Got The Time? How to Identify a Well-Made Watch

Gold colored classic pocket watch against dark black background. Internal watch components are visible.

Watches are, at their core, machines – small but powerful. There are so many moving parts that go into a working timepiece, which means that there is a broad window of price ranges that go along with them. Today we will look into what makes a timepiece high quality, and how you can identify a well-made watch before buying.

A hand holding a luxury watch with leather strap

First Things First

Does the watch industry operate along the lines of “you get what you pay for”? Not always. Price does not always directly correlate with quality. Above a certain price point, you’re no longer paying for superior quality. Instead, you’re paying for the brand name and the status that comes with it. For example, is a $500 watch going to be five times better than a $100 watch? Definitely. Is a $5000 watch going to be ten times better than a $500 watch? Probably not. So how then do we determine quality?

First, companies that make lower quality watches use mass production and fewer parts. With that in mind, you can assume that a $10-$50 watch is probably priced that low because of how cheap it was to make. In that instance, you can know that you’re getting what you pay for, simply because it makes sense mathematically. Generally, what is inside the watch is more important than the outer aesthetic in terms of quality, because the inner workings are what makes a watch function well. However, you are not always going to be able to see the inner workings. So we’ll talk a bit about how to identify a well-made watch simply by looking at the outward appearance.

Black and bronze watch placed on stone surface

What’s On The Outside of a Well-Made Watch?

Angles and Shapes

Sharp edges are an easy way to identify a cheaper watch. Even on hard angles, there should be a slight curve to a watch for comfort. You will tend to see slightly rounded edges on higher quality watches. You will see simpler case shapes and fewer details on the watch face in a lower quality watch. The surfaces are less polished and are less likely to be bead blasted or brushed for a smooth finish. Higher quality watches typically have hand-finishing: the beveling, engraving, and enameling are all done by hand.

Dials and Details

Cheaper watches will have flatter dials, which end up looking more two-dimensional in appearance. You’re also less likely to see hobnailed bezels or stylized numerals in a cheaper watch. Those kinds of details are more expensive and time-consuming to produce.


On a cheaper watch, you will see cheaper crystal or mineral glass as the face covering, which is more susceptible to scratching. On a well-made watch, you are more likely to see sapphire, which is highly durable and clear. In addition, you will see more complications – a term used to identify additional features of a watch – such as a chronograph, the date on the face of the watch, water resistance, and more.

Rolex deepsea watch with silver band an blue face

What About The Inside of a Well-Made Watch?

Well-made watches will typically have mechanical movements, which involve more working parts to keep the watch functioning well. These are usually more expensive because they require a large amount of time and labor to put together the small, intricate, complex mechanisms that make the watch tick. They are powered by mechanical parts that sit on a spring, with an oscillating balance wheel used to regulate time. The inner pieces of a mechanical watch are usually made of precious metals and jewels used to keep the watch parts from deteriorating.

Quartz movements are typical of cheaper watches, as they are more affordable to manufacture. In a Quartz movement, electricity powers the Quartz crystal, which then create small vibrations at a very specific frequency. The watch determines how much time has elapsed by measuring those vibrations. While they are cheaper to make, they are highly accurate and durable. In some cases, they are even more accurate than a mechanical movement.

As we mentioned above, a higher price doesn’t always mean a superior product once you pass a certain point. We’ve given you the tools you need to identify a high-quality timepiece for the next time you go accessory shopping. Use these tools to make an informed decision, as a watch is an investment – one you’ll want to make with as much knowledge as possible.

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Ezra Lambert

Ezra Lambert is a barber and freelance writer. In addition to his work in men’s grooming and lifestyle, he has also written numerous fiction pieces: two screenplays and a YA novel. He lives in San Diego, CA, with his dog, Toni. 

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