Budget Watch Collecting/Selecting a watch
1. Dial condition--It is very difficult to improve the appearance of most watch dials. They are designed to be protected, and anything strong enough to remove dirt is also likely to remove markings or coatings. Sometimes spot cleaning with a toothpick can reduce some marks, but it is just as likely to make things worse. Watch dials can be "redialed"--This is basically repainted. Quality can range from very good (although rarely as good as the original) to very obviously re-painted. Prices begin at $20 or so, not counting removing the dial and shipping.
2. Case condition. If a watch is gold-tone, check edges, lugs and high spots for missing plating. If the gold has worn off, polishing will make it look good temporarily, but the brass underneath will soon tarnish--The transition from gold to brass can bee seen with a loupe.
3. Movement condition. Mechanical watches should wind and set smoothly. There should be slight resistance when setting--If there is too little resistance, make sure the minute hand moves under its own power, and if it is a calendar (or jump-hour) manually turn the watch to where the calendar starts to move, then make sure the minute hand continues to move while advancing the calendar. The movement should be clean inside, and the balance should be turning evenly and at least half a turn.
4. Crown. Fairly easy to replace, but make sure you know how much your watchmaker charges first. Manual wind watches with worn smooth crowns are especially irritating.
5. Crystal--This may be important, or may be a minor problem. If the crystal is plastic and not cracked or discolored, most scratches can be polished very easily. Domed round plastic crystals and flat glass crystals usually have generic replacemnt crystals readily available. Fancy crystals can be difficult to find a match for.
A general note - don't feel rushed to buy the first watch that comes along. In general, if you find one specific watch online that meets your criteria, then you will find more than one. Shop around, and get a feel for price and the range of condition that your chosen model can be found in. A common mistake is to buy an inferior watch, and then loose money on it later when you try to sell it to fund the purchase of one in better condition that comes along.