Skip to main content

Watch Buying Guide 101: The Ultimate Guide to Buying a New Watch

No matter how subtle, intentional style moves tend to shine through in any ensemble, including the intention behind wearing one of the best watches for men. Wearing a watch means you’ve got places to go, and you want to look great while getting there — and it’s a more sophisticated way to tell time beyond just checking your phone.

Before you can enhance or even start a watch collection, some handy watch buying tips — call it our watch buying guide 101 — will go a long way towards ensuring you end up with the proper timepiece on your wrist. The world of watches is vast and ever-expanding, but there are options to suit every lifestyle, style choice, and budget.

Several watch styles might seem intimidating at first, such as the complex looks of a stylish world time watch or a detail-packed chronograph watch, but when in doubt, keep it simple. As you shop for your new favorite watch, you’ll learn along the way, but all great things take time: Go with what you know.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Amazon

If you know where to look, you can even find a great watch under $200 (and lower!). Regardless of your budget, it’s all about proper value and getting the most bang for your buck. After all, even one of the most expensive watches on the market should be a timepiece you actually want to wear and can wear effectively, despite whatever over-the-top bells and whistles it might bring to your wrist. We can’t get enough of a well-stocked watch collection, no matter the style or budget. Watch buying guide 101 tips are coming right up: Class is in session.

Related Stories


Keep the Basics in Mind

When we say the basics in our watch buying guide 101, it’s more straightforward than you might think. Let’s talk about both movements and your watch strap to start.

The movement, what actually makes your watch tick, is critical to keep in mind. There are two basic categories of watch movement: quartz and mechanical.

In short, the movement will impact the cost of your watch. Battery-powered quartz movements are more affordable. A mechanical watch, with an intricate design that tells time once activated by the movement of the wearer’s wrist, is on the slightly pricier side.

Affordable yet stylish watch brands like Nixon specialize in quartz watches that still offer quality and great looks.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Nixon

The strap material also impacts the cost of your watch. A leather strap, made of genuine leather or more luxurious leather, like Horween, is generally more expensive than a canvas or fabric strap watch. Stainless steel watches fall somewhere in the middle, depending on the build of the watch itself and its details.

When in doubt, rugged watches made of stainless steel or fabric straps will be less dressy (and less expensive) than leather watches, but both mechanical and quartz watches can add style and functionality to your rotation.


Know Before You Go: Figure Out Your Daily Watch Needs

As you shop for a watch, figure out how you plan to wear that watch. Are you looking for a dressy-yet-versatile leather-strap watch for the office, date nights, or special occasions? Or is your watch collection missing a casually rugged field watch or dive watch to wear on outdoor adventures? Perhaps beyond that, you just want a durable, affordable watch to wear from day to night — that’s real value in action, we like to think.

Some of our favorite watch brands, like Shinola — the Detroit-based lifestyle brand famed for its sub-$1,000 timepieces in various styles — make watches that hit all those marks, and then some. We especially love the Shinola Runwell Watch, with its Art Deco design cues, handsome leather strap options, USA-made assembly and broad versatility. They make watches you can wear to the office, to happy hour, on the road and back again.

Other brands such as Timex also specialize in similarly affordable, wear-with-anything styles that often drop below $100 yet will still suit many a style need for whatever’s on your to-do list (more on them in a moment). Start from the ground up, considering how you aim to wear your watch, and you’ll start to hone in on the best watch brand or brands for your needs.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Shinola


Dependability Is the Name of the Game

It might seem like a no-brainer but look to trusted, reliable brands when shopping for a watch, especially if your budget falls on the lower end of the spectrum (anywhere from $100 to $200). It could be tempting to buy a watch from a no-name brand on the super-cheap, and it could even be tempting to scour the secondary market for a cheap, used watch, but that’s where risk enters the equation as you pore over our 101 watch buying guide.

Consider the brand Timex: A trusted American manufacturer making watches of all sorts — from fabric strap watches to fine leather dress watches and stainless steel watches as well. However, the key with Timex is extreme affordability running hand-in-hand with superb quality. That’s the sweet spot. In short: Other watch brands might offer up style in spades for under $150 or less, but if you’ve never heard of the brand or things look a bit, shall we say, shady, there’s a good chance you’re getting an inferior product. It’s all about trust when buying a watch.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Timex

The same could be said when shopping for more expensive watches, which climb well above a grand and even higher beyond that. Trust is essential. You shouldn’t invest in a watch that won’t suit your needs.

Here’s where we urge you to double back to our first tip: How will you be wearing your new, investment-level watch? Are you selecting a brand like Tudor, well-known for its beautiful, professional-grade dive watches? Will you actually be wearing it in the intended manner to maximize its value? Once you’ve determined you can trust the brand in question and confidently wear your purchase in plenty of different ways, it’s only a matter of shipping the watch to your door.


A Little Simplicity Goes a Long Way

Particularly if you’re new to shopping the world of watches or simply want to add the most effective, wearable watch possible to your everyday carry, it can feel pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the options on the market. Chronograph watches track time in multiple ways at once. The best GMT watches track the time in multiple global time zones. Beyond that, the priciest watches on the planet deliver groundbreaking style, complicated looks and enough precise details to make your head spin.

In the midst of all that, our advice is, well, simple: Keep it simple. If you want the most value for that new timepiece on your wrist, cleanly designed, easy-to-read dials, simple-yet-durable construction, and hard-wearing design is the way to go. That goes hand in hand with dependability and finding a watch brand you can trust.

Plenty of brands make it easy to find a great new watch without tons of complicated designs. Take Hamilton, another long-running watch brand with a heritage of designing casual, rugged and heirloom-worthy leather watches.

These watches are pricier options than Timex and Shinola. However, the subtle, simple designs and well-made construction make each watch feel like a unique treasure without overdoing it in style or ostentatious details. If you’re in the market for a watch you can wear with a T-shirt and jeans as well as a soft cotton tee and a lightweight blazer, Hamilton is perhaps your best bet.

Lazy loaded image
Courtesy of Hamilton Watch


Money to Burn: Notes on Buying an Expensive Watch

So, you’ve considered your budget, preferred style, how you’ll wear your watch, and the more affordable options on the market. Yet you still want to take a swing at buying an authentic heirloom watch from a brand known the world over. These are brands like Rolex, OMEGA, TAG Heuer and Audemars Piguet, to name but a few.

The same principles still hold true: There’s no use (in our humble opinion) dropping an absurd amount of cash only never to be able actually to wear your watch. Sure, some watches function more like wearable works of art and look just as at home in a display case as they do on your wrist.

But there’s a reason style icons like Steve McQueen trusted legendary brands like TAG Heuer when actually out on the race track or filming movies: Those watches worked hard, worked well, and served their intended purpose handsomely. If you’ve been eyeing a “holy grail” timepiece of sorts, and if you can see yourself wearing it frequently, it’s as worthwhile a purchase as buying a sub-$100 watch from a brand like Timex. With that in mind, go back to the drawing board, seek out some style inspiration and make that watch yours.

As long as you’re making an effort to shop and dress with intention, your watch purchase won’t let you down.


Upgrade Your Wrist Game with a Rugged FIeld Watch