Once you’ve dipped your wrist in the world of watches, it can get moreish. Maybe you’ve already saved for your first mechanical watch, or bought something stylish in quartz that you’ve had your eye on for ages. But now you know that a windfall is in the offing and you want to up your wrist game, which means it is time to step into that next price bracket.
A watch under £5,000 is full heirloom territory, a well-deserved blowout for yourself and one you can justify by saying it’ll one day go to the kids.
This used to be a bit of a no-man’s land horologically speaking – you didn’t get the fireworks of the timepieces that were ten grand plus and you didn’t get the value of the sub-£1000 style. However, things have changed and lots of watch brands have wised up to the potential of this category. You won’t get any precious metals – it’s all steel or bronze here – and the only complications are likely to be chronographs or an extra time zone.
But what you can find might surprise you – in-house movements, entry-level styles from some of the biggest names in the business and even the odd limited edition. To save you spending hours trawling watch websites or, heaven help you, delving into forums, we’ve chosen the ten best watches out now that will give you change from £5,000.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass
Despite only having landed in 1992, the aviation and military-inspired Bell & Ross has become an icon, thanks in no small part to its instantly recognisable bevelled square cases and functional cockpit-instrument displays. This latest addition takes its inspiration from a vintage radio compass (sorry if you thought there was an actual compass in there), with the off-white and “Munsell green” colour scheme of the markers and numbers being identical to those of US Navy avionic instruments.
Although the concentric circle build of the case seems simple, it required Bell & Ross to devise a super-light centre to ensure that its weight didn’t affect power reserve or accuracy. This damn fine piece of engineering is limited to 999 pieces so get your order in now because they are guaranteed to fly out the door.
Tissot Heritage 1948
For some, the trend for watch brands rummaging in their archives for inspiration is just laziness and a lack of R&D budget. However, when your back catalogue contains such wonderful heritage pieces as this Tissot, you’d be forgiven for thinking it deserves a second viewing – especially for a watch so far under £5,000.
The first thing to notice is the lugs – elongated and faceted, they allow the watch to sit close to the wrist. Also, rather than dramatically up the size for more modern appeal, Tissot has kept things relatively small at 39.5mm and, to really add to the vintage feel, it has used hesalite crystal rather than super shiny sapphire. There is a date, which will upset some purists, but it’s a small nod to modern desires in a watch that revels in its history.
Omega Seamaster Aquaterra
With the Speedmaster getting all the attention this year, it’s easy to forget that Omega has another absolute belter of a sports watch in its collection – one worn by everyone’s favourite philandering secret agent James Bond, no less. This more elegant addition isn’t a dive watch, though at 150m water resistance you can swim in it, and that has allowed Omega to get rid of the unidirectional bezel, slimming the case down to more shirt-cuff friendly dimensions and opening up the dial to give it a more classic look.
But the real interest is what powers it. The words ‘Master Chronometer’ mean that the calibre 8900 you’ll see through the caseback has been subjected to a series of tests Omega developed in conjunction with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS) that are a more rigorous take on COSC certification. It also uses silicon for a large part of the movement and is anti-magnetic to 15,000 gauss. No wonder 007 never takes his off.
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph
Take one look at this fabulous-looking chronograph and you’ll forget that Montblanc is a pen maker that only started making watches in 1997. Taking inspiration from Minerva’s archives – the Villeret-based manufacture parent-company Richemont bought in 2006 and subsequently gave to Montblanc – every detail has been considered to make it look as vintage as possible.
There’s the smoked-champagne dial; the hours-and-minutes chapter ring working as a nod to Minerva’s stopwatch-making past and it even has a bronze case, so you get that unique ageing patina over time. Any true retro timepiece enthusiasts will also be relieved Montblanc has resisted the urge to modernise the dial with a date window, making this watch look like a true blast from the past.
Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic
Back in 2017, Baume & Mercier became the first Richemont-owned name to be fitted with a silicon balance spring – the Twinspir – with its Clifton Manual 1830. However, 2018’s Baumatic, with its BM12 calibre, takes things further adding a silicon escape wheel and lever, the latter of which has been optimised for better energy transfer, all of which means this watch is the most technologically advanced in the Richemont stable.
