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The Best Affordable Mechanical Watches

From field watches to divers to dress watches and more.

best affordable watches
Hamilton

In an age when quartz watches offer dirt-cheap time-telling and superior accuracy, the popularity of mechanical watches is curious. It's grown substantially over the last couple of decades, and especially in the last several years — even when smartwatches more or less offer a computer on your wrist. But we're among those smitten with anachronistic tech of springs and gears, and even those at the cheapest end of the spectrum can be incredibly fun.

While producing a mechanical wristwatch can be an expensive proposition, large-scale production from Japanese brands focusing on basic and affordable movements means that just about anyone can afford a mechanical timepiece. We're talking watches from those brands themselves, like Seiko and Citizen, but also from smaller boutique brands that make use of the movements as well as sourcing other components and labor. Yes, you can get a very cool hand-winding or automatic watch for not a lot of scratch, but there are a few things to know and some questions you should ask.

Know Before You Buy

Accuracy of affordable mechanical watches

You should first understand that even the fanciest, most expensive Rolex or other mechanical watch doesn't compare in accuracy to the dirt-cheap quartz watch you can pick up at Walmart. The appeal of mechanical watches is predicated on the notion that you don't need your watch to be hyper-accurate. We mostly just need to know the approximate time within a few minutes and watches largely just function as a kind of quick reference.

Mechanical watches at the lowest end of the spectrum can be significantly off. If, say, deviations of 40 seconds per day add up over time without correction, you can find yourself minutes out of step with the time everyone else is following. That said, many people enjoy their affordable mechanical watches and even find them perfectly useful and accurate enough. If you want more accuracy, it simply means you'll have to spend more for a mechanical watch — or buy quartz.

What kind of watches you should avoid

Going affordable is a great way to get into mechanical watches, but if you're a newbie (and we assume that some people reading this will be) there are a couple of things to be wary of. First, even though you can maybe find some cheaper examples, we don't recommend going below the Seiko 5 and Orient watches that usually start just south of $100.

You'll notice that most of the watches on this list have Japanese movements. That's good. Experienced collectors might be able to better evaluate and experiment with the likes of affordable Chinese or Russian movements, but it's a bigger risk for first-time buyers. You should probably mostly stick to Japanese mechanical watches (or those with Japanese movements) at this level.

Mechanical vs. automatic?

Since these are common terms you'll encounter in your search, let's just clarify what they're all about. Mechanical refers to the type of movement and is usually contrasted with battery-powered quartz. Mechanical watches need to be regularly wound because they use the power of an unwinding spring, and automatic refers to one way in which a mechanical watch is wound.

An automatic watch is particularly convenient because a rotor spins when you move your wrist and winds the spring automatically. The other kind of variety you're likely to encounter is one that doesn't have a rotor and you'll need to wind yourself, by hand. These are called manually-wound or hand-wound watches. (Even though automatic watches are a kind of mechanical watch, you might find some brand websites that differentiate between the two by categorizing their hand-winding watches under "mechanical.")

Start Shopping for an Affordable Mechanical Watch Here

"Affordable" means different things to different people — and it's a relative term. Maybe under a grand is totally affordable to you. Here, we're starting at the lowest point at which we can conscionably recommend a mechanical watch. That's just around $100 at the time of writing, but even going up a few hundred bucks from there counts as "affordable" because of the value you can find.

Orient Tristar

Orient Tristar
amazon.com
$92.00

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 469) is based on a 1970s Seiko caliber which itself formed the basis for the modern 7S series of movements found in old Seiko 5s. Tristars can be readily had on Amazon or at Long Island Watch often for under $100, which is pretty damn good considering their cool look, Japanese automatic movement and stock stainless steel bracelets.

  • Diameter: 37mm
  • Movement: Orient 469 automatic
  • Water Resistance: 30m

    Seiko 5 SNK

    Seiko 5 SNK
    amazon.com
    $103.74

    The venerable Seiko 5 has long been a staple in the Japanese brand’s line, offering inexpensive mechanical goodness to the masses. The SNK isn't the current Seiko 5 line ,Seiko 5 Sports (an upgraded modern version is the SRPG), but it's still widely available. It features a military-inspired dial with day/date function, an automatic movement, 30m of water resistance and a 37mm stainless steel case. While it's no haute horlogerie, it's still cool to see its hard-working automatic movement through a display caseback.

    • Diameter: 37mm
    • Movement: Seiko 7S26 automatic
    • Water Resistance: 30m

      Swatch Sistem51

      Swatch Sistem51
      swatch.com
      $155.00

      Famous for being the world’s first mechanical watch made completely via automated assembly, with even movement elements made of plastic, the Sistem 51 offers an automatic movement visible through a transparent case back. This is kind of a toy or novelty mechanical watch, but one that captured the attention of watch collectors and tugged at the heartstrings of people raised on plastic Swatch watches in the '80s. Like other Swatch collections, there are numerous dial and strap options available.

