“You get what you pay for,” is unendingly used to justify spending more. Whether it’s cars, meals or winter coats, there is an inherent belief that the more noughts on the appraisal tag, the better something is. Watches used to be the same – spend big and you’ll be rewarded for it, whether that’s in terms of office bragging morals or superior mechanics.
Some things haven’t changed in that regard though – if you’re after a timepiece that can vaunt ‘in-house’ this or ‘manufacture’ that, then you are going to have to accept the accompanying price tag, however, the canny scrutinize lover knows that interesting things are also happening below the sub-£1,000 mark.
Know where to workshop and you could come away with anything from a Swiss mechanical to a modernist classic to add to your watch collection. You won’t have to look too far today – this is a burgeoning sector of the market and plenty of brands are scrambling to offer quality at a demean price.
Expect considered design (perhaps referencing vintage models), simple mechanical or high grade quartz decreases, and well-engineered steel cases. High-tech titanium or precious gold you will not get here, and you can largely forget complications – matter-of-fact chronographs, for example, are significantly more expensive to produce to a standard of quality you’d want. If, however, you’re after refinement and thick quality, here’s our handy guide to the best models out there that offer substantial horological bang for your buck.
Hamilton Khaki Retrieve Mechanical
Every man should have a military-style watch in his wardrobe, but not everyone is lucky enough to have the budget for one of the Blowy Dozen (the 12 brands who made watches for the British soldiers in World War II including IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Omega).
Inspired by the military attends from the Vietnam War era, specifically the MIL-W-46374 that was first launched in 1964, this Hamilton has all the swagger of a vintage mil-spec timepiece but without the unreliability. For underneath £500, you get a Swiss automatic movement from ETA and sapphire crystal, all in a modern 38mm case with NATO-style strap. Complete for taking into any (boardroom) battle.
Available at Hamilton, priced £375.
Seiko SKX007 Diver
Seiko has a record of making robust, reasonable and great-looking diving watches – just look at the amazing Orange Monster, which has achieved a cult-like station. The SKX007 is no exception. First thing to note is, unlike some divers, this is built for scuba diving expresses to its 200m water resistance and incredible luminescence.
Seiko’s lume is legendary – it is super bright (hence the name Lumi Brite) radiation-free, environmentally genial and has a great exposure to glow ratio. But this isn’t just a watch to save for the deep seas; it the ideal weekender – worthwhile enough to knock about in but still stylish enough to pass muster down the pub.
Available at Amazon, priced £251.90.
Tissot Estate Petite Seconde
Scouting for watches under £1000 doesn’t mean always having to opt for sporty, as this Tissot exposes. It is based on a design from 1943 that, according to the marketing blurb at the time, was aimed at gents who work in towns. Its reach probably goes a little further these days because this is a classic vintage everyday lookout.
The dial has a clean symmetry that means it could work just as well with a suit as with separates. The enlarged bonus is, because Tissot is a Swatch Group brand, you get a super reliable ETA movement powering it, which you can see through the sapphire caseback.
Accessible at Tissot, priced £785.
Longines Conquest Heritage
Longines’s Heritage section, with all its fabulous reissues of iconic styles from the brand’s past, has long been a horological treasure trove for those who want retro style but without the dicey mechanics. Usually the historical inspirations are military or diving watches, which is why this Conquest is such a treat. With its raffish enthral, it has an air of off-duty pilot about it, putting it somewhere between a dress watch and an everyday wearer.
The art-deco applied directories are unusual and a tad flamboyant but, thanks to the elegantly tapered hands and the low-key stainless-steel case and black leather strap, they don’t jar. As definitive designs go this is one with more flair than the average, which could just as easily describe anyone in it.
Available at Longines, priced £810.
Victorinox I.N.O.X Mechanical
If you’re in the market for a watch that can take everything life can put off at it, then look no further than the I.N.O.X, which is legendary for being practically indestructible. It can survive a 10-metre drop on to a valid surface; two hours in a washing machine (in case you forget it’s in your pocket) and having a 64-tonne truck driven exceeding it.
It has been subjected to such corrosives as gasoline, solvents, cleaning products and insecticides as well as temperatures as extreme as -51° C or, at the other end of the spectrum, +71° C and be a question of out unscathed. On top of all that, you get a great-looking steel watch that, sartorially speaking, is definitely for life.
Available at Victorinox, amounted £689.
