The Definitive Guide to the Best Watches for Men
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a watch.” That’s how the famous Jane Austen quote goes, right? Investing in a good watch is up there on the list of coming-of-age necessities for many a man.
Trying to find the perfect watch when you know nothing about them, however, can be quite tricky. From brands, to types, to price tags, diving head first into the watch world—while appealing—can feel overwhelming at times. So, how do you cut through all the information that’s out there and decide which watch is the right match for you?
To make your voyage into the world of watches a little easier and to prevent you from tumbling Alice-style down a wristwatch rabbit hole, we’ve compiled the ultimate watch guide to help you identify the best watches for men.
This general guide to the best men’s watches will help direct you in terms of what factors to consider in a watch, as well as give you a hand in brushing up on watch-related terminology. Read on to find out how to avoid the confusion, find yourself a Darcy-worthy watch, and never be late for a very important date again!
Need-To-Know Watch Vocabulary
The bezel of a watch is part of the outer casing. It’s a ring that circles the face (or dial) of your watch and acts as a frame for the crystal or glass. A bezel is often constructed from precious metals, such as steel. While it is technically considered a case part and plays no role in watch movement, there are still several types of bezels, such as stationary or rotating bezels. They often serve a specific and unique purpose, such as measuring speed, distance, or elapsed time. When it comes to rotating bezels, they can be categorized as either uni-directional or bi-directional. A rotating bezel can often be found on dive watches and on racing watches. On top of diving and driving features, bezels can also be scaled to provide use as pulsometers, telemeters, decimeters, and more.
Something has to secure a watch to your wrist. Sometimes that’s a strap, and sometimes that’s a bracelet. Each of these options has different pros and cons. Unlike a strap (which is usually made from leather, rubber, or another type of softer material), a bracelet is essentially a metal strap consisting of links that can be added or taken away to allow for a perfect fit. While straps can often be switched out easily, bracelets are often “integrated”—meaning they are built directly into the case of the watch. Many people opt for a metal bracelet because they are typically very versatile in terms of color palette, are wearable through any season or activity, and can be dressed up or down. Higher-quality watches will usually have stronger bracelets, feature things like screwed links and clasps that lock with better security.
The case is basically what it sounds like—the part of the watch that encases and protects the interior of the time piece. Besides their functional purpose, cases also play a large part in the design and general aesthetic of a watch. They come in a variety of materials, colors, weights, and shapes. More often than not, cases will be metal, but depending on the quality and rank of the watch, they can sometimes be ceramic or even plastic. When it comes to more expensive watches, case materials can make a huge impact in terms of price. The watch’s inherent value can increase or decrease based on a simple difference between materials like gold vs. silver, or platinum vs. rhodium. Weight is also a huge factor when it comes to pricing luxury watches. A heavier watch is usually the higher quality option. One of the best parts about cases is that they’re a part of the watch that can be very customizable to the person buying. Most cases have a diameter that falls between 34-44mm, so there are sizes for small and large wrists alike. There are a number of size options in terms of thickness as well.
While “complications” might sound negative, they’re actually really nifty features that come built in to some watches. Beyond style, the main function of a watch is to tell time, but complications allow watch-wearers to do much more. If you’ve ever looked closely at watches, you’ll have noticed that many of them have other, smaller dials and hands in addition to the main time-telling ones. These are usually things like calendars, time zones, chronographs (also known as stopwatches), minute repeaters, and alarms, and they are all types of complications. Besides the various, unique functions, they can add a lot of personality to the face of your watch.
Ever wondered what that little knob or button on the side of a watch’s case does? While it’s usually used to set the time or date accurately, it can also be used to wind the mainspring on mechanical watches. They may appear different from watch to watch, but functionally, they all pretty much do the same thing—make sure your watch works properly!
The crystal is arguably one of the most crucial parts of a watch. It’s the clear layer that covers the face of the watch, deflects glare, and allows you to see inside while preventing any damage on the interior. Typically, the best watches for men are made from highly resistant sapphire crystal, so they don’t break or get scratched up and obstruct your view to the inside, but they can also be made from things like acrylic crystal, mineral crystal, or glass. If you’re willing to splurge, selecting a watch with an authentic sapphire crystal is definitely your best bet, as it is stronger than any of the other options.
The face of the watch is, in many cases, officially called the “dial”. The dial of a watch is the flat surface, usually made from some type of metal, that is visible through the crystal. They typically feature several hands that tell the time by indicating hours, minutes, and seconds. Dials can also feature other complications, such as special markings and, sometimes, even smaller hands and dials within the main dial. Some dials are even illuminated in various ways for easy viewing in all kinds of lighting situations.
Lugs, also referred to in some cases as “horns”, are the pieces on each end of a watch’s case that connect the case to the bracelet or strap using metal spring bars. Lugs are mostly functional components, but they can also make a subtle difference when it comes to style and sizing.
