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Vasan Sri

This lengthy article is meant for a lay person
.It will guide you to select the watch of your
choice, need or fancy with better technical
knowledge about watches. You can quickly move
over to sections of interest and skip other
sections..Keep a pad and a pen for jotting down
the relevant points for proper decision making.
Whether you wish to buy a $10 resin watch or a
luxury watch for $10000--- a lifetime watch
which you can pass on as heirloom, spend
sometime and read this article.
For most men, watches serve as fashion statement
or status symbols and a piece of jewelry. For
ladies, a watch is part of their regular


Basic decisions

1 The first decision you would make is that
whether you want to buy a men's watch or ladies
watch. You can also select one of those "unisex"
watches too.
2 The next decision would be the size of the
watch: case diameter and case thickness.
Men's watches tend to be larger--in the range 36
mm diameter to 48 meter or nearly two inches!.
The modern trend is to wear large watches. Most
buyers prefer around 40 mm size watches. You can
select the size depending on your wrist size,
but men like to have larger ones.
Ladies watches are around 24 mm [1 inch] to 36

mm [1.5 in]; again ladies,nowadays ,go for large

size watches. I have seen women wearing a watch
of 45 mm case.
CASE THICKNESS Case thickness varies from 6mm to
12 mm, while most people prefer around 8 mm.
There was a time when gentlemen preferred very
thin watches,say about 5 mm. They were expensive
Imagine mechanical watches being made in just
4 mm thickness-- a real marvel of engineering by
Swiss watchmakers. Those days are almost gone
because of prohibitive prices.
You can find very thin 'quartz' watches ,about 4
mm, made by Citizen and other companies. Look
for them if you are interested in thin ones.
Thin mechanical ones are collectors' items and
may be found in vintage watch markets.

3 The third important decision is the type of
movement---the heart of a watch.
There are ,basically, three choices:
--mechanical --hand wound or automatic (self
--digital (using chips or Integrated
I know that you would know a lot about these
movements, but a few salient points and reviews
are in order.
Hand-wound watches have almost disappeared,
since you have to wind them everyday. Still,
some nice manwatches are being made in India
[by HMT, a major watch maker] even today...they
last a lifetime, but may run faster or slower as

the main spring becomes old. You need to adjust

by regulation. They usually have 17 jewels for
smooth operation.Some like to watch the slow
,ticking movement of the center second in those
watches. You can get good ones, even with gold
plating , in the vintage market in 'e-bay' and
other on-line stores.
I have an old Favre-Leuba Swiss hand wound watch
which works beautifully even today--but stored
in a drawer!.
Mechanical Automatic watches--- This is the most
sought after category by watch lovers and
collectors. This is a piece of engineering with
tiny moving parts. The main feature is a rotor,
a disc like piece which rotates both ways and
winds the main spring. The rotor is rotated by
your wrist/hand movements.! The main spring
powers the balance wheel and the gear train for

the timing and movement of hands.

A balance wheel has a delicate hair spring to
regulate the timing.
An automatic watch does not require winding
or a battery; it is self winding; but you must
wear almost daily to keep it powered. or else it
would stop,especially at night and might
embarrass you in a party meeting. Yet good
quality automatics would wound easily and run
for about 36 hours.
Automatics are precision engineering
instruments, with lot of tiny gears and levers
for movement. They are produced by accurate
machines [CNC machines these days] with brass
plates as raw material. Automatics have
jewels--synthetic gems [alumina or corundum,
made by 'flame-fusion or Verneul process']as
bearing surfaces to reduce friction and wear.

They generally have 21 jewels or 23 or 25

jewels. High end watches may have 30 or more
jewels. Check for the number of jewels in your
automatic watch...if it is less than 21 jewels,
discard them.
Automatic watches last for about 10 to 30
years,while high end ones may run for even 100
years! Such is the quality of these
instruments.I had used a Bulova automatic for
more than 10 years.[Later it needed some
maintenance.] I also have a Tissot automatic
that is more than 40 years old.
All automatic watches need periodic servicing
,at least once in 3 years . They need to be
lubricated and cleaned up like any machine or
engine. The cost of servicing and fine tuning
may range from $10 to $1000, depending on the
brand of the watch. Check this out with your

servicing center ,unless you use and throw your

watch after a few years .
High end automatics are great assets, if you
wish to have them as future investment or to
pass on as heirlooms for your loved ones. Even a
low end automatic watch costing ,say $300 in
1980's, can be resold for $50 to $1 now. So,
their value decreases slowly or increases
enormously as an antique or vintage items. Much
depends on the brand name, such as: TISSOT,
In recent times ,several brands have come to
occupy positions in the luxury watch segment:
brands like : Raymond-Weil, Hublot,Rado, and so
When we discuss automatic watch, there is the
vexing question of "Country of Origin":

