Titanium watches are having a bit of a moment right now. Although titanium has played an increasingly large role within the industry over the course of the last few decades, its use has really picked up within the past several years, and we are now seeing titanium heavily featured in watches at a wide variety of different price points. That said, titanium almost always comes at a price premium compared to stainless steel, and while sometimes the premiums are reasonable other times the delta can span thousands of dollars. Despite being a very practical material, titanium isn’t inherently precious or especially valuable. While it does come with a number of unique manufacturing hurdles that must be navigated, titanium isn’t like gold where there essentially exists a price floor for watches constructed from it, simply due to the cost of the raw material itself.
If anything, titanium actually makes the most sense when used within the context of sport and tool watches that are on the more affordable end of the price spectrum. The natural matte gray finish of titanium isn’t particularly luxurious, and it is far better suited for more utilitarian designs, although there are certain titanium alloys (known as grades) that can be high-polished. Additionally, the strength and lightweight nature of the material make it ideally suited for watches that are going to regularly see active use. As I’ve said many times before, if you are going to wear a watch in scenarios that run a higher-than-normal risk of damage, it’s generally best to choose a model that won’t cost you an arm and a leg if you need to repair or replace it.
On top of that, while a titanium watch on a fabric strap will likely offer the absolute lightest possible presence on your wrist, a titanium watch with a matching titanium bracelet will actually offer much more of a perceptively lightweight experience. Granted, the bracelet model will technically weigh more, but since we typically expect watches on metal bracelets to be rather heavy, it is almost always the titanium watches on matching titanium bracelets that end up providing that “surprisingly light” experience when you first pick them up and put them on your wrist. Additionally, some people like titanium watches due to the fact that the material doesn’t feel as cold to the touch as stainless steel or gold, and having a titanium bracelet allows you to fully take advantage of this unique thermal property.
The Tudor Pelagos is one of the most popular options within the greater titanium sports watch category, but with retail prices encroaching upon nearly $5k, the term “affordable” is arguably being used a bit subjectively when the Pelagos gets grouped into the budget-friendly category. Compared to Rolex prices, the Pelagos is undeniably more affordable. However, a several-thousand-dollar watch might be the most expensive one in many people’s collections. If these people were to buy a Tudor Pelagos, they wouldn’t really be able to enjoy it as the rugged utilitarian watch it was designed to be, simply due to the amount of money they paid for it relative to the other watches in their collection. Personally, I like the Pelagos quite a bit, but at nearly $5k, it’s also almost ten times more expensive than what I would ideally like to spend on a care-free titanium tool watch. So, what options exist for those like myself who want an actually affordable titanium watch on a matching full-titanium bracelet?
The first option is to go for a watch from one of the big-name manufacturers who enjoys significant economies of scale due to their large production output, and can therefore offer full-titanium watches at surprisingly affordable prices. These days, there are a number of brands that produce titanium watches on the firmly affordable end of the price spectrum; however, there are significantly fewer that also offer options that are fitted with matching titanium bracelets. For budget-friendly titanium watches, Citizen is easily one of the top options, and the brand produces a wide variety of different models that feature full-titanium cases and bracelets. Additionally, with models powered by both quartz and automatic movements, Citizen’s catalog offers an incredibly wide assortment of different options, and the vast majority of them can be purchased for well under a thousand dollars.
The absolute least expensive titanium watch with a matching titanium bracelet currently in Citizen’s lineup is the Garrison, which could best be described as somewhat of a military-inspired pilot/field watch that offers a highly legible display that is similar to a Type A flieger dial, although the model itself is really intended to be more of an everyday field watch, rather than something specifically for pilots. Crafted from Citizen’s Super Titanium, which is titanium with a highly scratch-resistant Duratect coating that is five times harder than stainless steel, the case of the Citizen Garrison measures 42mm in diameter by 10mm thick, with an overall lug-to-lug distance of about 48.5mm. The entire case and bracelet of the Citizen Garrison receive a brushed finish, with the one exception being the upper rim of the bezel, which is high-polished. The dark gray color of the metal combined with its matte brushed finish gives the watch a fairly utilitarian overall aesthetic, although the contrasting polished bezel provides just enough refinement that it can easily exist in more elevated settings. With that said, it is most certainly not a dress watch. Protecting the dial and hands is a flat sapphire crystal, while a standard push-pull style crown and a solid screw-down titanium caseback help provide the watch with 100 meters of water resistance.
