Finding the best first mechanical watch is almost an art

I want to buy a men’s mechanical watch, but I don’t know which brand to buy. Do you have any recommendation?

Well, if I had one cent for every time I heard that question, I could buy myself Patek Philippe. Not one watch – the effing company. But as it does not happen, my advice depends on your budget and your needs.

And its is much better to start by making a bit of planning before pulling the trigger.

A mechanical watch is much more than a device to tell you the time. It is a way to express your character as a person. You might love to wear a very modern and industrial-looking watch, or a retro-looking yellow gold two-hander on a crocodile strap designed for formal occasions.

As you can readily see, these two watches are made for for two very different occasions.

The three-watch collection

A common setup of any watch aficionado is to own at least three different watches:

  1. A “daily beater”
  2. The watch that you use regularly
  3. The watch for special occasions

The first one is the watch that you can wear on every circumstance, and not worry much about. It is usually of low value, so if it breaks, well, you buy another.

The second one is the watch that accompanies you through your “regular” routine: leisure, work, and some formal meetings. It is a sporty yet elegant watch, and it will make you look smart enough during your daily life.

The third is reserved for important meetings and social occasions where you have to look your best. It is usually a precious watch, that is, made in gold, and looks elegant and generally, a bit understated.

Now, these are general rules, and you know, rules are there to be broken.

But if I had to start somewhere between these three, I would shoot straight for #2, as it is the watch that is going to accompany you through most of your life. More, it is flexible: you can wear it (judiciously) during leisure/sports activities, but is smart enough to be worn on a social occasion.

The magic trick to change a watch’s character

Just remember that there is a clever way so that you could change the character of your watch: that is, replacing its wristband/bracelet. A watch can assume a completely different character with another strap, exactly as you look very different when you wear a pair of jeans or a suit and tie. While not as easy as 1–2–3, changing straps is not overly complicated – and any jeweler would do it for you for free or a menial charge, if needed. Just remember that normally, a leather wristband is more elegant than a metal bracelet (which is generally more sporty), and a silicone strap or a NATO strap are definitely sporty-looking.

So, let’s go checking some good alternatives for your watch buying. I will focus on new watches – that is, watches that you can readily find online. If you buy second-wrist watches, you usually save some money, but you are never certain of what you are going to get (so, when you are new at horology, better avoid).

A guide to choosing your perfect first watch

As we have several possiblities, we will examine several typical choices, so to find the one which is most suited to you and your needs.

Your budget is low?

You still have some good choices to find the perfect mechanical watch that will serve you faithfully for a long time.

And they are called Seiko and Orient.

These are Japanese brands that give an excellent value for the price you pay for your watch, and offer mechanical timepieces powered by proprietary calibers that rival the costs of quartz-based movements.

You should examine two lineups, precisely the Seiko 5 and the Orient Bambino, and you are going to pay from USD 100 to 200 for the privilege of wearing either of them.

While they are not state-of-the-art in features and mechanical precision, they are almost unbeatable if you consider their price, value, and presence on the wrist, which rivals much costlier timepieces.

You want to buy a good-looking, affordable Swiss watch?

A very good bet would be Tissot. Tissot is the entry-level brand of the Swatch group, and it makes some great watches at budget prices.

I am particularly fond of their Heritage models, which propose old designs that have been updated with new technology (remember that when you see the world “Heritage” it means just that).

So, I suggest you to consider the Tissot Heritage Visodate. It is a great starter watch, and looks much more important than its list price, which starts from around USD 350 for the mechanical version.

You want to step up your game a little bit?

Well, if you have somewhat more to splurge on your timepiece, you should consider getting something better, from both worlds (that is, Japanese and Swiss).

There are other product lines that you should consider, like the beautiful Seiko Presage. The Seiko Presage line is called by aficionados “baby Grand Seiko”. While this is not really true, these are watches that look far better than their list price.

Their most striking feature is usually the dial. This is lovely, but there are others which are even more impressive. A Seiko Presage starts from around USD 500, upwards.

Another great choice comes again from the Swatch group, and is called Mido. Mido makes excellent watches with a great value proposition. A model I could suggest you is the gorgeous Mido Baroncelli.

The Baroncelli is a great catch. Its fluted case is very elegant, and the watch has a great character and quality. It will make you look definitely smart. The Baroncelli starts from around USD 700, but it’s worth every penny.

You want a well-known Swiss brand?

Then you should resort to one of the best-known brands in horology, which is Longines. Though today the Maison is not on the level that it was back then, it is still an excellent company manufacturing quality watches, and has a great reputation in horology and in the mindset of people. Everybody would have heard about Longines in their life!

The Longines Conquest is a historic model of the company. I love both the newer version, which is more sporty, and the Heritage version, which is more elegant.

You can get either of them at around USD 1,000.

These are just a small selection of examples. You could find lots of other options, especially for complicated watches – that is, watches which mount other interesting functions apart from the simple timekeeping, like chronographers or annual calendars.

But to start your path in mechanical horology, a watch like the ones I have suggested would be enough.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

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