Getting immersed in the world of mechanical watches can be both exciting and overwhelming. There’s so much to learn, which is part of what makes watches so fascinating but also can be daunting to a beginner watch buyer.
Here are 19 beginner watch buying mistakes to avoid.
1. Fashion Brands
A fashion watch is a watch released by a brand whose main product is something outside of watches. Think of clothing brands that also happen to make a few watches here and there. Some examples are Michael Kors, Diesel, etc.
There are also companies that make ridiculously overpriced (usually quartz) watches that are treading the line of “fashion watches” even if they primarily make watches. They use very cheap parts that sometimes cost less than tens of dollars. Sometimes they’ll even buy a cheap Chinese watch from an online retailer for a few dollars, slap on their logo and sell it back to you for hundreds.
My problem is not so much with people wearing or enjoying these watches. Some of them are even decently good looking, which is why some people gravitate toward them. Heck, a Fossil was one of my first watches ever, and without it, I likely wouldn’t have ever dug deeper into the world of mechanical watches. So I’m not hating. They’re a great gateway and get many people into the hobby.
The reason you should avoid buying fashion watches is that their prices are heavily marked up due to branding and marketing.
I’d like people to at least be aware of what they’re buying, and be able to make an informed decision. Companies that solely make watches usually pour more money into research and development of the watches, as well as the quality of parts. So you get a better bang for your buck.
2. Judging Others
It’s common to see someone start to build up a collection of mechanical watches and suddenly become a watch snob. It’s great that you’re into the hobby and I’m sure your collection is very cool…
But just because someone enjoys cheap quartz or a fashion watches, or doesn’t have 47 Seikos, or a Rolex, doesn’t mean your taste is ‘superior’ to theirs in any way. Everybody likes what they like. Their watch could’ve been a gift, or family heirloom, with sentimental value and special meaning to them, for all you know.
If somebody curiously asks about my mechanical watch, I’ll gladly tell them that I love the mechanical aspect, the smooth second-hand sweep and that it never needs a battery to run. I’ve actually gotten a few of my friends curious about the hobby, this way. But no need to shame them for whatever is on their wrist.
3. Quantity over Quality
There are so many great affordable mechanical watches these days. It can be tempting to fill out your collection with a bunch of entry-level mechanical watches like those from Seiko and Orient.
While I love both brands, there’s something to be said for minimalism when it comes to watches. Having more watches means there’s less time you can enjoy and appreciate each and every watch in your collection. You could also save all that money and spend it on one or two more expensive watches you might appreciate more.
4. Buying a Watch Based on the Strap
Many new watch buyers make the mistake of thinking you have to consider the watch strap a watch comes with when choosing a watch. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Watch straps on most watches can easily be swapped out. You don’t even need to go to a jeweler. You can easily swap out a strap yourself using nothing but a cheap spring bar tool.
When buying a new watch, focus on the watch itself. Nice straps cost as little as $20 and greatly increase the versatility of appearance and comfort for your watches.
In fact, the included strap on most affordable watches, such as those entry-level Timex, Seiko, and Orient are usually so bad that I almost consider them disposable and take them off as soon as I get the watch.
Most affordable watches usually cheap out on the bracelet, or strap, so they can spend more money on the quality of parts on the watch themselves. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Just means you get a better watch for the money.
5. Thinking Vintage Watches are Bad Because They’re Old
As a [young and dumb] teenager, I very regrettably passed on my grandfather’s watch, a vintage Seiko 5. At the time, I didn’t wear watches, nor had I realized the sentimental value attached to them. I regret passing on this watch all the time. Luckily, it’s still in the family, and my brother is the proud owner now.
Sentimental value aside, vintage watches are absolutely awesome. To some, the signs of aging such as scratches and patina on the case, dial, hands, and crystal look ‘dirty’.
But to those in the watch community, these signs of aging make a watch much more desirable. They make the watch more unique. They tell a story of the owner’s journeys and travels and adventures.
They also show authenticity, as cheaper, shoddily made watches don’t age nearly as gracefully. Plus, when it comes to luxury watches like vintage Rolex and Omegas, it makes the watch a lot more desirable, and in many cases, worth a lot more on the resale market.
6. Thinking a Watch’s Price Proves How Good it Is
A watch’s price isn’t always a good reflection of its value. There are affordable watches that are awesome and expensive watches that are overpriced. Be careful of falling into the trap of thinking a watch is better just because it costs more or has more complications
7. Changing Day/Date at Wrong Time
This is more of a beginner watch owner’s mistake, rather than a watch buying mistake. But regardless, it’s important, and a very easy mistake to make if you’re not aware.
