View Single Post
      08-19-2015, 10:48 AM   #1
Major General
tony20009's Avatar

Drives: BMW 335i - Coupe
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Washington, DC

iTrader: (0)

A bit about buying affordable ($200 - $1500) watches

Often enough I come across folks looking to buy a nice watch for not a lot of money. Those folks often want suggestions, but rarely, and not surprisingly, do they share enough about themselves and the watch they want for folks like me to give all that good a suggestion. Thus, it's not likely going to do them much good for us to just toss out watch suggestions as though we were throwing mud against a wall hoping some would stick. Certainly Seiko and Citizen both make very good watches in that price range and if one knows of such a watch that one likes, I'd say buy it unless it lacks something that one expressly desires.

Now if you, dear reader, are among the folks for whom a Seiko or Citizen isn't "the one," you might also want to Google, say, "best watch under $500." (or whatever price point suits you) You'll get more results and results than you can shake a stick at. For a quick look along with reviews, you may want to look here: Some brand names that are well liked among watch enthusiasts but less so among the general public -- mainly because they aren't as well known -- include but are not limited to:
  • Christopher Ward
  • Lew & Heuy
  • Orient and Orient Star (essentially Seiko watches under a different brand name and at better prices -- lots of really good choices here)
  • Archimede
  • Laco -- Great for pilot/Flieger style
  • Aristo
  • Steinhart
  • Obris Morgan
  • Deep Blue
  • Magrette
  • Smiths
  • Weiss
  • Wempe
One of the coolest retailers for sanely priced watches is Island Watch (Watches and Affordable Quality Timepieces on Sale | Island Watch). They're sort of "watch geeky" which is a good thing for it'll get you good input, even if you just call them, and affordable watches are their "thing."

In the affordable watch space, my favorite styles are dive watches, field watches and pilot/Flieger watches. I just happen to like the casual grace of these styles and I like that they are without exception solidly built and if/when they get scratches, they wear them well. Style wise, they make great "everyday" watches for just about anyone who doesn't live a dressy lifestyle.

Dive watch: always rugged, always stylish, usually sold on bracelets, very popular with men.

Field Watch

Flieger/Pilot -- Fliegers always have the characteristic triangle at noon.

If you feel you need something a touch dressier, a general purpose style is never a bad way to go. As the style description suggests, it's not so much dressier, but the minor differences make for a lot of sartorial versatility. (Or course, folks wear whatever they want at the end of the day. There are no "official rules" of what watch style to wear. Only "fashionista" types like me, or folks who have a lot of watches in general, care about what watch style we wear with a given outfit. LOL) Perhaps the best known general purpose style is a Rolex Datejust, or perhaps the Rolex Air King or Rolex Explorer I. All of them are way out of the affordable price range, but the style itself -- largely given by the basic case design -- can be found in watches of many, many makes.


Air King

Explorer I

Seiko Alpinist -- Same general purpose style, but far, far, far lower price and still an excellent watch.

On matters of size, well, there are folks who have their preferences, everyone who's "into" watches does, even myself. At the end of the day, pretty much anything from 36mm to 42mm is very likely going to look great on any wrist. The current fashion is for watches larger than 38mm but I wouldn't worry about that too much. Prior to 2000, the typical sizes ranged from 34mm to 40mm. Since halfway decent watches of any sort don't generally wear out, go out of style, or just disintegrate, watch companies need to do something to spur new watch sales. Creating a trend for larger watches is one of those things.

If you are muscular, (I'm assuming that means a typically "gym fit" body like Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, or Henry Cavill et al) so there's really no men's watch that's going to look bad on you. It'll just be a matter of different looks that will look good, some of which you might like better than others.

A couple other things that're important to know about watch sizes
  • No matter what dimensions the maker cites, the structural geometry of the watch can make it feel or look like it's bigger or smaller than it's noted dimensions. You can be quite certain that a 42mm watch will look/feel larger than a 36mm one, but you can't be sure that one 42mm one will look/feel the same as another 42mm one, or even all that similar or different than a 41mm or 43mm one.
  • In general, rectangular watches don't need to be as large as circular ones to seem as though the are the "right" size for one's wrist.
And the message of those two points is that trying on a watch is really the only way to tell if it's right. All the wrist shots in the world won't tell you a damn thing about how it looks/feels on your arm. All they'll tell you is that the watch looks good (or not) on the wrist owner's wrist. Such is the major drawback of two dimensional images of a three dimensional object that's the size of a watch.

