The Beginner's Guide to Everyday Carry Watches

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So many watches. So little time.

Just browsing online or through our member-submitted everyday carry photos, it's easy to see you've got a ton of options. And by now you've probably got a handle on what style of watches you prefer.

But narrowing it down to the perfect watch for your everyday carry isn't a walk in the park. With all the specs and watch nerd terms you might come across in your search, there's a lot of moving parts involved (literally).

In this installment of Carry Smarter, we'll explain everything you need to know about watches to make sure you're getting your hard-earned dollar's worth when you invest in your next timepiece. Don't worry, we're not getting into overly technical nuances of gaskets and springs here.

By the end of the guide, you'll know what those buzz words in the watch world really mean, so you can find the right watch for your everyday carry.

Before we begin, there's a few questions to ask yourself to help guide your next purchase…

Right Place, Right Timepiece

Do you want a watch you'll never have to take off your wrist, or separate options for work and play? Decide what's going to be the main use for your new timepiece first. Then move down the spec list, keeping your needs in mind. A minimalist watch for wearing around the office is going to be much different from a rugged diver that's ready for anything.

Time Is Money

Watches can cost as little as $10… or well into the millions. What do you feel comfortable spending on something that's going to live on your wrist every day? The price doesn't always directly relate to how “good” the watch is. Remember — the prestige of established brands comes with a price, but that doesn't mean you can't get similar features from smaller watchmakers while saving a few bucks.

Watch Anatomy 101

  1. Movement
  2. Water Resistance
  3. Crystal
  4. Crown
  5. Case, Size, and Material
  6. Lugs and Spring Bars
  7. Face, Dials, Hands, and Markers
  8. Lume and Backlighting
  9. Straps and Hardware

A quartz movement keeps time as long as it has battery vs. an automatic movement that winds as you wear it.

Movement

Definition: The movement is the internal mechanism that keeps time. There tons of different types, like automatic (powered by the movement of your wrist), hand-wound (turn the crown to power up the watch), quartz-based electronic (runs on a battery), and more. 

Automatic and mechanical watches keep time through a series of mechanical gears powered by a spring. These gears are attached to a precisely weighted balance wheel that is responsible for keeping time. Quartz movements contain a battery-powered electric circuit that precisely measures vibrations of a quartz crystal inside the watch.

What to look for: Picking a watch not only depends on your personal preference of its movement, but also on your budget. Quartz movements are generally the most reliable and affordable, followed by hand-wound and then finally automatic. You'll have to change the batteries on a Quartz watch every year or so. Automatic watches are powered by the movement of your wrist, so they constantly need to be “charged” every few days. 

Popular movement manufacturers include ETA, Miyota, Ronda, and Valjoux. When you start hearing words like “in-house” (the watchmaker crafts their own custom movements), expect a much higher price tag.


Dive watches like these are built to resist water pressure deep below the surface.

Water Resistance

Definition: Water resistance is one of the more confusing specs a watch can have. You see ratings like 30M, 50M, 100M, etc. thrown around a lot, but how do they translate to choosing the right watch? The “M” here is a unit of meters. But that doesn't mean your watch can necessarily be submerged to that depth. Instead, it's better to think of it as a relation to pressure (in atmospheres). For every 10 meters of water resistance, the watch can withstand 1 atmosphere of pressure before the rubber gaskets inside the watch fail.

What to look for: Here's a rough scale of what these ratings really mean: 30M is splash resistant, 50M can withstand a shower, 100M means swimming is ok, and 300M means you're good to dive. If your watch is only seeing some minor splashes from a hand washing, 30M or 50M should be fine. If you're looking for an all-purpose watch, stick to something between 100M and 300M for good measure.

If you want a classic, durable diver with real water resistance: We'd recommend the Seiko SKX007. It's an EDC crowd favorite.


