You don't have to spend five figures to get a great watch. No matter what snobbish collectors might suggest, there are lots of incredible tickers out there for less than $10,000. Now, can you buy a flashy gold tourbillon in this price range? Yes, sure, but that doesn't mean you should.
When looking for a watch in this price range, there are a few things to keep in mind. You're almost certainly going to be buying a watch made of steel, your choice of complications is going to be more limited (sorry, no perpetual calendar), and you'll be steering clear of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet altogether. But that doesn't mean that you can't afford some incredible timepieces that are also good investments, and that you could even pass on to your children.
Here are the five types of watches you should be looking at to get the most watch for your money, all under $10,000.
If you're going to strap on the same watch every day, it needs to look good with both your Tuesday suit and your Sunday t-shirt, but you don't want it to be boring. The Omega Globemaster ($6,900) handles all situations effortlessly and is packed with technology like a totally anti-magnetic movement and a more accurate and durable co-axial escapement. If you look closely at Jaeger-LeCoultre's Geophysic True Second ($9,050), you'll notice the seconds hand seems to tick like on a quartz watch, but this is because of a special gear-and-spring system inside that gives it the so-called "deadbeat seconds" for more precise timekeeping. Plus it's flat out beautiful. Cartier's in-house Tank MC ($6,750) is equally attractive and offers a modern update on one of the most classic watches of all time.
The No-Nonsense Sport Watch
The modern Rolex Submariner ($7,500) has almost become a cliche, since it can be spotted on countless wrists in nearly any bank or office around the world. But it's achieved this status for good reason: it's simply one of the best all-purpose watches you can buy. The black ceramic bezel, clean utilitarian dial, and bulletproof construction make it a near perfect choice for most people. If you're more a pilot watch kind of guy, IWC's latest, the Mark XVIII ($3,950) is the archetype on which all others are based. The dial is as legible as they come and at 40mm it can even work as a dress watch on a slim leather strap. With all the work Panerai has done to keep innovating on both the design and technical fronts, it would be crazy not to mention the Luminor 1950 ($9,100), which sports both Panerai's signature multi-layer dial and a manually-wound in-house movement.
For a few years now, Montblanc has been the king of affordable complications. A favorite, though, is the Heritage Spirit Orbis Terrarum ($5,900), which provides a full map of the northern hemisphere and shows what time it is across the globe all at once. It just got an update, so it now gives you a colorful interpretation of the world climate too. Baume & Mercier's elegant Clifton line has been another constant source of value, but the Chronograph Complete Calendar ($4,990) is the most complicated version yet, adding a pair of complications without disrupting the midcentury lines and all-around handsomeness of the collection. If chronographs are more your speed, TAG Heuer makes the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01 ($5,250) entirely in-house and the openworked dial lets you admired the mechanics within.
You pay for that "Swiss Made" signature on the dial of any watch. By looking outside Switzerland, you can sometimes get incredible value and interesting provenance to boot. One option is Japan, where Seiko is crafting its awesome Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT ($7,000). It tracks two timezones, comes both dressy and sporty versions, and is as well-made as anything from the Vallée de Joux. A little closer to Switzerland you'll find Glashütte, Germany, that country's top watchmaking hamlet. Nomos's Metro Neomatik ($3,840) starts with one of its quirkier designs and adds a brand new ultra-slim automatic movement that's made entirely in-house, all the way down to the escapement. Literally across the street, Glashütte Original is making its colorful Senator Sixties Iconic ($7,500) with textured and sunburst dials adding some whimsy to the Teutonic time-only watches.
Vintage is where the real value is. For example, a solid 18k gold Rolex Day-Date on a solid gold President-style bracelet can be had for under $10,000 while the modern equivalent of this watch would set you back over $30,000 at a boutique today. The sport watches get all the attention from vintage Rolex collectors, so these gold dress watches are still undervalued for the most part. Likewise, two legendary chronographs, the Omega Speedmaster Professional and the Heuer Carrera both get overlooked in favor of the much pricier Rolex Daytona. Even with the recent popularity of both models, awesome caliber 321 Speedmasters (the kind that took man to the moon and back) and early execution Carreras with either two or three subdials both still fall squarely in this price bracket. Sure, you'll have to do some digging at dealers and auction houses to find one that's perfect for you, but you'll end up with a watch that punches far above its price class.