Is it SWISS MADE" OR simply "Swiss movement" or

Japan made/movement ? The quality would vary a
lot. A collector or an investor would almost
always go for a 'Swiss Made" watch, written on
the dial...this is important. Always check the
back of the watch and the engraving on the
inside plate.
Next comes 'Swiss movement' which means a set of
parts are shipped from Switzerland and assembled
in some other country, most probably China or
'Swiss made' watches would always fetch a higher
price even after a few decades.
SEIKO entered the watch field with its own
simplified movement ['Seiko 5'] in the late
1960's and slowly captured the automatic watch
market. Other important Japanese companies to
make their automatic movements are CITIZEN and

ORIENT. In the early 1970's one could buy a

SEIKO 5 auto watch for about $300 ,compared to
Swiss watches , almost 3 to 5 times costlier.
The inroad of Japanese firms made a huge dent on
the Swiss watch industry who moved to higher end
and special watches or closed their shops. The
same fate befell many German and American watch
makers . They could not easily compete with the
Japanese brands except in niche areas. Several
brand names such as Sandoz, Favre-leuba went out
of the market. They could resurface after
several decades with a mix of manufacture in
Swiss and other countries making cheaper parts
and low-cost assembly. This, of course, is two
decades before the quartz revolution which was
like a tsunami sweeping the watch coasts.
Among the Chinese companies, Sea-Gull has
entered the industry with automatics attempting

to reach the quality level of Seiko/

Citizen/Orient. They are reasonably prized.
Whether Sea-Gull would be a serious competitor
to Japanese automatic watches remains to be
Of late several brands of automatic watches
are available in the price range of $50 to $200,
reasonably priced and of good quality for
everyday use. They may have fancy names and are
supported by heavy advertisements to entice you
. But the quality is a big question and the good
ones may last for 5 to 10 years ---that is
all.Go for standard well-known brands.

The quartz revolution began in 1983 when Seiko
launched its first quartz watch called "Astron'.
The watch industry has a mild earthquake like

shock and was changed for ever.

First let me explain the mechanism of a quartz
watch.It is based on a tiny quartz crystal which
is made to vibrate at a constant frequency 'f'
cycles per second or Hz .This frequency depends
on the specified crystal direction, dimensions
and temperature. These details need not concern
The constant frequency of vibration is
translated into constant stream of electrical
pulses. These pulses are like tiny electrical
shocks to a 'stepper motor' which rotates
through a small angle for each pulse [usually
7.5 degrees per pulse.] The movement of the
shaft of this motor triggers a gear train which
adjusts the speed and makes the movement of
hands in an analog wrist watch.
Note that even though the crystal vibrates at

constant frequency, there are mechanical

movements in the stepper motor and gear train
which have to be precision made for the accuracy
required. Therefore a quartz watch is an
instrument of high accuracy and precision--all
within a few millimeters of lengths---a marvel
of engineering for the modern man!
[ Here is a little digression. In a sense, a
quartz watch is like a human heart. In the
heart, sinus nodes on the heart muscle produce
electrical pulses which contract or compress the
heart at definite frequency. In a quartz watch,
it is the reverse process---the crystal vibrates
and generates electrical pulses of constant
Note that a human heart may develop irregular
pulses or beat rate and may need an external
'pace maker'. Further a human heart does not

always contract at the same frequency. The

frequency varies as the demand for the pumping
of blood varies at times. When you are in fright
or running, the pulse rate goes up and the heart
beats faster! But a quartz watch ticks always at
the same frequency!!]

