Mechanical watches (which include both the hand-winding and automatic variety) have seen a huge uptick in popularity in the last several years, and this considering that battery-powered quartz movements are more cheap and ubiquitous than ever, and smartwatches are seen on more and more wrists as time goes by.
While producing a mechanical wristwatch can be an expensive proposition, the proliferation of relatively inexpensive but high-quality Japanese movements has meant that smaller boutique brands finally have a way to craft affordable hand-winding and automatic timepieces, while the larger brands can make this technology affordable with large-scale production. Whether you’re looking to gift someone a diver or a dress watch, there’s an affordable mechanical watch out there for everybody.
At the very entry point into Orient's mechanical offerings is the obscure “Tristar” line that feels in many ways like the brand’s counterpart to the Seiko 5. Hell, the movement inside (the Orient Caliber 469) is based on a 1970s Seiko caliber which itself formed the basis for the modern 7S. Tristars can be readily had on Amazon or at Long Island Watch for under $100, which is not bad considering they all come stock on stainless steel bracelets.
Seiko 5 SNK805
The Seiko 5 has long been a staple in the Japanese brand’s line, offering inexpensive mechanical goodness to the masses. The SNK805 features a military-inspired dial with day/date function, an automatic movement and 30m of water resistance. With its 37mm stainless steel case and matching nylon strap, the Seiko 5 is the perfect mechanical watch for the field.
Swatch Sistem 51 Clouds
Famous for being the world’s first mechanical watch made completely via automated assembly, the Sistem 51 offers an automatic movement with date visible through a transparent case back. While there are numerous dial and strap options available, this black variant with matching textured strap and case is neutral enough to pair with most casualwear.
Citizen NH Series
The NH series comes in a few flavors, though mostly in a simple dress watch — as well as a 100-meter dive watch — design. Another option for fans of the obscure is Citizen’s similar NJ series that uses the same Miyota movement but comes in titanium, as opposed to the NH’s stainless steel. With the premium material does come an increase in price, but some NJ references can still be had under $300.
MVMT Arc Automatic
MVMT may have made a name for itself as a maker of fashion watches, but their most recent offering is a handsome 41mm mechanical timepiece available in several dial colors that utilizes an automatic date movement. A simple design that ships on a leather strap, the Arc is a lot of watch for under $300, and the perfect entry into the world of mechanical timepieces.
Timex Marlin California
The newest version of Timex's popular Marlin line is equipped with a feature beloved by vintage watch enthusiasts: namely, the so-called "California" dial, which features half-Roman and half-Arabic numerals. Beyond this interesting dial, the watch comes packing the basic Miyota 8215 automatic movement which is visible through a display case back.
Orient Sun & Moon V.3
Finding an affordable complicated watch based upon a mechanical movement is significantly easier said than done, but the Sun & Moon V.3 from Orient manages to integrate a day, date and day/night indicator into a 42.5mm case along with the time. Available in several dial colors, it’s an entry into complicated watchmaking that won’t break the bank.
Dan Henry 1970
Dan’s Henry’s 1970, available in both 40mm and 44mm sizes and two dial colors, is a tribute to the compressor-cased dive watches of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Featuring an automatic movement and inner rotating bezel as well as a vintage Tropic-style dive strap, the 1970 is a modern homage to a classic case style from the height of scuba diving’s popularity.
Bulova American Clipper
Bulova’s elegant American Clipper is a simple design that’s perfectly suited to dress watch duty. With its simple dial, day/date function, automatic movement and black leather strap, this is an affordable mechanical piece that’ll go well with any look.
Available in several dial colors with steel bracelets, the Spinnaker Cahill is an affordable choice that offers a lot of value and a cool look. An automatic Miyota 8125 movement with date, sapphire crystal, nicely textured dial and glass bezel make for a timepiece that looks great with casual wear. A water-resistance of 150m also makes the Cahill a watch you can beat up and not worry about.
Nodus Sector Pilot
If you're on the lookout for a mechanical pilot's watch but want something contemporary, then the new Sector Pilot Blackbird from Nodus is for you. With its oversize crown, sector dial and count-up bezel, this watch is clearly made for the sky — but a clever day-date display means that it's perfectly useful on the ground, as well.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
A reimagining of Hamilton’s military watches crafted for the U.S. Army, the Khaki Field Mechanical is a modern field watch built with classic mil-spec design cues. A hand-winding movement from ETA and a 24-hour dial help to retain the vintage design influence, while a 38mm case brings the watch firmly into the 21st century.
Junghans Max Bill Hand-Winding
Max Bill was an iconic designer whose Bauhaus-influenced designs live on in the Junghans watches that bear his name. The hand-winding variant features a glossy dial with Arabic numerals, ETA 2801 hand-winding movement, 34mm stainless steel case and a black leather strap. Whether paired with a suit or with jeans and a t-shirt, this is a watch that never looks out of place.