Although a handful of different dials are offered for the Citizen Garrison, the version that comes fitted with a matching titanium bracelet receives a black dial that can almost appear dark gray or brown when viewed in bright lighting. Markings are printed in white with small red accents appearing within the minute track, while a rectangular aperture displays both the day and date at the 3 o’clock location. The sword-shaped hour and minute hands, along with all of the hour markers on the dial are finished with beige/yellow luminous material that emits a green glow. Since the dial itself needs to allow light to pass through it to reach the solar panels below, its surface is actually slightly transparent which can be seen in extremely bright direct lighting. Despite this unusual constraint on its design, the dial of the Citizen Garrison is fairly well-executed and it even features a subtle concentric circle pattern that separates its flat center section from the angled rehaut that contains its minute track.
Although Citizen produces a number of watches with mechanical movements, the Garrison is powered by one of the brand’s Eco-Drive solar quartz calibers. Capable of powering itself with any ambient light source and benefitting from all of the accuracy and grab-and-go convenience that is characteristic of quartz timekeeping technology, the E101 movement fitted to the Citizen Garrison weighs significantly less than a comparable mechanical caliber, which allows the watch to take full advantage of its lightweight case material. When sized for my 6.75” wrist, the entire watch including its bracelet weighs less than 2.9 oz (81.8 grams). Although many watch enthusiasts generally prefer mechanical timepieces, quartz movements are undeniably incredibly practical, and a solar-powered quartz caliber provides all of the same core advantages while also benefiting from the autonomy of not requiring a replacement every several years.
The bracelet fitted to the Citizen Garrison is fairly similar to what can be found on many of the brand’s other more affordably priced models. Crafted entirely from Citizen’s Super Titanium with a brushed finish, the bracelet features completely solid links with solid endlinks and a stamped folding clasp. The clasp itself only includes two micro-adjustment holes without any type of extension system. The end-links feature a “positive” design that extends past the tips of the lugs and increases the perceived lug-to-lug distance from 48.5mm up to about 52mm once you factor in the protruding center sections of the end-links. The removable links are held together by pins rather than screws, and while the clasp does feature a double push-button release, it doesn’t particularly exude a supreme sense of quality. That being said, the bracelet is more than serviceable, and while it is hardly the most over-engineered bracelet out there, I’m fairly confident that it would have no problems standing up to regular long-term use.
As a whole, the Citizen Garrison offers a highly compelling package that could easily integrate into virtually anyone’s daily life, regardless of whether or not they have an interest in watches. While I can certainly see enthusiasts drawn to this particular model for its classic pilot’s watch style dial and its proficiency as a lightweight grab-and-go field watch, I can just as easily see the average person buying the Citizen Garrison for themselves or receiving it as a gift, and then going on to wear it every single day for the next ten years as their one and only wristwatch. Although it is hardly the most unique or enthusiast-driven option available within the greater category of affordable titanium watches, the Citizen Garrison is an incredibly safe bet and you are virtually guaranteed to receive a watch that works well and that won’t offer any unpleasant surprises. As long as you don’t object to the model’s design or have your heart set on a mechanical movement, then the Citizen Garrison should definitely be in consideration when it comes to full-titanium watches on the firmly affordable side of the price spectrum.
The other option when it comes to budget-friendly titanium watches is to go with one of the various microbrands that produce offerings within the space. Countless small-scale independent companies have popped up within the last several years, and a number of them now produce full-titanium watches that can be purchased for well under a thousand dollars. With that in mind, not all small-scale independent brands are created equal, and blindly choosing one based on its design and specs alone can often be a hit-or-miss experience as far as the quality and execution of the watch you receive. Although it can sometimes be fun to take a chance on an entirely unknown brand, asking other watch enthusiasts for recommendations will go a long way toward getting you started on your search, and it will also help prevent you from ending up with a total stinker. While going down the rabbit hole of affordable titanium watches from small-scale independent brands, I asked fellow aBlogtoWatch writer Mike Razak for a few of his favorites, and he turned me onto the brand that I ultimately chose to feature in this article: RZE Watches.
Founded by Travis Tan, who is a commercial airline pilot by profession, RZE specializes in titanium sport and tool watches that embrace modern, function-forward designs. The “RZE” name stands for “Redefining the Zenith of Exploration” and the company produces purpose-built timepieces that are designed for active use and outdoor exploration. Part of what gives RZE an advantage within this space is that Travis’s uncle-in-law owns the factory where RZE watches are manufactured. Not only do the watches themselves benefit from the factory’s 40+ years of manufacturing experience, but being able to work closely with its production partner eliminates a lot of the various hiccups and miscommunications that can occur when brands work with various unknown suppliers and manufacturers. As a commercial pilot with a background in engineering, Travis is quite familiar with the practical applications of titanium, which is why he chose it as the exclusive case material for his brand’s watches. Additionally, all of RZE’s models feature its signature UltraHex technology, which is a clear IP coating that increases the surface hardness of the metal up to 1,200Hv and prevents the usual dark oxide layer from forming on its surface. In addition to increasing their scratch resistance, the UltraHex coating allows the brand’s models to have a much brighter color than most titanium watches, with an overall appearance that much more closely resembles sandblasted stainless steel.
All of RZE’s watches are crafted from titanium and can be purchased for well under a thousand dollars, but the model that will likely be of the greatest interest to collectors who are looking for an affordably priced full-titanium sports watch will be the RZE Endeavour, which is the brand’s lineup of divers. Although the Endeavour is technically RZE’s flagship collection, it is also tied for being its most affordable (among the models that are fitted with matching titanium bracelets), and it costs the exact same as the brand’s collection of field watches that do not feature rotating timing bezels. While the RZE Endeavour has all the hallmark traits of a professional dive watch and could easily perform its intended function, the overall design of the watch is not so overtly purpose-built for life below the surface of the ocean that it cannot also easily fit into everyday life on dry land.
Crafted entirely from UltraHex coated titanium, the case of the RZE Endeavour measures 40mm in diameter by 12.5mm-thick, with an overall lug-to-lug distance of approximately 46mm. The design of the watch is definitively modern and dominated by angular lines that form the lugs and crown guards. The lugs are drilled for easy strap changes, and the entire case and bracelet are given a matte blasted finish that is perfectly in line with its modern tool watch design ethos. Fitted to the top of the case is a flat sapphire crystal, while a solid screw-down titanium caseback covers the reverse side of the watch and works together with the signed screw-down winding crown to help provide users with a dive-ready 200 meters of water resistance. Surrounding the crystal is a thin rotating timing bezel that offers a unidirectional 120-click motion with virtually zero perceptible back play. As a whole, the bezel action is significantly better than what you will find on the vast majority of brands operating at a similar price point, and rather than featuring an insert made from aluminum or ceramic, the entire bezel is constructed from a single piece of titanium with a fully demarcated 60-minute scale engraved directly into its surface and finished black for maximum legibility.