When it comes down to it, “movement”, sometimes referred to as “caliber”, is a fancy way of saying “the way the watch works”. The movement of a watch describes the type of machine inside the watch that makes it tick. The three most common types of watch movements are mechanical, automatic, and quartz. Mechanical is the type of movement that’s been around the longest, and therefore doesn’t rely on any modern or electrical sources of power.
Simply powered by mechanical gears, these watches require the most attention, as they require their users to wind them up manually on the regular. Unlike mechanical watches, automatic watches are self-winding. When you move your wrist, the internal rotor spins and powers the watch automatically. Quartz movement differs from the other two in that these watches are battery-powered. Though quartz watches are often the least expensive, they are usually the most accurate and sit at the top of “best watches for men” lists. To learn more about watch movements, check out this article.
Finding Your Type
Once you’ve gone through the watch guide and learned all the fancy terminology, decided on materials, and obsessed over the details of craftsmanship, it’s time to identify what watch type is best for you. Whether you’re seeking something stylish or something that serves a specific purpose, there’s watch for every man the same way there’s a lid to every pot.
Dive watches are designed for what they sound like they’re designed for: diving! Originally built to survive deep dives by professional divers, dive watches are still selected by many non-divers just for their unique, sturdy look and guaranteed waterproofing. They’re not necessarily the dressiest watches in town, but they do have a number of useful complications, such as depth alarms, illuminated dials, bi-directional rotating bezels, and more.
It’s likely that these are the most commonly purchased luxury watches. Worn more as a fashion statement than as a functional tool, dress watches are a staple piece when it comes to men’s jewelry. These are the kinds of watches you’ve probably seen the most out in the wild. They’re often sleek, simple, made from precious metals, and are small enough fit comfortably under the sleeve of a dress shirt or suit jacket. You can’t go diving with one of these babies, but you sure can look good.
Similar to the dive watch, the field watch was built for action—not cocktail hour. Historically made for military use, field watches are made to last. They are typically waterproof (to an extent) and can survive in a variety of nasty conditions like mud and dust. The standard field watch today will still likely be feature the same fit-for-a-soldier look and useful complications as they did out in the battlefields back in the day.
Though this type of watch is definitely handy for people who fly planes, aviation watches are not limited to pilots alone. Pilot watches also typically feature altimeters—a complication that can measure altitude—which can be of use to a number of people in different fields or with different hobbies. Pilot watches also often have a fly-back complication, which is essentially a stopwatch that can time flights and reset itself. While these watches serve an obvious purpose, they often have a classic, retro look that appeals to a wide array of watch wearers.
Racing watches are another type of specialty watch, constructed first and foremost for drivers. They have a number of car-racing-related features that other watches don’t, such as high-contrast dials for easy legibility, as well as chronographs and tachymeter bezels that measure time and speed. Though these watches have specific functions, watches of the racing variety tend to come in a variety of colors and be much flashier and fashion-forward than diving, field, and pilot watches.
So, you’ve figured out the lingo along with your ideal watch type. What comes next? Picking a brand of course! In the modern watch market, there are tons of high-quality luxury brands to choose from, but there have always been a handful that have stood above the crowd—and for obvious reasons. Whether they’re known for their undeniable quality or because someone famous sported one once, there are brands that continue to sit as the best of the best throughout the test of time.
Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer is a no-brainer for some of the best watches for men, along with iconic names like Rolex and Cartier, but there are several other strong competitors. Brands like Citizen, Hamilton, Nixon, Omega, Tissot, and Seiko have each earned their reputations as some of the best luxury watchmakers in the world. Even Casio, a brand which might be considered less-than-luxurious, has proved itself to be worthy. On top of each of those longtime watch giants, there are a number of innovative and exciting watch brands being created all the time. MVMT is one of the most recent successes. Founded only in 2013, the super cool brand has already sky-rocketed into watch stardom. Learn more about MVMT and other brands by reading this article.
When most people think of luxury watches, they think Swiss watches. They have an undeniable reputation as some of the best watches in terms of quality and appearance. However, the only thing “Swiss” really means is that the watch meets a specific set of standards, including things as simple as “manufactured in Switzerland” and “uses Swiss movement”. At the end of the day, a good watch is a good watch, regardless of where it’s made.
Luxury watches can be expensive, but with good reason. Not only can watches provide you with a classy and sophisticated look, but to many, the unique craftsmanship, pristine inner mechanics, and longevity of luxury watches alone are worth the steep prices. If you want to learn more about investing in a watch, check out this piece on the best investment watches.
Leather is an excellent option when it comes to dress watch straps. Not only is leather a high-quality material that will last, but it’s also versatile and elegant, making it perfect for business settings and formal events. Leather is also often thin enough to slide smoothly under the sleeves of dress clothes, unlike some chunkier bracelet options.