So, you’ve decided to invest in your first fine watch. But the question is, what separates a fine watch from any other watch you might already own? In short, it’s craftsmanship. Whether the timepiece you’re looking for is mechanical, automatic or even digitally enhanced (hello, 2021), fine watches are those that are made with the utmost attention to innovation, technology and longevity. Often they’re designed for a specific purpose, too, such as diving, flying or simply layering underneath a suit.
From one-of-a-kind customised designs from Browns to masterfully crafted aviation watches from The Collective, our global community of boutiques specialise in each of the major fine watches categories. Here, the buyers and founders behind each specialist store’s curation talk through the key things to consider when investing in each style – as well as their personal highlights, all available to shop on FARFETCH – to help you select the perfect model.
The sports watch experts: Veritime, London
While there is no definitive guide to what hard-and-fast features a sports watch should possess, models that fall into this category are often crafted with a specific sport in mind – anything from motor racing to watersports. As a general rule, this means they will have complications that help that particular sport, usually related to keeping track of different times such as chronometers or GMTs, or enhanced water resistance. Perhaps the most notable feature of watches in this category, however, is their weight. As they are designed for activity, these watches are generally lighter than many others on the market. They also need to be more adept at surviving wear and tear, therefore will often utilise materials like titanium, carbon or even ceramic.
Sports watches are Kensington boutique Veritime’s forte. ‘I’ve been in the watch business for over 35 years and I love sports watches,’ explains owner, Neil Duckworth, on his showspace’s impressive offering. ‘Favre Leuba is an old name with a vintage look and a novel concept in sports watches. It’s a reliable and well-priced Swiss sports watch brand – and one with a tremendous history. The key thing to look out for when shopping for a sports watch is water resistance – ideally it should be 200 metres. Then the watch needs to be robust, and well constructed. The glass should be tough and hard, and made of synthetic sapphire. Of course, the brand heritage is important too, preferably it will be Swiss-made. Finally, it’s about the look. So many sports watches look the same or are Rolex copies. Favre Leuba has a unique design – it’s original and authentic. The brand’s amazing Bathy diving watch has a mechanical depth gauge capable of measuring 120 metres. The Sea Sky chronograph watch is also a standout, with it’s bright yellow dial and padded brown leather strap. And from Chronoswiss, we have an amazing limited-edition Flying Regulator piece with fluorescent green or red highlights around the dial and a retrograde second hand. Only 50 of each have been made worldwide.'
The chronograph watch experts: Chronext, Cologne
There are many mechanical functions a watch can have, but perhaps none more sought after than the chronograph. At its most basic level, this is essentially a stopwatch feature. Originally invented by French watchmaker Louis Moinet in 1815 to use in accordance with astronomy equipment, this complication has been through many advancements over the years. It migrated from pocket watches to wrist watches, via the invention of rotating bezel tachymeters in the late 1950s (which allowed the wearer to measure their speed based on distance and time) and self-winding automatic chronometers in the 1960s. Today, chronographs can record anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours of time and use a combination of one to three ‘pushers’ to activate and regulate the function. The movement can be found on both mechanical and high-quality quartz watches.
'Choosing a particular style is a very personal thing,’ says Chronext service associate Manuel Senecal on the store’s strong offering, which puts chronograph models at the fore. ‘The most important thing is to choose a watch you like and matches your style. I personally love the Rolex Daytona 116500LN, because it’s such a versatile and sporty watch. It’s a piece you can wear every single day, regardless of how you need to dress, or what activity you’re doing.’
The aviation watch experts: The Collective, Miami
Whichever style of wrist watch you prefer, you have the advent of the aviation watch to thank. While a couple of makers had toyed with putting timepieces on wrists, the pocket watch was still the dominant time-telling tech in the late 19th century. That changed when, in 1904, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont enlisted the help of watchmaker Louis Cartier to design something that allowed him to check the time while keeping both hands free to use his cockpit instruments. With that, the Cartier Santos wrist watch was born. Its elegant-yet-rugged metal case and clean numerals became an instant hit with buyers – signalling the death of the pocket watch.
