The different types of watch

April 24, 2023By Bonetto Cinturini

There are watches on today’s market that can satisfy every requirement, and with different characteristics that change according to the watch: the production complexity, shape, and target among others.

The type of watch that is best for you depends on many variables, for example how often it is used, and how it tells the time. A lot also clearly depends on specific preferences and the available budget.
If you want to make a wise purchase choice that is in line with your taste, you have to be familiar with the various categories. All these factors will allow you to combine the watch correctly with your outfit and the daily situation, and also discover the most prestigious brands.

Note, however, that watch types and differences are not necessarily connected with price range or production quality: quite economic models can, in fact, belong just as easily to the same category as luxury jewels proposed at prices that are anything but accessible.

Starting from the top range watches and ending with trendy, casual ones, there is always a style that is suitable for every enthusiast and collector.


Watches and the most common categories

The most famous and simple watch is certainly the only time, given this name because it only shows the hours, minutes and seconds. Some good examples are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, or the Panerai models like the Radiomir and the Luminor. Time watches – in some cases with a date window – are for people who love minimalism.

Just as popular are dive watches. Their rotating bezel (mostly in one direction), automatic movement, luminescent hands and markers make them more visible underwater, and they are waterproof to a depth of at least 100 m. These sports models, which are also suitable for free time, can withstand extremely high pressure levels. Their distinctive features are a rotating bezel which, once the minute hand has been positioned at 12, can be used to verify at a glance how much time has passed, and the essential dial, often with Arabic numerals.

Also worthy of a mention are Chronographs. Created for the automobile sector, they mark the time thanks to buttons on the sides of the casing. Similar to chronographs are pilot watches, that can be easy (or not!) to read. Even in this case there is a rotating bezel with scale and a chronograph for better time measuring options.

This diversified world, finally, includes GMT watches, which tell the time in other parts of the world through an additional hand, the bezel, or a window on the dial. One of the most popular GMTs is the Rolex GMT-Master, specifically made in the 1950s for PAN (Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale-National Aerobatic Team) pilots, but Omega, Tudor and Breitling also propose other versions.

No matter what type, there is a whole set of functions that can make one watch more preferrable than another. Just think, for example, about the date window, namely the small square or round opening on the dial, usually close to 3 o’clock, that shows the date. In some cases, this window is much more articulate because it indicates not only the day of the week, but also the calendar month, or an equation of the clock time compared with the solar time. 

Even a chronograph can be elaborate to a greater or lesser extent, with start, stop and reset functions, as well as a speed gauge for counting the speed by converting the time that has passed (in seconds per unit).

Remember also that most of the watches with double clocks use the 24- and 12-hour format on the dial. As it lets you know the exact time at home, this type of watch is useful for people who travel a lot.
Additional functions are an alarm clock, the lunar phases that mark the full, half, quarter or new moon, an energy indicator for automatic and manual watches, minute repeaters, etc. Old mechanical watches would have a tourbillon, which avoided the effects of gravity when the watch remained blocked in a certain position.

The letters ATM, which refer to water resistance, usually appear on the backs of watches. The letters are an abbreviation of Atmosphere, which should not be confused with impermeability: always check the technical characteristics of your watch carefully before diving with it.
When you read that a watch resists water up to 100 metres, this does not mean that you can reach that depth, however. The value simply indicates that the accessory can support the pressure found at a depth of 100 metres. The general rule is that you should not swim wearing a watch whose water resistance is below 10 ATM.


Types of movement 

Remaining on the matter of watch classification, the movement plays a fundamental role, given that it moves the hands and makes all the other functions possible. Many people consider the aesthetics to be more important, but lots of admirers focus on the movement, which can be mechanical, automatic, or quartz.

The first is the result of excellent artisanal skills, because there is a spring that moves the gears. Naturally, this type of watch needs to be wound constantly, so the crown has to be rotated by hand until some resistance is felt. Most mechanical watches, above all Swiss and Japanese, are collector’s items and are quite happily considered as exclusive, unique objects.
Understandably, the negative point of mechanical watches is that maintenance has to be done on them periodically. They are also not extremely precise even if wound daily, because they lose a few seconds every day.