Examples of different crystals: Domed mineral, domed acrylic, flat mineral, flat mineral

Crystal

Definition: Really, it's just a fancy word for the glass that covers and protects the face of the watch. Typically made from either mineral glass or sapphire. These clear and hard protective layers make the watch easier to read and significantly more durable.

What to look for: Expect a watch with sapphire crystal to have a higher price tag, due to its scratch resistance and supreme clarity qualities. Mineral glass is a great option too, as it has better impact resistance than sapphire. You really can't go wrong with either option. Acrylic isn't out of the question either, as it adds a unique vintage look but it's much more prone to scratching. 

Crystals come in flat or domed shapes (see above), pick one depending on your personal style preference.


Crown as seen on the Orient Bambino

Crown

Definition: The crown is the small knob that sticks out of the side of the watch. By pulling it out you can set the time and date. If your watch has a day/date and time setting, the crown will set them all individually according to how far it's pulled out. On watches with built in backlights, depressing the crown lights up the face.

What to look for:  The crown of a watch is usually either standard or screw-down. A screw-down crown is more water resistant and is commonly seen on dive watches. For you lefties, keep an eye out for watches with the crown on the left. This is more common in dive watches.


A 40mm Timex, worn on a 7" wrist. Note how the watch is big enough to read, but doesn't hang off the sides.

Case Size and Material

Definition: The case size is the diameter of the watch, usually given in millimeters. Sometimes it includes the crown too, so make sure to read carefully. Most watches fall between 38mm and 42mm. Of course, there are some that are smaller (think dress and vintage watches) and those that are way bigger (pilot watches). Watch cases can be crafted from many materials with their unique benefits and properties. You'll often see stainless steel or plastic/resin, and more rarely materials like titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, or even bronze, just to name a few.

What to look for: It's important to balance the size of the watch with your wrist. Aim to keep the lugs from going over the sides of your wrist for a proper fit. Keep case material in mind as well - polished surfaces are scratch prone, steel is heavier than titanium, and some plastics may feel cheap on your skin.

Want a strong material that's lighter than stainless steel?: Check out this Bertucci field watch, with a titanium screw down case at a sweet price.


Swapping straps lets you switch your style up, but you'll need to know about spring bars and lug widths.

Lugs and Spring Bars

Definition: Lugs are the “arms” that the strap or bracelet sits between. The little bar that holds them in place is called the spring bar. The distance between the two, usually given in millimeters, determines what size strap the watch can use.

Save time switching straps with the right tool for the job: This Bergeon springbar tool is a go-to recommendation in the watch community.


This watch face shows an example of both Roman and Arabic numerals as well as a date window.

Face and Dials

Defined: The face of the watch is what you're going to be looking at the most. The hands, numbers, date window, and background of the face play a big role in what the watch looks like. Depending on the type of watch, there can be multiple dials. A dial is a part of the face that displays information. On a chronograph, for example, you will have the main time dial along with several sub-dials that count seconds and minutes.

What to look for: The face is usually the standout feature of the watch, so make sure you find a watch with one that suits your style and preferences for legibility and information display. If you're looking for something simple, then consider a minimalist watch that may not even have numbers. If you need more at-a-glance information or features like a stop watch, check out a chronograph.

Dial in with a chronograph: This classic Seiko SNDC33 chrono has multiple dials for max functionality in a legible layout.


After exposure to sun (or your flashlight), watches with lume glow in the dark for easy nighttime or underwater reading.

Lume and Backlighting

Defined: This is the glow-in-the-dark paint that watchmakers apply to the face and hands of a watch. “Superluminova” is a popular brand of luminescent paint used by many brands.  After charging up in the sun, the lume glows for a while. This makes the watch easier to read in low-light conditions or even underwater. Your new watch may have a backlight, like Timex's INDIGLO technology. With a press of the crown, the face of the watch lights up. This is commonly seen in quartz and digital watches.

For hands-free, instant LED backlighting: Check out G-Shock watches, which light up with a flick of the wrist.


Military watches, like this Bertucci A3-P Field Watch, pair great with no-frills, durable NATO straps.

