Broadly speaking, there are two types of wristwatch displays: analog and digital. This display can be referred to as the dial or the face, but in either case it is the part of the watch that displays the time.
The dial can come in many different shapes and sizes. Dials are often bold colors to improve legibility by creating a stark contrast between the background and the foreground.
Analog watches tell the time using hands and markers. The hands, which normally indicate the hours, minutes, and seconds, are long, thin sticks that extend from the center of the dial and at markers set around the outside of the dial at regular intervals. Sometimes these markers are just sticks (batons) or dots on the dial. More often, they are numbers, such as Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) or Roman numerals (I, II, III).
The shortest of the hands indicates the hour; the next longest indicates the minutes; the longest and thinnest indicates the seconds. Some very complicated analog watches have other types of hands that are capable of displaying all manner of things such as a second time zone, the date, the day, month, leap year, power reserve, whether it is day/night, and elapsed time as part of a stopwatch function.
Traditional watches, as well as most modern luxury watches, use an analog display. For example, Cartier, a Parisian watchmaker founded in 1847 and now owned by the Richemont Group, specializes in high-end mechanical, analog watches. The Cartier Tank is regarded as an industry stalwart that recalls the Art Deco design period.
Other examples can be seen from luxury German watchmaker, A. Lange & Söhne, whose Saxonia Thin is the epitome of analog elegance. Many of these traditional watches feature special techniques to manufacture the hands themselves, such as heat blueing, a technique that requires the steel hands to be heated by a flame or in an oven to more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit before a blue oxidised layer appears on the surface.
Digital displays, meanwhile, do not use hands at all. Instead, they use only numbers that are arranged in the following format to indicate hours (the first two numbers), minutes (the middle two numbers), and seconds (the numbers on the right): 00:00:00.
In a digital format, it is also common for the 24-hour clock to be used. In this format, for example, five seconds past midday would be written as follows: 12:00:05.
Digital readouts are very commonly used for cheap, quartz-powered watches. The straightforward, intuitive presentation of information also makes them excellent choices for children learning to tell the time, for fans of low-cost, highly functional technology, or for groups of people requiring incredible accuracy, such as the police or military.
One of the most commonplace quartz brands is Casio, which is a popular Japanese brand whose watches retail from just $20. Almost all of Casio’s watches employ digital displays, though it also offers watches that use both digital and analog displays in the brand’s popular G-Shock range.
While luxury digital watches are much, much rarer, there are some incredibly high-end companies (specifically A. Lange & Söhne) that produce mechanically-driven digital watches. For those looking to buy a well-known brand that carries with it certain suggestions of status and wealth, but not so keen on spending over $5,000, the Breitling Aerospace – an incredibly well-thought of analog/digital quartz that has stood the test of time – is a great option.
Both formats are better for some things than the others. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, which, as you will discover, is what makes watch collecting so much fun.