5 Signs of a Quality Watch

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 23, 2009 · 142 comments

in Accessories, Dress & Grooming

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Xiaoli Li. Mr. Li is a contributing editor at DefinitiveTouch.com and TheShoeBuff.com. Extensively experienced in writing for broadcast and print, Xiaoli is a graduate of the University of Toronto, with majors in Drama and English.

My father and I never had a great relationship. He was gone a lot for work, for extended family, for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter. Conversations were distant and typically stilted. He hoped I would follow him into finance, so when I went for a Humanities degree, the gap between only us grew larger.

It was my Junior year at University, just before classes started, and it was unseasonably warm for September. Mom was back in the old country, and dad and I were coming home from dinner. He pulled the car into the Hart House parking lot. Putting the car into neutral, he told me there was something for me in the glove compartment. He said something about the distance between us and about about me growing up and how I was expected to take responsibility now as a man.

I reached inside the glove compartment and picked up a cold, hefty piece of metal. It was my late grandfather’s Rolex Speed King.

The Wristwatch

If you want to be academic about it, the watch is something of an engineering marvel. Watches have hundreds of minuscule parts, meticulously assembled by artisans who can trace their craft back to the watchmakers under Elizabeth, Peter, and Napoleon. Before the Great War, these artisans were focused on making pocket watches, a true gentleman’s accessory. But during the First World War, soldiers found that the small, easy to maintain wristwatches were an asset in the wet trenches. When the war ended, young well-dressed men wanted to emulate the gallant heroes of the war, and wristwatches became a must-have.

Today, however, watches are often neglected, and with the proliferation of cell phones, considered  an outdated novelty to some.  But a good watch is so much more than a timepiece – it’s an accessory for all occasions, it’s a status symbol, it’s an investment, and if you choose to pass yours on, it’s a legacy. For those of you who want to take their timepieces a bit more seriously, here are five sure signs of a quality watch.

Sign One: Weight

‘Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable. If it doesn’t work, you can always hit him with it.’ Guy Ritchie may have been talking about guns when he wrote that, but weight is a sign of reliability for watches, too. The truth is that a quality watch should feel like a quality watch. The components and pieces that make up a watch are extremely complex and take up a good deal of space and weight. When you put it on, it should feel like a real watch, and not a toy. We’re looking for something with a bit of heft behind it, so when you pass your watch down, your grandson won’t be asking where the rest of it is.

Sign Two: The Movement (The Sweep)

You’ve probably heard people go on and on about the “sweep” or talk about how top quality watches don’t make that tell-tale “tick-tock.” For all intents and purposes, these people are right. When you pick up a Cartier or Chopard, the tiny hand measuring the passage of seconds glides effortlessly, like a toothless hockey player. In actuality, all wristwatches tick-tock. However, in a true quality watch, the internal mechanism (the movement) is so finely tuned and so well constructed, that these ticks happen as often as nine times a second, producing a flawless sweep. This is the difference between a five-dollar movement and a movement costing hundreds of dollars.

Sign Three: The Name & The Tradition

As crass as it is, a watch with a name will go a lot father than a watch without one. Tradition, legends, and reputation go a long way to turning a regular watch into an extraordinary watch. For example, during the second World War, captured British officers had their wristwatches confiscated. When Rolex founder Hans Wildorf discovered this, he offered watches to Allied prisoners on an order-now, pay-when-you-win-the-war basis. Over 3,000 watches were shipped under this program, and Rolex’s reputation soared. A watch is something whose legend should outlive you, and it’s seriously unlikely that anybody at your funeral will be fighting over who gets your Casio.

Sign Four: Swiss Branding

Counterfeiting, globalization, and marketing have done their part to confuse and overwhelm the consumer, but the Swiss government has gone to great lengths to ensure that only watches meeting their stringent standards are branded as Swiss made. Legally, only clocks and watches whose movements are assembled, cased and inspected in Switzerland are allowed to carry the ‘Swiss Made’ branding. Those made using Swiss movements and assembled elsewhere carry the words ‘Swiss Movement’. While companies outside of Switzerland may carry strong watchmaking traditions of their own, the surest sign of quality and reliability are two simple words: ‘Swiss Made.’

