Building a Well-Rounded Watch Collection for Under $5,000

The type of e-mail I most frequently come across as WatchTime’s Office Manager goes something like this: “I love your work but I can’t afford any of the watches or brands you cover. Why don’t you ever write about watches a regular guy who loves watches can buy?” I always think to myself “But we cover all price points and lots of affordable models.” So today, after receiving another such e-mail, I challenged myself to build a well-rounded watch collection for under $5,000 using only existing WatchTime reviews as my guide. Below you’ll find my five choices and reasons for picking each model, along with slightly modified versions of the original reviews.

The foundation of any watch collection is one’s daily go-to watch, and ideally, mine has to be full of useful functions. Also, it must be able to withstand being beat it up during my daily commute, weekend hikes, and the random abuse life throws at it. For these reasons, my pick in this category is the Casio Pro Trek PRG-650Y-1.

Casio PRG-650Y-1

Casio is a popular choice for people who want extreme functionality without compromising on good looks. Last September, the Japanese brand expanded its Pro Trek collection with the addition of the PRG650Y-1, a new timepiece that includes a magnetic sensor for compass readings, a pressure sensor that functions as an altimeter, and a thermosensor for temperature. This analog-digital watch also has stopwatch capabilities, up to five daily alarms, water resistance up to 100 meters, a worldtimer, and a countdown timer.   The PRG-650y-1 is powered by Casio’s Tough Solar Power technology that eliminates the need to change a battery. It’s worth noting that every watch in Casio’s Pro-Trek series includes an altimeter. The PRG650Y-1 is available for $320.

Of course, I’ll also need a dress watch to wear to WatchTime events, weddings, and religious ceremonies and my choice for this is the Seiko Presage “Sakura Fubuki” Ref. SRPC01.

Seiko Presage Starlight SRPC01

This watch debuted at Baselworld 2017, where Seiko offered up a menu of colorful new models in its all-mechanical Presage collection, with dazzling dials inspired by classic cocktails.

The dial features seven layers of gloss finishing to achieve the eye-catching, richly textured look. The 40.5-mm case is made of stainless steel and topped by a box-shaped crystal made of a proprietary Seiko material called Hardlex. A specially sculpted crown helps ensure the case’s 50-meter water resistance, and the movements, on display through a clear caseback, are magnetic-resistant to 4,800 A/m. Prices are astonishingly reasonable — 420 euros for the three-hands, 550 euros for the power-reserve models — but you may have to jump on a plane to get one, as Seiko will not be releasing these particular Presage watches in the United States. Priced in the $500 range this versatile stylish watch wouldn’t break my limited budget.

Summer is coming and I hope to get in a plenty of beach time, but my vampiric Irish skin forces me to track my time in the sun to the millisecond. So for surfing, snorkeling, or just laying under the umbrella I’ll strap the Tissot Seastar Powermatic 80 to my wrist.

In 2011, Tissot launched its radically redesigned Seastar 1000 collection with a clean distinctive look and increased functionality. The mechanical base model was upgraded to include the Powermatic 80 caliber with an 80-hour power reserve. With a stainless steel case featuring a solid, engraved bezel with PVD coating, and a sapphire crystal in the caseback, this Swiss-made automatic is beautiful to look at front or back. Currently, the new model pictured above is selling in the $695 range.

No collection would be complete without a chronograph, and to fill that spot I will go with the new Tsuno Chronograph Racer by Citizen.

Citizen Tsuno Chronograph Racer

Japan’s Citizen Watch Co. will mark 100 years of operation in 2018, and to commemorate the occasion the brand released a vintage-inspired bullhead chronograph, the Tsuno Chronograph Racer, at Baselworld. The new watch takes its design influences from a 1972 chronograph known as the Challenge Timer, and especially from its successor in the 1973 Tsuno Chrono (“horned chronograph” in Japanese) for which the modern piece is named.

The piece has a round, 45-mm case in a bull-head construction, with a crown and two chronograph pushers at its top; lugs integrating seamlessly into its bracelet; and a second crown at the 5 o’clock position to adjust the watch’s alarm function. The various complications are made possible by a Citizen Eco-Drive movement, which is distinguished by its ability to harness natural or artificial light energy to power the watch.