It also has a five-day power reserve and sits in a lovely, vintage-inspired design. There is another crop of Baumatics coming in September but, thanks to a patent lawsuit pending with Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (Switzerland) who claim the BM12’s silicon technology is too similar to their patent filed in 2005, the BM13s won’t have silicon balance springs. So get this slice of history while stocks last.
Zenith Defy Classic
Previously the Defy collection was used as Zenith’s horological playground, with past models featuring gyroscopic gravity modules and super-accurate chronographs. But those sorts of watches don’t often see the light of day, so Zenith decided to take the clean, pared-back, ever so slightly ‘70s cases of the collection and instead fill them with the ultra-thin in-house Elite movement and repackage the whole thing as an entry-level sports watch. And by “entry-level”, we mean one that just sneaks in under £5,000.
The result is one of the most wearable and refined blue-dial Swiss watches on the market. On leather, as it is here, it would go perfectly with anything your smart-casual working wardrobe could throw at it, but put it on steel or rubber and it’s a trusty weekend companion. We defy you to find a sartorial situation it couldn’t handle.
Nomos Glashütte Autobahn Neomatik Datum Automatic
This was certainly a surprise from Nomos when it was unveiled in 2018. It’s still got the brand’s signature mid-century flavour, but this time Nomos has applied its look to a driving watch. The first thing you’ll likely notice is the dial, which is inspired by analogue car dashes from decades gone by.
It is busy for a Nomos, but, in keeping with the Bauhaus mantra of form following function, that central scale that looks like decoration isn’t extraneous detail. It is actually lume so you can read the time at night by seeing where the shadow falls from the hour hand. There are also other lovely details such as the recessed seconds sub-dial and quick-set date that works in either direction. And added to that once you put it on you’ll be singing Kraftwerk all day; that’s guaranteed to put a spring in your step.
Breitling Aviator 8 Chronograph Curtiss Warhawk
Breitling has been focusing on its non-aviation watches lately but it’s back celebrating all things skyward with a trio of watches commemorating the brand’s partnership with the makers of the iconic US military airplane – the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a single-seater, ground-attack craft that first flew in 1938.
It is a classic vintage pilot’s chronograph with large numbers coated in SuperLuminova for easy legibility day or night, the chronograph pushers are reassuringly chunky and sludgy green for the dial and strap adds to the military-issue feel. Keeping the whole thing ticking is Breitling’s Calibre 13, which is an integrated chronograph with quickset date based on the famous Valjoux 7750.
Breitling may be trying to branch out into other arenas, but this brand and aviation is a combination that just, well, flies.
Tudor Glamour Double Date
No, that isn’t a typo. This is actually a Tudor; made by the same people who brought you such testosterone-fuelled designs as the Black Bay and the Pelagos. Launched last year, this is Tudor’s bid to get itself on the wrist of the man about town during his working week. Other than design a great looking everyday watch, the brand has made a point of how much horological bang you are getting for comparatively reasonable bucks.
Powering it is the in-house MT5641, which was created especially for this collection and features a silicon balance spring, COSC certification and a 70-hour power reserve. Which is handy if you want this as your nine-to-fiver – you can swap for something sporty at the weekend but won’t have to worry about winding it when the alarm gets you up on Monday morning.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive
Grand Seiko used to be a watch world secret – it was only sold in Japan and renowned for its austere designs, beautiful finishing and incredibly competitive prices. Thankfully, they are now more widely available, which means this iconic Spring Drive is just a mouse click away.
One of Grand Seiko’s crowning achievements 27 years in the making is the movement powering this watch. It has one-second-a-day accuracy and is instantly recognisable dial-side thanks to the smooth sweep of the seconds hand, which is achieved by placing a quartz oscillator in a mechanical movement.
This watch also contains the innovative ‘Magic Lever’ mechanism, devised by the Japanese watch brand in 1959 to make the rotor more energy efficient and deliver a 72-hour power reserve. And all contained within this reserved, unassuming steel case.