On a mechanical watch that has a day or date feature, the day or date will usually start to change between 9 pm and 3 am. You want to avoid changing the day or date during this specific time window as you can very easily damage the day-date gear or dial this way.
A quick way to ensure you never change the day/date at the wrong time is to first change the time to 6:30, with both the hour and minute hand facing down at the 6:00 position. It doesn’t matter if it’s 630am or pm since they both fit within the proper time window to change the day and date.
8. Buying the Wrong Size For Your Wrist
A mistake that’s very easy to make for new watch buyers, before you find your sweet spot when it comes to sizing.
Many people simply look at the diameter of the watch as the main measurement when evaluating its size, and if it’s suitable for your wrist
However, there are many other factors to consider when finding a watch the right size for you. More important than the diameter of a watch is the lug to lug width. This is the measurement across the watch, from one set of lugs to the other. Usually, they’re measured from where the hole of the spring bar is on either side.
Generally, you don’t want the lugs to go past your wrist. Ignoring this tends to make your watch look comedically oversized and almost clown-ish.
On my 7 inch wrists, I tend to prefer watches that are no larger than 46mm lug to lug but measure less than 42mm in diameter.
There are other dimensions to consider, such as watch height. If you prefer a chunkier and taller or lower profile, sleeker and shorter watch.
Other things affect how a watch wears, like if the lugs are curved at all, the lug width, and if it has a bezel.
Watches with bezels tend to wear slightly smaller than watches that don’t, even if they’re about the same size. Same thing with a watch with a black or generally dark dial. They tend to wear a little bit smaller than watches with a white or a brighter dial.
9. Being Pressured By Other Collectors
There are many watch collectors that think some watches are essential to any collection.
For some, that might be a piece as simple as a Seiko, and for others, a classic, albeit a much more expensive timepiece such as a Rolex Datejust.
Buy whatever you like, at your own pace. You don’t ‘need’ to have any watch in your collection. Buying watches for the sake of having it is one of the quickest ways to burn all your enjoyment for the hobby.
10. Buying Into Hype
Similar to the last point, you should never buy a watch because of the hype around it. There are lots of watches that the watch community has deemed special and get put on a pedestal.
The perfect example of this is the Seiko SKX, one of the most discussed and highly regarded watches on watch forums and on YouTube. Is it a good watch? Yes. Absolutely. It has a distinct charm and offers a good value for the price. But it definitely has its shortcomings and some cheaper watches even beat it out in terms of features.
I even made a list of reasons why you shouldn’t buy the Seiko SKX, despite it being so highly regarded.
This is just one example, but many watches in the watch community tend to be very hyped, and some feel pressured to buy into the hype. Resist the impulse. Buy what you like. (That rhymes, kinda.)
11. Buying Impulsively
Especially when it comes to affordable timepieces, it’s so easy to see a watch you like online and instantly buy it. These urges will come all the time. You’ll see a watch, instantly fall in love with it and buy it, only later to realize there were a few things you didn’t like about it.
Instead, take your time researching and considering each and every watch you buy. I suggest, when you see a watch you like, bookmark it. Come back to it in a month. Still like it? Then consider buying it.
12. Buying a Watch Solely For The Brand
There are some watch brands that get highly regarded by the watch community without any regard for the value proposition or the watch itself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of getting a watch from a brand that is certain to get praise from friends, coworkers or the community.
Don’t get me wrong, buying a watch because you appreciate the history of the brand and their horological significance is one thing.
Did you know the Rolex Seadweller Deepsea D-Blue was made to commemorate James Cameron’s dive to the deepest depth on earth? The Omega Speedmaster, first watch to ever be worn by an astronaut to the moon. These are fascinating tidbits of history that I wouldn’t mind you buying a watch or a brand for.
But buying a Squale (one of my favorite brands) just because you know it’ll get you some cred’ in the watch community? Lame.
13. Buying in a Mall or Department Store
When first researching watches, it’s likely a lot of the sites and retailers you’ll come across will be large department stores and mall brands.
Plus, it’s almost impossible to walk through a mall without coming across a watch boutique, a department store with a watch section or even an authorized dealer.
Go in, have a fun time taking a look at, trying on and gawking over watches. But don’t buy them just yet.
Rarely will you ever find a decent deal in a store like that. Seeing a watch in person is great to see if it actually meets your expectations, but you’re much better served to try to hunt down the same watch online where much better deals are available.
14. Buying From Untrusted Sellers on eBay
It’s important to be cautious whenever you’re buying a watch, or anything, really, online.
