The guide to watches

Date:23 March 2015

Watches are extraordinary things. Feats of engineering you can strap to your wrist. Whether you choose mechanical or quartz, traditional or smart, your watch has an important role: it lets people know who you are. Even if that’s just a guy who wants to know the time without reaching into his pocket.

An appreciation: The Cheap Casio

It took two weeks of searching to find my first serious watch, a tide-reading, GPS-enabled timepiece that, for R5 000, would make me punctual and a better surfer. After adding it to my online shopping cart, I asked a friend, a savvy waterman in Hawaii, what he wore: “Cheap Casio”. No mention of any special features – he just appreciated its function. So I ordered one of those instead.

Three months in and the W800H-1AV sits on the short list of near-perfect devices I’ve used. The digits are big enough to see the time and date with a quick glance. Its body is thick enough to find the LED light button, even with motorcycle gloves on, yet it still fits underneath a shirt cuff. I actually like it best with a suit – I’m in awe of the engineering wonders of more expensive watches, but the kitsch of a digital watch with a resin strap feels appropriately irreverent. With its 10-year battery and water resistance to 100 m, I’ll probably lose the watch before it breaks. Fortunately, it won’t take two weeks to decide on a replacement.  – ALEXANDER GEORGE

If we may… Your phone is not a watch

For generations, if you asked a man the time, he’d snap his arm out to full length so the cuff of his shirt pulled back a little, then bend his arm at the elbow and glance down at the watch on his wrist. “Quarter to four,” he’d say. The whole thing took about a second. Here, too often, is what he does now: he shoves his hand into his pants pocket, or into the folds of the suit jacket beneath his overcoat, fishing for his telephone, which he produces and holds in front of his face. Then he pushes the button and the time pops up on the screen and he says, “Three forty-six.”

This is no way to tell time. It’s inefficient. It wastes time, which is the thing you’re worried about in the first place – otherwise you wouldn’t need to know what time it is. Plus, it’s inelegant. A man without a watch looks unprepared, like a man who has to check his wallet to see whether he has any cash. A man should always have cash.

Your phone tells the time, yes, but your phone is not a watch. You need a watch.

Know your movements: What makes your watch work

Quartz
A battery sends an electric current to a tiny, tuning-fork-shaped piece of quartz, causing it to oscillate at 32,768 vibrations per second. The watch’s circuits reduce that number to one vibration per second, or one hertz, and those pulses are translated into ticks by a tiny electric motor. (This is why mechanical watches, whose springs steadily release tension, have smoother second-hand movement than quartz watches.) Quartz’s indifference to temperature fluctuations makes it well suited for harsh conditions.

Mechanical
A balance, or wheel, moves according to the energy expended by the tightly wound spring that powers the watch. On manual-wind watches, that energy comes from regularly turning the exterior crown to apply tension to the spring. Automatic, or self-winding, watches have a semicircular weight that pivots as your arm moves, turning the gears that wind the main spring.

 Click here for great moments in watch making history.