Sign Five: Accuracy

As obvious as it is, a watch should be able to keep time reasonably well. While watches running on a quartz movement are kept accurate through the oscillation of a carefully cut quartz crystal, the less accurate mechanical watch is still the standard for luxury. These watches run on the precise movements of a complex series of gears and springs. Kept running through either the movement of a self-winding pendulum or a manually-wound mainspring, these watches inevitably lose seconds a day. The most precise watches in the world undergo rigorous testing, and are called chronometers. Swiss-made watches are tested by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute, and are accurate to within ten seconds daily. Certifications such as these can mean the difference between a watch that stands the rigors of time, and watches that your grandchildren will need to have serviced weekly.


The sad reality is that a lot of these signs can be, and are faked. While legal precautions are in place to prevent people from forging watches and brands – quite frankly – the counterfeiter doesn’t care. The Malaysian gangster etching the words ‘SWISS MADE’ onto the face of a fake Rolex isn’t particularly scared of whatever legal precautions the EU has taken. It’s on you then, to be careful.

Buy only from reputable dealers, and get a trained watchmaker to inspect anything you have your doubts on. There are some men out there who don’t mind wearing a fake, if it’ll save them a few thousand dollars. But as someone who has compared the two, let me assure you that once the two are side by side, the difference is like night and day. The hands glide effortlessly across the face, the detailing is subtler and more refined, and the watch just feels right.

Have any tips on picking a quality watch? What sort of watch do you wear? Tell us in the comments!

{ 141 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Andrew February 21, 2010 at 5:10 am

I have a Victorinox Swiss Army watch that my Aunt gave me for my birthday one year. That was years ago and now that I am older I have appreciated the nice watch. I new it was good, Victorinox always is, but reading this gave me a new appreciation as I took it off, flipped it over and saw “Swiss Made” on the back.

102 Doug February 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

a site called westcoastime.com. carries watches made by a Swiss firm called Ollech&Wajs. They were noted for making military watches back during the Vietnam war. They have high quality Valjoux mechanical movements. One of their watches has the same movement as a Tudor Submariner for a lot less money. They also carry Marathon and other miltary watches both new and vintage. They have one called an Ocean Master with a mechanical wind movement which is a good looking watch. Give their site a look.

103 Jeremy March 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

My wife gave me a Doxa several years back and I have to agree that there’s nothing like a hefty Swiss watch. I SCUBA dive and so the watch is not only a handsome accessory but a functional tool that should last forever.

104 Rob March 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I bought a used Movado on Ebay in 2003 for $67.50. It has had a crystal replaced. I have changed the batteries three times. It keeps perfect time, has no numbers, and is thin, gold and very manly looking. Black face with a gold dot at the top.

I have had 5 people notice it in 7 years. A true gentleman’s watch. I have met 2 other people with Movados.

There is great value in a good looking watch that is a prestige brand that keeps perfect time. I just love it. My most prized possession.

After reading this article, I held it to my ear for the first time to see if I could hear a tick… and it does! Once a second. Very very quietly. It’s quartz.

105 Hyla March 4, 2010 at 11:48 am

As a magazine editor who has covered the Swiss watch industry for nearly 20 years, I enjoyed Mr. Li’s post. I also have a web site, http://www.thewristwatcher.us if you’d like to read more about fine watches for men and women.
I do agree wholeheartedly that the experience of wearing and owning a fine watch is life-enhancing. I’m often surprised when I meet a man who spends $2000 on an Armani suit, for example, but who’s wearing a $50 watch. You wear your watch every day, which is not true of your suit. Over time, the cost per wearing is low. And with a high quality watch (yes, almost all of the best are made in Switzerland!), like a Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet, the resale value is very high.
A few specific comments:
1. Weight: A watch does not have to be heavy to work well. In fact, watchmakers often strive to make their movements thinner. Piaget this year introduced the world’s thinnest automatic movement at just 2.35mm thick.
2. Although mechanical watches are preferred by most collectors, quartz watches run by battery power are made by most of the top Swiss brands.
3. I agree that the history of the brand makes your purchase more reliable if you’re going to buy an investment watch.
4. Most of the best watches brands are Swiss, but not all.
5. Again, most of the watches made today, quartz or mechanical, are reliable in terms of accuracy. Your watch may lose 10 or fewer seconds a day, which is only a bit more than a minute over a period of a week.
Please check out my web site, thewristwatcher.us, for more information about watches.

