As watch budgets go, this used to be a bit of a no-man’s land – not enough money to start investing in the big names, but a little too much to play fast and loose with the fashion brands. Then recessions hit, purse strings got tightened, which in turn bred a new kind of watch connoisseur – one who had knowledge and discernment but no longer possessed the readies for an investment purchase.
The mid-market saw that gauntlet and took it up with aplomb, which is why watches under £350 is now one of the most exciting and creative price points around. As you’re spending a bit more, you’ve got a few more mechanical watches available with movements varying from high-end Japanese to more basic Swiss. Not much in the way of precious metal here but definitely steel and steel that might even have seen the hand of a polisher.
This is also a sector that benefits from some digging around the more niche brands – they generally don’t have major marketing spend so every penny you’re outlaying goes straight into buying a damn fine watch. These are our favourites.
Citizen Promaster Diver
This is the absolute quintessence of a steel diving watch. And it’s a chrono, too. Being a Citizen, it is powered by its revolutionary Eco Drive, which was the first light-powered movement to place solar cells under the dial and boasts a six-month power reserve.
It also has the brand’s classic 6, 9 and 12 o’clock sub dial formation and is good to 200m, so ideal for Scuba diving. At 45mm, however, it is a substantial wrist presence, so maybe one to leave in the drawer when the wetsuit is exchanged for the business one.
Baltic HMS 001 Blue Gilt
This is a brand that had watch connoisseurs talking before its Kickstarter campaign launched, something that says a lot about the desirability factor of these retro-inspired timepieces.
The founder of Baltic, Etienne Malec, took inspiration for his new brand from old notebooks that documented his father’s vintage watch purchases. All of them are automatics, featuring renowned Japanese Miyota or Chinese Seagull movements, and although made in China, assembly and quality control happens in Besançon, France.
The result is a gorgeous three-hander at a frankly ludicrous price.
Mondaine Helvetica Bold No 1
Where do you go creatively when you’ve based your entire brand on the Swiss railway clock? Well, in the case of Mondaine, you adapt another Helvetian icon, the font Helvetica.
This is a watch whose simplicity is deceiving. Look closer and you can see that the number 1 is used to create the shape of the lugs, the indices and hands are sized up in bold, while the 6 and 12 numerals, as well as the date and dial text, are left justified against a centre line, giving it that slightly off-centre look. Ideal for font geeks and roll neck lovers everywhere.
Tissot Everytime Swissmatic
When it comes to incredibly priced Swiss automatics, there is only one brand that should be your go-to – Tissot. However, this is a bargain even by Tissot’s standards.
The way it has managed to produce an automatic for just shy of £300 is by adapting the machine-made approach Swatch did for its Sistem51 but with less plastic, more metal, including the rotor, and stretching the power reserve to three days. And what you’re left with is a classic, minimalist everyday wearer with a modern Swiss heartbeat.
Certina DS Caimano
All quartz watches are accurate, but some, such as PreciDrive, are more accurate than others. This ETA-made movement only varies by -/+ 10 seconds a year making it eight to 10 times more precise than other quartz watches.
It does this through thermo-compensation, whereby a heat sensor notices the temperature oscillations and regulates the motor pulses according to the changes in ambient temperature, which makes a watch more accurate than simply running it at a consistent 32,768Hz. So, you’ll never be 10 seconds late for anything again.
Bulova may be more well-known for its tuning-fork technology but it also makes decent automatics as well. This example is an elegant dress watch given a bit of interest thanks to the open aperture at six o’clock.
Rather than compete with the entertainment provided by the view of the balance wheel, the rest of the dial is kept simple, while opting for grey rather than standard black makes this a classic dress watch with a fashion edge.
Rather than just opt for off the peg, Bering made the decision to furnish its first collection of automatics with a movement it created in collaboration with Miyota. A movement it has grandly christened with the first name of the Danish explorer, pioneer and first European to discover Alaska – Vitus Bering.
Aside from what’s inside, the exterior is rather pioneering too, with the unusual nine o’clock positioning of the date and inclusion of a second time-zone rather than seconds sub-dial. As well as a steel Milanese strap, this watch also comes with sapphire crystal; a sight as rare, in this price range, as an Alaskan muskox.
Junkers Bauhaus Chronograph
No that isn’t a spelling error, this is a Junkers, not that Max-Bill loving other brand of a similar name. But given the name and its undoubtedly Bauhaus referencing appearance, we forgive you for thinking there was an error.
Founded by Bernd Junkers in 2003, the original designs, all of which are assembled in Germany using Swiss or Japanese movements, were meant to reflect the family’s aviation history – Bernd is the grandson of aircraft designer and pioneer of all-metal airplanes Hugo Junkers. As the name suggests this is a more mid-century proposition and the ideal purchase to celebrate the modern-art movement’s 2019 centenary.
Scurfa Diver One
Diving watches don’t get tougher than this. Scurfa was created in 2014 by watch enthusiast and saturation diver Paul Scurfield (nickname Scurfa) after he discovered that divers and support staff were left watchless when the value of their vintage Rolexes sky rocketed rendering them too precious to wear in a hostile workplace.
Although these look like any other fashion diver out there, they are made for professionals – the first Diver One was even tested by Scurfield himself on a dive from a deep-sea Comex bell. Something that will be reassuring to know as you scud about on an inflatable flamingo this summer.
Swatch Sistem Sea Flex
When Swatch launched its Sistem 51 back in 2013, the two things everyone was talking about was that it was assembled by robots and how much it cost. Here was a plastic Swatch, the wrist companion of every kid from the 1980s, but given a grown-up twist with the addition of an automatic movement comprising 51 parts, spread around five modules all linked by a single central screw.
And did we mention, it is made by robots? Six years on and that’s still all anyone talks about. That and the new designs it’s added like this moody-blue Sea Flex with a very cool stretch-link bracelet. Orange life preserver optional.