To get a sense of what I mean, look a the wrist shot of the Deep Blue and DateJust above. Can you tell how high on the wrist either one sits? Can you tell how comfortable either one is or will be on your BF's wrist? Can you tell how easy or hard it is to grip the crown while the watch is on the wrist, particularly given the fingers that must do so and how the person wears the watch? I know you really can't be certain based on the pics.

Additionally, most pics you'll see are greatly magnified to show details. To that end, you may not even see the same details. For example, I have that Deep Blue dive watch pictured above. I can guarantee you that the date window is smaller than most pinheads, and the numbers that appear in the aperture may as well not be there. It's that small in real life. It's a really cool watch, it's built like a tank and the tritium tube lume (see below) on it is awesome (, but if the watch is how you are going to know the date each day, either (1) choose another watch (see movements below), or (2) have a local watchmaker affix a cyclops magnifier onto the crystal and above the date aperture.

The truth is that it's harder to find a poorly made watch, especially mechanical watches, in the affordable (or higher) price range than it is to find a decent one. If you are looking at any of the makes you'll find folks mentioning on this site, you'll do fine. If your interest in watches is much like many folks' interest in having different shirts or shoes, don't worry about the brand of the watch. Brand only matters when one has a particular reason to demand a specific brand. Short of that, it's pointless.

Quartz or Mechanical (Manual wind or Automatic)?:
Most folks here are automatic watch prefers. That said, from an ease of use standpoint, there are no two ways about it, quartz is far easier to live with. All you really need to think about for years is changing a battery from time to time; $8 and five minutes in even a battery shop and it's over. Also, there's absolutely no way around the fact that quartz watches are more accurate than any mechanical watch. Even a cheap $10 quartz watch will be more accurate. Quartz watch accuracy is measured (stated) anywhere from seconds per week to seconds per year; mechanical watches are measured (stated) in terms of seconds per day, and it's never less than 10 for affordables.

A mechanical watch movement is like a car's motor, and with a mechanical watch, there's also no way around the fact that sooner or later it must be serviced, otherwise, it's going to grow progressively less accurate and eventually it'll just stop working. Generally three to five years is about the frequency you can expect for needing to have it serviced, and at the moment, for the watches you'll be considering, service runs around $75 to $200, assuming it's just a "tune up." It might be more if something needs fixing.

On the matter of accuracy, for a quartz watch, you can expect that as long as the battery is good, the watch will show the right time of day. Various makers cite things like a second or two gained or lost each week. I honestly don't know how correct or not that is, but I personally have yet to have a quartz watch for which I needed to adjust the time it displayed before the time came to set the watch forward or back for the daylight savings time change. I can't say that about any mechanical watch, not even the ones for which I paid many thousands of dollars.

(If you should one day find yourself seeking a "cost-benefit" or "features & benefits" reason for spending huge sums on a watch, don't bother. There isn't any. Watch collectors spend sums like that for the same reasons art collectors will pay insane sums for a Picasso, say. Watch consumers will spend huge sums for the same reasons car consumers buy fancier cars instead of perfectly fine nice cars that lack the "ooh, la la" of the fancier cars.)

As goes mechanical watch accuracy, you should expect that any affordable watch you'll choose will gain or lose anywhere from 12 to 30 seconds a day, on average. With quartz watches, it seems that temperature extremes seem to have the biggest user noticeable impact on accuracy, but one needs to really expose the watch to temperature extremes to have an issue with them. On your wrist, and under a coat or glove is adequate for avoiding temperature variance issues that will make a difference.

As for automatic or manual, there is no difference that matters (given the price point we're discussing) other than that one must wind the manual one every 36 to 52 hours or so and in your price range, automatics are thicker simply because they have a rotor attached (it's what spins and keeps the watch wound) to what otherwise is a manual movement. An automatic will keep itself wound so long as one wears it. Leave it sitting for 36 to 52 hours and it'll stop just like a manual one will. I happen to prefer automatic watches for daily use, but otherwise I don't have a preference. If my sorry ass could remember to wind a manual watch, I'd probably have no preference at all.

One other thing. If the watch will be exposed to EMPs, forget about quartz watches. It's that simple.


Illumination (lume) of the watch numerals and hands comes basically in two varieties: SuperLuminova (SL) and tritium (H3), which is an isotope of hydrogen.

