The Perfect Starter Guide for Men’s Watches

Are you interested in men’s watches but don’t know where to start? Are you confused by all the different kinds of watches available? Or are you wondering why would people spend such large amounts on watches?

This article will tell you all about these things — how watches work, how they are categorized, and what you should buy. I promise that you will know everything about watches at the end.

Bear in mind that the terminology used in this article is not strictly defined and is just for references. You may see them in other places with varied explanations. Let’s get into this now.


The “movement” is the timekeeping mechanism of a watch or clock, usually hidden under its face (where you look at your watch for the time). The movement is the soul. It is exceptionally crucial for a watch as it determines its accuracy, craftsmanship involved, material used etc. For many people, the movement of a watch is one of its biggest attraction and a main reason of purchase.

A quartz movement

1. Quartz Movement

Quartz movement is the most common kind of movement employed amongst all watches. The majority of the watches you see today, from G-Shock to Daniel Wellington, use quartz movements.
The quartz movement is named after the quartz crystal that is hidden inside the electronic motor, which is normally powered by a button cell. The crystal is a mean to regulate the electric current between the battery and the motor. With the power from the battery, the crystal acts as an electronic oscillator, constantly sending signals to the motor at a very precise frequency. It then moves the hands on the face, serving the watch’s timekeeping purpose with great accuracy. Even the most mediocre quartz watches can achieve an astonishing +/-1sec< per day precision error, while the best can limit the error within +/- 0.002sec per day.

A quartz crystal inside a quartz

The quartz movement was invented in the 1950s by a joint venture between two watchmaking companies from US and France. It was first made to compete with the Swiss, who dominated the horologic industry with their mechanical movement watches (We will talk about this in a second). In the following decades, Japanese watch manufacturer Seiko, along with other American companies, led the charge in revolutionizing the world of watchmaking with this pioneering technology.

A watchmaker

2. Mechanical Movement

Before the emergence of the quartz movement, mechanical movement was the norm of the horologic industry. It was the only movement available and every watch and clock used it. Although in modern days there are other more cost-effective and accurate options like quartz movement, there are still a lot of people who long to own or collect mechanical movement watches. Unlike quartz movement watches, mechanical movement watches usually display a relatively higher level of craftsmanship and sophistication.

A mechanical movement

There are easily more than 100 parts made with precious materials like metal and jewels inside a mechanical movement and every single one of them is assembled by the hands of extremely skilled expert watchmaker. Hence the watch itself represents the owner’s prestigious status and exceptional taste, while displaying his/her appreciation for the intricate technique from the watchmaker and the lineage of the brand. Putting it in a nutshell, an automatic movement is nothing short of an art form, rather than being merely a timekeeping device. Which is exactly why it still can attract so many people even in the digital age.

Due to the high cost, both in price and time, involved in manufacturing an automatic movement watch, this style is mostly popular among the higher end of the watchmaking industry spectrum, and targets consumers who generally have bigger budgets.

Standing in contrast with the quartz movement, the mechanical movement is powered by kinetic energy, instead of electricity, stored in the mainspring when tension is present.

A rotor

There are two different ways to create the tension needed:

1) Wind up the mainspring by rotating the crown of the watch with your hands. Watches which use this method are called hand-wound watches.

2) Making use of a rotor, which will wind up the mainspring when the watch engages in any movement. Movements which employ this method are called automatic movements.

A mainspring

The mainspring is connected to two or three gears of different sizes. These gears are attached to the minute, hour and second hand that you see on the watch’s face. When the mainspring uncoils, the gears move. When the gears move, the hands move. And of course, the movement of the hands indicates the flow of time. But how does the watch stop the mainspring from releasing its tension all at once?

By using the hairspring, pallet arm and balance wheel as physical oscillators, the energy stored up in the mainspring will now be released in a consistent frequency, keeping time.