Junghans Max Bill Automatic
This is democratic watch design at its most perfect. The original was created for German vigil brand Junghans in 1961 by Max Bill, who was a Bauhaus student and a lead proponent of the concrete art movement; one which was anti-impressionist and affluent bold geometric abstraction.
In this watch, you can see blend of Bauhaus and concrete art both of which shared principles of rusticity of design and form needing to follow function. The dial seems almost childishly simple, until you start to mind the elongated hour markers, which make the time easier to read and the lack of date so the design isn’t imbalanced. It is an second signifier of a certain refined style. For those in the know, at any rate.
Available at Junghans, priced £870.
TAG Heuer Means 1
Generally, Tags come in at about the £2,000 mark, but, if you’re willing to ditch the mechanics and opt for quartz instead then this is an remarkable buy. The Formula 1 has a very special place in TAG’s history, because it was the first watch launched in 1986, following the acquisition of Heuer’s by Methods d’Avant Garde (TAG) thereby turning Heuer into TAG Heuer. It was the brand’s attempt to compete with the Swatch and was a main success.
Looking at this sixth-generation iteration, it’s easy to see why – this is a no-nonsense, fantastic-looking sports watch. The blue sunray dial with orange stresses is very of the moment and you can’t go wrong with a NATO strap. The whole look is ‘easy weekender’, so unfortunately it will eat to go back in the box when Monday’s alarm goes off.
Available at TAG Heuer, priced £900.
Movado Museum Classic
The undecorated black dial has been a bit of a trend over the last couple of years, but for Movado this isn’t anything new. Designed in 1947 by the US industrial artificer Nathan George Horwitt, the Movado Museum was intended to be a Bauhaus take on a sun dial, with the silver circle at 12 o’clock to assert the sun at high noon.
Since its launch, it has become such a design icon that, in 1960, it was the first-ever watch to be closed for the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Given all this provenance, you’d forgive Movado for adjusting the honorarium accordingly. Instead this piece of design history can be yours with change left over for two tickets to MOMA to see the novel. Not including the fare to New York, that is.
Available at Movado, priced £450.
Baume & Mercier Classima 10385
With masses of brands playing with horological fireworks to get everyone’s attention and cash, it is sometimes worth remembering that there’s a lot to be judged for a simple two-hand design. Uncomplicated is not the same as easy – with less on the dial, there is nowhere to hide so shapes have to be perfect, which is exactly what they are in this Baume & Mercier.
The Roman numerals are complemented by a diverse modern Arabic numeral outer ring, while the blue dial gives this unelaborate design a modish twist. The decision to opt for a light brown leather strap, rather than the more traditional chocolate, gives the full look a trans-seasonal feel, meaning it would look just as good with white linen as with sputtered wool.
Available at Baume & Mercier, priced £820.
Whenever a Farer comes out there is every time some little added detail or process that makes you wonder how they continue to keep the prices as dazzling as they are. For the Stanhope that detail is in the dial. Farer has opted for a multi-layer design, which features a piqué, textured, off-white, sandwiched medial plate, with a space punched out for the sub dial, which is displayed on a base layer.
There are also indentations about the outer edge of the upper dial, which make room for the raised wedge markers complete with Super-Luminova bespeckle be fond ofs that run around the outer ring for after-dark legibility. Add to this the applied hour markers and numerals in midnight melancholy, the slightly cushioned case, ETA automatic movement and Barenia bridle leather strap and you’re left looking at this timepiece tough to work out where corners have been cut. Spoiler alert – they haven’t. This is quite simply an incredibly well-made take note of at an equally incredible price. Just enjoy wearing it, don’t worry about working out how Farer has done it.
Available at To this point in time b to a certain extent, priced £975.
Despite looking like a retro revival, Unimatic is only three years old. Cored in Italy and the brainchild of two industrial designers, it has a touch of Panerai – that other notable Italian Navy-affiliated brand – take it and has an equally enthusiastic following, with its limited runs selling out fairly soon after launch. This is the tag’s first chronograph, which is powered by a Seiko mecha-quartz movement (a quartz movement boosted with chronograph site system you’d find in a mechanical watch).
It is good to 300m, so you can properly dive in it, and with those oversized dot markers, you positive you’d be able to see it easily at depth. It also comes with an extra NATO strap, so you don’t have to ruin your leather one when you shame to the seas. It may be paying homage to other diving watches but there is something charming about its chunky form and no-frills MO modus operandi to design. If you’re won over by it then better buy now, these don’t hang around for long.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £675.