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5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy an Inexpensive Watch

Don’t throw down money on a super cheap timepiece before you consider these important points.

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Editor’s Note: So you’re ready to make a watch purchase? Not so fast. Before committing, it’s worth thinking carefully about your needs to make sure you’re truly buying the right timepiece for you. Our series Five Questions aims to help you do just that.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and as concerns watch collecting, this often means starting with an inexpensive watch. However, though not everyone can afford a timepiece from a big Swiss brand the first time around, this doesn’t mean that buying a cheap watch need equate with buying a shitty watch. A watch buyer in 2020 is truly spoiled for choice — with so many boutique and mircrobrands on the rise today, it’s easier than ever to snag an affordable timepiece that can serve as a springboard toward more expensive purchases.

If you’ve never bought a cheap watch before (and for the purposes of this article, we’re going to equate “cheap” with sub-$200), it’s worth asking yourself the following questions before you hit that “Buy Now” button on eBay, Amazon, or what have you. Because thought you can certainly nab a perfectly functional timepiece for under $200, it’s always better to be informed before making your purchase, and, ultimately, to ask yourself if it isn’t worth saving up just a bit more money before you pull the trigger on your first ticker.

Either way, we support you.

1. What are you going to use this watch for?

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If you’re looking for a serious dive watch that you can take beneath the waves, for example, you might have a tough time finding one for $200. (You used to be able to find new Seiko SKX007s for roughly this price, but since being discontinued, prices have jumped up closer to $300). However if you need a simple dress watch or everyday watch, scoring one for this money should be a cinch. Think about whether or not your use for this watch is going to involve serious physical abuse — the more of this you want to subject your watch to, the more careful you need to be in evaluating a purchase.

2. Does this first watch have to be mechanical?

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If you don’t need this first cheap watch to have a mechanical movement (whether hand-winding or automatic), then your options really open up for you. While there are fun mechanical watches for $200 (the Timex Marlin immediately comes to mind), the seemingly inexhaustible list of quartz-powered divers, dress watches and even chronographs means that you don’t have to settle for something dinky and ugly for your money.

3. Is buying from a well-known brand important to you?

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Don’t care about a famous name on the dial? Perfect! Because the truth is that for $200, most of what you’re gonna find from big names is discounted Seiko; G-Shock; and fashion watches. However, if you open up your search criteria a bit to include microbrands, then you can nab a watch that presents great value for $200, such as this field watch from Vaer (it’s $209, but whatever). Point being, much of the value in watches below $200 is going to come from unexpected places, so be sure to do your research.

4. Can you afford to wait and save up a few hundred bucks more?

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Here’s an important consideration: why not save up a bit more money? Sure, you can pull the trigger on an older Seiko 5 and call it day, and you’ll end up with a super cool watch for the price. But why not consider one of the newer versions for a bit more cash and a whole lot more robustness? Or, if you can, save up $400-$500 and check out the incredible field watches or chronographs that you can get for that kind of money. The sub-$1,000 price point is riddled with great values these days, and by squirreling away just a bit more cash, you can get yourself a serious upgrade.

5. Do you really need a watch, anyway? Especially a mechanical one

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I mean, it’s 2020. Do you really need to be spending your hard-earned cash on a piece of antiquated technology that isn’t half as accurate as one powered by a little battery that costs all of $1.50? Plus, you have an iPhone, right? Can’t you just use that to tell the time?

(For the record, we totally think you should wear a watch. It conveys an air of “I give a shit”-ness. It ties your outfit together. It signals to potential mates that you’ll show up on time for, you know — life. But who would we be if we didn’t make you think hard about your purchasing decisions?)

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