106 Nat March 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Timex Ironman; it’s the only watch that has lasted more than a year on me. I’ve had it for more than ten, changed the battery twice, polished the lens four or five times. Style be damned. I need function and durability.

107 Nick Sevilla March 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Rolex all steel oyster perpetual datejust. Classic, plus my dad wore one for 45 years and it never stopped.

Omega speedmaster reduced (it goes 300ft under water, as opposed to the Moon version, which is not waterproof). Mechanical, so needs winding, but very accurate, more so than the Rolex.

108 ice April 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Love their watches
Bulova was founded and incorporated as the J. Bulova Company in 1875 by Joseph Bulova (1851-1936), an immigrant from Bohemia. It was reincorporated under the name Bulova Watch Company in 1923, and became part of the Loews Corporation in 1979.
Bulova established its operations in Woodside, New York and Flushing, New York, where it made innovations in watchmaking, and developed a number of watchmaking tools. Its horological innovations included the Accutron watch which used resonating tuning forks as a means of regulating the time keeping function.
In the 1960s, the company was involved in a notable space age rivalry with Omega Watches to be selected as the ‘first watch on the moon’.

109 Whuffo April 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm

An interesting article and discussion – but I suspect the whole point of a “luxurious wristwatch” has been missed.
Keeping accurate time is a must – and the watch must be attractive and well made. But picking a watch because of it’s expensive brand name to impress others (or yourself) is foolish.
Spring-driven mechanical watches are inaccurate by their very nature. The highest expressions of this form can perform well (with regular service). The electronic watches (Quartz) are capable of great accuracy but require regular battery replacement and tend to look like something that came out of a gumball machine.
What I finally chose for myself as a “keeper” is a Citizen Eco-Drive watch. Mine is very thin and light and looks great (they make many styles, not all are good). What made this the best choice is that because it’s an electronic watch it keeps excellent time. And since it charges its internal battery using light (the face of the watch is a cunningly disguised solar cell) there’s no need to replace watch batteries.
Being able to pick up a very nice looking watch and put it on – knowing that it’s showing the correct time and will continue to do so for years and years – that’s real luxury.
I know that to the unrefined who look at it – it appears to be nothing but another common Citizen watch. Thieves aren’t very interested either. But who are you buying a watch for, anyway? Eco-Drive watches aren’t cheap like Timex, but they’re within the reach of mere mortals. Highly recommended.

110 Bryan April 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

A watch inherited from one’s father, in my humble opinion, can always be considered a quality watch.

111 Christian April 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I have a “Swiss Made” Battalion III Wenger and an Invicta GMT. I also have along a “Japan Mov’t” Invicta…they weigh a ton, and stand up to a great deal considering I am hard on my watches.

112 John MM May 11, 2010 at 9:25 pm

RGM Watch is in Lancaster PA, and makes their own movements. the have a very good web site. As soon as I accumulate enough spare cash I’m getting one. RGM also does repairs.


113 Chris May 29, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Great article though I don’t agree 100% with number 4. I’ve never been a fan of Rolex; it’s always been a symbol of douchedom to me (most of the people I’ve known that where Rolex are all flash and no substance), but they’re only one of many Swiss watch makers. The first real watch I ever bought my self was from JS Watch company http://www.jswatch.com/ in Iceland. I bought there model 1919 a few years ago when their currency bottomed out. The quality of the watch is that of any “Swiss Made” watch and is a constant companion. I’ve since purchased a Tag and Omega, but find the 1919 goes with more because of its simple elegance.

114 Daniel June 17, 2010 at 1:10 pm

At the moment i’m wearing a really nice clean Hugo Boss watch with leather strap. Looks really classy and certanly adds to you looks :)

115 Rob July 10, 2010 at 1:08 am

It goes back to the old saying, if i have to explain it; you wouldnt understand. If you dont get what im saying then you are one of THOSE people. In the end its all about soul.

116 Joseph Beganis July 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm

For many years (13) I had a swiss army watch but sadly it was time to retire it.

My boss offered me this watch or 400 cash as a xmas bonus. I took the watch!