Solar watches are the order of the day and we
should find inexpensive and high quality solar
watches in the near future.
Solar watches are quartz watches with a solar
cell below the dial. The solar rays are
sufficient to charge the battery inside and you
may not need any battery or replace the
rechargeable battery inside after nearly 10
Solar watches were first introduced by CITIZEN

with its popular 'eco-drive' watches. They get

charged not only with direct sun light but also
weak light indoors--from windows or from
fluorescent /filament lamps. A fully charged
solar watch would run even for six months---I
have tested this myself by keeping the watch in
darkness in a drawer.

Less expensive solar watches with resin cases
are available from CASIO...they are very durable
and I have tested two of them for several
With the advent of solar watches, the question
of replacing batteries does not arise at all.
There are several low-cost fashion solar watches
from Q & Q brand [a subsidiary of Citizen] about
$30. Try them or gift them to kids.
Solar digital watches , under $20, are excellent

buys from CASIO ; they are rugged and meant for

young persons with active life.
These watches are a kind of hybrid
watches---they use quartz technology, but use
your wrist movement to charge a battery inside
--like an automatic. They can be very accurate
,at the same time not needing a battery.This
innovative design watches are pretty
expensive----see Seiko and Pulsar brands--- but
have not caught on in the public's mind.
I would prefer a simple 'solar watc without the
involvement of rotor and a battery to store
energy from my wrist movement.

The accuracy you can get from a quartz watch is
fantastic. It is about 3 seconds in a day. So

you may lose or gain a minute or two in a month.

Even some of the best mechanical,automatic
watch will give an accuracy of only 1 or 2
minutes in a week. You may have to adjust the
time setting once a week for an automatic while
you can set once a month or so for a quartz
Note that even an inexpensive quartz watch which
you pick up in an open counter at a
departmental store like WALMART for $20 or less,
will have the high accuracy of a minute in a
month. But for high accuracy of 1 minute in a
week, you have to spend $100 or more for a good
quality automatic mechanical watch.
So, if you are interested in accuracy of timing,
go for only quartz watch...forget about
automatic watches of even big brands!!!


A quartz watch needs a battery and the

instructional manual asks you to replace the
battery when the watch runs slow or stopped
working. This may happen after 1 year or longer.
I have used CASIO watches with battery life of
3 years or more. There are CASIO watches which
could run for 10 years--it is written on their
dials--"10 year battery"...they have high energy
lithium-ion battery. [Li ion batteries posed
problems of fire in computers and other devices,
but so far no accidents from watches with these
batteries have been reported.] Such watches may
not be shipped through air parcels ,however.
Read the shipping instructions carefully.]

So, if you settle for a quartz watch because of

its accuracy, you have to pay the price of
battery and also face sudden 'outages' of the
watch if the battery fails or runs low.
Modern developments offer big improvements over
this battery issue-- see 'solar' watches and
'kinetic ' watches below.

The next movement to consider is the digital
watches.These are purely electronic watches,
with a chip or Integrated circuit running the
machine. CASIO invented these watches and soon
flooded the market with inexpensive, but
feature-ful instruments which redefined :"what
is a watch?'.
The LCD technology [liquid crystal display]
developed simultaneously making long lasting

dials with very little power needs.

There are two great, REALLY GREAT, advantages
of digital watches.
ONE, they consume very little power and so the
battery can easily last for 5 years or more. I
had used a CASIO watch with a single battery for
8 years!
TWO, a digital watch,like a computer, can have
several features all packed in a small volume at
a very small price. The features are: 5 alarms,
night lite, stop watch , count down timer in
most watches;
Advanced digital watches have : perpetual
calender,world city timings, thermometer,
barometer,compass, heart rate meter,memo
storage, a calculator and so on. Some have
linkage with atomic clock measurements.!
Check on the latest ones in CASIO line.

All these are available in the price points of

$20 to $50!
I must add that these watches [Casio,
Armitron,Timex--being the popular brands] are
quite durable and last several years, except for
cheap bands which break easily. I would however,
rate the Casio brand a notch higher than the
other excellent brands .
So, if you look for such features and also long
life at low cost, digital watches are the best
One may not like the look of these watches--some
are real monsters in looks ---but you may get
some sleek ones with less features in elegant ,
classical style. They ,however, look too
technical for dress watches or casual wear.