SL is essentially a "paint" that glows once it's been charged by a light source, sun, light bulbs, and so on. When it's fully "charged," SL glows considerably brighter than does H3 and it's ability to glow will last about 25 years. Technically speaking, it glows for hours. Practically speaking, the glow fades to the point that it's almost impossible to discern with the naked eye after about 45 minutes at the most. How long it glows brightly depends on how much SL "paint" has been applied and what formulation of SL the maker used. You can think of SL as you might think of aspirin. There's aspirin and there's extra strength aspirin. The extra strength stuff kills more pain because there's more active ingredient in it. SL "paints" substantively work the same way. No maker that I've encountered indicates what "strength" of SL they use or how much of it they paint on.

H3 is a gas that's placed inside of tubes, sometimes flat, sometimes cylindrical. It glows 24 hours a day until it's "gone." What's "gone" for H3? Well, the H3 used in watches is created in a lab not sucked out of the atmosphere and it has a half-life of about 12 years. So, in terms of how well it glows, 12 years after it was created, you'll observe a 50% reduction in how brightly the tubes glow. In another 12 years, you'll see that it glows at 1/2 of 1/2, or 1/4 it's original brightness.

So what's all that mean in practical terms? Well, it means that if seeing the dial all through the night is important, you want H3 lume because about 45 minutes after the lights go out, the SL will be almost if not entirely invisible to the naked eye. If lume isn't particularly important, it means I wasted my time telling you. LOL

You've probably seen lots of discussion about movements. There's no denying that the movement in a watch is important; it's what does the job of measuring and reporting time. The thing is that in the $200 - $1500 range, you'll find plenty of solid movements from Seiko, Miyota (Citizen), Sellita, Sea-gull, perhaps ETA, Ronda (quartz) and a few others. For your purposes, I wouldn't suggest you need to worry about what movement is in the watch. Sellita and ETA are Swiss movements, but among basic and functional movements, the Swiss can't and don't do anything any better or worse than anyone else.

A time-only or time+date watch is considered "uncomplicated." A watch that has a stopwatch feature built in is called a "chronograph." If you think you want a chronograph, get it, but know that servicing a mechanical chronograph usually costs more than servicing an uncomplicated mechanical watch.

One thing to be aware of is that many affordable watches use exacty the same movement. So, for example, if you don't like that the date on that Deep Blue is so small in real life, you can be sure that any watch having the same movement (Miyota 8215) will be no different as goes the size of the date digits.

Water Resistance (WR):
Are you going to wear the watch to dive below 100 feet of water? If so, you need to get a watch that has WR that can handle that depth. Short of that, whatever WR the watch has will likely be enough. The key thing to know about WR is that it's made possible by seals, glue and gaskets. Any one of those three can wear out eventually and if/when they do, the watch won't be water resistant any more. Remember I wrote about having a watch serviced periodically? Well, replacing the seals, gaskets and/or glue is part of what gets done during a "tune up."

How long do seals, gaskets and glue last? It varies, and it varies quite widely. If the watch is exposed to salt water, make sure to rinse it in warm (not hot) tap water. If water gets inside the watch, you'll know because it'll eventually condense on the underside of the crystal. If that happens, hustle off to a local watchmaker and let him guide you on what your next steps should be. If water gets inside a quartz watch, it's over: You need to buy a new watch or have the movement replaced. There are no other alternatives.

Most any watch is legible. It's a matter of how much precision needs to be visible at a quick glance. When you glance at your watch, does you need to know "it's 3:07:21" or do you need to know "it's a little after 3:05," or do you want to just know that "it's about a quarter after three?" As you can see from the pics above, Fliegers, field watches, and divers are generally designed to be very legible. The other ones have a "city" user in mind, that is, they're legible enough at a quick glance to tell that you need to get going lest you miss your bus or meeting, or something like that, but you'll need to look carefully to know exactly what time it is.

I think that's all that need be said about legibility. Just choose based on what you know about your habits and needs. As you can see, some dials, markers/numerals and hands offer more legibility than others. Generally, colored dials are less legible, but with the right dial, marker/numeral and hand color combo, that doesn't have to be so. Black dials and sliver hands are hard to read in the dark, but they are pretty. Silver against silver isn't all that easy to read precisely and quickly, but it's nice looking too. I think you get the idea....

Hopefully you found the preceding more useful than specific watch suggestions, or if nothing else it helps you make some sort of heads or tails of whatever specific suggestions you get. If you bother to think about what really matters to you, and whats "nifty but not essential," you'll have no trouble picking something nice and that you'll enjoy, and that will serve you well for years. However, as I said at the start of this post (I know, it's a long post and you probably forgot already LOL), but if you really don't know what you'll want/like, just go window shopping to get a sense of what appeals to/works for you and what doesn't.

All the best.

'07, e92 335i, Sparkling Graphite, Coral Leather, Aluminum, 6-speed