Generally speaking, a decent watch costs a lot more than the clothes on your back. Sure, £500 is a considerable sum to drop on your wrist, and while that budget could deck you out with a new wardrobe, it will only just tick the required boxes of a quality timepiece: classic design, reliable mechanics and a notable name stamped on the dial, to name but three.
“At the £500 mark, you can expect a decent level of craftsmanship,” says Erica Redgrave, a buyer at luxury watch retailer Bucherer. “It’s still a long way off the elite brands, but such pieces often boast the same form and function as many watches at the top – whether they’re Swiss-made or produced elsewhere.”
After the task of tightening the purse strings is complete comes the job of sourcing a piece that’s actually worth the investment. To help, we’ve collated some of the finest tickers for under £500 to save you not only money but time, too.
Farer Meakin Stainless Steel And Leather
Although considered a baby by horological standards, British-Swiss label Farer makes up for its relative lack of experience in sheer design skills.
Each piece is named and inspired by a different intrepid explorer, but still stakes a claim in the current century with clean, unfussy styles that house Swiss-made movements. Incredibly good value.
Junghans Max Hill
If you thought German efficiency was just for cars and shampoo, think again, because it also extends to your wrist. Schramberg-based Junghans has made BMW-quality tickers since 1861 and manages to match the function with form in the minimalist Max Bill line.
Smart enough to wear with a suit yet unfussy enough for off-duty wear.
Mondaine Swiss Railways Alarm
Mondaine: a label more Swiss than a bar of Toblerone that’s been hand-delivered by Roger Federer himself. With designs based on the nation’s railway clocks, the dial may be stripped-back, but that’s what makes it easy to read. This one comes with a reliable quartz movement and built-in alarm.
Seiko Prospex Kinetic
This Japanese watch brand is the manufacturer that almost killed off the luxury Swiss industry in the seventies with the ‘Quartz Crisis’, and deserves a place amongst the traditional set today.
Seiko’s Prospex Kinetic is emblematic of the firm’s prowess, with a visible power reserve, signature blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel, and full in-water capacity. This is a proper diver’s watch that can withstand depths of up to 200m. Make no mistake: it is extremely rare to get that kind of performance at this budget.
Uniform Wares C40 Day Date
If Rolex is a boardroom staple, consider Uniform Wares the creative agency worker’s go-to. Since 2009, the British label has fused minimalist design with Swiss craftsmanship and components. The result is a line that’s cool in the purest sense of the word.
American manufacturing has endured something of an identity crisis of late. Shinola, however, is one of the few labels that is actually making America great again.
The Detroit-based company employs and trains local residents in the art of traditional watchmaking, melding old-school Americana design with a contemporary social conscience. The result is a line of seriously masculine watches.
Hamilton has long marketed watches on the silver screen, with pieces appearing on the wrists of everyone from Elvis Presley to the Rock, via George Clooney and Matt Damon. The brand’s Jazzmaster range is one that appears often on the big screen and you can see why – a Swiss-made timepiece that sits on the right side of the nineties (and A-Lister pay packet).
As one of the world’s largest watchmakers, Citizen’s extensive range checks almost every box going. Robust dive watches? Check. Statement pieces? Check. And classic watches that are neither too statement nor too expensive? Check, check, check.
The brand is also forward-thinking when it comes to technology; its Eco-Drive pieces tick along on solar power.
Corniche Men’s Heritage 40
For all its prestige, Switzerland is hardly the last words in glamorous locales, which is why Corniche – a watch brand launched in 2013 – looks to the French Riviera for inspiration instead. With the Heritage 40, Corniche has achieved in making a quietly cool timepiece that’s as at home in the office as it is on an oil baron’s yacht.
Certina DS Action
Not many people wearing Swiss dive watches are brave enough to actually wear them in the water. You need no such fears with Swatch Group-owned brand Certina. It created the DS Action, a watch that packs impressive water resistance, luminescent dials and a rotational bezel all specifically designed for a deep dive. Of course, it looks great on dry land, too.
Victorinox Swiss Army Maverick
Victorinox – best known as one of the brands behind the original Swiss army knives – integrates the same level of function into its watch collection. With the Maverick, instead of a bottle opener and miniature screwdriver, you can expect a 24-hour dial, date aperture to record the calendar and seventies-inspired shades of green and gold.
Tissot Tradition Perpetual Calendar
A perpetual calendar, which correctly measures the date regardless of month length or leap year, is often the sign of a watch that will require you to sell your car. Somehow Tissot manages to offer up the same craftsmanship at a fraction of the price, letting you rock a timepiece with the kind of innards some brands charge five figures for.
G-Shock Metal Bronze Steel Solar
Big horological statements needn’t be all about precious metals, bright colours or, dare we say it, diamonds. G-Shock is one of the few brands able to amp up the volume without resorting to theatrics. In their place, the label uses a multitude of features, such as a world time function and illumination in the dark. And it’s all housed in bulky (but no less slick) cases that are resistant to everything from falls to water to magnetism. Smart and tough.