Fratello Classics: 5 Mechanical Watches Under $1,000

Call it a “budget” timepiece or an “entry-level luxury” affordable watch: for many, affordable watches are the first step into a lifelong passion. Fortunately, there are many affordable mechanical watches on the market priced under $1,000. I’ve reported on a number of affordable watch brands on my blog, Fratellowatches.com, and the affordable swiss watches presented here come from some of the most popular articles.

For this “Top 5 Watches under $1,000” list, I selected only timepieces with mechanical movements and disregarded the pre-owned and vintage market. (That’s a subject for another Fratello Friday.) 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 a 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. Seiko Scuba 200M Diver’s SBDC001 “Sumo”

Seiko has a collection that runs from battery-operated watches from $50 to the Grand Seiko and Credor top-of-the-bill collections with four- and sometimes even five-digit price tags. Keeping it all straight can be a bit of a maze but once you acquaint yourself with the different collections and models, there are really some interesting pieces among them. My absolute favorite at this moment is the Seiko SBDC001 divers’ watch, which has been nicknamed “Sumo” by enthusiasts of the genre. It is not for sale everywhere, so you might have to buy it overseas, but for around $500 you can have a watch that probably would cost $ 1,000 if the dial said “Swiss Made.” It has a nicely finished, big 44-mm case, a solid automatic movement (Caliber 6R15), a bracelet with divers’ extension, Seiko’s Hardlex crystal, and big, luminous markers and hands.

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 L3.642.4.96.6, 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.

Longines HydroConquest - blue dial

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.

Victorinox Swiss Army AirBoss Mechanical

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.

Tissot Heritage VisoDate

5. Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic

Last but not least, we have a watch from a brand with a lot of history, the Jazzmaster from Hamilton. Sports watches take the first three positions in this Top 5, so I also included this dress watch for those who are not as into big, bulky sports- and diving watches. The Hamilton Jazzmaster is a simple yet elegant timepiece for those looking for a good mechanical watch below $ 1,000 with a proven movement (ETA 2824-2) and a nice sapphire caseback through which to admire it once in a while. A classic timepiece with modern features and up-to-date case diameter, it is definitely not your grandfather’s Hamilton watch.

Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic

What are some of your own favorite watches in this category? Let us know in the comments below. We value your feedback!

(This article was originally published on November 22, 2013, and has been updated with new text and photos.)