For newcomers to the watch world, the vast assortment can be overwhelming. Not only are there plenty of brands to choose from but each watch company also offers dozens of collections with countless variations. Add in size, material, colour, band, functions, movements, and shape considerations to the mix and you’ve got a cornucopia of choices to comb through.
To make your selection easier, it’s important to recognize that most watches fall into a handful of main types. Once you gain a greater understanding of what these watch types are, it’ll be easier to narrow down your selection of potential purchases. The key here is to first define what watch type will best fit your needs, and go from there.
The daily watch is the piece you will wear most often. These watches are often called the “beater,” the “everyday wearer,” the “daily driver,” or some variation of those descriptors. If you pick the right daily watch, you could very well be a one-watch person without the need for any other timepiece. A daily watch has to be robust enough to stand up to your lifestyle, whether that's trekking in the great outdoors or tapping furiously at your keyboard. If you spend lots of time in the water, consider your watch’s water resistance.
An everyday watch should coordinate with your wardrobe style so that it can seamlessly pair with what you wear. Is your style mostly casual or formal, understated or flashy, trendy or timeless? Go with a beater watch that corresponds to your overall look rather than one that competes with it. Also, take note of the tone of the jewelry or accessories you may wear so you can better match the metal of your everyday watch to them.
Finally, the fit and comfort of your daily watch are important, so make sure you select the appropriate size for your wrist and think about the weight of the watch and the material of the band. Daily watches generally have simpler silhouettes and easy-to-read dials. These traits make them versatile and suitable for almost any occasion.
On the watch type spectrum, the opposite of the daily watch is the dress watch, also known as the formal watch or the special occasion watch. This is the timepiece you want to take out of the box when you’ve got your best outfit on and are looking to impress. If the invite says formal, then a dress watch is in order.
All high-end watchmakers have at least one dress watch collection in their catalogues. What they generally have in common are slim cases, understated dials, and elegant leather straps. It’s also common for dress watches to have manual winding movements because those are the slimmest types of movements available. Though it was once customary for dress watches to be made from precious metals like gold or platinum, steel dress watches are becoming more available too.
Dress watch dials frequently just stick to telling the time and in some cases, they also include a discreet date display — but no more than that. The simpler, the better. Water resistance is generally minimal since this isn’t the watch to take on a swim and the slim case allows the watch to be tucked away under a shirt cuff if need be.
The dive watch was created in the 1950s for those partaking in the burgeoning sports of skin and SCUBA diving. Since diving watches were developed for a specific purpose, they had to include features such as highly water-resistant cases, a rotating bezel marked to 60 minutes for divers to track how long they’ve been underwater, and luminous dials for legibility underwater.
To be considered a dive watch today, a timepiece has to have a minimum water-resistance rating of 100 metres, a unidirectional rotating bezel to avoid underestimating immersion times, and plenty of lume on the dial, including a luminous seconds hand to indicate that the watch is running. Some saturation dive watches even have helium escape valves to prevent the crystal from popping off during decompression periods (helium can seep into the watch when divers are in pressurized environments.)
Although diving watches are no longer necessary to dive since we now have sophisticated dive computers, they remain a popular sports watch. You’ll even hear the term “desk diver” to refer to dive watches that are never used for their original purpose but are predominately worn for their sleek and bold design. The earliest dive watches were made from durable stainless steel, however, today you’ll find plenty of divers with cases in various materials such as gold, titanium, ceramic, and even platinum. While metal bracelets remain the traditional choice for dive watches, some prefer to wear them on water-resistant rubber straps or lightweight NATO straps.
A chronograph is a watch equipped with a stopwatch function. The chronograph complication was invented in the 1800s, however, the evolution and progression of the chronograph wristwatch as we know it today took hold in the first half of the 20th Century. Thanks to their ability to measure passing seconds, chronograph watches became indispensable tools across many disciplines including military, medicine, science, aviation, navigation, and racing. Yet, like most tool watches, chronograph watches are now admired more for their sporty style rather than functionality. Some even like to wear a chronograph as their daily watch or weekend sports watch.