Today, aviation watches are still defined by a delicate balance of easy-to-read dials – generally featuring Arabic, rather than Roman numbers – ruggedness and technological innovations. Aviation watches tend to feature multiple functions that might benefit a pilot such as dual time zones on the bezel, flyback chronographs, eye-catching coloured detailing and big crowns (that allow the watch to be adjusted while wearing gloves at high altitudes).
Known for their expert curation of pre-loved timepieces, Miami-based boutique The Collective has become a one-stop destination for aviation watches. ‘We have around six Air Force bases in the lower half of Florida,’ notes the store’s senior horology specialist, ‘and being located in downtown Miami next to the airport, we get lots of requests for aviation watches from pilots and aviation enthusiasts,’ he explains. ‘One of the most requested features we get asked for by those looking for an aviation watch is GMT time functionality. A lot of our customers that seek aviation pieces travel a lot and being in Miami – the central hub for travel throughout Latin America – it’s a very important feature to have.’
The dress watch experts: Collector Square, Paris
Just as an aviation or diving watch is defined by its complications – that’s any function a watch has in addition to telling the time – a dress watch is usually defined by its lack of them. The face of a dress watch should be elegant, clean and minimal. Cases are generally slim enough to slide neatly under your cuff, and size-wise should probably max out at around the 42mm mark, depending on your wrist size, so as not to draw the eye. For the strap, a sleek leather or something resembling an exotic skin in a darker shade is de rigueur. However, rules are there to be broken: these watches no longer need to be kept for your most formal occasions. With fewer men wearing suits and the rise of Scandi-minimalism in fashion, a straightforward face on an elegant case has taken this style from niche watch territory to one of the most versatile.
Located in the heart of the Parisian Rive Gauche in the area of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Collector Square’s luxurious showroom is a fitting home for its renowned collection of dress watches. ‘When shopping for a men's dress watch, a person’s way of life is important and can guide the decision,’ explains the boutique’s director of external relations, Pauline Desmonts.
'A mechanical movement, for example, is refined, sophisticated and delicate – the watch needs to be worn or wound up every day and usually has a bigger case – whereas a quartz movement is extremely precise, solid, and no watch handling is required. Each period has its specificities and the buyer can look out for small details, especially on vintage dress watches. For instance, most of the Cartier watches produced in the 1970s have "Paris" written on their dial, which has turned them into collector's pieces. The first wrist watch in history was a Cartier Santos-Dumont, and one of the most famous timepieces from Cartier is the Ballon Bleu model. Some of my highlights include the Tank à Vis watch from a private Cartier collection – it’s a very rare model with another time-zone indication at 6 o'clock. Another is this elegant Tank Américaine watch, which has a longer and more curved case than the original model.’
The customised watch experts: Browns, London
Made for the collector who has everything, one-of-a-kind customised watches are the forte of a few specialist brands. 777 and MAD Paris create truly bespoke reworks of classic models from Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. For rare one-offs from these customizable watch experts, look to Browns’ central London-based boutique. ‘We have a pioneering customised watch offering,’ notes Browns’ men’s non-apparel buyer, Thom Scherdel.
'[These watches] are some of the best watches in the world, and have been made completely unique through custom settings. Each watch is – and always will be – a one-off. Nobody else will be wearing the watch you’ve got on your wrist. Customised watches are special and normally seen as an expansion to a client’s collection. Quite often a client will have an idea of the watch models they like already, and this is a great vehicle to see what can be done on those designs outside of the realm of factory editions. Take your time when browsing, and once you’ve selected the model, you can start to see the varying levels of design that can be achieved. My favourite pieces are always the “black-out” versions of classic models. [The styles below] are timeless… excuse the pun.’