Just like mechanical watches, automatic watches are also powered by a spring, but this time it is moved by the kinetic energy emitted by the wrist, in other words the natural movement of the arm of the person wearing the watch.
As a result, automatic watches are self-winding: a small rotating gear propels a rotor that oscillates when the wrist moves, so activating the main spring.
An automatic watch continues working for about two days even when it is not worn. After this period, it goes into the reserve mode. To reactivate it when it enters this mode, either the time has to be reset, or the watch has to be wound by hand, rotating the crown clockwise a couple of times and extracting the relative lever.

Automatic watches are just as complex as their mechanical predecessors, but offer the advantage of automatic winding, and this is why they are recommended for daily use. Automatic watches still have to be serviced periodically – usually every five years – and wound occasionally; they lose their precision if not worn on the wrist for a few days, so the functions have to be reset by turning the crown.

The watchmaking sector was revolutionised by the quartz movement, which made its debut in Japan during the 1960s. Here, the power used to keep time is guaranteed by a battery, and no longer by manual winding.
This type of watch takes its name from the quartz crystal component inside the electronic motor, in other words from the conductor that regulates the current between the electric circuit and the battery.
Differently from mechanical models, quartz watches can be digital, where the time appears as numbers on the LCD display, or analogue, with traditional hands showing the time.

Quartz watches are easy to use, precise, long-lasting and do not need much maintenance. The hands emit a tick as they move, an evident sign of the battery that is powering the watch. These models are certainly not as complicated as mechanical watches, but their battery needs to be replaced and they lose about one second every month.


Watches and their production materials

When buying a watch you should assess not only the style and the movement, but also the materials it is made of; the casing, the crystal and the strap in particular play a determining role.

Speaking of which, there are prestigious watches made of gold which attract attention and are a bit more than a simple accessory. Easy to scratch, these models require a certain investment and are considered to all effects as jewels to be displayed on the most important occasions.

There are also watches with a silver casing, even if rare because this material damages easily and tends to oxidate. This is the reason behind the greater popularity of stainless steel versions, which are light, corrosion resistant, and long-lasting. Today, watches with a steel casing are not necessarily cheaper: there are also luxury variants with a shiny or matt finish, gold or silver in colour.

Watches made of titanium, even more resistant and expensive than stainless steel ones, deserve a mention, as do those made of ceramic, namely created with alloys having a zinc oxide base; they do not fade over time and guarantee a very refined aesthetic effect.

The crystal, in other words the glass that protects the dial, is just as important as the material used to make the casing. Mineral glass is certainly the most common, because it offers multiple advantages, for example resistance to scratches and knocks, even if polishing it is complicated.
During the past years, watch dials were covered with acrylic crystal or Plexiglass, a very strong, economic material that is suitable for being shaped in many different ways. Acrylic can also be polished to remove light scratches, even if it can give the impression that the dial is slightly foggy over time. 

High-quality watches almost always stand out for their crystal made of sapphire glass: even though one of the hardest materials in the world, however, it can break if struck. In addition to guaranteeing a clear, clean view of the dial, sapphire glass is anti-reflection and extremely difficult to scratch.

Finally, watch straps and bracelets can vary greatly according to style and design. A watch strap should not only suit the outfit of the day, but also resist stress and environmental conditions.

In the same way as with casings, metal bracelets can be made of gold, steel, titanium or any other metal, and can have links or rings.

The most common watches probably have straps made of animal leather, from cowhide to crocodile. Leather is not just a timeless choice, it is also safe for people who are allergic to metals. Another positive aspect is that leather straps can come in many different colours and styles, so with effects in relief, stitching, completely smooth, etc.

Practical, versatile, and suitable for every season, rubber straps are no longer limited to sports watches, but are now perfect for high range watches, too. Available in a wide range of colour combinations, rubber straps are very comfortable, light, and perfect for activewear because they resist sweat, water and the sun’s rays. They are a detail that increases the value of every watch they are fitted to, because they make the design even more modern and captivating.