“You get what you pay for,” is always used to justify spending more. Whether it’s cars, meals or winter coats, there is an inherent belief that the more noughts on the price tag, the better something is. Watches used to be the same – spend big and you’ll be rewarded for it, whether that’s in terms of office bragging rights or superior mechanics.
Some things haven’t changed in that regard though – if you’re after a timepiece that can boast ‘in-house’ this or ‘manufacture’ that, then you are going to have to accept the accompanying price tag, however, the canny watch lover knows that interesting things are also happening below the sub-£1,000 mark.
Know where to shop and you could come away with anything from a Swiss mechanical to a modernist classic to add to your watch wardrobe. You won’t have to look too far today – this is a burgeoning sector of the market and plenty of brands are scrambling to offer quality at a lower price.
Expect considered design (perhaps referencing vintage models), simple mechanical or high grade quartz movements, and well-engineered steel cases. High-tech titanium or precious gold you will not get here, and you can largely forget complications – mechanical chronographs, for example, are significantly more expensive to produce to a standard of quality you’d want. If, however, you’re after refinement and simple quality, here’s our handy guide to the best models out there that offer substantial horological bang for your buck.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
Every man should have a military-style watch in his wardrobe, but not everyone is lucky enough to have the budget for one of the Dirty Dozen (the 12 brands who made watches for the British soldiers in World War II including IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Omega).
Inspired by the military watches from the Vietnam War era, specifically the MIL-W-46374 that was first launched in 1964, this Hamilton has all the swagger of a vintage mil-spec timepiece but without the unreliability. For under £500, you get a Swiss automatic movement from ETA and sapphire crystal, all in a modern 38mm case with NATO-style strap. Perfect for taking into any (boardroom) battle.
Available at Hamilton, priced £375.
Seiko SKX007 Diver
Seiko has a history of making robust, reasonable and great-looking diving watches – just look at the amazing Orange Monster, which has achieved a cult-like status. The SKX007 is no exception. First thing to note is, unlike some divers, this is built for scuba diving thanks to its 200m water resistance and incredible luminescence.
Seiko’s lume is legendary – it is super bright (hence the name Lumi Brite) radiation-free, environmentally friendly and has a great exposure to glow ratio. But this isn’t just a watch to save for the deep seas; it the ideal weekender – substantial enough to knock about in but still stylish enough to pass muster down the pub.
Available at Amazon, priced £251.90.
Tissot Heritage Petite Seconde
Scouting for watches under £1000 doesn’t mean always having to opt for sporty, as this Tissot shows. It is based on a design from 1943 that, according to the marketing blurb at the time, was aimed at gents who work in cities. Its reach probably goes a little further these days because this is a classic vintage everyday watch.
The dial has a clean symmetry that means it could work just as well with a suit as with separates. The added bonus is, because Tissot is a Swatch Group brand, you get a super reliable ETA movement powering it, which you can see through the sapphire caseback.
Available at Tissot, priced £785.
Longines Conquest Heritage
Longines’s Heritage section, with all its fabulous reissues of iconic designs from the brand’s past, has long been a horological treasure trove for those who want retro style but without the dodgy mechanics. Usually the historical inspirations are military or diving watches, which is why this Conquest is such a treat. With its raffish charm, it has an air of off-duty pilot about it, putting it somewhere between a dress watch and an everyday wearer.
The art-deco applied indices are unusual and a tad flamboyant but, thanks to the elegantly tapered hands and the low-key stainless-steel case and black leather strap, they don’t jar. As classic designs go this is one with more flair than the average, which could just as easily describe anyone wearing it.
Available at Longines, priced £810.
Victorinox I.N.O.X Mechanical
If you’re in the market for a watch that can take everything life can throw at it, then look no further than the I.N.O.X, which is legendary for being practically indestructible. It can survive a 10-metre drop on to a concrete surface; two hours in a washing machine (in case you forget it’s in your pocket) and having a 64-tonne truck driven over it.
It has been subjected to such corrosives as gasoline, solvents, cleaning products and insecticides as well as temperatures as extreme as -51° C or, at the other end of the spectrum, +71° C and come out unscathed. On top of all that, you get a great-looking steel watch that, sartorially speaking, is definitely for life.
Available at Victorinox, priced £689.
