They may be redundant now that smartphones rule the world, but an analog watch is still a cornerstone of the modern man’s wardrobe. No style icon worth their salt – whether a secret agent or a rap legend – would be seen without a classy timepiece attached to their wrist, and for good reason. A fine watch will add a sense of refinement to any conceivable outfit and makes for a great investment piece, too.

You could even say a good watch is a timeless purchase. (I’ll see myself out.)

Unfortunately, high-end horology is very much a rich man’s sport – splashing out on a piece from the likes of Audemars Piguet, Piaget and and Patek Philippe requires the sort of disposable income normally reserved for oil tycoons, drug barons and, worst of all, bankers.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go by with ugly wristwear, though. Nowadays, there’s plenty of watch brands out there that hit the sweet spot between looking good and actually being attainable by most of the human race. To help you tell the time in the most stylish (and affordable) manner possible, here’s a few pointers to consider before investing in an analog watch.

We’re going to stick to entry-level and mid-priced pieces here – luxury watches are a different game entirely, as are digital and athletes’ watches.

1. Find Your Size

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Watch faces are measured in millimeters. Ideally, a watch face should be big enough to sit comfortably on the middle of your wrist, with a bit of space occupied by where the band begins. Most men will find that a face somewhere in the range of 34mm-50mm will suffice.

Picking the best one for you depends on how big your wrist is. Too big, and the watch will swallow up all of the real estate on your wrist and make you look like Floyd Mayweather. Too small, and your beautiful timepiece ends up looking more like a charm bracelet. A chunky, thick case will turn heads, while a slimmed-down one will be more like a low-key accessory than a eye-catching statement piece.

This advice doesn’t just apply to round faces, but also the square or rectangular ones you’ll encounter on Tank-style watches and many digital models, too. As is so often the case with new wardrobe additions, we really recommend that you get out there and try some on IRL, so you at least have a rough idea of what size you need before committing to a purchase.

2. The Face is Key

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Now that you know your size, it’s time to think about just how you want your new timepiece to look. The main factor after determining the right size (which you should, in theory, have already decided on) is the face.

Gold-faced watches look more luxurious, but might be too flashy for certain occasions. Traditionally, a formal event would require a dress watch – that’s a slim, low-key timepiece with a black leather strap – but if you have no intention of wearing a tuxedo or hanging around with stockbrokers then that’s not going to be an issue.

If you’re looking to flaunt a bit, then by all means go for a metallic watch with a matching strap – rose gold is trending right now, so you could even try that. If your wardrobe is completely lacking in color, then maybe a similarly monochromatic face would suit you – plenty of modern brands produce timepieces in all black for a militaristic, stealthy feel.

3. Strap Up

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In terms of straps, there’s tons of options at your disposal, and you can of course always swap yours out for a bit of flexibility.

Most casual of the options out there are NATO straps, so named after the versatile cotton/nylon styles used by armed forces to signify different countries and uniforms on military-issue watches. Timex watches with NATO straps were once a common sight at men’s fashion weeks across the globe, and the colorful bands are a great way of dressing down a timepiece for nonchalant summertime wear.

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Leather straps are the most classic option out there, and they’ll develop a unique patina over time, adding a bit of personality to your timepiece. Shinola offers plenty of leather varieties in everything from natural tan to a cognac alligator material, while Tanner Goods combines the best of both worlds with a series of leather NATO straps.

Metal bracelets are the heaviest variety of strap, and are the go-to choice for sturdier, no-nonsense timepieces. Pretty much every Rolex under the sun comes with a metallic bracelet as standard, and at the more affordable end of the spectrum, Shinola offers plenty of heavy-duty timepieces with equally serious straps. If you’re looking for something to wear day in, day out, a solid metal bracelet is a good option, but might be a bit much for more formal outfits. Most bracelets will also need to have links added or removed to fit you perfectly, although so-called expansion straps avoid that problem thanks to their stretchy inner bands.

Lastly, there’s the Milanese mesh strap, a style popular in the ‘70s that’s experiencing a revival these days, largely thanks to the Apple Watch. The mesh style offers the luxe feel of a metallic strap, but with a slimmer silhouette that’s less clunky than a traditional bracelet. While the Apple Watch’s strap is magnetic, the classic Milanese strap operates with a hook and clasp mechanism – check out Larsson & Jennings’ CM series to see it in action.

4. Consider the Movements

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It’s easy to get swallowed up by all of the geeky horological literature out there, but in a nutshell, analog watches are characterized by their movements and by their complications. A movement is the mechanism used to tell the time, and complications refer to other things the watch tracks – like the date, year, and in some cases, lunar phase.

Obviously, more precise movements will cost more money, and once you get into the area of perpetual movements that don’t require a battery, you’re getting into very expensive territory. Most affordable watches will have a quartz movement, and ones that are high-end but still cost less than a house will normally offer Japanese or Swiss movements, which are slightly more accurate and offer a quieter tick.

If you’re simply looking for something to tell the time and look nice on your wrist, then a quartz movement will do you just fine. Extra features like date windows and stop watches are nice, but not exactly necessary when your phone does all of that, anyway.

One word of warning, though. Many entry-level watches suffer from obnoxiously loud ticks (certain Timex models are particularly bad for this) – so make sure you check that out before you end up dropping your hard-earned cash on something that’s going to keep you up all night.

5. Decide on Your Price Range

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Now that you’ve got the basics out the way, you’ll need to decide just how much you’re willing to drop on your new timepiece. Of course, prices range vary from very affordable to very, very expensive, so it’s important to figure out exactly what you’re willing to drop before you shop.

Swatch specializes in affordable, colorful watches – often with playful design quirks like colored cases and exposed movements. The Timex Camper and Weekender watches have also gained a solid fanbase for their simplicity, low-key looks and varied strap options. Nixon’s Time Teller series offers classic styling at a price that won’t break the bank, too.

If price is absolutely a mitigating factor for you, then look no further than Komono. With a price range of around $100, models like the Winston Regal mix a Japanese Quartz movement with a genuine leather strap for a functional, highly affordable timepiece that can be worn with just about anything.

There are a plethora of young watch brands that are also worth checking out if you’re willing to spend as much money on a watch as you would a nice coat or jacket. Uniform Wares specializes in high-quality watches with minimalist faces that come in between $400 and $600. Definitely an investment at that price, but it’s much, much less expensive than anything at the luxury level.

Stockholm-meets-London brand Larsson & Jennings offer a mix of handsome watches and luxe bands. The labels CM series is a particular highlight, with its attractive, minimalist faces and slimmed-down Milanese straps. Ranging from $350 and up, Larsson & Jennings watches are another solid mid-range option for guys who want to step up their game without plunging into a lifetime of debt.

TRIWA is another label that offers quintessentially Scandinavian design sensibilities at a price that won’t break the bank. Shinola‘s timepieces are all made in Detroit and sport striking, rugged cases, but are headed well toward the $1,000 mark that will be a bit steep for many.

Conclusion

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We could talk all day about the merits of timepieces and all the amazing brands out there producing them, but we really suggest that you get out there and have a look around. Of course, the upper echelon of horology will be out of reach for all but the wealthiest people out there, but there’s much better things to spend $100,000 on than a watch, anyway.

For more consumer advice, take a look at the rest of our Check Before You Buy series.

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Words by Alec Leach
Freelance Writer/Editor/Consultant

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin