Call it a “budget” timepiece or an “entry-level luxury” watch: for many out there, it is the first step into a lifelong passion. Fortunately, there are many mechanical watches on the market priced under $1,000. I’ve reported on a number of these watches on my blog, Fratellowatches.com, and the brands represented here come from some of my most popular articles on the subject.
For this list, I selected only timepieces with mechanical movements and disregarded the pre-owned and vintage market. (That’s a subject for another article.) Where possible, I used the average market prices for these watches, which might be a bit less than the official retail prices. To keep it interesting, I not only looked at watches from big brands, but also took the time to see if there were any independent brands that offer watches under $1,000.
So, you might well ask, if companies can make an affordable mechanical watch that sells for $1,000, why are so many of them so much more expensive? You can also turn this question around, of course: how is it possible that some brands can offer a mechanical watch under $1,000 while the average Rolex, Omega or IWC costs five or six times that amount?
The biggest differences between a watch under $1,000 and a watch that has a higher price tag include the level of finishing on the parts, type of movement, finishing of the movement, et cetera. Basically, the number of operations (be it manual or by machines) that are needed to finish a movement, case, bezel, dial, hands, bracelet, clasp and other elements have a large influence on the cost of a watch. Also, chances are quite high that cases or other parts of less expensive watches are manufactured in China. Perhaps the watch is partly (or completely) assembled in China as well. Even if a watch says “Swiss Made,” it is possible that a number of its parts have been manufactured in China. However, to be able to use “Swiss Made” the movement needs to be Swiss; the movement must be cased in Switzerland; and the final inspection by the manufacturer must be executed in Switzerland (source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry).
I don’t feel there is anything wrong with a watch made (or partly made) in China, or with one with Chinese components that meets this definition of “Swiss Made.” That said, keep in mind that some watch brands are not completely transparent about where its parts have been manufactured. Now, to the watches I’ve chosen…
1. Xetum Kendrick
Designer and watch enthusiast Jeff Kuo of San Francisco founded his own watch company, Xetum, a couple of years ago. The Xetum Kendrick has a modern-looking design and contains a mechanical, automatic movement, the ETA 2824-2. The watch comes on either a nice black-and-gray NATO strap or a rubber strap with a folding clasp. It’s a very legible watch, with large SuperLuminova hour indexes on a matte black dial. Price: $995. For a slightly more classical look, there is Xetum’s Stinson collection, at the same price.
2. Longines HydroConquest
Longines is an important brand in the Swatch Group, positioned in a price range below Omega and above Tissot. The 43-mm Longines HydroConquest is a true diving watch. I selected the reference L3.618.104.22.168, which has a self-winding movement and a blue bezel and dial. The bracelet can be extended to wear over your diving suit, the bezel is unidirectional, and the crown is screw-down – features every divers’ watch should include. Although they retail a bit above $1,000, you can often find one with a slight discount bringing it just below that price.
3. Victorinox Swiss Army AirBoss Mechanical
Victorinox is famous for its Swiss army knives, but the company is also big in manufacturing watches. Victorinox makes solid, sporty watches, available with both quartz and mechanical movements, that are perfect for daily use. However, our focus here is on mechanical watches under $1,000. This AirBoss watch with pilot-style bracelet in stainless steel has a retail price of only $995. You get a 42-mm stainless steel watch with a self-winding movement (ETA 2824) and a sapphire crystal. The bracelet has a folding clasp with a double lock for security. The military influence is obvious: the gray dial includes a 24-hour scale.
4. Tissot Heritage Visodate
Tissot, another Swatch Group brand in this overview, has a very interesting timepiece in this price range, one that will actually leave with some change from your $1,000. For approximately $650, you can buy the Tissot Heritage Visodate. I wrote an in-depth review about this watch a while ago (here) and I still think it is one of the best buys out there in this price range. If you like the looks of vintage 1950s timepieces, but with modern dimensions and a day-date feature, take a look at the Tissot Heritage Visodate. The self-winding movement (ETA 2836-2) can be viewed through its transparent caseback. A sapphire crystal protects the classical-looking dial.
5. Seiko “Black Monster” SRP307
Last but certainly not least, consider this Seiko “Black Monster” Reference SRP307. This watch is, of course, not Swiss Made, but has been manufactured entirely in-house in Japan. The self-winding caliber 4R36 is a reliable and solid movement with a day and date feature. The big 45-mm stainless-steel case has a screw-down crown and weighs more than 180 grams (including the steel bracelet). It’s certainly not suitable for everyone. The watch has a Hardlex crystal (Seiko’s hardened version of a mineral crystal). The properties of Hardlex makes it a bit more resistant to bumps and drops (as it is more flexible than sapphire) but scratches more easily than sapphire crystals. This Seiko divers’ watch is water-resistant to 660 feet/200 meters. The price? Approximately $250.