It’s easy to assume the most interesting watches lie in the realm of four, five and six figures, where exotic materials, complex hand-made movements and limited editions abound. But there’s something to be said about a cheap watch with character and a solid build. And the price point is lower than most think — you don’t need to spend thousands or even many hundreds for a quality affordable timepiece. Some dirt-cheap watches that sell for $150 or less, as well as the slightly more expensive watches whose street prices often fall within that price range, have all the basic facets of a great timepiece.
Admittedly, purchasing a timepiece in this price range can be tricky — it’s littered with chintzy, fast-fashion watches poorly built with crappy parts. But on the flip side, there do exist many watches around $150 that have garnered their own cult followings and are snatched up by everymen and horology nerds alike. Some are from our favorite affordable Japanese brands (you know who we’re talking about), others young innovators — but they all go to show that the affordable watch need not be marked by a plastic case or hands that fall off after a month’s use. These 10 watches represent the pinnacle of the bargain-barrel timepiece.
The Dress Watch: A great dress watch is both simple and is appropriate with formal attire. Admittedly it can be hard to find the latter in the budget range, but if there’s a standout amongst the cheap dress watch crowd it’s the Orient Bambino. Even at its MSRP (which is nearly double its usual street price) it has the same simple elegance of watches like the OMEGA De Ville or Jaeger LeCoultre Master. Its simple pie-pan watch dial adorned with long, slim markers is clean, and in conjunction with its domed crystal it evokes an era in which the three-martini lunch was not only accepted but encouraged.
Timex x Red Wing Waterbury
The Powerhouse Collaboration: A stalwart in affordable watches, Timex has launched a new version of its quartz Waterbury field watch with Red Wing Boots. It features a clean black dial, a stainless steel case, a leather strap from Red Wing leather and Timex’s iconic “Indiglo” electroluminescent backlight. All and all it’s one of the more handsome watches in the sub-$150 segment.
Seiko 5 Sports “Sea Urchin”
The Mainstay Mechanical Watch: When launched in 1963, the Seiko Sportsmatic 5 became the affordable automatic mechanical watch with a day/date window and 3-bar water resistance. The Seiko 5 Sports launched five years later, upping the water resistance to 7 bar, and has since become one of the best values in horology. The Seiko 5 movement has seen duty in various field and dress watches over the years, but its application in a dive watch is our favorite. Housed in a handsome stainless steel case with a steel bracelet, it has a clean and classic look befitting of a more expensive sports watch and a solid hefty build that makes it an excellent everyday wear that won’t crap out.
The Swiss Mechanical Watch, Revisited: Most wouldn’t associate a Swiss-made automatic watch with a dirt-cheap price — but by using an automated assembly line and just 51 parts, Swatch has created just that with the Sistem51 watch line. The movement beats at 3Hz and has an outstanding 90-hour power reserve. Many of the watch’s moving parts are made from plastic and the case is hermetically sealed so if it breaks down your best course of action is to simply replace it. Sure, it’s a long way from Omega, Breitling and Hublot but the outside-the-box thinking is to be admired.
The Solar Watch: The Eco-Drive name is almost synonymous with solar-powered watches, not because the line was the first to utilize the tech but because it arguably refined it and popularized it when it launched in the ’90s. The majority of Citizen’s watches now utilize Eco-Drive tech, but even at the lower end of Citizen’s model range there’s some awesome tech. The BM8240-03E uses the Eco-Drive E111 which, in lieu of a battery uses an energy cell that when fully charged can power the watch for 180 days without needing to be recharged. What’s more, with a clean, handsome design and day-date function it’ll work well as another affordable dress option.
Bertucci A-2T Titanium
The Titanium Watch: Few watches that come under the $150 mark have a case made from solid titanium, which is what makes the young US watch brand Bertucci an enticing option. Inside the vintage-inspired field watch design, the A-2T is powered by a Japanese quartz movement and is water resistant to 100 meters. And, if you know you’re going to beat the hell out of it, a shock- and abrasion-resistant “Pro-Guard” rubber case housing is also available for further protection.
Casio G100-1BV G-Shock
The Street Style Watch: The original G-Shock was designed in 1983 to be the ultimate beater watch and succeeded with offering a 10-year battery life, 10 bar water resistance and shock-proofing that could protect the watch from falls up to 10 meters. The resulting design was a massive, durable and outlandish-looking timepiece that has spanned an entire line of watches. The G-Shock has become a cultural phenomenon adorning the wrists of hip-hop artists like Pharell Williams and Kanye West while retaining its rugged and affordable edge.
The Dive Watch: Along with the Seiko Sea Urchin, it’s one of the best affordable dive watch options in its price range. Its trump card over the Seiko is its deeper 200-meter water resistance, and, if it matters to you, all of Orient’s parts are produced in Japan (Seiko manufactures in various parts of Asia). Regardless, the Mako has a classic sports watch look, is available in a variety of dial colors and works well with a variety of watch bands — so be it the office or the beach, it will make for a great everyday wear.
Casio Edifice EF527D-1AV
The Chronograph Watch: A chronograph watch for under $150 is one hell of a feat, and the Edifice brings more to the table than just a stopwatch function. The Edifice dial is also home to a slide rule (like the iconic Breitling Navitimer), a date window, a Japanese quartz movement and water resistance up to 100 meters.
The Mid-Century Modern Watch: Based on Hans Hilfiker’s iconic Swiss Railway clock, the Mondaine Evo is an excellent homage to one of the Mid-Century modernism’s greatest timepiece designs. The design features a minimalist, legible white face with black hands and dashes and a bright red seconds hand modeled after a railway guard’s signaling disc. Like its inspiration, Mondaine’s watches are Swiss-made, albeit only for just barely meeting the designation requirement that at least 50 percent of its parts are of Swiss in origin. Still, with the Evo you’re getting a Swiss quartz watch adorned with one of the most memorable faces in timekeeping history on the cheap.
There is no shortage of good watches in the sub-$5,000 range. We narrow your list down to 10 greats. Read the Story