Let’s cut directly to the chase. The key answer to the question of ‘what makes a good watch?’ is simple: a good watch is one you enjoy wearing. Everything else is very much a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ type of exercise.
But let’s assume you’re looking for a more quantifiable answer and break it down to help you get to the point of choosing a watch that inspires Kondo-esque levels of joy.
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about a ‘good’ watch is that ‘good’ has a direct correlation to price. You can get some genuinely great watches for a few hundred dollars, and, at the other end of the spectrum, some spectacularly average watches for six figures.
Most of the time, though, there is a degree of getting what you pay for. Higher-priced watches generally means better-quality components and more stringent manufacturing and quality control processes, adding up to a solid, reliable watch.
But still, this doesn’t have to equal big bucks. Take, for example, the Mido Ocean Star Tribute. It’s a Swiss watch from an established brand, with thoughtful design and features such as an automatic movement with 80 hours of power reserve, 200m of water resistance and a tough sapphire crystal protecting the neatly designed dial – all for a retail price of $1475.
Country of origin
When you’re talking about a watch that you want to last a long time, the odds are very high that such a watch would come from one of three countries – Switzerland, Japan or Germany.
The Swiss dominate the luxury watch market, and with good reason – it’s one of their major industries, and they know what they’re doing. Having ‘Swiss Made’ on the watch (which means that at least 60 per cent of the manufacturing costs are generated in Switzerland) is a pretty good marker of reliability and quality.
But don’t limit your horizons to one land-locked European country. Japan has been making excellent watches for a long time, too: Seiko, Citizen and Casio are household names. In more recent years those brands (Seiko and its prestigious sister-brand Grand Seiko, in particular) have been steadily moving upmarket, offering higher-end, heirloom-grade pieces at competitive prices.
And finally, the Germans. While they aren’t as prolific as either Japan or Switzerland, the cliché about German quality holds true, with brands such as Sinn and Nomos offering a distinctively Teutonic take on the wristwatch. At the top end, Glashütte-based A. Lange & Söhne is widely regarded as one of the greatest makers in the world.
Good design is, of course, entirely subjective. This is as true of watches as with anything else. Some people simply prefer a chunky sports diver, while others choose old-world classicism.
But while the aesthetic may change, one test remains the same. Does the watch ‘work’ on the wrist? Is it comfortable? Functional? Legible? A watch that looks lovely in a Photoshopped advertisement or Instagram post might translate into something else entirely on the wrist.
The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M is an excellent example of a watch that has been made to be worn but is also full of numerous clever touches. Where possible, try a watch on before committing. In general, you’re better off going with a brand that is 100 per cent dedicated to making watches, rather than one that has licensed its name to an anonymous assembly line.
Fit for purpose
Sure, a broken watch is still right twice a day, but that’s poor consolation to anyone who has experienced a catastrophic on-the-wrist failure.
A good watch is one that should suit your life and is reliable. And while there are many factors in this, such as water resistance or the quality of materials, the main component is the movement or the internal engine that actually keeps the time.
Some people might be happy with their smartwatch that needs regular battery top-ups, and others like the no-fuss dependability of a battery-powered quartz watch. Aficionados often enjoy the old-world romance of a mechanical watch, either automatic or hand-winding, that can run for years without missing a beat.
It’s also worth factoring in the ongoing costs. Like any machine, a watch needs to be serviced on occasion and (especially in the case of a mechanical watch), cared for appropriately.
How you value the name on the dial is a profoundly personal thing. For most people, once a watch goes beyond a certain price point, it moves from pure timekeeping device to a symbol of style and/or status – either overt or covert.
So, the brand of your watch matters. If you really want a Breitling or a Rolex, that’s the watch you should get. It’s not that it’s inherently ‘better’ than any other, but you’ll feel better with it on. Not because of what it says to other people, but in what it means to you.
Few things are as satisfying as looking down at the time on a watch that reminds you of a particular moment or accomplishment.
So, there is no single definition of a ‘good’ watch. Some people might love their Apple Watch, others adore their Rolex. And you know what? That’s as it should be.
What makes a ‘good’ watch for you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.