How to Pick the Perfect Watch

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We hear from a pro on how to select the ideal watch for any occasion.

Buying a watch, like buying a suit, can be a daunting task. There are hundreds of brands and styles out there to choose from and figuring out which watch works with what can send some guys back to the safety of an old Casio. That’s why we reached out to Jon Bues, senior editor at Hodinkee, to guide us through picking out the perfect watch. He believes that every man should own at least three watches: one for formal occasions, one for everyday wear, and one for the weekend.

Read on as Bues breaks down what to look for in each category and drops some brand names that are known for their craftsmanship in each of these categories.

Courtesy Bulgari

Watches for Formal Occasions

You don’t want something too big or thick for a formal occasion. It needs to be able to glide easily under your cuff. A watch that is 10mm thin or less, and less than 40 mm in diameter, should get the job done. An 18 to 20mm lug width is pretty standard for a dress watch (that’s the measurement between the lugs where your watch strap fits).

You also want to stay away from a chunky bracelet. Again, not easy to fit under a cuff or jacket. I personally go for an alligator strap for formal occasions.  There is a whole category of watches known as ‘Ultra-Thin, which typically come in at or under 6 or 7mm of thickness. One of the better-known ones is the Bulgari Octo Finissimo, a very modern take on this type of watch. Piaget has a long tradition of ultra-thin watches and movements, as does Jaeger-LeCoultre. Ultra-thin watches tend to be manually wound more often than not, because of their design, though there are also automatic ultra-thin watches.

The dial is very important as are the hands. You want a very clean dial with nice applied markers. ‘Breguet,’ ’baton,’ and ‘dauphine’ style hands are wise choices for a formal watch, since they are more refined and elegant.  

For dress watches, Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin are great options, as are Breguet and A. Lange & Söhne. There is great value to be found if you look for gold watches in the vintage market by the likes of IWC, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron, which can often be found for around $3,000 to $5,000.

Courtesy Tudor

An Everyday Watch

Having a GMT (a watch with two time zones) for every day is a solid choice, especially if you travel a lot for work. Personally, I am a strap guy, but I think it’s smart to buy a watch on a bracelet just to have it and then switch it onto a strap. I am a huge fan of the aftermarket straps you can find online to really personalize a watch. You can find a variety of colors in a wide range of categories from NATO, carbon fiber and exotic skins.

Related: The Best Stainless Steel Watches

Some brands to consider that have great GMTs include Rolex, Tudor (which recently came out with the Black Bay GMT), and Grand Seiko, which are made in Japan and have some of the most finely finished dials in the industry.

Courtesy TAG Heuer

A Weekend Watch

It depends how you spend your weekends. If you are at the beach then a dive watch is a great choice. Weekends are an opportunity to wear a bigger watch since you don't have to jam it under a sleeve. Some of my favorite dive watches include the Rolex Submariner, Cartier (Caliber de Cartier Diver) makes a great dive watch as does Omega with the Seamaster. If you want something with more of vintage look that handles diving conditions, check out Doxa.

If you like to spend the weekend driving, a vintage or contemporary chronograph is the way to go. There is such a strong history between these watches and the driving world. TAG Heuer has some great ones (the Autavia, the Carrera, and the Monaco come to mind) as does Rolex (the Daytona), Breitling (the Navitimer), Omega (the Speedmaster) and Universal Genève for vintage models.

If you really must pair your watch down to just one, the vintage Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 is a really great way to go. It is proportioned like a dress watch but it’s technically a sports watch that debuted in the late 60s. A great hybrid of dressy and sporty all in one.