Chronographs are easily identifiable by the pushers that protrude from the case and counters that sit on the dial. While there are some variations, there are generally two pushers that flank the winding crown on the right side of the case. The upper pusher serves to start and stop the chronograph hand while the bottom one resets the hand back to zero. Most chronograph watches have at least two counters on the dials and most of them have three. The counters track the elapsed minutes and hours once the chronograph hand has been activated and a third one is usually the running seconds indicator.
Many contemporary chronograph watches are linked to racing and sports, and these usually come with bezels that have tachymeter scales to measure average speeds and/or distances. For instance, there are motorsports-inspired chronographs, as well as yachting and sailing chronographs. Other chronographs are associated with aviation and the military. Regardless of the inspiration, chronograph choices with plenty of materials, styles, and colours to choose from.
Although Louis Cartier is credited for developing the world’s first pilot wristwatch in 1906 for his friend and pioneering aviator, Albert Santos Dumont, the rise of the military-style pilot watch occurred during the First and Second World Wars. Specifications for watches destined for fighter pilots were set out by various military organizations around the world and watchmakers fulfilled them. Examples include the Mark IV and Mark V pocket watches for British pilots in WWI, American A-11 watches, the British Ministry of Defence-commissioned “Wrist. Watch. Waterproof” watches, and the German B-Uhren.
While all slightly different in execution, what these war-ready pilot watches had in common were large shock- and water-resistant cases, precise movements, and super legible dials with large hands and markers. The military pilot watch remained popular after both wars, and plenty of air force organizations continued to commission various types and styles.
In the mid-20th Century, a different kind of aviation watch emerged, thanks to Rolex. The Rolex GMT-Master, made for commercial pilots, could track two time zones at once. It was created specifically for Pan-Am pilots in 1955 but became wildly popular with people outside the airline company, due to its striking style and real-world practicality. Today, there are several pilot watch styles including vintage military-inspired ones, jet-age inspired ones, and aviation instruments that help pilots compute vital flight calculations.
"Travel watch" is a collective term given to a category of timepiece that displays at least two (and sometimes more) time zones at once. These types of watches are made with frequent travelers in mind, but they can also be useful for those who regularly communicate with people who live in a different time zone.
Watches that fall into the travel watch category include dual time watches (two time zones), GMT watches (two time zones but the second one is specifically displayed on a 24-hour scale), and world timer watches (24 time zones). Aside from the functionality, there’s no defining style of this particular watch type. Travel watches can be dressy and elegant or sporty and rugged, vintage-inspired or ultra-modern.
Sport watches were initially developed as tool watches to accompany divers, racers, pilots, armed forces, and so on. The luxury sports watch, however, wasn’t created for any purpose other than to tell the time and date in an ultra-stylish way. In the early 1970s, Audemars Piguet released the now-iconic Royal Oak, which was a super sporty take on the high-end wristwatch. Not only did it feature an oversized case, an octagonal bezel, and an integrated bracelet, it was also crafted in stainless steel — yet carried a hefty price tag on par with gold watches of the era. This avant-garde design gave birth to the luxury sports watch genre and paved the way for many others to follow.
Many of today’s most popular luxury sports watches — also known as sport-luxe watches — are the same ones released in the 1970s and 1980s (or at least inspired by them). However, they’re now available in a wide range of materials aside from stainless steel and many of these luxury sports watch collections have expanded to include various other functions and features. While the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus remain the gold standard in the luxury sport watch genre, there are plenty of other brands, such as Tudor, Breitling, TAG Heuer, and Cartier that offer similar styles.
A complicated watch is a watch featuring complications — any feature that goes beyond telling the time. A few of the most well-known watch complications are chronographs, dual time/GMTs, alarms, complete calendars, annual calendars, perpetual calendars, tourbillons, minute repeaters, and moon phases. A grand complication is a watch that combines several complications.
High-end mechanical complicated watches require great skill, knowledge, and craftsmanship to make — thus, they can be pricey. A handful of top-notch watch brands are famous for their impressive selection of complicated watches and grand complications. These include Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Several similar models can be found by searching luxxee below.