Watch cases enhance the beauty of a watch and
may attract compliments from others -- this is
one of the reasons for wearing a watch in the
first place.
The cases are usually made of one of these
--Resin or plastic [generally for low end
---metal--usually stainless steel, but also
brass, aluminum,for low end ones, and titanium.
--ceramic --expensive, luxury watches.
Resin ones, popularized by CASIO can be tough
and convenient to wear...they are of low weight
and smooth. They are also the most suitable for
swimming,dive and water sports and
dive watches are mostly resin watches. CASIO

introduced 'tough G SHOCK '

watches some 20

years ago and this has caught on with sports

fans and others...They are indeed durable and
would not break orpick up scratches.
You would probably like stainless steel cases,
because they can be polished or brushed to fine
finish, no corrosion and last for 100 years.
Nowadays you get SS coated with ION PLATING
(IP) with brown or black finish...they are
attractive and quite scratch resistant if coated
with some nitrides.
Stainless steel 316L is a special steel and may
be better for corrosion resistance and is
available in certain brands.
A new entrant in this market is TITANIUM. This
metal is highly corrosion resistant [a property
hardly utilized in watches though] but also of
light weight...density of titanium:4.5 g/cc,

nearly half that of steels.

Top brands like SEIKO and CITIZEN have titanium
case watches for around $200; meanwhile
BERTUCCI, a US brand known for its field
watches, has brought out quartz watches with
titanium cases around $100..Titanium case
watches would become cheaper and available in
more brands in the near future.
Gold plated or cases with thin gold tones were
popular and you must check on the life of these
coatings. They wear out easily ,say after a few
Ceramic cases were introduced by RADO some 40
years ago with DiaStar. They are scratch
resistant, but can be brittle . They are made
from zirconia powders ,molded and sintered to
form the shape. They are found in other high end
watches too. Rado has also got a collection with

diamond like hardness. Some of RADO watches are

white colored due to alumina like ceramic
materials. Rado watches are priced at $1000
upwards for ceramic cases and could be
considered a luxury watch brand.
The term 'crystal' is used for the tranparent
material over the dial. They are not 'crystals'
in the scientific terminology. Most often these
crystals are glass pieces, also called
There are essentially three kinds of crystals
for watches:
1 Sapphire, which is a hard material, highly
scratch resistant...this is made by a synthetic
process to grow crystals of this substance
[basically alumina] called 'flame -fusinon' or
Verneul process].They are very expensive. If you

buy an expensive Swiss quartz watch for say

$500, you may find a sapphire crystal on the
dial and much of the money goes towards the
crystal.The quartz movement may cost only $50 or
less. There are less expensive watches with
sapphires --check out the lines of Tissot or
Pulsar [ a unit of Seiko] and other brands.
Watch out for spurious brands claiming to give
you a sapphire like crystal!
2 The second option for a crystal is ,of course,
a piece of ordinary glass. This may be toughened
on the surface---much like the side window glass
in your car-- to improve scratch resistance.
These go by different names in various
brands---but they are all glass pieces only.
Note that the glass or mineral crystal may be
flat or dome like [as in 'Bambino' watches from
Orient]. Most watch lovers prefer flat crystals

as they are less likely to get scratched.

Some brands have a thin anti-reflection coating
on a glass crystal--as you find on camera
lenses. How far they improve the visibility of a
dial from glare is a debatable question..
3 The third option is the poor man's
crystals--a piece of plastic or 'acrylic' which
is quite tough, but gets scratched easily. They
can be polished to remove scratches or replaced
with a new one at low cost.
The low end watches almost always have 'acrylic'
crystals --often with fancy names given by the
brand makers.
Thw water resistance of a watch is an important
issue in watch design and manufacture. A watch
should be resistant to penetration of water
while you wash your hands or taking a shower.

Watches used by swimmers and divers must

withstand the pressure of water, at the same
time dial should be visible and bright under
Water resistance is expressed in terms of depth
of water it can withstand in meters. Note that
10 meters of water corresponds to one atmosphere
or 1 bar of pressure and so it can be expressed
in atmospheres or bars.
Water resistance of watches is tested in
factories under a pressure device.
WR can be 30 meters for low end watches and goes
up to 50 meters 50M ,or 100 M [10 bar].
.or 200 meters [20 bar]
A watch with 30 m or 50 m may easily withstand
water splashes under tap or even a shower. But
they cannot withstand swimming or diving.
Most diver watches are rated for WR of 100

meters or 200 meters.

