Great, Cheap Watches
You don't have to spend $5k to get a good watch.
A few times a month someone asks me for help buying a watch. My first response is always price point: How much are you comfortable spending?
A lot of times the person asking for help says something like, “I really can’t spend more than $2,000. Is it even possible to get a good watch for less than that?”
And here is my stock answer: You can get a lot of watch for $300. You can get a ton of watch for $700. For $1,000, the world is your oyster.
Eventually, I’ll do a post for each of those price points, but today I want to talk about the bottom band. Because while you’re not going to get haute horologie for $300, you can absolutely get a great watch. A real watch. A watch that will make anyone who loves watches smile and tip their caps.
But first, let me tell you what not to do.
Do not buy a fashion watch.
What’s a fashion watch? It’s a piece of crap with $20 worth of materials, gussied up in a brand and marketed like crazy.
Fossil. Swatch. Shinola. Skagen. These are fashion watches and buying one is no different than getting robbed.
Look at this shit on a stick:
That’s right: $300 for a quartz movement that fell off the back of a truck in Guangdong province, with a mineral crystal screwed onto it. It’s a con on people who don’t know enough to protect themselves.
For the same price, you can buy a gently-used icon: The Seiko SKX007. The 007 is absolutely revered as one of the best tool watches ever made. Get a look at this baby:
What do you get with the SKX007? A dive watch good to 200m. Rock-solid construction. Lume that will blow your mind. And an in-house designed and manufactured 7S26 automatic movement that any watchmaker in the world can service for a few bucks—and that will run for forever.
This is form and function banging it out like spring breakers.
Look at the hands: The hour hand is a sword; the minute hand an arrow—because these are the weapons of the samurai. The second hand has a lumed-up lollipop to help you keep track in the dark. The crown is at 4 o’clock, which, once you’ve tried it, you will always prefer to the 3 o’clock standard. And the caseback has an embossed depiction of a tsunami—which is the Seiko logo.
For less than $300 you’re getting an automatic watch that’s a piece of history, that looks great, and that will keep beating long after you pass it down to your kid in 30 years.
But maybe you don’t want gently used. Maybe you’re nervous about buying an older watch. Then I have a line of watches for you: The Islander series.
One of the best low- to mid-priced retailers around is Long Island Watch, which is run by a guy named Marc Frankel. A few years ago Marc started his own brand, which he calls the Islander. I’ve bought a bunch of these watches, mostly as gifts for people in my life. And I have been blown away by the quality.
Please note that Marc doesn’t pay me a dime. I’ve traded emails with him but he’s not a buddy. There are no kickbacks of any sort here. I just love the hell out of these watches.
Here’s his latest offering, the Bayport:
Beautiful dial. Applied markers. Nicely executed handset. Great pop of red on the seconds hand. How much detail is Marc investing in this design? Look at the date window: The background is color-matched to the dial so that it doesn’t break the aesthetic.1
The bezel is ceramic and is fully lumed. The crystal is sapphire. The bracelet has negative end links and a micro-adjust clasp to create a perfect fit. And it’s powered by an NH35, which is a fine Seiko automatic movement. I want you to look at it again:
This thing retails for $299. A buck cheaper than that Fossil.
No matter what kind of watch you’re into—dress, pilot, field, diver—Islander has something for you. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Automatic field watch with sapphire crystal and exhibition caseback: $199.
Dress watch with a linen dial and a high-beat Miyota movement2 for $349.
Look: Islander isn’t the only shop making high-quality, affordable watches. And again: I’m not getting paid to shill for them. I’m just telling you that I’ve spent my own money on Islanders and given them to people I love. And they punched way above their weight in terms of bang-per-buck.
So before you drop $650 on some infamnia from a brand that puts 95 percent of the cost of the watch into its marketing spend, understand that you can get a real watch—a watch that will last you the rest of your life and then some, a watch that anyone who loves watches will admire—for a pretty reasonable sum.
You don’t have to be rich to be a watch guy.
Compare this to the Fossil above which couldn’t even be bothered to use a white date dial when they were throwing it together.
Miyota is a Japan-made offshoot of Citizen.