Watch Buying Guide: How to Choose your First Designer Watch

Tired of watches that lose accuracy, show scratches or simply fall apart after less than a year? It might be time to consider a higher quality designer watch that will last! 

The good news is that quality watches don’t have to come with a jaw-dropping price tag – there’s no need to break the bank if you’re simply looking for a stylish watch that will last. We have a diverse selection of fashionable watches for men, women and children here at Joshua James, all designed to accompany you from day to night and everything in between. 

Woman wearing a Nordgreen rose gold watch with black dial.

What’s the bad news? Well, watches are kind of complicated (in more ways than one).

If you’re new to the world of watches, there can be a lot of jargon and information to sift through at first. 

In our ultimate guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know when buying your first designer watch. This includes all of the key things you should look out for when browsing watches online, and tips on how to choose a watch that suits you! 

Read on to learn all about…

The components of a watch

Watch materials

Watch movements

Water resistance in watches

Additional watch functions and features

How to choose a watch that suits you

Watch Buying Checklist

Keen to get shopping? At the end of this guide, we’ve included a handy checklist of features that should appear in every quality watch. Jump ahead for this quick and easy summary that covers the key things you should look out for when buying your first watch!

The components of a watch

When you begin shopping for your first high quality watch, it can become overwhelming quite quickly. This is partly due to the sheer amount of choice in the world of designer watches, but it’s also thanks to all of the watch-related jargon you’re sure to stumble across!

What does tolerance mean in the context of watches? What is a “lug”??

If you’re after an easy watch diagram for quick reference, we’ve included this below.

We’ve also put together this short glossary covering the key components of a watch and other watch-related terms that you’re likely to come across on your buying journey…

Aperture 

The aperture is a small opening or “window” on the watch dial which displays additional information, for example the date.

Bezel

The bezel is a ring that surrounds the crystal and holds it in place. A watch bezel can be fixed, or it can rotate (either unidirectionally or in both directions). Depending on the watch, the bezel might be purely decorative or it may serve a specific function, e.g. measuring speed.

Case

The case is like the watch’s armour: it protects the delicate inner workings, otherwise known as the movement. As well as serving an important function, watch cases can also be decorative, available in a variety of different shapes.

Complication

Any watch function outside of timekeeping is known as a “complication”. These can be visible (e.g. a chronograph, compass or perpetual calendar) or invisible (e.g. self-winding). 

Fun fact: the world’s most complicated watch has a grand total of 36 complications!

Crown 

Usually found to the right of the 3 o’clock marker, the crown is a button that allows you to set the time (and date, if your watch has a calendar function). In mechanical watches, the crown is also used to wind the mainspring each day.

Crystal

The crystal is another important piece of watch armour, protecting the dial itself. Designed to be tough and scratch-resistant, the crystal is a clear layer that covers the watch face, made from glass, plastic, mineral crystal or sapphire crystal. 

Dial 

Often referred to as the watch face, the dial forms the centrepiece of any watch. Protected by a layer of transparent crystal, the plate underneath displays the time, usually through the use of moving hands and hour, minute and sometimes even second markers around the dial’s edge.

Much of a watch’s personality can be seen in its dial, as this is where the designer can really get creative and show off a particular style. Certain watches use Roman numerals to display hour markers, while others use simple stick indices. Dials can also be decorated with an ornamental repeated pattern known as “guilloché”, either by hand or by machine.

Lug 

Sometimes referred to as “horns”, the lugs protrude from the watch case and are used for attaching the strap.

Movement

The movement is like the watch’s engine: this is the internal mechanism that powers all of the watch’s functions, from basic timekeeping to any additional complications. There are quite a few different types of watch movements out there (but more on that later!).

Pusher

Pushers are buttons on the watch case that can be used to control additional functions such as a chronograph. 

Sub-dials

Just as it sounds: sub-dials are smaller dials that sit within the main dial, usually used to display additional information and functions such as a chronograph.

