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Maybe you want one everyday watch and you’re willing to drop $9,000 on it.
Maybe you want two watches — one for work and one for weekends — and you’re willing to budget $1,000 for both, combined.
Or maybe you want a watch for every conceivable situation, and you’ve got a whopping $50,000 set aside so that your every need will be met and met handsomely.
The point is, there are any number of ways to build a respectable watch collection that will bring you great joy for many years to come. You just have to figure out three things: How many would you like to own? What type or types of watches are you looking for? And — here’s the big one — how much are you willing or able to spend?
As anyone who’s spent any amount of time at all looking for watches online can tell you, it’s not difficult to find great watches for anywhere from a couple hundred bucks all the way up into five- or even six-figure territory. On the lower end of the spectrum, you can expect cheaper materials and low-cost, run-of-the-mill (but perfectly fine) movements that are undecorated. As you begin to creep upwards, you’ll find better components, better fit and finish, and lots more options. Climbing further up, you’ll get modified (but still largely common) movements and a bit more brand recognition — but at this point you also start paying for the big brands’ marketing expenses, which can be significant. At the high end, you’re getting things like in-house movements, dazzling complications, top-notch metals and all sorts of little details that only true watch lovers will appreciate.
Below, we’ve identified five main watch styles and made selections at a wide range of price points.
Under $500: Orient Mako II ($138)
The standard choice for an ultra-affordable mechanical dive watch, Orient’s Mako is as classic and tasteful design as you’ll find anywhere near this price range.
Under $1,000: Seiko Prospex SPDC061
Seiko’s Prospex line offers some of the best value you’ll find in the entire watch world. It’s extremely well built and, at 44mm in diameter, has a whole lot of presence on the wrist — without being at all gaudy.
Under $5,000: Tudor Black Bay
One of the most successful watch launches of the past few years, this 41mm diver is no longer content to be looked at as Rolex’s younger brother. It’s got its own design language, which is sure to become a classic in its own right.
Under $10,000: Rolex Submariner
So, no, it’s not a particularly original choice, but come on. If you’re gonna drop this much coin on a dive watch, you may as well get the gold (stainless steel) standard.
Under $500: Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic
For those of us who don’t have to dress up for work every day and only get to wear a dress watch for the occasional wedding or whatever, there’s no reason to drop thousands. This handsome version from Hamilton will more than suffice.
Under $1,000: Stowa Antea Klassik 365
Looking to make slightly more of a commitment to more formal wristwear? This German brand is worth a look for their classic Bauhaus designs.
Under $5,000: Nomos Tangente 101
And speaking of classic German Bauhaus design, Nomos arguably does it better than anyone. This beauty is refined and understated, coming in at a sleek 35mm.
Under $10,000: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin
The most impressive thing about the Master Ultra-Thin is that it measures a miniscule 7.5 millimeters in height, meaning it will fit under even the tightest shirt cuff. Nothing about it will get you noticed, which is precisely the point.
Under $500: Timex Weekender
There aren’t a whole lot of mechanical chronographs worth owning in the sub-$500 range, and even many of the quartz options are ugly as sin. So we figure, if you’re OK with quartz, there’s no reason to look beyond this ultra-affordable, relatively minimal design.
Under $1,000: Alpina Startimer Pilot
A nice pilot-style chronograph that will fit into a lot of budgets and work in a lot of situations … from the backyard to the boardroom, as they say. (No idea if they say that.)
Under $5,000: Omega Speedmaster Professional
They say that every serious watch collector should at some point in his life own a Speedmaster, and we couldn’t agree more. You can’t do much better in terms of history (look it up if you must), or in terms of versatility. And, yes, we stretched this one by a few hundred bucks. It’ll be worth it.
Under $10,000: Breitling Navitimer 8 B01
The B01 was a new addition to the Navitimer line last year, and we quickly fell in love with it. It’s not cheap, but for all that cash, you’re getting a reliable in-house movement, an impressive 70-hour power reserve and all the heft you’ve come to expect from Breitling.
Under $500: Laco Augsburg 42 ($410)
A classic Flieger-style design, the Laco Augsburg 42 has all the hallmarks of the style: bold hour markers, onion-shaped crown, rivets on the leather strap, and a whole lot of lume. This watch could be from any point in the last 80 years, and no one would know the difference.
Under $1,000: Sinn 556
Another German pilot watch, the 556 is as simple as it gets, but also as well built. And depending on your choice of straps, this one works perfectly from the most casual to the most formal scenarios.
Under $5,000: IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince
A simple design from one of the most storied watch brands in the world. And, man, you won’t find a more impressive blue dial anywhere.
Under $10,000: Zenith Chronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback
Zenith’s in-house 405-B movement drives this very attractive 43mm chronograph with a beautifully aged stainless steel dial and a nubuck leather strap.
Under $500: Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
It’s pretty impressive that one of the most talked about watch releases of 2018 was a $475 field watch from Hamilton. Nothing flashy here, but it gets everything right, from the nylon strap to the perfect 38mm size.
Under $1,000: Weiss Standard Issue Field Watch
A made-in-the-USA field watch with just enough design flourishes — the great Weiss logo, the small seconds dial at the 6-hour marker — to make it stand out from the pack. And for less than a grand? It’s a no-brainer.
Under $5,000: Longines Heritage Military
For those who want the vintage look without the hassle of buying vintage. Longines’ Heritage Military will have everyone you meet thinking you inherited a WWII-era relic.
Under $10,000: Rolex Explorer
So, no, when you walk into a Rolex boutique to pick up your shiny new Explorer, you won’t exactly feel like you’re getting a watch to take out to battle. But the point is, despite the implications of rich-guy luxury, this thing is as tough as it is elegant. If we had to have one watch to wear every day in every situation imaginable? This is the one.
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