An Automatic Quartz /
Autoquartz Movement

3. Automatic Quartz / Autoquartz Movement

Thanks to modern technology, another kind of movement was invented which combines the characteristics of both quartz and automatic movements. A rotor, like those from an automatic movement, utilizes kinetic force from any movements and charges the battery that sends current through the quartz crystal and the electrical motor.

The autoquartz movement gets the best from both worlds, acquiring the precision of quartz movement and the sustainability of an automatic. It is also pioneered by Seiko and is employed by few other watch manufacturers like Citizen and Ventura.

What Watches Are They?

Beside the movement, the external design of a watch also plays a big role in how it should be categorized.

Vacheron Constantin Historiques
Ultra fine

1. Dress Watch

Dress watches often emphasize on simplicity and elegance, so their faces won’t be crammed with too much stuffs. They are designed to have a slim and sleek body, in order to avoid disturbing the cut of a gentleman’s suit. A bulky watch does not compliment a suit well as a dress watch. For example, it would make the wearer look clumsy when worn with shirts with close-fitting cuffs. But the same problem will never happen to a dress watch as the slim body allows itself to slide under the cuff without any fuss. Also, making a slim body proves to be a challenge to a watchmaker, because it takes much more precision and focus for one to assemble the various parts of a watch into a small body compared with a bigger one. Therefore the watch itself is also a demonstration of the craftsman’s skill and technique.

Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage

Dress watches are often hand-wound or employ quartz movement to cut down the size. For the same purpose, they also usually come with a leather strap. Leather straps can easily be matched with your belts and shoes when wearing a suit, highlighting your whole outfit in a classy style. The majority of dress watches have a simple face. Many of them use Roman letters instead of Arabic numerals for the hour indicators on the periphery of the dial. Some even don’t have any letters/numbers at all. You will find some of the dress watches with only hour marks while some will also have the minute marks — it depends. Both circular and rectangular dials are adopted by dress watch manufacturers and they are commonly made with precious metal like silver, gold or platinum. Same goes for the case of the watch.

IWC Ingenieur 3227–01
Omega Speedmaster

2. Sport Watch

Unlike dress watches, sport watches carry a rather informal style, without compromising any class or stylishness. Sports watches are sometimes worn with suits, but are frequently matched with casual attire like polos and casual shirts. Sports watches are very popular amongst men as they can be styled in various ways and can accommodate different attires.

Sport watches often adopt automatic movement and steel bracelets which gives them a chunky look. But their face design comes in all kinds of variation, which also contributes to their versatility. You can see all kinds of dials on sport watches. Some use Arabic numerals on every hour mark, some only use it for the “12” and “6” mark, some don’t even put them on it at all. And the same goes for the hands — you can find a myriad of them on sports watches from the basic military hands to sword hands to pencil to dauphine — there’s just too much to count. It seems that there is also quite some variety of dials on sports watch, but mostly focuses on deeper colours like navy and black. Nine out of ten sports watch are designed with a circular dial, although a few come with rectangular ones.

3. Tool Watch

Long before automatic watches became a novelty gadget and symbol of status, their functionalities were crucial for many people, even to the point of saving their lives — no kidding! After the emergence of wristwatches, there were many attempts made to make them into something more than a timekeeping device, which led to the flourish of tool watches. Tool watches have different gadgets or additional parts attached which perform as utility tools that make use of the dial’s layout (e.g. for instance calculation and timing), helping the wearers who were usually professionals to perform better in their respective tasks.

It is obvious that the utility tools on the watches are obsolete if considered pragmatically, especially in the age of computers and internet, but there are still a lot of people who appreciate the ingenuity and legacy that they represent. Aside from that, the long history of tool watches also develop a unique style of aesthetics that forever sets themselves apart from other watches.

