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Watches 101: This is how to build the perfect watch collection

Elevate your entire wardrobe by building the perfect collection of accessories

Man adjusting his tie wearing a watch
Ruthson Zimmerman / Unsplash

The global watch industry is nearing $620 billion. It is a mammoth, and navigating it can get overwhelming, especially when deciding what watch to buy, and sometimes underwhelming when you choose the wrong one. Every man needs a good watch, no matter the situation or the outfit. Some watches focus on fashion, look great, and become a conversation piece others admire. Other watches focus on function, a tool you wear on your wrist that helps you get the job done. While there are some watches for men that can bridge gaps and play on both playgrounds, the unavoidable truth is if you want to always look great and be prepared, you want to have a solid watch collection.

Before we get into how to build the perfect collection of timepieces, we should talk about the philosophies behind them. If you are all about looking great, then there are some surface-level aspects to keep in mind. If you are about milestones and are looking for those unicorn pieces on the market, then that is a different focus. There is a lot to keep in mind whether you are collecting for function, fashion, or status. We have done the work and discovered the best way to build a solid collection from the ground up. These are the things to keep in mind.

Man in a suit adjusting the band of his wristwatch.
Marko Pekic / iStock

Knowing your budget

Let’s face it: your budget is going to be the first place you want your brain to go. Before you start thinking about what watches you want, you are going to start asking yourself, “How much is this going to cost me?” Of course, if you are swimming in cash and money isn’t a concern at all, then your approach may just be to buy whatever strikes your fancy. However, if you are like most men, you have to consider what your budget is and how often you want to invest in a watch. Here are some ideas of thresholds you can look at if you want to plan your collection accordingly.

If you are just starting out in building a collection, you may not be ready to jump into the world of luxury watches. It could end up being super overwhelming, and you may have expectations that are unreasonable or simply uninformed. Therefore, your base budget may top out at $1000 a watch. If you have never bought a watch over $100, that may be a bit jarring, but if you are looking to build a collection for life, $500 -$800 for a watch will become a centerpiece. If you already own a few of these, you may be ready to up your budget to something in the $3-$7,000 range. You will see these watches on the luxury market carrying names you know and have heard of. You may even see these watches as the status symbols you reach for. Finally, the $10,000 plus market is where the rarified air is. This collection is for the cream of the crop. It is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of purchase that becomes a legacy heirloom for your descendants.

Before you start planning your collection, you will need to decide which camp you are a part of; being in the wrong one can be frustrating, and you will hit dead ends or areas of dissatisfaction.

Man in suit, cufflinks, watch, and gloves
Joshua Reddekopp / Unsplash

Narrowing your goals

Once you have decided where you land on the budget, the next step is to define your goals. Are you a collector looking for a status symbol? If you are a $10,000 and over kind of guy, then your goal will be to find the most iconic offerings from some of the world’s most well-known watchhouses. The Rolex Submariner, IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, and the Omega Speedmaster will put you in the upper echelons of watch collectors.

If you are a middle-of-the-road guy living in the $3-$7,000 range, your goals are going to be similar to the above, with different icons. A Breitling Navimeter, a Tudor Black Bay, or a Norquain Independence will keep you keeping up with the above and also staying within a more manageable luxury watch collection.

Finally, if you are just starting out, you are looking for a middle ground between the cheapo watches you have been wearing and the $3,000 plus crowd. Some of the best watches you find are much more economical than you think. A Tag Heuer Formula 1, a Hamilton Khaki Field, or a Citizen Promaster Dive Automatic are some of the best and most iconic watches on the market without breaking the bank. When you start a collection, these options will start you off with style and class.

Citizen watch on wrist
KC Stone / The Manual

Making them fit your lifestyle

Men are different. The things that make us different from the men around us are the very things that make us unique and special. The same can be said for watches which is why choosing the right watch to fit your life is so imperative. No matter which budget level you are at, there are options to help you figure out what kind of watch you should be investing in to ensure you always look great.

If you are the type of man, who is always on the job sight and always needs something tough and durable, then a great tactical watch, field watch, or tool watch are the ones you should focus on. For instance, a great place to start in each of the budget levels would be a MTM Black Sherman 3-GER in the $10,000 range, a Bremont Armed Forces Broadsword for the mid-range, and the Luminox Navy Seal Foundation for the more economic election.

If you are the elevated type that always needs to look your best and spend plenty of time in suits, then these more tool-based watches are going to be bulky and out of place. Options for the more stylistic man could include a Tank Louis Cartier watch for the affluent crowd, a Bulgari Octo Roma for the middle-of-the-road guys, or a Tissot Skeleton for the guys looking to keep it manageable.

Man wearing watch
KC Stone / The Manual

Knowing where to buy

Finally, we have to talk about where to buy the watches you want to pick up. While it may seem like a simple question of going online and finding a certified seller, there are some pretty nasty pitfalls that you could unintentionally encounter. If you are looking to start at the introductory level, then buying straight from the Citizen, Tag Heuer, Seiko, or Hamilton website is the best way to go.

If you are going to shop in the upper echelons of the market, you may need to begin looking at auction sites or finding a dealer. This is where it can get a bit treacherous, as fakes and impersonations are plenty. The Rolex fake market is one of the largest in the world, and other brands are beginning to feel that pinch. So, as you begin shopping for your new pieces, buy directly from the brand or employ an expert to ensure what you are paying for is the real deal.

Watches can easily become your new obsession if you decide now is the time to start building your collection. While you begin looking at the market and deciding what is best for you, remember that these beautiful and useful tools are an expression of who you are on the inside. So have fun with it, and let your wrist speak for you.

Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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