While the RZE Endeavour is available with a handful of different dial colors, the version featured here is the “Medallion Yellow” model, which offers a rich goldenrod color with a granular “sand” texture across its surface. Each one of the applied baton-style hour markers, along with the trio of centrally mounted hands are outlined in black to match the dial text and to provide maximum contrast, while all of the hands and markers receive a healthy application of Swiss Super-LumiNova to provide a brightly glowing display in the dark. One additional nice touch is the use of two different colors of lume on the watch. Green-glowing C3 Super-LumiNova appears on the vast majority of the various components; however, each of the cardinal points on the dial receives an additional block of blue-glowing BGW9 Super-LumiNova, and the same blue-emitting luminous material is also used for the seconds hand and for the triangle marker on the bezel to help provide additional contrast and legibility in the dark.
Unlike the Citizen Garrison, which uses one of the brand’s Eco-Drive solar quartz calibers, the RZE Endeavour is powered by the Seiko NH38A automatic mechanical movement. A 24-jewel self-winding caliber that runs at a frequency of 21,600vph while offering users a power reserve of approximately 41 hours, the Seiko NH38A is essentially the no-date version of the incredibly popular date-displaying NH35A, and it is often used to power watches that feature an exposed balance wheel at the 9 o’clock location on their dials. However, since the RZE Endeavour is fitted with a solid dial, you cannot see the cutout in its movement’s mainplate. Instead, the Seiko NH38A simply offers the same tired-and-true performance of its ubiquitous date-displaying counterpart, without having the additional “phantom” crown position that results from using a calendar-equipped movement to power a no-date watch. For affordable mechanical tool watches, a reliable no-frills movement such as the Seiko NH38A is a perfect choice, and it can easily be maintained and repaired by virtually any qualified watchmaker in the entire world.
Just like the rest of the watch, the solid-link bracelet fitted to the RZE Endeavour is crafted from UltraHex-coated titanium, and it features a tapered H-link design with solid end links and a double latching folding clasp. The removable links are connected by screws, which is a nice touch (especially at this price point), and since the end links feature a “negative” design, the perceived lug-to-lug distance of the watch is virtually the exact same as its on-paper measurement of 46mm. While the clasp does feature machined rather than stamped components, it doesn’t offer any type of push-button release or extension system. However, it does include four micro-adjustment holes, which makes it fairly easy to achieve a perfect fit while sizing the bracelet. Even with its mechanical movement and more involved case design, the RZE Endeavour manages to remain incredibly lightweight. With its bracelet sized for my 6.75” wrist, the entire package still comes in at a total of just 3.3oz (94.6 grams).
Titanium is the perfect material for a go-anywhere, do-anything timepiece, but when your rugged tool watch costs more than most of the other pieces in your collection, it can often be a mental challenge to freely wear it without worrying about damage. Realistically speaking, the very reason you wanted that titanium watch in the first place is that you like the idea of a lightweight and durable timekeeping tool. When you become too afraid to actually wear your watch for its intended purpose, however, your ability to enjoy it ultimately suffers. Titanium watches will almost always be priced higher than an otherwise identical model constructed from stainless steel, but the growing popularity of titanium has resulted in this lightweight metal becoming more attainable than ever before. There are now a number of fantastic titanium watches with prices that start out at just a few hundred dollars, with exponentially more options available should a matching titanium bracelet not be one of your requirements. With that in mind, if you go for too inexpensive of an option, you may ultimately be sacrificing too much quality in the name of trying to save a few dollars, and you may find that paying a little more up-front will ultimately get you something significantly better than the absolute least expensive option available. The Citizen Garrison is accompanied by an official retail price of $425 USD, while the RZE Endeavour is priced at $499 USD, and this places them right in that sweet-spot where you are paying enough to ensure good quality while still remaining firmly within the affordable end of the spectrum. At this price point, you can get the full titanium experience and the carefree wearing experience that it provides, all for roughly the same price as it costs to service a watch from one of the big-name luxury manufacturers. To learn more about the Citizen Garrison and the RZE Endeavour, please visit either the official Citizen website or the official website for RZE Watches.