May 31, 2015
by David Bredan
You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on a timepiece that will earn you respect or even praise from a dedicated watch snob. While most “lower-end” watches will not satisfy the particular attention to detail or value that serious enthusiasts are keen to notice, there are a number of superlative “everyman” watches that will nevertheless garner a nod from the horological elite.
Why is it, however, that watch snobs are hard to please? Are they merely measuring up other watch lovers by how much money they are spending? It often appears that way, but that isn’t the precise truth. More accurately, it would be safe to say that most of the timepieces available that have unique or very refined designs and excellent materials, as well as features, tend to be much more expensive. Timepieces are often an inherently expensive item (hence why they are in the luxury category), so it isn’t surprising that cost is often associated with how “nice” something is.
Everyone would love to enjoy deep pockets when it comes to purchasing watches, but the reality is that finding a good watch that is also a really good value takes some work. Fortunately, the aBlogtoWatch team has compiled this list of 10 affordable watches that get a nod from snobs so that you can mingle with the elite timepiece collectors of the world and not feel as though your choice of watch is being immediately dismissed.
1. Seiko Monster, Seiko Sumo and Seiko SKX007
That is quite the trifecta: three world renowned dive watches. In some sense, they all represent some of the best in the segment. With extremely competitive prices, solid build quality, and a manufacturer like few others on this planet, one or more of these have more than likely made it to the “must-have” lists of beginner – and seasoned! – watch enthusiasts alike. Neither the Monster, with its unquestionably unique looks, the Sumo, with its standard modern dive watch style, nor the SKX007 with its fantastic legibility could have been omitted from this list – so we put all three in here. Solid cases, reliable, workhorse automatic movements, and excellent lume are just some of the key features that make these pieces really stand out. With suggested retail prices of around $450-$550, these watches would already be a remarkable value proposition, but since they are often available at discounted prices, any one of these truly is a lot of watch for the money.
Although over two years have passed since its debut at Baselworld 2013, the Swatch Sistem51 still very much means a new dimension for mechanical watches – and for that, it must be held in high esteem by every watch enthusiast. Comprising 51 parts and completely assembled by robots, the Sistem51 brings the mechanical timepiece into the third millennium in a way no other ever has. With a price tag of just $150, and a selection of five new designs for 2015, the Swatch Sistem51 easily can – and perhaps should – be a part of any watch collection.
3. Victorinox Airboss Mechanical Black Edition
The Victorinox Airboss Black line encompasses three models, with the three-hander Mechanical Black Edition being the most affordable version, followed by two chronograph iterations. Despite its blacked-out design it offers exceptional legibility, made visually more interesting by a few splashes of red here and there – including the underside of the crystal. The Airboss proves why Victorinox Swiss Army is one of a handful of military-themed watch manufacturers: the Victorinox Airboss ticks most all boxes when it comes to judging a modern field watch – including legibility, build quality and modern, dare we say, trendy aesthetics – with a price tag of $995.
Dietrich’s Organic Time watches not only look highly unusual in their dial and case design – a respectable achievement for a brand’s first offering – but they are some of the most comfortable watches ever created, something one can only really tell when going hands-on with one of their creations. The special lug structure and case back design, paired with excellent strap materials, renders the Dietrich wearing experience almost like no other. Price for this complete package of unique design and wearability goes from $1,430 to $1,960 with a carbon case.
Tempest is one of those modern indie watch brands who merge the vision, ideas, and taste of their founder with exceptional build quality. The Tempest Viking Diver features 2000 meters of (excessive) water resistance, thanks to a heavy-duty package that is complete with unique design elements. Its case, bezel, and crystal look and feel as solid as just about any dive watch manufactured today, while their design proves that no components are off-the-shelf, but rather crafted to meet the requirements and taste of the brand’s founder. With a Miyota 9015 automatic movement inside, the Tempest Viking Diver is priced between $740 and $870, depending on the case and dial color combination.
What SevenFriday has achieved within just a couple of years was to create a virtually brand new market for more unusual, “designer” watches priced around or below $1,000. To say that it has spiced up the low-to-mid range segment of watches would be an understatement: SevenFriday brought to a much wider audience design elements and aesthetics previously exclusive to high-end, luxury watches. The SevenFriday P-Series proves that point perfectly, as its unique dial and large, lugless case design dress up a no-frills Japanese mechanical movement like we have hardly seen before. Average price for the SevenFriday P-Series watch is around $1,050.
The Junghans Max Bill series is inspired by the work of a Swiss architect, product designer, painter, sculptor, academic, and educator, Max Bill, who worked during the mid-20th century. In 1956, Bill collaborated with Junghans to launch the Max Bill Kitchen Clock which was an instant classic and an enduring success. Further collaborations followed, and a long, mutually beneficial relationship ensued. Today, the series features beautifully clean, sleek, and yet never boring designs that make for a most welcome alternative for those looking for a timeless dress watch that is, nonetheless, a bit more unusual. Prices for the three-hands versions range between $655 for the gents quartz, topped by the automatic version, which comes in at $1,050.
Driver’s watches may very well be popular today – as we see countless brands have a go at creating one or a few – but the ones who manage to successfully capture the unique styling of iconic vehicles and recreate the emotional connection one tends to develop with an automobile are few and far between. Autodromo is a brand that set out to dedicate itself to just that: creating exclusively automotive themed watches. It may just be this dedication that allowed the brand to create a variety of constantly improving and mostly vintage speedometer or tachometer inspired designs that successfully resemble some of the “vibes” of driving a vintage car. The Autodromo Stradale is one of their latest models, and while it reproduces the design of a cool tachometer with uncanny ease, it remains easily legible. With a Miyota 9015 automatic inside each of the numerous colorful versions, price for each is $875.
Late last year, we discussed in great detail how Japanese watch manufacturer Orient’s dress watch offerings are among the best budget options. Why is that? Well, Orient dress watches offer some of the best priced entry-level options out there – especially if you want something mechanical. A freestanding subsidiary of Seiko – but with its own history, heritage, and innovations – Orient is Japan’s largest producer of mechanical watches, and a true in-house manufacture. Everything on Orient’s watches – the case, the strap, and one cannot forget the robust movements – is created in-house, with typical Japanese quality control despite their affordable price point. The watch you see above is the Orient FER27002B0, priced at $235, with other models featuring power reserve indicators being priced at around $465.
10. Mondaine Stop2Go Swiss Railway Watch
On a white background, these incredibly legible watches have black hands and hour and minute indicators, along with a red seconds hand tipped with a large circle, bringing the design of tried and proven Swiss railway clocks to wristwatches. Mondaine wristwatches have for long been among the quintessential Swiss watches to get for their accuracy and extremely legible designs – more often than not, spiced up with a neat detail under the hood. The seconds hand of the Stop2Go, like Swiss railway clocks, measures 58 seconds and for the last 2 seconds, the hand stops, the minute hand advances, and the seconds hand catches up. All, to mimic how synchronized railway clocks work. The Mondaine Stop2Go goes for a price of $675.
In our top 10 affordable watches that get a nod from snobs list we actually showed you over a dozen different timepieces which, given their value proposition, build quality, and unique design, you can trust with being some of the best “safe,” or rather, “must” picks among all the timepieces that are offered for sale today. While the aBlogtoWatch team has discussed the nominees for this list in great detail before arriving at this final selection, we of course look forward to hearing your suggestions on what other pieces would be worthy of a spot in there.