Read the instruction manual carefully to fully
understand the exact performance of your is a tricky issue. Some watches may
boast a WR of 100 meters and yet may not
withstand your shower's spray...Check carefully
the manual and also the claims made by the watch
One other point to note: If you open the back
for replacing the battery or change the crystal
or tamper with the watch in any way--for
instance, meddle with the crown---you are likely
to lose the water resistance of the original
watch. This is a risk which all watch users must
contend with. Ask an expert watch repairer or
service man about this before tampering with an
expensive watch. [ I beleive soon a proper
standard for water resistance would be developed

and accepted by the industry.]

One favorable thing for watch users in swimming
/diving. You can get an inexpensive $20 dive
watch , made of resin case,of course, but very
durable ,from CASIO. They last a long time and
involve very little risk. They are also useful
for travel in rain and sunshine!
Dive watches of special value with WR of 500
meters or even 1000 meters are available for
professionals but they are very expensive and
may cost more than $1000.

Watch dials attract us and can be seductive.
There are many features of a dial you may
1Firstly , the dial must be easy to read; the
numbers and markings should be clear and color

contrast perfect.
Some like cluterred look of certain watches;many
prefer simple styles ,often called 'classic'.
See whether the date window, if present, is
large enough to read.Often times, they are too
2 Secondly, look for any illumination of the
dial in the dark--to use in your bedroom or a
theater. Phosphor coatings on the markings and
hands are common; but they glow only for a few
High end watches may have radon gas tubes
--radioactive substances--to glow."Luminox"
developed the technology.
Simple solutions have worked for illumination:
TECHNOLOGY, patented by them, with the brand
name"Indiglo" in low end everyday watches. It

took the market in this segment by storm. Some

said that this technology helped save some life
while victims were descending in the stairs
during September/11 tragedy of World Trade
Center in New York. The sales of Timex watches
Casio has a model "Forester" with
electro-luminescent glow. But they use in their
inexpensive watches one or two LED bulbs for
illumination. Check the other brands for similar
illuminator solutions.See also 'Luminox" watches
for night display.
3 Some watches have sub-dials for seconds or
day/date displays. Automatic watches may have
'power reserve' dial to indicate the winding
left over.Solar watches have indicators for the
level of charging that is available.
4 Casio introduced 'ana-digi' watches , analog

watches with hands, but also a small digital LCD

window for certain displays---you may say the
best of both the worlds. The Ana-digi display is
helpful in conserving the battery for long life.
Note that the center second movement takes lot
of electrical energy. You leave the seconds
display to digital window. These Ana-digi
watches have been very popular., with lots of
features that you have to carry the manual with
you all the time!
5 "SEE THROUGH WATCHES" --- It is relaxing to
look at the balance wheel movement in a
mechanical watch and also lot of fun for
youngsters. "Skeleton' watches have a glass
window,either at the back or at the front dial
or both, to have a 'see-through' view of inner
movements. You must check on the water
resistance of such watches. Several brands have

such skeleton watches in the price range of $50

to $100.You could try one of them!

A bezel is the ring-like piece over the crystal,
holding together the crystal and the case. It
can be screwed into the case or press fit over
the case. They are decorative pieces, but may
carry minute markings for easy viewing.
The bezel in your watch may be stationary or
rotating in one direction or both ,
bi-rotational. Such bezels are useful is sports
watches to count down the time in minutes. I use
the rotating bezel in my CASIO resin watch for
quick counting of time during yoga practice.
Yes, you can use a rotating bezel as a simple
In fact the CASIO [mrw200H] model has become

immensely popular because of such features.It

costs less than $20 in supermarket stores. I am
not a promoter or seller or paid writer for
Casio watches or any other brand; but as user
and a Casio fan, I am always impressed by the
quality and features in these watches.
One reviewer on watches lamented that the crown
of a watch is most neglected part in a watch! A
crown is the small pin at the side which enables
you to set the time,day or date.
The watch crowns can be of two types:
1--pull and push type or pin crown
2 -- Screw in or screw down crown--you unwind
the crown and then pull out to set the time.
The second type is found in dive watches and
others for better water seal.
You may prefer large crowns that are available

in big watches---easy to set the time.