Depending on your choice of model, the price will range from $795 to $895.

Finishing off my collection with a pilot watch seems important, so my choice is the Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Auto.

Hamilton Pilot Pioneer

The watch is inspired by timepieces the company manufactured for the British Royal Air Force in the 1970s. To keep within my budget I’ve selected the time-and-date model because it is priced at less than $1,000.  Officially, the 41-mm case is described as “round”, but for practical purposes, the look is asymmetrical, owing to the crown-side construction. The lugs have a slightly different shape, allowing them to form part of the crown-guard system, along with a piece mounted between the crowns. The top crown adjusts the inner ring that carries the 60-minute scale, giving the user an effective countdown timer. The bottom crown handles the traditional winding and time-setting functions. The H-10 Hamilton automatic caliber is visible through a display back, and it offers an 80-hour power reserve.

The Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Auto is priced at $995.

So for roughly $3,405 I have hypothetically built a well-rounded watch collection using WatchTime as my sole guide.

I hope this shows that we do cover many reasonably priced models and welcome everyone to submit their own picks for a well rounded yet affordable five-watch collection in the comments section below.

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  1. Pete Palmere

    The Hamilton looks like a knock-off of the Seiko Alpinist in its functionality except that it has reversed the actions of the crowns.

  2. I think one thing many beginning collectors want is a watch that is iconic and connects them to the larger watch loving community. It may be a boring choice, but for me, with a $5000 budget, my first watch had to be the Speedy MOTM. $3500 – $4000 grey market and it feels great having a watch with such a rich history, even if it is rather ubiquitous among collectors. Next, I’d spend $100 or so on a G-Shock or Ironman. With what’s left I’d buy a Seiko diver for a daily wearer, any of the below $1000 ones depending on which style you like are a great choice. With this, you have a collection built on an ico with a couple great but affordable choices that should get you through most occasions. As for a dress watch, I think the Speedy on a nice leather strap works just fine with a suit.
    Thanks for the article and interesting perspectives from those who commented.

  3. angel fernandez

    A below USD 2000 can be possible likewise. Surely wont break the bank — everyday watch Luminox Sentry, Chrono watch a DS Certina Quartz chrono, dress watch a Frederique Constant ( Classic index automatic) and a dive watch a Seiko Samurai. It’s a decent collection IMHO.

    • Stephen Brown

      Hey Angel,

      thanks for the comment and for putting together a solid sample collection too. There are a ton of low priced watches that should not be overlooked and crowdfunding is making that an even more competitive field as new watches come out daily from these micro brands. You could also try to make a well rounded collection under a certain price using just a brand like Seiko which I may try to do in a future post.

  4. Rick Jarrell

    Nice article, Stephen. My suggestion would be to consider some gently-used watches. Most of the watches I own were purchased used, but in excellent condition. You can obtain a great discount off of list price in most cases and stretch your $5,000 substantially.

    • Stephen Brown

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for reading it and the kind words. Yup like just about everything you can save buying gently used but you have to be careful who you are buying it from and you often lose out on the ability to return an item or warranties. I think e-bay has an ad going right now that says something like a watch is sold on it every 30 seconds or some amazing figure like that. I’m much more likely to buy non-mechanical things used than something that requires any level of engineering, a book versus a watch for example. I will definitely buy used things but weigh the risk vs reward very seriously before deciding not to spend a little extra and get the peace of mind of buying new. Cheers.

  5. Interesting choice, but how about Squale, Steinhart or say Certina DS PH200 instead of Tissot?

    • Stephen Brown

      Hi Ammar,

      Thanks for taking the time to read it and send in those suggestions. Funny that I just saw a really nice Squale on the wrist of one of my fellow commuters last night. Lots of good brands in this price range that sometimes go overlooked for various reasons not relating to the actual quality of the watches themselves. I will keep these brands on my radar when I go to try this exercise again.

  6. Anthony Alexander

    You’ve done a great job selecting affordable watches that hit above their weight in terms of quality and style.

