It’s easy to become numb to the price of fine watches. Industry prices are constantly ballooned by Swiss and German makers creating an endless stream of five- and six-figure watches that keep our heads in the clouds. But being a watch enthusiast doesn’t mean choosing between a good watch and a decent used car. By looking in the right places, you can avoid bland fashion watches in favor of well-made, unique timepieces that scratch the watch nerd itch while protecting your post-college pledge to never subsist on ramen noodles again. Here are a few examples of what can be found for less than $1,000.
Dive Watch: Seiko SDBC001 “Sumo”
When it comes to affordable divers, Seiko is a great place to start; if you want a sizable step up from the SKX series, feast your eyes on the SDBC001, nicknamed the “Sumo”. Available in multiple colors (the blue 003 and the orange 005), the SBDC001 diver is an example of everything that makes Seiko great. It’s a true diving watch, with a legible, well-lumed dial, and its 44-millimeter steel case, Hardlex crystal and grippy unidirectional bezel make for dressy wrist candy that also boasts 200 meters of water resistance.
Being a step up from their SKX series, the Sumo is fitted with inlaid dial markers, an upgraded bracelet design and a better movement: Seiko’s in-house 6R15, which is their answer to ETA’s 28XX movements. With both hacking (second hand stops when crown is out for time-setting) and hand winding, this 23-jewel movement offers a 50-hour power reserve and has earned a bulletproof reputation. With a list price around $500, the Sumo is a steal for a tough, mechanical and gimmick-free dive watch of this quality.
Chronograph: Citizen BL5250 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Given the complexity of mechanical chronographs, there aren’t a lot to be found under $1,000. With this budget in mind, we recommend going for a quartz movement — and few companies do quartz chronos as well as Citizen. The Citizen BL5250 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph is a beautiful example. With a 43 millimeter titanium case and a handsome military-inspired design, the BL5250 has the everyday good looks — thanks to a dark blue dial and unidirectional dive-style bezel — and wrist presence to back up its considerable list of features.
Water resistant to 200 meters, the BL5250 features a solar-powered Eco-Drive movement with dual time zones, perpetual calendar, alarm, and a 60-minute chronograph with a 1/4th second resolution. With a list price of just $400 and an Eco-Drive movement, it’s a tough watch to beat in terms of features and fuss-free ownership. (Pro tip: You could buy the BL5250 and the Seiko Sumo and still be under budget. Cost effectiveness!)
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Dress Watch: Hamilton Intra-matic 38
For those times when a suit is a must and a dive watch is going to feel a bit out of its depth (sorry), a dressier option is a welcome addition to any collection. From a day at the office to a date at the theatre, there is hardly a situation (or dress code) that won’t suit the Hamilton Intra-matic 38. With classic ’60s styling and a 38-millimeter steel case that’s only 10 millimeters thick, the Intra-matic is about simplicity, class and charm. (Hamilton also offers a 42 millimeter version for those with larger wrists.)
Too classy for a seconds hand, the Intra-matic is powered by the formidable ETA 2892-2 automatic Swiss movement and offers a date display at 6:00. Legibility is excellent and styling (it’s available with a black or silver dial) is on point. Sporting a sapphire crystal and a display case back offering a view of the Hamilton-signed movement, the Intra-matic earns its $845 price tag and could easily compete with dress watches costing far more.
Pilot’s Watch: Archimede Pilot 42 Automatic
While a diver may be the de facto choice in sport watches, the pilot’s watch is an excellent option for those who don’t need the extensive water resistance (it has 50 meters of it) of a dive watch but still want a tough, legible layout with excellent design. The Archimede Pilot Automatic — with its multiple size options, a crisp and clean WWII-inspired dial and a solid automatic movement — is one of the best options in the segment for less than a grand, particularly the 42-millimeter version with titanium case. The watch’s Flieger design echoes the practical and legible design of pilot gauges. With a sapphire crystal, satin-finished and lightweight titanium case and an ETA 2824 automatic Swiss movement, the Pilot 42 Automatic doesn’t cut corners and looks great on its riveted leather strap.
Vintage: OMEGA Seamaster
None of the above options catch your eye but you’ve still got the itch. May we suggest something old? While vintage watch collecting presents its own unique challenges, the appeal of a vintage watch is like nothing else. If you’ve got up to a grand to spend, a vintage Omega Seamaster is the perfect piece. With seemingly endless dial and case variations available, it can be found in both casual and dressy versions from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Build quality is excellent and their movements can still be serviced today. In many ways your money goes further with a vintage Seamaster, especially when you consider that $1,000 doesn’t bring you close to the list price of a modern watch from Omega.
Providing you don’t mind the smaller case sizes that are common to most vintage watches, you’ll have little trouble finding a Seamaster variant that suits your tastes. There are examples to be found from reputable sellers for as little as $500. A word of warning: The internet not only offers accessibility to a great wealth of information but also to a never-ending stream of fakes, frankensteins and sloppy re-dials. Know what you’re buying and whom you’re buying from. With the right research you’ll get both an enjoyable hunt and a watch more rewarding than anything you could’ve bought new.