Choosing The Right Wristwatch

While wristwatches are a common accessory today, a century ago it was a different story. Wristwatches were really an advent as a consequence of the first world war. Previously, they were generally only worn by ladies, with gentlemen favouring pocket watches. When the war broke out, mid-size pocket watches were converted with the addition of lugs and a band into wearable wristwatches – known as trench watches. These later became part of the equipment issued to soldiers by the military; imagine the stories they could tell. Returning soldiers continued wearing their watches after the war, leading to a decline in the use of pocketwatches.

Now an integral part of our modern life, for most people, watches do just one thing – they tell the time. However, watches are not always as simple as they look and are often underestimated with regards to their features, and what they can offer.

Understanding some of the different types of watches available, their features, and what makes a watch valuable can assist in choosing which is best for you, whether it be for personal use or as a gift to someone else.


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Quartz Movements – These are the most common movements we see in watches. Driven by batteries, they keep accurate time, are durable, and are generally come at an affordable price.

Manual Wind Watches – Before the use of batteries, watches were constructed and designed using mechanical parts and specifically a mainspring which stored energy. The mainspring slowly unwinds, transferring energy to move the parts and enable ticking. These watches require daily winding.

Automatic wristwatches – Self-winding watches have a rotor attached to the movement which spins as the wearer moves their hand. This rotor, when spinning, winds the watch up again by tightening the mainspring. Without the constant motion, the rotor will stop spinning and the watch will cease to tick after approximately 30-70 hours (depending on the age of the watch) until the motion begins again.

Tactile Watches – These are designed to tell the time without the user looking at the face of the watch. Generally designed for the blind, there were also pocket watches created in the 1800s which allowed the owner to discreetly check the time without removing the watch from his pocket.

Kinetic Watches – A combination of a quartz and automatic watch, these have a weighted rotor that causes the watch to move. The rotor movement is converted to electricity with the use of an internal dynamo (turbine). The electricity is stored in a power cell. Kinetic watches need to be worn to recharge them.

Chronometer Watches – Automatic wristwatches are generally not as accurate as those powered by a quartz movement. Chronometer watches use high quality materials that are not impacted by a change in temperature causing expansion or contraction of parts. They have a more sophisticated movement as well, allowing greater accuracy and may also have a stopwatch feature.

Calendar and Moon Phase Watches – The moon phase feature on a watch indicates just that – the phase of the moon – based on the calendar of the watch, and indicates whether it is day or night through imagery.

Pilot watches – Often large in size, pilot watches were designed for use in aviation and as such are easy to read and include specific tools such as tachymeters, (measuring speed based on travel time, or distance based on speed), altimeters to measure altitude, compasses and sometimes a slide rule enabling calculations to be made.

Our September Fine Jewels & Timepieces auction will feature a number of vintage and luxury watches, including a solid 18ct gold Breguet, and a wonderful selection of pocketwatches… which we’ll cover in a future issue.

Julie Foster, Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces