6 questions to ask an expert before buying a luxury watch
Buying a luxury watch is no easy decision. They are sizeable purchases by definition, so never ones you want to rush into. It generally takes a bit of time to find exactly the watch you want, as there are all sorts of separate features, characteristics and qualities that will ultimately define its relationship with you.
If you’re (understandably) having a bit of trouble making that decision though, then you’ll be glad to hear that this is exactly what we’re here to help with at Leonard Dews! We’ve been established for more than 180 years, and our staff have unrivalled expertise with the timepieces you’ll find in our showrooms. Some have even undergone specialist training with select brands such as Patek Philippe, so you can count on us to answer any questions you might have. And speaking of which, if you’re not sure what to ask, here are some we’d recommend starting with…
1. What type of movement powers this watch?
The calibre or ‘movement’ of the watch refers to the central mechanism that powers it. You might have heard it referred to before various as the engine or the heart of the watch. There are many different types of watch movement, but industry generally categorises them into three main types: quartz, manual, and automatic. We’ve explained the key differences between watch movements in a previous post, but in case you’re short on time, or you just need a quick refresher, we’ll recap them here too.
Quartz is the newest type of watch movement – quartz watches are (for all intents and purposes) battery powered. That makes them highly precise and exceptionally accurate, but not quite as prestigious as older mechanical movements, which are generally viewed as involving an inherently higher level of artistry and craftsmanship. Manual mechanical watches need to be wound every day, whereas automatic or self-winding watches use an ingenious mechanism that draws kinetic energy from the movement of your wrist. So as long as you don’t remove your watch for too long, you’ll never need to wind it.
Those are their most distinguishing characteristics at a glance. As you can imagine, they all have their own distinct reputations amongst buyers, and each one requires a different level of commitment and care from its owner, so this is the question definitely worth starting with.
2. Does it have any additional complications?
In a nutshell, a complication is any additional feature or capability of the watch that does something other than tell the time. The chronograph is widely held to be the most popular luxury watch complication, but there are all sorts of other options to choose from. Indeed, these complications can play a pivotal part in defining the role that your watch might end up serving in your everyday life.
Travellers and frequent fliers, for example, tend to favour dual calendars and World Time complications, so that they can easily keep track of events across different time zones. Athletes and racers are often drawn towards chronographs, whereas those with a more artsy side might find themselves captivated by the intricacy and imagination of a moon phase complication.
However, we should say that these are all just trends, not ‘rules’. There are no rules about what luxury watch you should and shouldn’t buy, just as long as it doesn’t involve attempting to use it for something it wasn’t designed for, such as taking it underwater. (More on that in just a moment.) When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter if you have your sights on a particular complication because you think it will have practical value to you, or because you just like the idea of it. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.
3. What does maintenance of the watch involve?
If you’re prepared to spend the money to buy a luxury watch, then it follows that you’ll absolutely need to know how to look after it. We’ve already published several articles on how to keep your watch in first-class condition, so it’s worth consulting those, but while you’re in our showroom it’s also a good idea to take the opportunity and ask one of our staff about the cleaning requirements of the specific watch you’re looking at.
Different watches are built in slightly different ways, and the various materials in their construction will also influence their individual cleaning requirements and capabilities. Steel bracelets for example may be capable of being submerged in water, whereas leather straps cannot. Actually, speaking of which…
4. What is the watch’s water resistance?
Water damage could potentially be a big risk for your watch, so this is definitely a question you’ll need to have the answer to before you make the decision to buy it. A watch’s water resistance basically indicates the degree at which it’s able to get wet, and how much water pressure it can withstand, before sustaining (possibly irreparable) damage. It will effectively dictate where you can wear the watch, and for how long – some might only be able to withstand a few splashes, whereas others might be capable of achieving depths that far exceed those of recreational divers.
Almost every luxury watch tends to have a baseline water resistance of 30 metres. But here’s where things get a little fuzzy. A water resistance of 30m doesn’t actually mean that the watch in question can go down that far. In fact, most collectors and connoisseurs would caution you against even taking it into the shower. We know that sounds highly counter-intuitive, but it’s a very involved topic. We’ve detailed everything you need to know about water resistance in a previous post, but for now what you need to know is that if you think there’s a decent chance of your watch being exposed to water, you may well need one with a water resistance higher than 30m.
If you actually plan to go diving with one on your wrist, you’ll need something with at least 100m of water resistance, and probably more like 200m or 300m. If you’re still confused, don’t worry – it’s definitely all very confusing! But that’s exactly why we recommend asking about it in-store.
5. What is the history and the heritage of the watch?
We’ve spoken before about how the character of each luxury watch is defined by its heritage, and that’s as true today as it ever was. Every craftsman consciously and unconsciously puts something of themselves into their creations, so it’s worth finding a watch with a heritage and provenance that appeals to you personally. TAG Heuer, Patek Philippe, OMEGA… each of these manufacturers hold their own values and priorities for their own watch designs, and the more you identify with the individual ethos of a manufacturer, the more likely it is that you’ll connect more deeply on a personal level with one of their creations.
After all, the story of each watch doesn’t stop when it comes to you. When you take ownership of a luxury watch, you become part of its history, so before you buy the timepiece it makes sense to find out a bit more about what that story’s been like so far.
That goes doubly for second hand or vintage watches, which will have especially storied histories. There’s also a practical side to finding out about the history of a secondhand or vintage watch though – it’s also worth asking more specific questions like how many owners it’s had, when it was last serviced, and whether or not it still has its original parts. (In case you’re wondering, we don’t stock second-hand or vintage watches here at Leonard Dews, so you can consider this a bit of bonus advice!)
6. Will it suit your lifestyle?
This is probably the single most important overarching question, and the one that almost all of the others are hinting at to some degree. You may well have your answer by the time all your other questions have been addressed, but if any lingering doubts remain, it’s almost certainly worth asking this straight-out.
Now, it’s worth bearing in mind that the question itself is a versatile one (some might say ambiguous), and you can frame it based on different criteria. It might be a question of function, based on the resistances and capabilities of the watch in different environments, or a question of style and etiquette. This is definitely one to watch out for if you’re planning on wearing it to formal ceremonies or events, as there are often certain dress standards and codes that delegates are expected to abide by (especially at international or corporate functions).
There are plenty of collectors who would be aghast at the idea of pairing a dive watch with business wear to a formal event, and there are others who would equally defend the owner’s right to wear whatever watch they want in whatever setting they choose, provided there’s no risk of causing damage to the timepiece itself, or deep offence to anyone in attendance.
There are strong arguments to be made for both sides, so we’ll leave the ultimate decision up to you. Here at Leonard Dews, all we’d say is that it’s absolutely fine to break rules – indeed, Gucci arguably built its entire brand on doing just that – but it’s wise to ensure you keep yourself informed about why these rules exist in the first place!
So, those are all the essentials, but if you think of any others, please don’t hesitate to ask us! Our friendly experts will be only too happy to provide you with as much or as little help as you need finding the next luxury watch, whether you’re browsing our website, or taking a look around our expansive Blackpool showroom, where you’ll find watches from a variety of prestigious manufacturers such as Bremont, Longines, or TISSOT. If you need an answer urgently, you can also give us a quick call on 01253 754940, and we’ll see what we can do for you.