At this point I cant leave home without it -something is missing.
Reliable / Accurate and good to 200 m underwater this watch has been nicked and bumped and the crystal still looks new. Love it

117 Tryclyde August 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I received a beautiful Tag Heuer Aquaracer from my parents for my high school graduation. I’m now 32 and have no plans to ever buy another formal watch.

118 Marcus August 18, 2010 at 5:24 am

Quality is everything in the world of watches, but I disagree with sign four. The Swiss are not and haven’t always been the only makers of high quality timepieces. Several quality brands originated in Japan as well, such as Seiko, Orient and Citizen. The Russians weren’t slackers either in their development of quality movements (which is surprising considering their lack of adequate quality control in SO many other things). Vostok was and still is a notable manufacturer. Plenty of good timepieces originated in the US from companies like Waltham, Gruen, Elgin, and Timex. These aren’t the only four, but they’re good names to look up when searching for a good watch, especially something vintage. The Swiss have always had a great reputation for watch making, and several American based companies use Swiss manufactured movements in some of their watches. This wasn’t a move they made because the Swiss made better quality but more an effort towards recognition. WWII devastated the US watchmaking industry for most companies. During the war, their facilities were converted to make war material. The Swiss, being neutral during the war, didn’t have this problem and continued to make watches, flooding a US market that was now empty of US made timepieces. US companies had a hard time catching up following the war, and many went out of business. The Swiss were our go-to guys for quality timepieces for better than ten years, and Swiss became the standard for quality. I’m not saying the Swiss don’t make amazing timepieces, just that you shouldn’t forget to look closer to home when you’re looking for a good watch. All four of the companies I mentioned are still around, and making excellent stuff. Check them out!

119 al mieras December 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

i have always admired quality watches and have owned a omaga constallation and a tag heuer, however right now i wear a 18k rose gold suisse chronograph,the small dials are vertical, i bought it for nine dollars at a thrift store,what a score.

120 zac December 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

interesting read. ok well, as im sure you all know quartz watches are for telling the time and nothing else, so to speak, that is they are not a respectable piece of horological expertise.

Instead of buying junk, go onto ebay and wait for a Ulysse Nardin or Gerard Perregaux to turn up. Rolex=you are paying for the name now. Omega is a wonderful watch, but note that the speedmaster though superb has a claim to fame thing attached, as has the present seamaster.

Just my 2c oh and of course, watches prior to 1960 are better, things went downhill after that.

121 Adric December 27, 2012 at 4:23 am

I just bought a Baume & Mercier watch. It is very nice but I can feel the rotor turning when wearing on hand. Is it normal?

122 Alex Zajac January 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm

For $12.50 at Wal-Mart, I bought a simple watch with a clean face, quiet movements, free of exotic or pretentious frills. It tells the time, does it reliably, and looks elegant when I wear a suit.

123 Jimmy UA January 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I purchased a Delma meridian chronograph series 467208. Its a limited production and only 5000 were ever made. It was probably produced around 1998. I paid $300 new for it cause the jeweler i got it from was going out of business. Watch came with no manual but I hardly doubt its a replica due to its rareness. watch has 4 bottons and 2 small lcd and 3 chronographs but can not figure out how to use the watch to its full potential. Anyone know where I can obtain a manual…

124 Patrick April 1, 2013 at 11:38 am

I wish my father had seen this. He used to do some serious travelling all over the world and in the course of a year he went to China, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and Japan. Coming back for my birthday, he presented me with what was passed off as an authentic Tag Heuer Carrera and one for my brother. My father and brother were wholly convinced that the time pieces were legitimate, but I knew almost immediately that they were fakes. I haven’t worn mine since, but keep it as a token and reminder that I am saving up for a real one for each my brother, my father, and I.

125 Adrian Schwiiz July 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Great information! Weight and a laser accurate inscription are good signs of a quality watch.

126 Charles S. Deming July 27, 2013 at 1:49 pm

What happens if i have a watch that is water resistant?

127 Gamaliel Scaff August 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I really enjoyed reading this. I’m a guy who loves watches and pens. I have a Vitorinox “Swiss Made” but I did not know all these tips. Thank you very much.

Gamaliel Scaff
Paraná – Brazil.

