Enthusiasm for watches can be as aggressive as the enthusiasm for #menswear. For some, it’s a bloodsport with clubs of men who live for showing off their #sexpile (a.k.a. collection) of luxury wrist wear.

If you have the budget and the desire to invest in a collection of multiple watches for different moods and occasions, go nuts. But most men don’t have the money or even the interest. Despite what magazines and other men’s style resources may tell you, the truth is that you only need one good watch.

The key to one good watch is versatility. It has to function and look good in any setting, balancing toughness and elegance with an ability to move effortlessly from a hard days work or play to an evening out. Masculine and sophisticated, but never clunky or flashy. As I see it, that watch is the classic stainless steel tool watch.

The kind of tool watch to which I’m referring is characterized by a steel case, a dark dial, a rotating bezel (black, as it goes with everything) and a bracelet in polished or brushed steel. Some have busy faces with multiple dials that no one reads, but I prefer the simpler variety with just an hour hand, a minute hand and a second hand. And perhaps a date feature. Numbers? Depends on the design. Nothing too big or clumsy.

There are countless beautiful timepieces in gold or with leather straps, but their places are limited. I wouldn’t go swimming or do anything strenuous in a delicate watch with a leather strap. Conversely, a bulky G-Shock would look ridiculous in a boardroom or at a black tie affair. A handsome, water-resistant, stainless steel tool watch, on the other hand, works anywhere anytime. I can’t think of one situation where it isn’t appropriate.

There are tons of great tool watches, and I can’t go over them all here. But I do have my favorites. If one has the money for a Tudor Black Bay ($3,675), an Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial (about $4,000) or a Rolex Submariner Date (about $8,000), do it. They’re gorgeous superlative classics that will take care of the wearer for a lifetime, and they all can be found pre-owned for less. For thousandaires with budgetary constraints, there are other really handsome well-made options like the Hager Aquamariner ($450), the Seiko 5 SNZH55 Automatic Black Dial ($160) or the Mougin & Piquard “Oceanique” ($625), which is on my wrist as I type.

Whatever the choice, one should be careful about size. An unfortunate trend these days is the oversized dial, i.e. anything with a diameter in excess of 41mm or so. On the average sized man, they’re unnecessarily big and actually have an emasculating effect, making the wrist look diminutive in contrast to the watch.

As I said, there are certainly other very handsome timeless watches, but I can think of no other that can so seamlessly move from a formal event to a business meeting or a day in the wood shop to an hour at the gym (or to that 1000-foot dive that maybe ten guys on the planet actually do). When it comes to just one good watch, it’s all about the stainless steel tool watch for me. Done and done.

Photos of yours truly in tool watch drag:

9 Comments

  1. Lyle H Hamilton Reply

    George, what is your take on the “smart watch” situation?

    • If you are interested in smart features but want the classic analog look, check out Fossil Q Hybrids. I have the Crewmaster – it is my favorite watch ever. Tracks steps/sleep and gives minimal notifications. Just swap out Nato straps for different looks.

  2. If I may suggest, a maker that should never be left out when talking about budget watches is Seiko. The selection is confusingly wide, but search Amazon for SKX007, SARB065 or SNKL23 for a few suggestions. All have automatic movemements, and are certainly of higher quality than the Invicta. I can personally vouch for the quality of the Orient Mako, owned by Seiko but make their own movements. Great quality for well under $200.

    • Fantastic. See, this is why I love you guys. I can’t think of everything, and you brought a GREAT suggestion to the table. Thank you!

  3. I’m going to second an above comment. I’ve done extensive research and it seems that the best bang for buck is Japanese in-house brands such as Seiko and Orient. Orient Mako or Ray as the diver’s watch and a SARB033/035 or Orient Bambino as the dress watch. Done deal. Two watch collection for any scenario under $800. Another option for the dress watch is a vintage Omega Geneve or Seamaster a la Mad Men.

  4. I really like the dive watch look, but as much as I would like to have a luxury watch, I just don’t see any difference between the Hager and the Rolex shown above, for example. I know there are some special gears and movements inside the Rolex, but I’ll never see it, or even notice it. I just can’t get past the idea of paying an extra $7500 for the word “Rolex” + the added privilege of paying thousands of dollars in “tune up” services every few years. I do know that if you buy a good watch it won’t really lose it’s value, but $8K is a lot of dough to wear on your wrist in a time when we have the time of day in front of our face all day long on our phones and laptops. Apologies for rambling.

  5. I agree that a solid tool watch is your best bet for anything shy of black tie. I own both the Seiko SNZH53 and the Orient Ray II and they’re what I wear most often both to work and on weekends. (Both have blue faces without being blingy, which I prefer over black because I don’t wear much black).

    One suggestion I have is to get a few different watch straps and a strap changing tool. It takes less than a minute to change out straps, it gives the watch a whole different feel, and it’s much cheaper than buying another watch. It’s surprising how much of a difference it can make.

    I personally love the look of a diver on a leather strap (I’m wearing my Ray II on a dark brown strap as I type this) and think it can add a touch of personality to an otherwise plain watch. In summer a perlon strap in any number of colors adds a casual touch. I don’t like NATO straps- I find the extra buckles and strap length look awkward- but it’s another good option if you do. Of course, I wouldn’t swim with a leather strap, but that’s why you have the metal or perlon. Some Google-fu or a bit of time on Instagram will give you loads of inspiration.

    I think of this as bespoke horology, if you will.

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