The Different Watch Types Explained ⏱ Our Definitive List

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By the Best Watch Advice Team, 22nd of August 2022

If you aren’t a watch enthusiast (yet) or you’re just getting into watches for the first time then you’ve probably just realized how many different watch types there is.

And you might be thinking, especially if you’re brand new to the watch world, “I got a phone that tells the time, what’s the point of all these watches?”

Yeah, ok buddy, you have a point.

Just not a very good one.

I must confess though, now with technology and everyone glued to their phones these days, you don’t really need a watch.

Not until at least, you start to understand the art and craft of watchmaking.

Once you realise the precision, the craftsmanship and beauty that goes into each and every timepiece (except those fashion brands that shall not be named), then it’s game over.

And then you’re hooked like there’s no tomorrow.

Turns out watches can be a lifelong addiction 🙂

Very difficult to give up.

And there’s plenty of different watches for that addiction thankfully.

Watches for different purposes, watches for different occasions, watches for days.

From simple and elegant dress watches the next time you need to don a suit…

To the rugged and tough field watches that you can wear when you’re out on your next adventure…

And even to the practicality of a great chronograph, a neat choice for an everyday watch, just maybe not with that suit.

So with all that said, sit back and relax as I take you on an adventure through the world of different watch types…

How many different watch types are there?

It depends on how you classify them. By movement there are 3 individual watch types:

  1. Manual (Mechanical)
  2. Automatic (Mechanical)
  3. Quartz (Quartz)

If you classify them by Style, there is 9:

  1. Casual
  2. Field
  3. Pilot
  4. Racing
  5. Dive
  6. Dress
  7. Digital
  8. Chronograph
  9. GMT

 

Different Watch Types: By Movement

The first classification of our different types of watches is according to their movement. The movement is the engine that powers a watch.

Just like there’s a difference in an Aston Martin’s engine compared to a Toyota’s, there are also differences in the watches engine, known as the movement.

Some watch movements work mechanically and others work with a combo of electronic and mechanical parts.

While some people base buying a watch solely on the look of the exterior of a watch, the true enthusiast will likely give more weight to the movement.

After all, you wouldn’t want to pay full price for an Aston, drive it home and realize the engine is actually closer to a Toyota.

And I’m not bagging out Toyota here, Toyota are one of my favorite cars, but I think you get my point.

There are 3 individual types that fall under 2 categories and it’s important to know all 3 types so you can know what watches your getting your hands on…

The different watch movements: Manual, Automatic and Quartz

 

Mechanical – Manual (Hand-Wound)

The first individual watch type (and the oldest) in the mechanical category is Manual or Hand-Wound and are as fascinating as they are complex.

Mechanical watches date all the way back to 16th century Europe, where clockmaker Peter Henlein invented the very first pocket watch.

Mechanical watches work by stored energy in the mainspring.

The mainspring is wound up regularly by winding the crown on the side of the watch (hence the name Manual / Hand-Wound).

Then, as the mainspring is unwound, it releases the stored energy through all the gears, springs and small intricate parts which move the hands on the dial.

The craftsmanship in these watches are truly astonishing.

 

Mechanical – Automatic

The second individual watch type in the mechanical category is Automatic.

Automatic movements can be dated back to the 1700s with the attempt of automatic pocket watches.

The problem?

An automatic pocket watch doesn’t create a lot of energy in a pocket.

They were unreliable and fizzled out.

The real story here kicks off after WWI, when the military started using wristwatches to synchronize maneuvers during battle.

This completely shifted the public’s perception of  wristwatches and sales took off.

As watches worn on one’s wrist started gaining traction and combined with the advances in manufacturing, self-winding mechanisms became a hot topic once more.

And in 1923, John Harwood, an everyday watch repairer from sunny England pulled off the very first automatic watch.

Automatic watches are similar to manual watches and possess all the same components, but with an added weighted rotor that spins while the user’s hand is moving.

This weighted rotor winds up the mainspring using the natural motions of the wearer’s wrist and eliminates the need for you to do so manually, hence the name Automatic, also know as “self-winding mechanical watches.”

 

Quartz

Quartz watches are our third different watch type and in a category all by themselves.

They are in a category by themselves because their movement is completely different to that of their mechanical brothers.

Quartz watches are the youngest of the 3 and almost destroyed the mechanical watchmaking business in the Quartz Crisis of the 70s and 80s.

The reason for this was Quartz watches were more accurate and cheaper to produce.

Those were dark days for the Swiss watchmaking industry.

These watches are powered by a battery that sends an electrical current through a circuit that charges a quartz crystal.

The charge vibrates the quartz at a very precise frequency (32,768hz to be precise).

