Fratello Classics: 5 Mechanical Watches Under $1,000


Call it a “budget” timepiece or an “entry-level luxury” affordable watch: for many, affordable watches are the first step into a lifelong passion. Fortunately, there are many affordable mechanical watches on the market priced under $1,000. I’ve reported on a number of affordable watch brands on my blog, Fratellowatches.com, and the affordable swiss watches presented here come from some of the most popular articles.

For this “Top 5 Watches under $1,000” list, I selected only timepieces with mechanical movements and disregarded the pre-owned and vintage market. (That’s a subject for another Fratello Friday.) Where possible, I used the average market prices for these watches, which might be a bit less than the official retail prices. To keep it interesting, I not only looked at watches from big brands, but also took the time to see if there were any independent brands that offer watches under $1,000. So, you might well ask, if companies can make a mechanical watch that sells for $1,000, why are so many of them so much more expensive? You can also turn this question around, of course: how is it possible that some brands can offer a mechanical watch under $1,000 while the average Rolex, Omega or IWC costs five or six times that amount?

The biggest differences between a watch under $1,000 and a watch that has a higher price tag include the level of finishing on the parts, type of movement, finishing of the movement, et cetera. Basically, the number of operations (be it manual or by machines) that are needed to finish a movement, case, bezel, dial, hands, bracelet, clasp and other elements have a large influence on the cost of a watch. Also, chances are quite high that cases or other parts of less expensive watches are manufactured in China. Perhaps the watch is partly (or completely) assembled in China as well. Even if a watch says “Swiss Made,” it is possible that a number of its parts have been manufactured in China. However, to be able to use “Swiss Made” the movement needs to be Swiss; the movement must be cased in Switzerland; and the final inspection by the manufacturer must be executed in Switzerland (source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry). I don’t feel there is anything wrong with a watch made (or partly made) in China, or with one with Chinese components that meets this definition of “Swiss Made.” That said, keep in mind that some watch brands are not completely transparent about where its parts have been manufactured. Now, to the watches I’ve chosen…

1. Seiko Scuba 200M Diver’s SBDC001 “Sumo”

Seiko has a collection that runs from battery-operated watches from $50 to the Grand Seiko and Credor top-of-the-bill collections with four- and sometimes even five-digit price tags. Keeping it all straight can be a bit of a maze but once you acquaint yourself with the different collections and models, there are really some interesting pieces among them. My absolute favorite at this moment is the Seiko SBDC001 divers’ watch, which has been nicknamed “Sumo” by enthusiasts of the genre. It is not for sale everywhere, so you might have to buy it overseas, but for around $500 you can have a watch that probably would cost $ 1,000 if the dial said “Swiss Made.” It has a nicely finished, big 44-mm case, a solid automatic movement (Caliber 6R15), a bracelet with divers’ extension, Seiko’s Hardlex crystal, and big, luminous markers and hands.

Seiko Scuba 200M Diver’s SBDC001 "Sumo"

2. Longines HydroConquest

Longines is an important brand in the Swatch Group, positioned in a price range below Omega and above Tissot. The 43-mm Longines HydroConquest is a true diving watch. I selected the reference L3.642.4.96.6, which has a self-winding movement and a blue bezel and dial. The bracelet can be extended to wear over your diving suit, the bezel is unidirectional, and the crown is screw-down – features every divers’ watch should include. Although they retail a bit above $1,000, you can often find one with a slight discount bringing it just below that price.

Longines HydroConquest - blue dial

3. Victorinox Swiss Army AirBoss Mechanical

Victorinox is famous for its Swiss army knives, but the company is also big in manufacturing watches. Victorinox makes solid, sporty watches, available with both quartz and mechanical movements, that are perfect for daily use. However, our focus here is on mechanical watches under $1,000. This AirBoss watch with pilot-style bracelet in stainless steel has a retail price of only $995. You get a 42-mm stainless steel watch with a self-winding movement (ETA 2824) and a sapphire crystal. The bracelet has a folding clasp with a double lock for security. The military influence is obvious: the gray dial includes a 24-hour scale.

Victorinox Swiss Army AirBoss Mechanical

4. Tissot Heritage Visodate

Tissot, another Swatch Group brand in this overview, has a very interesting timepiece in this price range, one that will actually leave with some change from your $1,000. For approximately $650, you can buy the Tissot Heritage Visodate. I wrote an in-depth review about this watch a while ago (here) and I still think it is one of the best buys out there in this price range. If you like the looks of vintage 1950s timepieces, but with modern dimensions and a day-date feature, take a look at the Tissot Heritage Visodate. The self-winding movement (ETA 2836-2) can be viewed through its transparent caseback. A sapphire crystal protects the classical-looking dial.