Make sure you research the seller thoroughly and look out for any ‘red flags’ such as unusual looking parts, vintage watches that look brand new, etc.
It’s very common that eBay sellers from foreign countries will sell ‘Frankenwatches’. These are watches that have bits and pieces of a bunch of other watches pieced together. Some may look authentic and even appear to be from the original manufacturer, but because you can’t always take a look at the movement and inner workings inside the watch, it can be hard to tell.
Always inquire more about the watch from the seller. Ask if the watch has ever had any modifications and if the parts all came on the watch originally. Also ask to see more pictures of the movement, when the last service was and who performed the service, if so.
15. Thinking You Need a Watch of Every Style (Pilot, Diver, Dress)
Another common pitfall of new watch collectors is thinking you must diversify your collection and own every different type of watch style.
Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely should experiment out of your comfort zone. You never know when you’re going to find something new you like if you never experiment. But also don’t feel forced into it.
Some collectors think everyone should own at the very least one watch of each style. I.E. Pilot watches, dive watches, dress watches. But only you know what you like, and if your thing is mostly owning sporty watches with black dials and ceramic bezels? Go for it.
16. Not Reading the Manual (Especially for Complications)
Eventually, all mechanical watches function more or less the same. But for those brand new to mechanical watches and for those who purchase a watch with any sort of complication, it’s a good idea to give the manual a once over.
You never know what kind of important detail you might pick up that could prevent you from damaging, or even breaking your watch. Just like how setting the day or date at the wrong time could damage the day/date wheel.
This is especially important when dealing with watches with complicated complications (heh) such as chronographs.
Some chronograph watches have functions, by holding down both chronograph buttons, that are used to adjust the second hand manually, in case it ever gets misaligned. You’d likely never know this if you never read the manual or inquired more about it, online.
The original Rolex Yachtmaster is the most extreme example of this. It has so many complications, I could hand it to you, and you’d never figure them all out even in a year, without the help of instruction.
Read your manual.
17. Thinking Small Watches are for Women
Especially by today’s standards, modern watches tend to be larger on average (38mm-42mm).
Smaller watches, like 36mm, are often overlooked, and sometimes considered “feminine” by some men.
Of course, watch dimensions are all subjective and largely depend on your wrist size, but a 36mm watch can look very classy and elegant and just plain awesome on a man. Ever see a Datejust 36?! Sometimes less is more.
Personally, I think with all of the overly large and loud watches that are popular these days, there will be a resurgence of smaller, more subtle watches for men in the near future.
18. Thinking Large Watches Are for Men
On that same note, some people think large watches are exclusively for men. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Women can look great in larger watches.
Personally, I see women wearing large watches around NYC all the time and they look great. One time I caught a lovely lady wearing a Rolex Yachtmaster II that really caught my eye. It’s all about personal taste and how the watch wears for your particular wrist.
19. Opening a Watch
With so many good resources about how to mod your watch or fix little quality control issues like a slightly misaligned bezel (looking at you, SKX), it’s easy to think you can do it all yourself. Even as a beginner.
But what a lot of tutorials sometimes don’t warn you about, is that opening your watch can cause a variety of issues if you don’t know what you’re doing.
By opening your watch to modify or attempt to fix it, it’s very easy to accidentally degrade the water resistance if you don’t properly seal everything back up, mishandle or damage a rubber gasket, etc.
Not only that, but dust and fingerprints can get on the inside of your watch. Not the end of the world if you’re making sure to keep your watch movement protected in a dust-case, but can be a nuisance if you’re not extra diligent.
Overall, it’s best to avoid opening any watch you care a lot about, is expensive, a dive watch you plan to swim with, or any watch that’s irreplacable.
Leave it to the professionals.
There ya have it!
I’m definitely guilty of having previously made a bunch of these mistakes.
Have you? Leave a comment below!
2 thoughts on “19 Beginner Watch Buying Mistakes to Avoid”
So much can be said on all of these sections! All great points! I was at an AD and noticed the newest Yachtmasters and asked about the 35mm range. The sales rep corrected me that the new women’s models were now 37mm and very much for women. It’s crazy that men’s and women’s sizes are closing in on each other and during the conversation I mentioned my 1803 DD in 36mm to which he said that classics are still classic haha
Great write up!
Ha! My one caveat for smaller watches (under 36mm) I’d try to avoid, personally, are dive watches. I feel like the bezel already makes them wear small enough as it is and I tend to prefer a slightly beefier piece.
But I wouldn’t bat an eye if I saw a 35 on another man’s wrist. In fact, I’d probably be even more fascinated than if it were the larger 40 or 42 you tend to see more typically today.