A Guide to Buying Your First "I'm a Grown-Up" Watch

If only every adult decision came with instructions.

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Designed by Amy Armani

The day has come. You've worked your butt off, you've saved up for months, and you're now ready to reward your hard-earned success with a status symbol that says "I've made it." It's time to buy a grown-up watch.

But where do you start? You want a piece that will impress your friends with your impeccable taste, sure, but you also want to make a smart (and beautiful) investment. First thing's first: Educate yourself. Shopping for a big-ticket watch can be intimidating, but armed with the right questions and know-how, you can be confident you're choosing the right one for you. Here, all of the most important elements to consider:

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There are many fine watchmakers, but one brand stands out as leader of the pack: Rolex. Because a Rolex watch is not only beautifully designed on the outside, it's what's inside the watch that makes most buyers fall in love. The watch's internal movement is the engine that makes it tick, and what makes a Rolex truly a Rolex.

To some aficionados, a mechanical movement holds the same kind of allure as vinyl records do for music connoisseurs. In the world of mechanical watches, you'll find both manual and automatic options. Manual watches require daily winding to keep time, while an automatic movement winds itself, powered by the regular motion of the wearer.

Your other option is to go quartz (which uses quartz crystal to regulate the electronic oscillator), or battery-operated, both of which keep super-accurate time—no effort needed—but they don't hold the same romance, history, and technology as a mechanical movement.

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The next element to consider is the timepiece's "complications," AKA the bells and whistles on the watch that go beyond just displaying the hours and minutes—think day and date displays, stopwatch functions, multiple time-zones, moon-phases, etc. Depending on your lifestyle, these features can add to the usefulness of your new timepiece in spades.

No surprise, the more add-ons you get, the more money you're going to spend. But if you're already investing in such a major timepiece, it's worth it to customize it to your exact needs.

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Inevitably, the materials of your new watch will be in direct correlation to how much you're willing to shell out. Rolex has watches created from their special metal alloys, such as a stainless steel called 904L, which is ultra-tricky to work with but has a stunning sheen. Or, if you're into unique metal colors and willing to pay up a bit, Rolex also creates its own yellow gold, white gold, and a rose color gold called "Everose." For buyers willing to spend top dollar, Rolex's platinum watches are really something special.

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Think about when you're most likely to wear the watch, especially how frequently. Are you planning to wear it Monday-Friday, 9AM-6PM? Are you likely to keep it on when exercising and being active? Or is this more of a formal/special occasion piece?

If you want something more formal, consider the iconic Datejust, which is available in over 20 metal combinations, with or without some extra bling; if you're a water baby, the Submariner is a diving watch associated with deep-sea exploration. There is truly a watch for everybody out there—really. There's even a watch, the Air King, for the budding pilot in all of us. Pick the one that speaks to you.

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Trends may come and go, but the reason brands like Rolex are so timeless and have such lasting power is due to a thoughtful evolution of watch craftsmanship and decades of careful consideration. Pick a timepiece that you want to wear now, but could also see one day becoming a family heirloom. Your future will thank you.

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