

Resale Watches - TimeScapeUSA specializes in consignment and other resale timepieces.  We have a vested interest in making the customer feel secure in his or her purchase, and we are fully qualified to evaluate and renew the pieces we acquire.  Legitimate resellers should offer at least a minimal warranty with the watch on offer, and be competent to demonstrate its full functionality.  While most resale transactions are at significant discount, bear in mind that this can be more than offset by the manufacturer warranty you won't have.  Look for watches with only one previous owner, and with vintage pieces of more complicated provenance, expect a relationship founded on regular monetary investment.

Questions to Ask the Retailer

Deciding to purchase from an established retailer confers distinct advantages.  A legitimate store or boutique will employ trained professionals to walk the enthusiast through the many features of the watches in stock.  Don't be satisfied with a salesperson whose knowledge of the product is limited to commission – when you buy the watch you're also buying the store.  Look for someone whose interest and enthusiasm for the product mirror your own.

In addition to selling you your chosen piece, the retailer is your first stop for basic technical information.  While not every store retains a Swiss-trained watchmaker on the premises like TimeScapeUSA, demand answers to a few basic questions.

How Does It Work?For a certain consumer of luxury goods, it will always be someone else's problem to understand how things function.  For the rest of us, expect to leave the store knowing exactly how your watch is to be operated.  If the retailer can't explain it, you are in the wrong place.

  • How do I wind it, and how often?
  • How do I set the time?
  • How do I set the calendar?
  • How do I activate the chronograph, read the sidereal time, predict the stock market, etc?

Ask the questions a child would ask, without embarrassment, sure in the knowledge that should the sales person snicker at your ignorance you will take your business elsewhere.

Service Interval - When you buy a new car, you know to get the oil changed some day, and your new watch will be no different.  Mechanical watches will periodically require refreshment with new lubricants and the replacement of worn parts, and even “maintenance free” quartz watches will are served by the occasional new cell or accumulator.  Ask your sales person about the typical service interval, and what service may cost.  If a sales professional claims your watch is “maintenance free,” rest assured their statement rests somewhere between an exaggeration and a bald-faced lie.  It is not unusual for even simple mechanical watches to require service costing 10-20% of the original retail price every five to seven years.

Service Conditions - Many prestige pieces require a special level of care.  Should your watch need service, can this be performed at the retailer, or must the watch be shipped to a more specialized facility?  Might this facility be in Europe?  As a rule, the farther a watch must journey from your wrist, the more costly it will be and the longer it will take.  Ask your retailer where service can be performed, and by whom.  Some brands like Seiko contain components that any certified watchmaker might procure and install, while others require the ministrations of certain fabled Swiss necromancers.  Beware, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Availability of Accessories - Are you the kind that prefers a special strap to match your bespoke jacket?  Make inquiries of the salesperson regarding the availability and cost of additional accessories suited to your timepiece – straps, bracelets, carrying cases, and winders to name just a few.  Particularly well-equipped retailers like TimeScape will have these to hand.  If your zeal for customization doesn't stop with the watch exterior, be sure to ask about dials, hands, and bezels.  But take heed: modifications of this type usually negate manufacturer warranties, and in the case of a particularly jealous brand like Rolex, will disqualify your watch from ever receiving factory service.

Return Policy - A watch is a significant purchase, and should remorse drive all pleasure from the transaction, it's  helpful to know if the piece can be returned and at what cost to you.  And Dear Reader, should you drive home from the store with your fabulous new piece and immediately drop it upon your custom teak parquet, or into your toilet, please don't rush back to the store and mumble words to the effect that It just stopped I don't know what happened.

Getting Acquainted

Before you lay the money down, it's best to conduct a few experiments.  Allow a few words of advice from the people at TimeScapeUSA to maximize the chances of a happy union.

Fit - It isn't enough to have the strap or bracelet sized.  If you are able to survive the embarrassment, consider holding your hand above you head for a few moments to diminish the fluid in the extremity.  Similarly, vigorously snapping your arm down will cause your wrist to swell.  These two operation will provide you with a range of comfort.  In addition, evaluate the fit of the crown – is it large and abrasive against your wrist?  Do the lugs bump into the bones of your arm?  There is an astonishing variety of ways a watch can fit, or fail to. 

Dress - As you would in selecting a new pair of shoes, prepare for your purchase by dressing appropriately.  If you expect to wear the watch under a certain cuff, wear that shirt.  Especially in the case of thicker sport watches, this can be a real issue.  Don't be the idiot at the board meeting forever fiddling with his sleeve because his watch won't perch comfortably where it should.

Operation - On your wrist, is the watch actually usable?  Can the bezel be turned, can the chronograph pushers be activated?  Are you one of the rare unfortunates whose dominant left hand, bar sinister, makes the use of certain pieces almost impossible?  Better to observe this now, before purchase, than later when you've accidentally kneaded your Ulysse Nardin Perpetual into a loaf of bread or planted it with the tulip bulbs. 

The Happy Couple

So you've a purchased a new watch!  After showing it to all of your jealous acquaintances (or hiding it from you benighted spouse) there are two more small observations to be made, lest it break your heart.

Timing - Compare your new watch to a trusted reference clock, taking your reading at the same time every day over the course of at least a week.  A well-adjusted mechanical timepiece should, at most gain only a handful of seconds per day.  For vintage or antique pieces, some allowance must be made.  Quartz watches of any quality at all will remain accurate with a second every day of operation.  Significant deviation in the shape of large gains or losses in time will require regulation or repair.

Autonomy - In the case of an automatic watch, you should expect your watch to run the night through on the nightstand with no trouble – but this is an absolute minimum.  Most contemporary watches have a power reserve at full wind of no less than 40 hours.  Manual watches will of course require more attention, but after completely winding the piece, these guidelines still apply.  Anything less is cause for concern.


Craig Zaligson
Craig Zaligson


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