A watch wardrobe: Owning a few styles—fine, fancy, or cheap—allows you to match your timepiece to your outfit or mood.
Metal straps last longest. If you prefer leather, get a deployant buckle: Because it folds over and snaps, this clasp puts less stress on the band, extending its life.
Best-case scenario is stainless steel: It resists rust, discoloration, and scratches better than cheaper alloys.
A quartz watch never needs winding; a mechanical one requires it daily; an automatic has a weight inside that swings as the wearer moves, keeping it wound. If it isn't worn daily, an automatic has to be reset (and wound manually once a week or so, says Joseph M. Urich, publisher of hr: Watches magazine).
A chronometer is a watch certified to meet international standards of accuracy; a chronograph has a stopwatch with extra dials for seconds, minutes, and hours.
Taking a swim or shower with a watch labeled water resistant isn't risk-free. "If the case has ever been opened, even to change the battery, that could compromise the seal," says Norma Buchanan, contributing editor at WatchTime magazine.
For cleaning the works and polishing out scratches, go to a jewelry store with a resident watchmaker.
Pictured above: With its streamlined roman numerals and vivid alligator strap, a pristine stainless steel watch (Tiffany & Co., $1,500; red strap, $180) is the epitome of a modern time machine.