What's considered affordable or luxury is different for everyone. It's all relative. But there's quantifiably a most affordable watch from any given brand, and where a company's pricing starts isn't just the most accessible way to get a prestigious name on your wrist — it also says a lot about the brand.
We're not here to tell you the high quality, skill, trust and reputation that the world's best watchmakers have built over time comes cheap, but there are ways to get your foot in the door of their world. One is to look at their entry-level products.
Many watch brands' least expensive models might be smaller than average and/or use quartz movements. They're usually going to be made of stainless steel and often on the dressy side. These models might not be ideal or exactly what you're looking for, but on the other hand, maybe they are — these aren't necessarily compromised watches. They're worth checking out for more reasons than just finding the absolute cheapest way to get the, say, Cartier, Rolex, Omega or what-have-you name on your wrist.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34 Read More
Omega De Ville Prestige Read More
Panerai Radiomir Base Logo PAM00753 Read More
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface Quartz Read More
Cartier Tank Must Read More
These watches also represent a baseline for a brand, a starting place that anchors you when exploring the rest of the collection. If you find, for example, that the absolute entry-level watch is too small for your tastes at 34mm, then when you size up to the 36mm or 38mm model, you'll have a sense of exactly what you're paying for. Whether it's shopping for your first "nice" watch or you're an experienced collector, it's instructive in understanding a brand to consider exactly where its pricing starts, how that product represents the brand's values and aesthetics, and what exactly it offers.
The watches below come from some of the most popular and prestigious brands in the world. They are luxury watches, to be sure, and they all cost well into the four-figure range. That's not cheap, but you might be surprised to find that they can even offer some strong value.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34
Available in multiple dial colors and sizes, the Oyster Perpetual is, in many ways, the quintessential Rolex. A simple, time-only affair with stainless steel cases on the iconic Oyster bracelet, it has the basic features you should expect from the brand. At 34mm, this is about the most affordable, convincingly men's watch you can get from Rolex but smaller Oyster Perpetual watches will be a little less and bigger ones will be a little more.
- Diameter: 34mm (also available in 28mm, 31mm, 36mm and 41mm)
Movement: Rolex 3130
Omega De Ville Prestige
Available in myriad different variations, the Deville Prestige Co-Axial gives you access to the famed co-axial escapement, designed by horological great George Daniels. For our money, the black dial on steel bracelet is perhaps the most versatile variant: at just a hair under 37mm, it’s a simple watch that will pair well with casual or formalwear.
- Diameter: 36.8mm
Movement: Omega caliber 2500
Panerai Radiomir Base Logo PAM00753
Featuring an in-house P.6000 calibre movement with a 3-day power reserve, this time-only watch features many of the Panerai hallmarks: a highly luminous movement with Arabic numerals; a hand-wound movement; a cushion case; and water resistance, here down to 100m. This is a great way to get into the famed dive watch brand whose roots stem from an association with the Italian navy.
- Diameter: 45mm
Movement: Panerai P.6000 calibre
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface Quartz
The least expensive Reverso in the Jaeger-LeCoultre catalog, this version of the iconic watch features a quartz movement in place of a mechanical one as well as a smaller size but is in every other respect a classic Reverso. With its reversible watch head and stainless steel case, the Reverso Classic Small is perfect for engraving and personalization.
- Diameter: 21mm
Movement: Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 657
Cartier Tank Must
Though this version of the famed Cartier Tank features a quartz movement, all the rest of the hallmarks of the Tank are present: a rectangular case, an elegant white dial with Roman numerals, a thin handset, and a crown set with a synthetic cabochon-shaped spinel all scream classic Cartier. There's also get an automatic version for a step up in price.
- Diameter: 25.5mm
Movement: Quartz movement
IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36
No brand is more associated with pilot watches than IWC, and its whole aptly named Pilot's Watch line riffs on its history of high-flying timekeeping. The legible dial with white Arabic numerals and other classic cues that define both the IWC collection and pilot's watches in general — it's all there in the Automatic 36. For not too much more money you can get a more military feel, but the brand's most affordable watch has elegant vibes with a blue sunburst dial and 36mm diameter.
- Diameter: 36mm
- Movement: Sellita SW300-1 automatic
Breitling Endurance Pro
Available in multiple sporty colors, the Endurance Pro has some serious features, including the brand's own Breitlight material, a type of plastic composite that's said to be lighter and harder than titanium with the look of forged carbon. These are aggressively sized watches at 44mm but its diameter is offset by its weight at just 64.6 grams. The quartz chronograph movement inside also helps keep it light and reasonably thin.
- Diameter: 44mm
Movement: Breitling 82 quartz
Drawing on the classic Tudor references from the past, the 1926 is a robust, time-only watch available in multiple sizes, dial colors and several strap and bracelet offerings. Relying on the venerable Sellita SW200 movement keeps the price reasonable, and 100m of water resistance means that this is a watch you can wear every day without worry.
- Diameter: 36mm
Movement: Sellita SW200
TAG Heuer Formula 1 Quartz
Whether powered by an automatic or quartz movement, as the absolute entry-level men's watch is, the Formula 1 collection is TAG Heuer's most accessible line. It's available in a number of iterations and is an entry point for those who want the TAG Heuer aesthetic but might not be ready to drop serious money on a mechanical chronograph. Numerous dial and strap/bracelet combinations give the user plenty of choices.
- Diameter: 41mm
Grand Seiko Heritage Quartz SBGX261
Don’t think that because these watches feature quartz movements you’re getting any less of an impressive timepiece than Grand Seiko is known for. With a perfectly proportioned 37mm case and matching bracelet, 10 bar of water resistance, a Seiko 9F movement and a couple dial color choices, the SBGX series is an elegant everyday watch and the perfect introduction to the world of Grand Seiko.
- Diameter: 37mm
Movement: Seiko 9F62 Quartz