    • Stephen Brown

      Hi Anthony,

      thanks for the kind words. please fell free to send any of your choices that should be considered if we update this article or do something similar soon.

      Cheers, Steve

  7. John Mishanec

    Nice collection but where’s the vintage watches? For the remaining money, you could easily buy a 70’s Seiko 6138 chronograph, an 80’s Seiko 6309 diver, a very functional Citizen Nighthawk pilot watch and for dress, a 50’s american made Hamilton. There’s no soul without vintage cool.

  8. Erik B

    How about an article with the very best of the best in the $500-$1,000 range. The best look, the best construction and of course a mechanical movement — either manual wind or rotor activated. Now were talkin’!

  9. George vlassis

    love to see more limited edition watches from the smaller watch company’s in Switzerland.like zeno AERO matthey TISSOT REVEU THOMMEN and Hamilton

  10. saM ASH

    Ready for a mildly dissenting opinion?–assuming you’re ok with going off reservation and not limiting your dream lineup to models/brands with the money and mojo to secure some “ink” in your venerable publication.

    So if you’re ok with that, I’d respectfully pass on the Casio (TMI going on there for my day to day), Fact is, my day to day “go to” is a Stuhrling 457 (aka The Eagle) Why? First, there’s something relaxing about dealing with a manual-wind movement in 2018–a day & age when everything seems to be tethered to a cord or driven by a cold and clinical quartz powered soul –call me old school, but I believe the only thing that should come in “quartz” is milk & orange juice…to me, time is a bit more organic.

    Next,please take a gander at it’s design/dial– it’s a 180 degrees from Casio’s approach which seems to be about cramming 10 pounds of function in a 5 to 8 pound bag. Quality wise, it uses the same class of movement that’s used in 2 of their skeletons–the very same skeletons that (along with Audemars, Lacroix, Hublot & others) were part of Gear Hungry.com’s “12 Best Skeleton’s for 2018”.

    The only downside? I just saw it on ebay for $50 less than I dropped on it a year or so go,,,(ouch).

    Look, in the interest of full disclosure (and as a WatchTime subscriber since the Martin Sheen/West Wing issue), allow me to clarify 2 things;
    1) I do consulting work for Stuhrling–though my wife would kill me if I got paid in merchandise(no matter who the client was). Though thanks to having worked for clients like TUV/North America (whose whole business is ensuring QC/QA standards) I know what to look for when it comes to getting a sense of of a brand’s commitment to QC/QA standards. And between that insight and the fact my watch is doing just fine…it’s all good

    2) I’m not gonna deny the fact that I’d much rather be sporting an IWC pilot watch instead of the Stuhrling. For that matter,.I’d also love a Reverso Duo instead of my “pre-owned” Oris BC-4 2 time zone FlightTimer, and an Omega Seamaster instead of the Stuhrling Depthmaster 893 my wife got me as an early anniversary present,

    Then again I’d also like to be done paying off my mortgage and my kids college loans,and as that ain’t happening’ any time soon..I’ve gotten really tired of suppressing my “watch jones” (FYI your magazine doesn’t help) Anyway, as there’s no 12 step program for the watch obsessed I needed another solution/rationalization. And that is realizing it’s 2018, And if the folks at Apple and Canon(among others)can trust their brand reputations to China based factories– I should be just fine with a well established watch brand that hails from the same general longitude and latitude.

    And guess what? So far I am,,,in any case, maybe it’s time you folks at WatchTime started looking beyond Switzerland and Japan (and parts of the USA) and started covering “watches for the rest of us” — brands that have the right performance but the wrong (for now) provenance. Thanks!

  11. Ray Shall

    Really great article. Nice to see such variation at nominal cost.

  12. That’s what dreams are for…
    I thought you were going to sort watches under $5000 not totaling that…

  13. Richard

    Excellent article and a well rounded collection. I enjoyed the fact that these are watches you have reviewed. I also remember you reviewed a Deep Blue Divemaster that I happen to own. Thanks for including that as a respectable 3k diver, which it is. Keep up the good work. But yes, please do more watches in the 1k range.

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