128 Richard Peek August 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm

My wife bought me a Movado Museum with leather strap 25 years ago and it looked elegant,ran perfect with no problems outside of replacing battery. She just bought me a new Movado Serio two tone ss with bracelet in May as a birthday present. I think it is also a beautiful watch and hope to get 25 years of service from it. A lot of people talk that the Movado is just a fashion watch but from my experience it is not only a fashion statement but a quality time piece.

129 Daniel November 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

a good quality watch should be accurate. waterproof and should have glow in the dark hand to easily watch time :)

130 Franks November 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My favourite watches are rolex http://www.buycheaprolexwatches.com/

131 Ruben November 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Great post!, it’s a little sad when a good quality watch is faked, I’ve seen watches with the “Swiss Made” incription in the front, and the “made in china” in the back!

132 Anthony December 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I’ve always wanted a manly work watch that is dependable and pretty much indestructible. It brings back so much nostalgic memories of my grandfather.I’ve been searching on Amazon for cyber Monday deals…they got name brand watches normally selling at $300 on sale for $75. Pretty much in wondering if there’s a good dependable watch that’s more tactile and less flashy, for a reasonable price under $100

133 Jack Madison December 31, 2013 at 4:33 am

I have a 36mm oyster perpetual no date with blue dial…sort of an elegant explorer 1.
I’m 6’1″ at 210 lbs and it does well on my wrist…very simple 116000 model.
This watch has been by far the best watch I’ve ever owned and what I really like is most don’t realize it’s a rolex. And I don’t really want them to. I like nice things but I don’t like being flashy.
It’s a great watch if you want to be low key but want a rolex.
I also have an Oris bc3 which I wear when out in the wild and I must say it too rocks…never have had one issue in the many years I’ve owned it.

134 Lee January 1, 2014 at 2:39 pm

When dressed up, I wear my Russell pocket watch (c. 1918) on my great grandfather’s watch chain.

When dressed down, I wear my Lorus blue-faced VJ33, which I picked up on ebay for £15.

Anyone who pays more than 5 grand for a watch needs their head seeing too (and their sense of shame too, given the number of old folks unable to afford to heat their home this winter).

135 Tony Chang January 29, 2014 at 7:16 am

Some people say there is no ‘best watch’ as such. And I agree with them—everyone has different preferences and taste. But no one can disagree with the fact that the quality watches exist. Besides the elements covered in the article, a quality watch must be budget-friendly as well. You don’t have to sacrifice great design for a good price.

136 Bananabender January 31, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Articles like this always make me laugh. Mechanical watches are 1920s technology. They are very simple and very cheap to make (The Indian made HMT mechanical watches are accurate and can easily last 50 years – they cost as little as $8.) Rolex, IWC, Omega and Breitling watches are all mass produced on semi-automated production lines. A real handmade watch will cost a minimum of $100,000.

137 Deepak Mistry February 4, 2014 at 7:44 am

I have 2 breitlings, which I have had for over 12 years, never broken down or lost any seconds. They both been covered in oil, grease & water because of my job. Best watches ever & the slide rule is brilliant, which I actually use. Looking to get another one or a omega, but will never buy a rolex

138 Bob February 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I have a Grand Seiko accurate to within (5) secs per yr. No mechanical watch comes even close! You may buy Swiss to impress others but I would buy a GS to impress yourself.

139 F1racer24 April 2, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I just purchased my Victorinox Alliance 241841 this past week and it is a very high quality, great looking watch. It will go along my current collection Omega Speedmaster (Michael Schumacher edition) and Oris diver titanium watches and AB Art. Men don’t wear a lot of jewellery but a fine wristwatch explains who that man and shows his confidence. I look forward to handing down the watches to my children to pass it down to their children and this will help remind them of where they have come from.

140 David April 7, 2014 at 7:39 am

Recently took the plunge and bought myself an Omega Speedmaster Racing, yellow with rubber strap. I have to admit that the sensation of wearing a “real watch” is greatly rewarding. The build up was long but definately worth the wait.

141 Derek April 8, 2014 at 3:39 am

I didn’t read every comment here but i noticed that know one mentioned the sapphire crystal. Supposedly sapphire is more scratch and chip resistant than the hardened mineral crystal used in most watches now.

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