This frequency is sent back into the circuit and transformed by a stepper motor that moves the hands on the dial

After becoming popular the 70s and 80s, quartz have become the world’s most widely used watch taking over the majority of the market.

Different Watch Types: By Style

With movement out of the way, we then classify watches is by their style.

And there is a different style for every day of the week if you wish.

Are you heading out on a jungle adventure? There’s a style for that.

Doing a little bit of deep sea diving? There’s a style for that.

Travelling around the globe through multiple cities and timezones? There’s a style for that.

Yeah you guessed it, there’s a style of watch for every occasion.

Because it wouldn’t be a good look if you rocked up at your next black tie event sporting a watch that looks like you’ve been on an African safari.

So, let’s make sure you’re wearing the right watch for the right occasion by reading up on the styles below…

Casual

The Casual Style: Tudor Black Bay M79230B-0008

If you are the “one-size-fits-all” type of guy, the other different types of watches may not seem as important as the casual watch.

Casual watches are pretty straightforward.

They come clean, solid, and subtle.

If you’re not planning to explore the depth of The Atlantic or fly a 737 down to Antarctica, then a casual watch may just be all you need for any occasion.

Go casual, stay subtle.

Field

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical h69439931

If a field watch is a style of watch made to survive out in battle. Yes, they are designed with the military in mind.

These watches are to accurately tell the time without all the other features on other watches.

They come simple, rugged, and robust with every field watch being distinct in its own way.

Ooh rah.

 

Pilot

Pilot style watch Orient RA-AC0H04Y

No matter what the conditions are up in the sky, beautiful blue or stormy as hell, a pilot needs to be able to quickly tell the time.

Enter the Pilot watch, characterized by large legible dials and contrasting colors.

Pilots back in the day also wore gloves during their flights so there’s nothing better than a big crown to easily use.

But you don’t need to be a pilot to wear one of these popular watches that’s for sure.

Chronograph

A Seagull 1963 38mm Chronograph

Chronograph watches are another different watch type.

These types of watches feature a stopwatch with the regular watch it was meant to be.

If you’ve ever seen a watch that had two extra dials inside of it, chances are you were staring at a chronograph watch.

These extra dials tick when you choose to use the stopwatch feature.

Dive

Dive watch omega-seamaster-diver-300m-210.32.42.20.03.001

Divers watches were manufactured to allow divers to take them into the ocean.

Today, among the different watch types, the dive watch is becoming a staple in collections.

Any watch with a water resistance rating of 200 and above can be considered a dive watch.

These types of watches are naturally bigger and can be read in darker environments.

These features make them perfect for ocean trips.

Dress

Dress watch Junghans max bill Automatic Bauhaus 27_4009.02

You can probably wear whatever watch you desire to that dinner date.

I mean your wrist wouldn’t care if you’re sporting that awesome dive watch you just bought.

Nevertheless, a dress watch might just be what you need to bring your elegant look home.

This was why dress watches were made. Perhaps, if a diver needs a dive watch, then a sharp dressed man needs a dress watch.

Racing

Racing watch Tissot T125.617.17.051.02

It does feel like there is a watch for everyone irrespective of their works of life.

Racers aren’t left behind. As you can tell, a race watch is made for racers!

For racers, tracking time is an important part of the race. With race watches, racers can track time thus tracking their distance and speed.

Racing watches usually come sporting both a chronograph and a tachymeter combination.

And you guessed it, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to wear these if you’ve never been on the track.

Digital

Digital Watch G-Shock DW-5600BB-1

Remember the crystals and vibrations we talked about under quartz watches?

Well, this is where you get the full story.

Digital watches keep time by an oscillator that is regulated by the vibrations of quartz crystals.

Now, these crystals don’t just vibrate.

They need electric current from a battery also coupled into that little piece on your wrist.

Digital watches indicate the hours, minutes, and sometimes seconds by digits

Digital watches are one popular different watch type.

GMT

GMT watches can be pretty neat.

This different types of watch is our last and allows you to read the time for two different time zones.

They have an extra hour hand for that extra time zone.

Pretty cool right?

The GMT watches were Rolex’s response to the problem pilots faced when flying across two time zones back when the Jet Age officially began.

Summing up the Different Watch Types

Perhaps, you never knew what category that little beauty on your wrist falls in.

Perhaps you’ve just started tipping your toes into the world world and everything is brand new to you.

Whatever the case, once you realise the precision, the craftsmanship and beauty that goes into each and every timepiece, you’ll be hooked.

And most likely want a watch from every category!

Just make sure you forget that dress watch while trying to climb Everest.

Get out there today with your new found watch knowledge and get a watch that will serve its purpose.

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