Straps

Definition: The band that holds the watch to your wrist. It can be a traditional leather two-piece strap, bracelet (metal linked band with a clasp), or a single piece NATO-style strap. They're made from a large range of pliable materials like leather, nylon, rubber, canvas, metal, and more.

What to look for: Make sure that you pick a strap that suits your level of activity. Intend to wear it indoors with business attire? Consider a leather strap or a steel bracelet. Plan on swimming, hiking, and spending time outdoors? A nylon NATO strap offers redundant security: if one spring bar breaks, the watch won't completely fall off. They're comfortable, customizable and won't get ruined by  exposure to water or sweat.

For a super durable strap that looks great on anything: We like Zulu-style straps, whether you're rocking a Seiko or a Rolex.


That wasn't so bad, was it? By understanding your individual needs, it's much easier to decipher a watch's spec sheet. Now that you're up to speed, check out some of our favorite EDC watches from our previous buying guides:

What's the most important spec or feature you look for in an EDC watch? Let us know and give an example of a watch that does it well in the comments below!

Watches featured in this photoset:

#watches #buying-guides #carry-smarter #edc-watches #watch-edc #best-watch-for-everyday #best-everyday-wrist-watch #everyday-watch see all



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Discussion (17 total)

Ed,
This is a great watch 101 article. You covered so many of the basics really well. Thank you.
Do you have any follow up articles planned? Would you consider one on Casio G Shocks? They are solid feature rich options for active people.
Be well.
The Casio G-Shock is easily my first choice!
Even in the Army never liked those giant bulky things
Always liked the look of the Timex Expedition, the Waterbury is a great successor and even better where I currently live
Sad that they closed the Timeexpo shop here, liked visiting and seeing the awesome deals you could get if you timed it just right
I always wear a Casio pathfinder. Watch, compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, date, time, alarm, lit face, tough... water resistant to ten atmospheres.
Oh, and mine is solar powered.
It's gotta be solar powered!
My etc watch is a Breitling.However when I venture into the back country I where a good old Timex.
I might be old school but like my watches. I have a cell phone, Fitbit tracker, all tell time well but the watch is what I use to tell time and date. Citizen Eco-Drives watches for me.I only own three so far. No battery changes required.
This is great for wristwatches. I'm curious what you guys think of/could write about old school style pocket watches. For certain jobs especially industrial ones it's important for safety to not have anything around the wrists or fingers. A pocketwatch handles this nicely, hanging from a beltloop to reach down and check. Of course, I guess most folks nowadays would just check the phone.
In the movements section you mention "in house" movements and how they always raise the price tag. That's true from a 1,000ft perspective but there are actually options where the movement is made in house and the price is in the hundreds. Personally, I think that the best value in a watch is mostly determined by the movement. A lot of people don't realize that most movements are identical or just finished slightly differently. Omega vs. Swatch is a great example of that you could really make the argument you're paying for the name and maybe thicker case.
I always wear my Casio. Love the solar charge and no battery. I also require that my watch face say both the date in number and the day of the week (because i'm weird) and the Casio does all of that.
Well, no matter how discombobulated one becomes, having your watch being able to center you in the time stream in this reality always helps!
A 30M watch means exactly that, it can go 30M underwater. The whole 100M for swimming is an urban myth and has been debunked fully on watchuseek.

http://forums.watchuseek.com/f2/sigh-myth-busting-again-610734.html#/topics/610734?_k=qjgisg

But I recommend steinharts for a decent cost effective automatic with a Swiss movement.
Citizen Eco Drive FTW. Style, durability, longevity. I'm amazed the articles author did not mention solar powered pieces.
I don't agree that manual movement is cheaper than automaatic. It's depend on type of movement. It's possible that unitas (manual) is more expensive than automatic Eta or miyota 9015. For example: Panerai or Steinhart vs. Certina ;) ETA, VJ, Unitas are products the same company Swatch group :)