Tolerance 

No watch is 100% perfect! Due to their complex internal movements, all watches will experience very small inaccuracies in their timekeeping, gradually building up over time. The tolerance refers to the maximum amount of time (in seconds) that a watch is expected to gain or lose per day. 

Watch Materials

In general, watches are designed to last and should withstand regular wear. When it comes to buying a designer watch, it’s likely you will only encounter watches made from durable, high quality materials. So the type of watch you choose really comes down to your personal style (and perhaps your budget).

Do you normally wear gold or silver jewellery? Do you like to incorporate a little leather in your style? Will you be wearing this watch every day, or would you like to save it for special occasions only? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself.

Most Popular Watch Materials

There are four main materials that you can expect to see in quality designer watches:

Stainless Steel

The most popular watch material out there, stainless steel is the perfect option for everyday wear and offers brilliant value for money. It is highly resistant to corrosion and discolouration, meaning it should stay shiny and strong for a very long time. Stainless steel watches are also very lightweight, so they should feel comfortable on your wrist all day long. You will find that stainless steel varies in quality, so if you want the best, look for watches that use 316L stainless steel.

You may also notice the acronym “PVD” in some stainless steel watch descriptions. Standing for “Physical Vapour Deposition”, PVD is a process, not a material. It’s basically a method of strengthening the material and increasing its resistance to tarnishing and discolouration. 

Swarovski Crystal Lake Silver Tone Metal Bracelet Watch
Nordgreen Philosopher Silver Mesh Unisex Watch

Titanium

Titanium watches have become more popular in recent years. On average, titanium is three times stronger than steel and nearly twice as light, making it a great material for crafting sports watches. However, it’s really the perfect option for anyone looking for a balance of durability and comfort. It’s also hypoallergenic, meaning that those with allergies to metal jewellery are unlikely to experience a bad reaction. 

On the downside, you might find that titanium looks a little duller than high quality stainless steel – you just don’t get that same shine. Titanium watches also tend to come with a heftier price tag, as it requires special equipment and is relatively difficult to work with. 

Gold-plated

You will find pure gold timepieces in the world of luxury watches, but when it comes to designer everyday watches, you are more likely to come across gold-plated watches. This often means that the base watch material is stainless steel (or just steel), and this is then covered with a layer of gold plating. The thickness of this layer will vary by watch.

Rose gold watches have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, trending in both women’s and men’s watches. It makes for a style which is classy yet trendy!

Orla Kiely Ivy Navy Flower & Rose Gold Plated Slim Mesh Bracelet Watch
Nomination Paris Classic Rose Gold Plated & Rectangular Pink Dial Watch

Ceramic

Ceramic material used in watches is very different to that involved in pottery-making. This ceramic is extremely durable, highly resistant to heat and scratching. It’s also one of the most lightweight watch materials, making it very comfortable to wear, and its non-porous structure makes for easy cleaning.

So what’s the downside? For one thing, ceramic watches tend to be very pricey, often produced by luxury brands such as Rolex. And despite their impressive durability, they are not shatter-resistant; if you drop your ceramic watch on a hard surface, you’ll be left with a very expensive repair bill!

Watch Crystal Materials

As mentioned earlier, the watch crystal is the transparent layer that covers and protects the dial. The material used for this can vary greatly in terms of durability, therefore it’s important to recognise the most common types used when buying your first watch. 

Close up of Nordgreen Pioneer watch dial, featuring sapphire crystal

Acrylic Crystal

The least expensive material you will find, acrylic crystal is made from plastic and is the most prone to scratches. However, don’t shun this material right off the bat: despite its sensitivity to scratches, it is incredibly shatter-resistant. It can also be polished easily, meaning that any minor scratches can be quickly taken care of and will likely remain invisible to the naked eye. Even luxury watch brands such as Rolex have been known to use acrylic crystal in their watches, particularly in sports collections. 

