Time is Money: An Ongoing Search for the Affordable Watch

I’m out to prove that you can be passionate about watches and not spend boatloads of money by reviewing watches every week that cost under $1,000, many under $500.

Illustration by Gear Patrol.

I live a life suddenly and violently saturated with watches. They festoon the top of my cigar humidor and hide in the clutter atop my dresser. There are too many to keep track of; the one I want is always unwound. The watch fever has started to take hold deep within my brain, and, just like trout fever and rock ‘n roll fever (and unlike my virulent strain of rollerblading fever in middle school), I doubt it will ever be cured from my life. It hasn’t become an obsession yet, which I still firmly believe is a good thing; I haven’t become a watch snob or nerd, and therefore morphed into an incredible bore to talk to at parties, like some wine “aficionados” (but not all). But still: some days I switch to a second watch at lunch. I think I have a problem.

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I tell you this not to boast. I hope you care about watches, or that you will come to care about them. They’re certainly in at the moment, if that matters to you. If it doesn’t, consider that they are incredible, miniaturized designing and engineering feats (whether mechanical or quartz), that they look really cool and come in a million different sizes, shapes and types, that they are extremely useful, and just the right delicious touch of outdated. I’m not ashamed to admit that being asked the time by a complete stranger who sees one on my wrist gives me a tasty little charge. I hold some knowledge they want, that’s important to their day! I’m helping them get things done — hell, I’m helping to run the world more on schedule.

So what’s the problem, then? I’m not just here to gush about watches and convince you to buy some. I’m here to share my experience, which is: watches are neat, and really great websites test them out and do research on them and interview their creators. But those ones are luxury items that I’ll probably never be able to afford, at least not in the next ten (or fifteen) years, at which point my wrist will be all wrinkly and hairy and generally unappealing, anyway. Some of our readers most likely won’t be able to afford them until then, either.

I’m out to prove that you can be passionate about watches and not spend boatloads of money by reviewing watches that cost under $1,000, many under $500.

Not to bash that practice — reviewing awesome, expensive watches. Our own Jason Heaton and his Timekeeping crew do it every Tuesday on Gear Patrol, and it’s a riveting, entertaining thing. As he recently pointed out in a well-worded response to a letter to GP about our seeming addiction to unaffordable watches, “For some, a luxury watch is not unattainable. The fact of the matter is, a lot of the watches that are the most interesting tend to also have several zeros in their prices.” Absolutely, entirely fair. But, for someone interested in actually buying a watch, it’s a disappointing diagnosis.

Because, to tell the truth, we aren’t all in love with high-brow watches, just like we don’t all get hard-ons over expensive cars. Yet we can still enjoy driving and telling the time. My dad has worn watches for most of his life, but he’s always been the one to comment on some watch I’m testing. Something along the lines of, “that’s a little pricey, isn’t it?” He’s owned Seikos and Timexes and a Casio, all under the $100 mark, I’d assume. When I asked him recently about what watches he’d worn, he said, “I had a Bulova once. It didn’t last for shit.”

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Which brings us back to me, and my tiny apartment filled with ticking and tocking. Not a single one of the watches I currently am holding onto, I’m happy to say, has more than three digits in its price tag. The most expensive, loaned to me, weighs in at $750, the least expensive (mine) $30. My trusty Seiko 5 diver, my personal favorite, costs less than 150 bucks, is the perfect size, and is already starting to gain the tiny scars of everyday wear; my splurge buy, a 1963 Seagull Chrono, has classic silvery aesthetics and Chinese script on its dial and costs $210; I got a vintage HMT Jawan, which is probably not authentic but is certainly interesting, on eBay for $30 bucks. These are affordable, really cool watches. They are interesting and fun to wear, and useful. Maybe not slobbered over by big-time watch nerds — though that might not be true. There’s something about a watch you could actually buy with your current bank account, right now, on Amazon — or elsewhere deep within the far reaches of the internet, or under a box at a garage, or tucked away at a flea — with just a simple click, that gets the heart thumping and the synapses firing. These are watches within your realm of possibility, and mine.

So I’m out to prove that you can be passionate about watches and not spend spend boatloads of money by reviewing watches every week (and sometimes every other week) that cost under $1,000, many under $500. I’m imagining a watch utopia, and I’d like you to imagine it with me: a place where you can get jazzed about a particular watch, try it on, buy it, wear it happily every day, and keep your nest egg safely nestled away for important stuff, like your future child’s education. Or a boat.

And these won’t just be straightforward reviews. I’m far from an expert — I’ll be sourcing them with help from our team — and what I have to offer you is my personal experience. That’s not just case sizes and movement specifications. It’s the way a watch wears, if it inspires my friends to buy one or strangers to comment, whether my girlfriend approves, the way it makes me feel when I wear it. The daily life stuff. Because while the world may not revolve around these watches, they don’t just tell the time. More on that next week.

See the First Review, Here:

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