You start the search for a women’s watch just like you do any search today: you Google it. Unfortunately, the world’s most powerful search tool doesn’t have the same tastes as any of the women in your life, and you’ll quickly find that search engine optimization, in this case, leads to an ocean of “designer watches” — quartz watches, made by large-scale watchmakers but branded and sold by big-name fashion brands with a significant markup — and “best of” lists. These lists are filled mostly with those very same designer watches and mechanical watches from Swiss brands studded with jewels and priced like mid-size sedans.
When it comes to buying a watch for a woman, not all designer watches are bad watches, just as not all high-end mechanical watches are ones your wife/girlfriend/mom/sister/etc. will enjoy (nor will they all work for your budget). But still, the current dichotomy of the women’s watch market — high horology on one side, overpriced big-name designer watches on the other — is intimidating.
“In the women’s watch market, it’s even easier to get caught up in buying something that’s really overvalued.” says James Lamdin, a vintage watch collector, and the founder and CEO of online vintage watch boutique Analog/Shift. “Because they don’t believe their consumers are going to pay as much attention, [designer brands] are more likely to rip you off with a junk watch for a ton of money.”
But Lamdin and other watch experts maintain that there are good options out there. In the $100 to $1,000 price range, the key seems to be finding the sweet spot inhabited by the right kind of designer watches (that is, quartz but still well made, and not flagrantly or even moderately marked up), the affordable end of quartz and mechanical watches from more respected watchmakers, and smaller-sized vintage pieces. And even over the $1,000 mark, there are great options that combine good value with high-end watchmaking. The 12 examples we’ve selected are the starting point for your search.
Additional contribution by Andrew Connor
Timex Waterbury United
This is a designer watch — but at this low price point, Timex is arguably the best option around. Its aged dial, 12- and 24-hour markers and distressed leather strap also prove an important point: excellent women’s watches needn’t be feminine. (The Timex Weekender is a great, straightforward alternative, as is the dressier Timex Easy Reader — both for well under a hundred bucks.)
Orient is a great affordable watchmaker, and the Soma, at 37.5mm and with its automatic movement, is the perfect entry-level watch for getting into mechanical movements.
Vintage Omega Ladymatic
Lamdin suggests vintage men’s watches from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s fit very well on most women’s wrists and embody a classic style most brands are still seeking to execute today. For watches made specifically for women, the Ladymatic hit the nail on the head the first time around when it was released in 1955. As always with vintage watches, buy the best quality you can afford and ensure the product and the seller are both genuine.
Vintage Vulcain Cricket
A bargain piece on the vintage market with an incredibly cool complication: a mechanical alarm. Vintage Vulcains boast some classic mid-century style and come in a myriad of dial designs and case sizes to suit the wearer.
Uniform Wares C36
Uniform Wares’ movements are Swiss quartz, their straps are sourced from Europe, and their cases are built in-house. But the small British boutique escapes “overpriced!” cries because of its spot-on Bauhaus style.
Tissot Le Locle Women’s Automatic
Swiss brand Tissot’s Le Locle is a good upgrade from the Victorinox Victoria, offering a more traditional textured dial and an automatic ETA movement rather than quartz, for around $100 more.
Vintage Cartier TankIf you want a classic women’s watch, this is it. (As Lamdin puts it: “A pair of pearl earrings will always be in fashion. A Cartier tank will always be in fashion. A white Michael Kors watch will not always be in fashion.”)
Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 600
In the past five years, Lamdin says, supermodels began wearing men’s steel sports watches like the Rolex Submariner, launching a trend in that direction that continues today. Christopher Ward’s C60 Trident is a much more affordable alternative and comes in tons of different combinations.
For the Lady Horologist
NOMOS Orion 33 Weiß
NOMOS’s design language has always been restrained, but their classic Orion in 33mm case size (which houses NOMOS’s hand-wound Alpha movement) is a particularly great choice for women with a taste for clean, modern and minimalist style.
Tudor Black Bay 36
As a nod to the smaller dive watch case sizes of yesteryear, Tudor created the Black Bay 36 with a 36mm case containing the brand’s own in-house movement. A nod to vintage divers it may be, but it’s a great size for both men and women to wear and enjoy.
Bremont Solo 32 AJ/WH
A COSC-rated timepiece featuring Bremont’s tough “Trip-Tick” hardened stainless-steel case design and Bremont’s BE-10AE automatic movement ticking at 28,800 bph.
Zenith Elite Ultra Thin Moonphase
Zenith’s Elite Ultra Thin boasts the brand’s Elite 692 moonphase movement with an impressive 50-hour power reserve, yet still comes in at a total thickness of only 9.1mm.