Junghans Max Bill Automatic
This is democratic watch design at its most perfect. The original was created for German watch brand Junghans in 1961 by Max Bill, who was a Bauhaus student and a lead proponent of the concrete art movement; one which was anti-impressionist and favoured bold geometric abstraction.
In this watch, you can see blend of Bauhaus and concrete art both of which shared principles of simplicity of design and form needing to follow function. The dial seems almost childishly simple, until you start to notice the elongated hour markers, which make the time easier to read and the lack of date so the design isn’t imbalanced. It is an instant signifier of a certain refined style. For those in the know, at any rate.
Available at Junghans, priced £870.
TAG Heuer Formula 1
Generally, Tags come in at about the £2,000 mark, but, if you’re willing to ditch the mechanics and opt for quartz instead then this is an amazing buy. The Formula 1 has a very special place in TAG’s history, because it was the first watch launched in 1986, following the acquisition of Heuer’s by Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) thereby turning Heuer into TAG Heuer. It was the brand’s attempt to compete with the Swatch and was a major success.
Looking at this sixth-generation iteration, it’s easy to see why – this is a no-nonsense, fantastic-looking sports watch. The blue sunray dial with orange accents is very of the moment and you can’t go wrong with a NATO strap. The whole look is ‘easy weekender’, so unfortunately it will have to go back in the box when Monday’s alarm goes off.
Available at TAG Heuer, priced £900.
Movado Museum Classic
The unadorned black dial has been a bit of a trend over the last couple of years, but for Movado this isn’t anything new. Designed in 1947 by the US industrial designer Nathan George Horwitt, the Movado Museum was intended to be a Bauhaus take on a sun dial, with the silver circle at 12 o’clock to represent the sun at high noon.
Since its launch, it has become such a design icon that, in 1960, it was the first-ever watch to be selected for the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Given all this provenance, you’d forgive Movado for adjusting the price accordingly. Instead this piece of design history can be yours with change left over for two tickets to MOMA to see the original. Not including the fare to New York, that is.
Available at Movado, priced £450.
Baume & Mercier Classima 10385
With lots of brands playing with horological fireworks to get everyone’s attention and cash, it is sometimes worth remembering that there’s a lot to be said for a simple two-hand design. Uncomplicated is not the same as easy – with less on the dial, there is nowhere to hide so proportions have to be perfect, which is exactly what they are in this Baume & Mercier.
The Roman numerals are complemented by a more modern Arabic numeral outer ring, while the blue dial gives this unelaborate design a contemporary twist. The decision to opt for a light brown leather strap, rather than the more traditional chocolate, gives the whole look a trans-seasonal feel, meaning it would look just as good with white linen as with boiled wool.
Available at Baume & Mercier, priced £820.
Whenever a Farer comes out there is always some little added detail or process that makes you wonder how they continue to keep the prices as amazing as they are. For the Stanhope that detail is in the dial. Farer has opted for a multi-layer design, which features a piqué, textured, off-white, sandwiched central plate, with a space punched out for the sub dial, which is displayed on a base layer.
There are also indentations around the outer edge of the upper dial, which make room for the raised wedge markers complete with Super-Luminova dots that run around the outer ring for after-dark legibility. Add to this the applied hour markers and numerals in midnight blue, the slightly cushioned case, ETA automatic movement and Barenia bridle leather strap and you’re left looking at this timepiece trying to work out where corners have been cut. Spoiler alert – they haven’t. This is quite simply an incredibly well-made watch at an equally incredible price. Just enjoy wearing it, don’t worry about working out how Farer has done it.
Available at Farer, priced £975.
Despite looking like a retro revival, Unimatic is only three years old. Based in Italy and the brainchild of two industrial designers, it has a touch of Panerai – that other notable Italian Navy-affiliated brand – about it and has an equally enthusiastic following, with its limited runs selling out fairly soon after launch. This is the brand’s first chronograph, which is powered by a Seiko mecha-quartz movement (a quartz movement boosted with chronograph setting system you’d find in a mechanical watch).
It is good to 300m, so you can properly dive in it, and with those oversized dot markers, you know you’d be able to see it easily at depth. It also comes with an extra NATO strap, so you don’t have to ruin your leather one when you take to the seas. It may be paying homage to other diving watches but there is something charming about its chunky form and no-frills approach to design. If you’re won over by it then better buy now, these don’t hang around for long.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £675.