      • Diameter: 42mm
      • Movement: Swatch Sistem51 automatic
      • Water Resistance: 30m

        Citizen NJ0100 Automatic

        Citizen NJ0100 Automatic
        amazon.com
        $133.10

        What comes after Orient and Seiko? Why, Citizen watches, of course. They're the next big Japanese watchmaker, but you've got to search to find many mechanical options from them (despite that they own Miyota, one of the biggest makers of mechanical movements). Like the Orient Tristar and Seiko 5 SNK above, this Citizen is an older model that you might have to root around for on the internet a little, but it offers a great style and tons of bang for your buck.

        • Diameter: 40mm
        • Movement: Miyota (Citizen) 8210 automatic
        • Water Resistance: 50m

          Timex Marlin Automatic California Dial

          Timex Marlin Automatic California Dial
          timex.com
          $169.99

          Timex's popular Marlin line comes in a few variations, but a favorite is one equipped with a design feature beloved by vintage watch enthusiasts: namely, the so-called "California dial," which features half the dial in Roman and half the dial in Arabic numerals. Beyond this interesting dial, the watch comes packing the basic Miyota 8215 automatic movement which is visible through a display case back.

          • Diameter: 40mm
          • Movement: Miyota 8215 automatic
          • Water Resistance: 50m

            MVMT Arc Automatic

            MVMT Arc Automatic
            mvmt.com
            $238.40

            MVMT initially made a name for itself as a producer of "fashion watches," but a more recent offering is a handsome 41mm timepiece available in several dial colors that uses an automatic movement. A simple design that ships on a leather strap, the Arc is a lot of watch for under $300, and a perfectly respectable entry into the world of mechanical timepieces.

            • Diameter: 41mm
            • Movement: Miyota 821A automatic
            • Water Resistance: 50m

              Bulova Hack Watch

              Bulova Hack Watch
              bulova.com
              $316.00

              Yes, it's another field watch. But Bulova’s Hack is a simple design that’s got a real story behind it. The once-American brand made similar watches called the A-11 for soldiers in WWII with a defining feature being that you can stop the seconds hand (called "hacking") when setting the time for accurate syncing with your fellow soldiers. While those historical models were hand-wound and a bit smaller, the modern version is automatic and available in black or cream dial variants.

              • Diameter: 38mm
              • Movement: Miyota 82S0 automatic
              • Water Resistance: 30m

                Orient Sun & Moon Automatic

                Orient Sun & Moon Automatic
                amazon.com
                $280.01

                Finding an affordable mechanical watch that does more than basic time-telling is easier said than done. The Sun & Moon from Orient manages to integrate a day, date and day/night indicator into a 42.5mm case (along with the time). Not only that, but it displays them in such a way as to nod to high-end watches with multiple functions (complications) and offers a more intriguing look than many other watches you'll find at this price.

                • Diameter: 42.5mm
                • Movement: Orient 46B40 automatic
                • Water Resistance: 50m

                  Dan Henry 1970 Automatic Diver

                  Dan Henry 1970 Automatic Diver
                  danhenrywatches.com
                  $270.00

                  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.

                  • Diameter: 40mm
                  • Movement: Seiko NH35 automatic
                  • Water Resistance: 200m

                    Seiko 5 Sports SKX Sports Style GMT

                    Seiko 5 Sports SKX Sports Style GMT
                    seikousa.com
                    $475.00

                    Under $1,000 is essentially unheard of for an automatic GMT. But Seiko kind of blew the watch world away when it announced a GMT version of its entry-level automatic Seiko 5 Sports collection. We're talking real horological complications now. And on top of all that, it looks fantastic. There are more (many more) incredible bang-for-buck automatic watches in the modern Seiko 5 Sports collection that are definitely worth a mention, but the GMT stands. Even the Seiko Prospex and Presage collections have a ton of great options that easily qualify as "affordable."

                    • Diameter: 42.5mm
                    • Movement: Seiko 4R34 automatic
                    • Water Resistance: 100m

                      Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

                      Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
                      hamiltonwatch.com
                      $495.00

                      Can you get features like a Swiss mechanical movement and sapphire crystal and still stay under $500? Sure you can. 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 and 80-hour power reserve bring the watch firmly into the 21st century.

                      • Diameter: 38mm
                      • Movement: Hamilton (ETA) H-50 manually wound
                      • Water Resistance: 50m

                        Maen Hudson 38

                        Maen Hudson 38
                        maenwatches.com
                        €510.00

                        Swiss automatic movement, vintage-style domed sapphire crystal, 300m of water resistance, elegant case details, a steel bracelet... Small, independent brands like Maen are pushing the boundary of what's possible for the price. All those specs and just the fact that you can get a solid Swiss automatic dive watch for this price are impressive but what we also love about the Hudson? Its smaller, vintage-feeling size at 38mm.

                        • Diameter: 38mm
                        • Movement: Ronda R-150 automatic
                        • Water Resistance: 300m
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