The Haggling Horologist: The Complete Luxury Watch Starter Collection for Under Five Hundred Dollars (Part One)

The Haggling Horologist: The Complete Luxury Watch Starter Collection for Under Five Hundred Dollars (Part One)

Sometimes, even the most passionate Physician Educator needs a break.

After months of helping doctors negotiate their best contracts and discussing end of the year financial topics, I’ve decided to go way off topic and discuss another passion of mine, collecting watches. I’m going to confine this discussion mainly to watches for men, since that’s where I focus. But, you’ll find that most of the discussion is equally applicable.

Editor: The best way to afford luxury items is to earn more income. Negotiating your best compensation package is the single best way to get what you deserve. Just be sure you don’t develop a dysfunctional emotional relationship with luxury.

"I'll just take one of each, please."

In many ways, I’m not your typical collector.

I aim for a combination of value, utility, aesthetic design, and the best price. I’ll never pay more than 300 dollars for a watch. There’s really no reason to ever shell out much more, unless you are looking for a watch that is doubling as a jewelry piece. Mostly, I like to buy watches at estate sales and then get them into working shape.

You are probably asking yourself, “Why do I need a watch when my phone can tell the time just fine?”

And, you’d be correct. Your cell phone or that digital watch you picked up in a McDonald’s happy meal is more accurate than the most expensive brand of luxury wrist watch.

"Don't laugh! I bet your Rolex didn't come with a side of fries and choco milk!"

Accuracy and Chronometer function (telling time) aside, there are 4 reasons to wear a watch:

  • The hands circling the face of a watch is an analog model of a stick casting a shadow on the ground as the sun moves across the sky. There is something fascinating in the mechanics and appearance of these devices. Something that may appeal to a piece of you that you can’t quite describe.
  • There are very few jewelry options for men, especially if you need to wash your hand 40 times daily. A watch allows you to display a little bling without being garish.
  • If you see someone else wearing an interesting watch, you can strike up a conversation with them right away. This helps create an instant bond. I’m often approached at parties or meetings where people compliment a watch. It’s just a great opener.
  • To make a statement about yourself. Watches can be subtle, bold, complex, expensive, and works of art. Take control of your “brand” and wear a watch that represents you.
  • A bonus reason is that the piece means something personal to you. A gift from a loved one, the celebration of a milestone. Maybe you wore that watch when you proposed, or your child was born. It could be bought as a family heirloom you hope to pass to your children.

You can spend a lot of money on a watch, often to find disappointment in your choice.

I’m here to help you avoid this sad outcome.

There are several features to consider. I’ll briefly share my opinion. You may not agree with my choices, but I am hoping the discussion will give you a framework for your planning.

Cost: Watches below $300 can represent solid values.

Watches over $4000 are often magnificent works of art and engineering, especially at the 15K or more range.

Watches between $300-$4000 are often poor values.

The reason being is they emphasize one element like complications, while going cheap on the others like movement. You can almost always find a better value under $300 than you for these mid-range pieces.

The most surprising value category is less than $150.

If you are just getting interested in watches, stick to the lower end of the price range. As you learn more and become more confident, you can step up and avoid disappointment.

Movements: You have three choices here.

  • Automatic: these are watches that you wear or wind. The kinetic energy of your daily use drives a pendulum that winds a spring. These are truly magnificent works of engineering and most high-end expensive watches will have automatic movements. They also have melodic “ticking” sounds that many find endearing. Honestly, I have no interest in an analog watch that doesn’t tick. They must be cleaned every few years which adds to the cost. And, if you aren’t using them daily, the spring will wind down and the clock will stop. This can lead to long term trouble.
  • Quartz: These are watches that run off a battery. Often an excellent choice that is now being offered in more high-end watches. The problem is that the batteries need to be changed. Also, the hands “jump” around the dial. This is usually not a big deal, but the smooth movement of an automatic watch hand sweeping through the dial is just so graceful.
  • Solar: Instead of a battery, your watch charges a capacitor using ambient light. My personal favorite, since I rarely wear the same watch on consecutive days and I really hate having to deal with changing batteries or automatic movements that break down due to under use.

Complications: A “complication” describes the different functions that exist beside telling time, like date or moon phase.

Complications can make watches rather interesting as well as expensive. But I must admit, most are just silly.

"C3PO's weird cousin who's way too into anime"

The best:

  • Sweep second hand. This is useful, but I have several watches without this feature, and I rarely notice. If I need to know the actual seconds, I use countdown o timer mode on my phone.
  • Date: Highly useful.
  • Day of the week: depending upon how it is displayed, this can also be highly desirable.
  • Month of the year: These are usually great in concept, but the actual execution is often poor

Timeless Classic

The not so best:

  • Chronograph: Essentially a poorly designed stopwatch. This very common complication is one of my least favorites. It was designed for airline pilots, race car drivers, and SCUBA enthusiasts. This was in an era when precision timekeeping was a matter of survival. Now, this just add a bunch of rarely-used clutter to the watch face. Unless you are a pilot, a chronograph can make you appear to be a buffoon. A simple clean design is almost always more desirable.
  • The Moon Phases: I guess there is a strong need for people to know the phase of the moon. Me, I just look up in the sky. Mostly, these are just pretty eye-candy additions. But, they clutter up the watch and most of them make the face of the watch look “angry” or “sad”.
  • Remaining spring energy, am/pm, years till leap year, etc.: there are some neat complications out there. Most of them are of questionable utility, clutter the watch face, and add considerably to the cost. I tend to avoid them.

Angry watch says, "Get back to work, you!"

Case material: Watch cases can come in several different materials.

Stainless steel is the most common. Precious metals like silver or gold are desirable, but expensive. Stainless can also be gold-toned, often to nice effect.

I don’t have much to add about case materials except this- if you want your watch to be noticed, don’t go with stainless steel. Many people dream of owning a luxury watch for years. Part of the fantasy is others will be drooling over it. If you buy a stainless-steel watch, even an expensive model, it will not garner much attention. From usual conversation distance, it just looks like a regular watch to a non-expert eye. Go with stainless if you are buying the watch to please yourself. Consider gold or diamond/crystal inset to impress others.

There's a watch that will get you noticed

In the next blog post I’ll review

  • the 3 watches you need
  • A great new solution to watch bands
  • My recommendations for the complete luxury starter watch collection for under $500.

Link to part two
Link to part three 

In the meanwhile, think about the coolest thing you could do while wearing your new favorite watch… The answer of course is to negotiate a fantastic physician contract! Maybe, you can buy a luxury car to match that watch… Check out and learn how to get what you deserve.

If your watch doesn't match your car, it's time to buy a new car

What do think? Can I pull it off the luxury watch collection for under $500, or have I bitten off more than I can chew? Are watches just silly? Do you like moon phases even if it means your watch looks like C3PO’s alcoholic father with anger issues? Do you have a favorite luxury watch you got for a bargain? Let us know in the comment section.

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