Mineral Crystal

Seven times stronger than acrylic crystal, mineral crystal is extremely common in designer fashion watches. This material is glass crystal that has been specially treated (either through heat or chemicals) in order to increase scratch-resistance and overall hardiness. It takes a lot to shatter a mineral crystal watch face, but even if you did, the repair bill tends to be very affordable. 

Sapphire Crystal

The hardiest of all crystal materials, sapphire crystal is three times stronger than mineral crystal. In fact, it doesn’t fall far behind the diamond on the Mohs scale, with an impressive hardness rating of 9! This means that sapphire glass is scratch-proof and highly resistant to shattering, making it incredibly long-lasting. It also makes it the most expensive option – mainly found in high-end designer and luxury watches – but considering you should never have to replace it, it’s worth the price. 

Despite its name, this crystal is not made from actual sapphire, but is formed from crystallised aluminium oxide. 

Watch Strap Types & Materials

When it comes to watch strap materials, there is a lot of flexibility. Unlike the watch case, which will need to be crafted from a material like stainless steel in order to protect the delicate inner movement, the strap can be much more versatile. You might even want to consider a customisable watch where you can easily change the strap, which is the case for all Nordgreen watches

Here are some of the most popular watch strap types and materials that you’re likely to come across:

Metal bracelet

Often crafted from stainless steel or titanium to match the case, a metal bracelet is modern and incredibly versatile. Some metal bracelets feature a stylish mesh design which can be adjusted with an innovative sliding buckle (such as the Nordgreen watch shown below), while others incorporate a series of links that can be removed or added to create your perfect fit (for example the Nomination composable watch shown below).

Nordgreen Native Rose Gold Mesh Unisex Watch
Nomination Paris Classic Stainless Steel & Rectangular Blue Glitter Dial Watch

Leather

A high quality leather strap is usually crafted from calf leather, however nowadays you can also find a selection of vegan leather watch straps that will offer that same standard of quality and attractiveness. Nordgreen watches, for example, offer straps crafted from traditional Italian leather or vegan synthetic materials. 

Leather is a very popular option for both men’s and women’s watches due to its incredible versatility. Available in a vast variety of colours and textures, a classic leather strap can be used to create a sense of luxury and timelessness, meanwhile brushed leather is sure to lend your watch a distinctly rugged feel. 

Swarovski Crystalline Glam Rose Gold Tone & Grey Leather Watch
Nordgreen Native Gold & Black Vegan Leather Ladies Watch

Fabric

Usually crafted from polyester or nylon, fabric watch straps are flexible, comfortable and generally quite affordable. Many people enjoy them thanks to their colourful and creative designs (although plain fabric straps are also an option) which can be used to create a more fun style of watch. 

A great example of this is the CODE TS collection by Thomas Sabo, featuring an eclectic array of interchangeable patterned and plain straps that can be used to customise your watch. 

Nomination Cruise Dark Blue & White Fabric Watch
Nomination Cruise Blue & Red Fabric Watch

Rubber

This material might not be as aesthetically appealing to most people, but it certainly has its advantages. Polyurethane rubber is very resistant to shock and moisture, making it the perfect choice for those who enjoy water sports. You’ll also find it in a variety of colours, so you can choose whichever suits you! 

You’ll also come across silicone rubber straps, which do differ slightly. These come with a lower tensile strength than traditional rubber straps, and they’re not resistant to moisture, meaning they should be kept dry as much as possible. However, they do have an excellent resistance to both high and low temperatures, and they tend to be equally comfortable. 

Nomination Cruise Blue & Silver Silicone Watch
Nomination Pure Silicon Bright Pink CZ Mini Watch

Watch Movement Types

As we mentioned earlier, the watch movement is what powers your timepiece. Each comes with its own pros and cons, so it’s important to recognise and understand the different types before buying your first watch. There are many different watch movements out there, but we’re going to cover the three main types: mechanical, automatic and quartz. 

Mechanical

Invented back in the 16th century, the mechanical movement is the oldest system there is, but it remains very popular today – especially in the world of luxury watches. Mechanical movements are crafted by hand, which is a key reason for their higher price tag. 

The mechanism of this type of movement revolves around the mainspring, which must be wound by hand every day. As it unwinds throughout the day, it causes a series of gears to move and power the hands which show the time. 

How do you know if a watch uses a mechanical movement? Pay attention to the second hand, which moves in a smooth sweeping motion rather than ticking. 

Automatic

First invented in the 1920s, the automatic watch movement works similarly to the mechanical in that it utilises a mainspring system. The key difference is that it doesn’t require winding by hand, but instead is powered by the movements of the wearer. If worn regularly and properly maintained, a high quality automatic watch can last for a lifetime.

Quartz

Arriving later to the game, the quartz movement was first conceived in the 1960s. This movement quickly dominated the world of designer fashion watches, offering a relatively affordable option that still maintains an incredibly high standard of accuracy. 

Quartz watches are battery-powered, so despite being easy to maintain, it is necessary to replace the batteries every 18 months or so. 

How can you recognise a quartz watch? The distinct ticking movement of the second hand is an instant giveaway!

Water resistance in watches

Every high quality watch will come with a certain degree of water resistance, and the right level for you is really just dependent on your lifestyle. 

Do you play a lot of water sports? Do you plan on taking your watch scuba diving? Or do you simply need a watch that will withstand the odd splash of rain? These are the types of questions you should consider. 

When browsing watches online, you will generally find that water resistance is measured in metres and/or atmospheres (ATM). We’ve put together this handy table to show the meaning of the different water resistance ratings you will likely come across:

Watch Resistance Table:

30 metres / 3 ATMSplash-proof
50 metres / 5 ATMLight swimming
100 metres / 10 ATMSwimming, snorkelling, light water sports
200 metres / 20 ATMScuba diving
300 metres / 30 ATMDeep sea diving

It’s important to note that the resistance rating in metres is not a measure of how deep underwater a watch can safely go. What it means is that the watch will not be breached by water at that depth underwater, as long as conditions are totally static. 

In other words, a watch which is water resistant to 30m/3 ATM should be safe up to 30m below the water’s surface, but only in nonmoving conditions. That’s why you’ll need a water resistance of at least 50m/5 ATM if you plan on wearing your watch for any type of swimming. 

It’s also recommended to have your watch reproofed every few years, depending on how frequently it’s exposed to water. 

Additional watch functions and features

As we mentioned earlier, many modern designer watches come with additional functions known as “complications”. 

Whether or not you’d like to have any of these is really down to your lifestyle and personal preferences. If you’re an avid runner, you might like your watch to have a stopwatch feature; enthusiastic travellers may enjoy a dual time zone function. 

On the other hand, you might prefer a watch that simply serves its original purpose: to tell the time, and look stylish while doing it! 

No matter your preferences, we recommend taking a look at some of the most common complications that you might come across when shopping for your first watch:

Chronograph

A chronograph watch effectively means a watch with a built-in stopwatch function. The main dial features two or three small sub-dials which the wearer can start, stop and reset using pushers on the side of the watch. 

Although in the past this function was most desired by pilots, racing drivers and runners, nowadays the chronograph is a popular feature in many fashion watches. Many people have no interest in its actual functionality but enjoy the sporty feel that it lends to a watch. However, the stopwatch function can truly be useful to anyone – even for tasks as simple as boiling an egg! 

All watches from the Nordgreen Pioneer collection come with a chronograph function (as well as winning an award for their innovative and stylish design!).

Perpetual Calendar

Perhaps the most popular watch complication that there is, the perpetual calendar basically refers to the date display that you will find on many quality watches. 

However, this function is even more impressive than it first appears: the “perpetual” element refers to the fact that the watch will always tell you the exact date, automatically adjusting to account for things like leap years and varying days in a month. Clever, right? 