Oris ProDiver Kittiwake Limited
Clerc Hydroscaph LE Gold

3a. Diving Watch

As the name implies, diving watches were once what divers wore when diving. And they are one of the most heavyweight watches you would ever see. A diving watch features a thick, sturdy case, to protect the watch from frequent impacts and scratches. The ring around the face of a diving watch is called a diver bezel. Without it divers may not reach the surface soon enough and put their own life at risk. The arrow/marker on the bezel’s 12o’clock position signifies the starting time of the dive and the numbers act as a timer to remind the diver when would he or she will run out of oxygen. Something worth taking note is the mechanism of the bezel. It can only be rotated counterclockwise and not the other way around. Why? Because if the bezel, under whatever consequences, is accidentally rotated clockwise, the diver would have less time than indicated to resurface, which could result in disastrous consequences. Oppositely, if the bezel is rotated counterclockwise, the diver would just resurface earlier than needed and have more than enough oxygen left.

These watches are mostly seen with a heavy-duty steel, sometimes titanium, bracelet with a strong clasp. Nearly every diver watch has both hour marks and minute marks, and is always luminous. Another thing special about diver watches is that almost every one of them has at least three hands — hour, minute and second. The hands and hour marks are often thicker compared to average watches to allow more space on it for more luminosity. Despite the fact that not many people dive with diving watches anymore, manufactures still value their water resistance as an important attribute, which in one way display their uniqueness. The WR of diving watches range from 10 meters to 300 meters or more. But take note, diving with an automatic diving watch is not recommended at all times

Breitling Navitimer 01 Panamerican,
with a pilot bezel
Bremont ALT1-WT World Timer

3b. Pilot Watch

Again, the name tells it all. The pilot watch was made for those adventurous enough to navigate the skies, showing their outstanding ability to multitask and focus for an extended period of time. Different from divers, pilots do not frequently engage in physical activities or risk injuring their body, hence possibly do not demand as much protection as the former.

Applying the same rule to the watches explains why their cases are slightly thinner and lighter than those of diving watches. Pilot watches usually indicate time with Arabic numerals and have hands for hour, minute, and second. Most of the pilot watches you see have both hour marks and minute marks. And in general the hands, the font of the indicators, the hour marks, and minute marks are very slim, which prevents the watch face from being too cramped. The face of a pilot watch also tends to be bigger and the colour of the dial, hands and indicators are mostly in sharp contrast with the background (e.g. white on black, black on white) for better visibility. Pilot watches typically come with leather straps or lightweight steel bracelets.

Some pilot watch comes with the pilot bezel, which consists of two adjacent rings, can be used to solve arithmetic, convert units, calculate flight distance, flight time, fuel consumption and so on. Pilots (and occasionally the navy) in the past gained a lot of benefits from the bezel because there were a lot of calculations going on in the cockpits and computers were not exactly around. It was also said that military pilots relied heavily on pilot bezels as timing and precision is paramount for military operations, but most of the time signaling would be too obvious and would fail to preserve the element of surprise. So in order to keep everybody in sync during progression, they need to depend heavily on calculations and timekeeping.

Hamilton Pan Europe
Timex Weekender

4. NATO/ZULU Watch

NATO/ZULU watches, which simply means those with NATO/ZULU straps, come in a great variety: quartz movement, automatic movement; some with lume, some without; bulky cases, slim cases…but the focus is on the strap. Instead of defining them as an independent category of watches, I would rather say that watch manufacturers are very keen on blending this type of design into their watches. NATO and ZULU have a very slight difference, watch this to know more.

NATO/ZULU watches are getting more and more popular among the younger generations because brands like Timex and Daniel Wellington which target youngsters are gaining much success with them. Yet it must be mentioned that NATO/ZULU straps has been existing for a very long time. They originated from watches which the British soldiers during the 1970s were equipped with. From a utilitarian point of view, the nylon NATO/ZULU straps are very cost-effective to make, are suitable for any kind of wrists, and can be changed or replaced easily so there would not be any trouble if it breaks. Although NATO/ZULU watches are now not only worn by soldiers, those attributes can also benefit us. There are tons of NATO/ZULU straps made with different materials from nylon to leather out there. And they can make a watch accommodate to almost any styles. By switching from a striped coloured nylon strap into a dark brown leather strap, you can instantly mix-and-match your watch with different outfits, no matter how casual or preppy it is. The versatility of NATO/ZULU watches and straps combinations is definitely attractive to those who are planning to buy a watch on a budget. The sky is the limit for what you can do with a NATO/ZULU watch!