Expensive watches have the company logo
inscribed on the crown. My 'Tissot' watch
carries the letter "T" on the crown.
Stainless steel back has become the standard in
almost all watches.
These are special watches--mechanical or
quartz--- with a number of features. The most
essential feature is the STOP WATCH. This is a
must for all sports watches and for athletic
activities. You may have count-down timer too.

Mechanical and automatic watches are affe cted
by gravity. The solution is to mount the
movement on a gimbal, which rotates and keeps
the movement always horizontal. Such watches are

very expensive and represent highest end

mechanical watches.
I have very limited knowledge of luxury watches
that I use here the ploy of 'names-dropping':
Just mention a few brand names: Patek
Philippe,Omega, Rolex,Cartier,Longe-Sohne,
Breitling among others. These brand watches
could cost more than $5000. If you can afford
that much, go to a reliable watch dealer or
consultant for buying one.
A watch band is functional to tie with your
wrist. But a beautiful band can attract lot of
attention and draw compliments. But, YOU MUST
the band is not comfortable, you may not wear
the watch at all.

Common band materials are resin (rubber),

leather (genuine or synthetic),cloth (canvas or
nylon) and metallic (generally stainless steel).
Ceramic bands have also appeared.
Most bands would serve you for a year or two,
but metallic bands are for lifetime use.But
metallic bands can pull hair and cause pain.
Leather bands and rubber bands are very
comfortable. Divers prefer resin bands.But both
of these last a very short time. I like leather
bands but in tropical, humid climates, they can
become moldy and may develop fungal
deposits.Cloth bands like canvas can be washed
often. Much depends on your wrist condition and
your comfort levels.
Those liking dress watches, keep several bands
and change them often. They also go for fancy
metallic ones with gold tones, double tones or

ion-plated black ones..there is plenty of fancy

bands in fashion stores.

1 The definite revolution took place when quartz
watches came on the market.
The price of quartz movements [either Swiss or
Japanese or Chinese] have steadily fallen . So,
most makers focus only on design ; manufacturing
with cheap movements and other parts are left to
their Chinese or east-asian collaborators or
contractors who purchase for them.
It is easy to set up a new brand of watches with
a small design outfit somewhere in Florida or
Minnesota or Denmark or Greece and claim making
high quality and new design watches.
The "mushroom brands" have posed a threat to

genuine watch makers of quality and long

standing history in almost all countries. These
mushroom brand makers have hardly any quality
control or assurance facilities or test
facilities for such essential factors like water
resistance. They possess only computer and
design software.
2 A major trend is the making of solar watches.
Soon the battery powered quartz watches would
almost disappear. The price of 'solar' watches
would fall and several newer designs may emerge.
3 The watch industry is fascinating because
there is always a place for 'niche markets' of
special types of watches--for example 'forester'
or 'camper' watches ,'field watches' , 'military
watches', 'weather watches' and so on. One maker
in the USA makes watches with wooden cases.!
4 The Chinese connection in this industry has

been formidable. With cheap manufacture of parts

and low cost assembly, many brands utilize
Chinese factories. The question of quality and
durability hardly matters to most brand makers
and their sales offices. Customer service can be
really bad.
In this situation, the best strategy is to buy
only those watches made by major ,established
brands--Swiss or Japanese and ignore the highly
advertised 'modern' brands with high sounding or
traditional German or Swiss names and their
designs.They may advertise in TV and costly
5 As a consumer, I would like to buy from a
reliable vendor; on-like stores like Amazon
offer low prices. But you cannot 'see' and
'feel' the watch before you select with an
on-line purchase.. Some watches you may find in

a local store for price comparison.

If you are buying an expensive watch, by all
means, go to a reliable watch dealer in your
town. He can guide you to select a good watch to
satisfy your needs and taste.
6 New technologies, using touch screen and
interfacing with i-phones ,are already making
appearance. Wrist watches would be redefined in
the Internet Age pretty soon.
contact: nenmelisrinivasan-at-gmail