Tissot Heritage VisoDate

5. Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic

Last but not least, we have a watch from a brand with a lot of history, the Jazzmaster from Hamilton. Sports watches take the first three positions in this Top 5, so I also included this dress watch for those who are not as into big, bulky sports- and diving watches. The Hamilton Jazzmaster is a simple yet elegant timepiece for those looking for a good mechanical watch below $ 1,000 with a proven movement (ETA 2824-2) and a nice sapphire caseback through which to admire it once in a while. A classic timepiece with modern features and up-to-date case diameter, it is definitely not your grandfather’s Hamilton watch.

Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic

What are some of your own favorite watches in this category? Let us know in the comments below. We value your feedback!

(This article was originally published on November 22, 2013, and has been updated with new text and photos.)

20 Responses to “Fratello Classics: 5 Mechanical Watches Under $1,000”

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  1. fraser stewart

    I’m a big fan of the Glycine watches, both the Combat Sub 200 and the Combat are priced accordingly. I love my expensive SS Rolex models but find a place on my wrist for the lesser costed Swiss entries.

    Reply
  2. Raymond Togonon

    the Hamilton intramatic 38mm stainless steel leather band will give both Tissot Visodate and Hamilton Jazzmaster a run for its money!

    Reply
  3. Jonathan E

    If you had to choose between the airboss and the hydroconquest, which would you go for, and why? The reason I ask is that it is the exact question I am currently facing. I like both, but the hydroconquest does look similar to many other dive watches, whilst the airboss seems to be, if not unique, to have a look a little bit more it’s own. Leaving looks out of it, what do you think?

    Reply
    • Robinoz

      For me, it would depend on whether I wanted to use the watch in water. The Longines will have a lock down winder while the Airboss probably hasn’t. Both look nice and are good watches, but as you say, the Longines looks like a diving watch and they are so common and similar.

      If I wasn’t going to use my watch in water, I’d probably go for the Airboss which will be water protected to some extent, but not as much as the Longines.

      Reply
  4. If you don’t mind the wait, the Stowa Flieger is the nicest sub-$1000 watch I’ve owned

    Reply
  5. There are so many nice watches at or under $1000. Check out the Steinhart ocean series,
    made with 316l ss, sapphire crystal, swiss eta movements, all swiss made. I have the ocean
    vintage military 44m, beautiful watch and well made, keeps excellent time with the eta 2824-2
    movement. Deep Blue is another one, have a couple, rugged watches, well made, automatic
    movements. Do your research you will find many more good Swiss watches in this price range.

    Reply
  6. Alfredo N. Saenz, Jr.

    For mechanical watches under $1000.00, check out Long Island Watch(islandwatch), Watchismo. the Seagull U. S. site, the Citizen Automatic site, and Hamilton automatics..
    There are plenty to choose from under $1000.00, including some with Swiss movements.
    .

    Reply
  7. Robin Henry

    I quite like the new (?) Seiko SKA579P2 diver’s watch (grey, black and blue) which I have seen advertised between $224 and $694 showing how important it is to look around before purchasing.

    I have had six or seven friends over the years who wore the Seiko Sumo which were very popular.

    Reply
  8. Ben Frank

    I just wanna know, which of the two models between Tissot Visodate or Tissot Powermatic80 is the best mechanical watch to buy?(I’m look more to Powermatic). And anyone can tell me where is the place to buy longines hydroconquest (mechanical movement) above in south east asia region?. Thanks for anybody who give me info

    Reply
  9. Mike Petrik

    The Costco located closest to me has the Oris Diver with date for $989, the Tissot Luxury 80 hr for $685, and a Movado also in $600 range. These are all in CDN $. I liked the Oris so much I picked it up as a daily tool watch.

    Reply
  10. Regarding the SRP307, it’s not made “entirely in-house in Japan” as you claim. While they are made in-house, they are not made in Japan. All of the entry-level and many of the mid-level Seiko models have parts (or entire watches) made in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia and yes, China. Take a look at the inside caseback of a Seiko Sumo – it will say Case China. These are all still Seiko factories though.

    Reply
  11. Great selection Robert-Jan! Does anyone know what grade ETA 2824-2 is used in the Victorinox Air Boss above?

    Ben

    Reply
  12. Leo Sitorus

    Love the Tissot. It’s beautiful, clean dial, and nice vintage look. It has a good value for money as well.

    Reply
  13. Wondering what you think of the Christopher Ward London collection – http://www.christopherward-usa.com ? Most of the collection is under $1,000, partucularly the C60 Trident Pro, which comes with an ETA 2824-2 movement and 300m water resistance. They offer a COSC certified version for $995.

    Reply
    • Colin Agar-Rea

      Not mechanically interesting enough for me and all quite small..I am a big, bold, statement watch sort of guy…just bought a used but mint Devon Tread1, now that’s a piece of wrist art!!

      Reply
  14. Hi Robert,
    what do you think of the Golana Advanced Pro AD10.3 silver dial ETA 2824-2?
    All Swiss for only £320.

    Reply
    • Hi,

      I am not very familiar with them. The case looks a but like the RD cases they used in the past. For that money, if the watch comes with a nice ETA movement and the finish on case, dial, crown and clasp is considered OK, seems like a good deal.

      RJ

      Reply
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