What Should I Buy?

After all the theories and history, let’s look at few popular men’s watch to give you a taste of what is going on in the watchmaking world.

Three Rolex Datejust Variations

Being an innovator in so many ways, from the movement to the design, The Rolex Datejust is inarguably one of the most prominent pioneers among the history of the horological industry. And to this day, this classic model is still the indulgence of many watch enthusiasts. There are indeed many variations of the Datejust, and you can even own a unique version by customizing one.

Rolex Submariner 116610
Blue lume

The Rolex Submariner is the classic automatic diving watch that just can’t be absent from a watchaholic’s collection. The sturdy steel case and thick steel oyster bracelet gives it a very masculine aesthetic, especially suitable for those with wide wrists. The black dial and bezel, which contrasts with the white hands, letters and marks gives it a nice look. The blue lume also separates it from its predecessors.

Seamaster Aqua Terra 150 m
Omega Co-axial (Blue-Dial)

This Seamaster Aqua Terra automatic watch has a shiny polished steel case and bracelet, giving it a smart finish. The blue striped dial matches very well with the exquisite pointy marks and hands with the minute marks and Arabic numeral indicators on the periphery. The “Seamaster” cursive emblem adds a touch of stylishness to the look of the watch.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Ultra Thin
Grand Feu (Silver/Black)

The JLC dress watch is the ultimate representation of simplicity. It has a white, clear dial without numbers or roman letters but only silver hour marks and minute marks, and a pair of shiny sword-type hands at the center. The handwound Calibre 849 movement, which is only 1.85mm thick, is protected by a silver case. The black leather proves to be a good companion to the silvery watch with the nice colour match. Although short of flamboyant designs and complications, the Ultra Thin Grand Feu doesn’t fail to display its elegance presence under the modest look.

Chinese Timekeeper CTK14
Three Hands Automatic Jade

Special Mentions -

I would like to introduce you to a brand that might not sound too familiar but packs a ton of surprises — The Chinese Timekeeper. Established in Hong Kong, CTK is destined to follow the footstep of its city, becoming a fusion between the East and the West in the world of watchmaking. The Three Hands Automatic Jade features a silver dial and a steel case, along with a brown leather strap. The dial has a very unique design, with ten Burmese jade embedded on the periphery as hour marks plus indicator. The “10o’clock” and “12o’clock” position are indicated by a Chinese character emblem of “ten” and a petite emblem that resembles an ancient Chinese inventor, who was a trailblazer on the horological history and also an inspiration for the brand. For those who have been longing for a timekeeping device with a hint of the Orient, the Three Hands Automatic Jade is highly recommended.

ArtyA Son of a Gun Russian
Roulette Chocolate III

As I’ve said above, wristwatches are nothing short of an art form. But ArtyA just takes this to another level with avant-garde Swiss watchmaker Yvan Arpa designing his watches in creative and exotic ways. ArtyA is not bound by traditional watchmaking design principles and physically incorporates various elements into their watches — you can find guitar picks, insect samples, and even blood in them. In this case, the Son of a Gun Russian Roulette Chocolate III is powered by an A82 high end Swiss automatic movement, and features a two-layer dial that looks like a cylinder from a revolver, with a real bullet set in one of the spaces on the upper dial. When the watch runs, the upper dial spins like this. The holes in the lower dial lets the wearer see part of the movement, which gives the watch an extremely unique aesthetic. The watch is equipped with a gold case and a black leather strap.

So that’s all for this article now — thanks for hanging on for so long! I know it has just barely scratched the surface but if you’ve enjoyed this article or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to share it! Thank you very much!