Moon Phases

A moon phase watch displays the current moon phase in an aperture on the dial. Most commonly, the moonphase is shown through a crescent-shaped aperture in which one can view the waxing and waning stages of the moon throughout the month (known as a “bosom” moonphase watch). 

Astronomy enthusiasts may enjoy this particular feature, although it has few practical uses. The majority of people are drawn to the moon phase complication because of its interesting aesthetic, lending the watch a creative and almost mysterious feel. 

Dual Time Zone

A favourite among travellers, a dual time zone watch has two hour hands which indicate the time in two different time zones. Before the era of smartphones this function was especially useful, as it allowed you to refer to your “home” time zone even when on-the-go. 

Tachymeter

Located on the watch bezel, a tachymeter can be used to measure speed over a known distance. You will generally only find this function on a chronograph watch, as it relies on the ability to start and stop timing.  

It’s as simple as this: you start your chronograph as you pass a starting point, then stop it once you’ve reached your end point. Wherever the seconds hand is pointing on the tachymeter scale is your average speed. 

If you’re searching for an everyday fashion watch, the tachymeter function doesn’t offer a whole lot of value. It’s possible you’d never even end up using it if you had one! But it’s certainly an interesting feature to have, and some people enjoy the sporty feel it adds to their watch.

How to choose a watch that suits you

When it comes to buying your first designer watch, there are two key things you should consider: your lifestyle and your personal style preferences

In this guide, we’ve covered the most common materials and functions found in modern fashion watches. Did anything in particular jump out at you? Do you like the idea of a stylish watch with a sporty edge and lots of additional functions, or do you think you’d prefer to keep things super simple and minimalist? Will your watch need to withstand wear-and-tear and water exposure, or will you be saving it for special occasions only? 

No matter your preferences, you’re sure to find your perfect fashion watch here at Joshua James. With options from top designer brands such as Nordgreen, Swarovski, Nomination and Thomas Sabo, you can take your pick from a wide variety of styles and designs! 

Our checklist of features for a good quality watch

Depending on your lifestyle, your requirements for a watch will vary greatly. We’ve put together this checklist to cover the key things that everyone should look for when buying their first fashion watch! 

High quality materials
In case of a stainless steel watch, look for 316L stainless steel for the highest quality.

PVD coating will help to preserve the colour of gold, rose gold and black steel watches.

Scratch-resistant crystal
If you want your watch to remain totally scratch-free, even with frequent use, look for sapphire crystal.

Mineral crystal and acrylic crystal are more vulnerable to scratching, but with proper care they will also hold up to regular wear.

Minimum of 30 metres / 3 ATM water resistance
This will ensure that your watch is at least splash-proof, and won’t be affected by everyday activities such as washing hands.

Go for a higher water resistance if you want to be extra safe, or if you plan on exposing your watch to more water than a few splashes here and there.

Pay attention to the watch movement
For an everyday fashion watch, you will probably want a high quality quartz movement (for example Miyota or Seiko). This will ensure a high level of accuracy and affordability with minimal maintenance.

Attention to detail
When viewing a watch in person, the fine details will help you to assess the level of craftsmanship and therefore the overall quality.

Are there any visible loose parts? Does the strap fit well where it attaches to the watch case? Can you see any imperfections on the dial itself?

Complications
Would you like your watch to come with any additional functions outside of timekeeping?

Consider features like a chronograph, calendar or dual time zone. Do any of these fit your lifestyle and budget?


Feeling ready to buy your first designer fashion watch? Take some time to explore the full range here at Joshua James, featuring classic stainless steel watches, stylish watches with leather straps, and luxurious rose gold timepieces decorated with glittering details.

And with Father’s Day just around the corner, why not treat dad to a stylish men’s watch from our Nordgreen range? We’re certain we’ve got just the timepiece for him!


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