We all know the sky really is the limit when it comes to how much money you can drop on a new watch these days. You can crack north of a million bucks on Grubel Forsey’s Double Tourbillon 30-Degrees Technique, half a million on Richard Mille’s titanium RM-20 pocket watch, or a cool quarter-mil on Hublot’s crazy MP-07 that has an absurd 42-day power reserve.
99.99 percent of humanity is not buying one of those watches.
As a writer in the watch industry, the most common question I’m asked is “What should my first serious watch be?” And much of the time, new enthusiasts don’t have more than $5,000 to drop on a timepiece—or they aren’t inclined to. They want a watch that’s respected by watch aficionados, that they can tell a story about, and that is well-made and reliable.
So, knowing full well that there are dozens more to choose from, here are 11 excellent watches that fit all those criteria. (If you have up to $10,000 to spend, please see our previous buying guide.)
Mido Belluna II, $1,120
Mido has long been a bit of an underdog in the watch industry. Vintage examples are slowly growing more sought-after by collectors, and every now and again a new piece surfaces in its modern collection that’s just interesting enough to stand out from the pack. The Belluna II is a great compact dress watch that has a very A. Lange Söhne-esque design, powered by a bulletproof automatic ETA movement, and at a hair over a grand it’s a solid pick for something a little out of the ordinary.
Oris Divers Sixty-Five 42, $1,900
Last year, the first Oris Divers Sixty-Five garnered huge praise from collectors and enthusiasts as one of the best reissue dive watches to launch in ages. Capitalizing on its initial success, Oris returned to Baselworld in 2016 with a few new variants, including this slightly larger 42mm example with a deep blue dial and faux-aged indices and hands. Much like its sibling, this new version is a killer dive watch with a charming vintage vibe that you’ll want to wear day in and day out.
Aquadive Bathyscaphe 100 Bronze, $1,690
On the list of dive watch brands out there, Aquadive is by no means the most well-known but its build quality rivals anything anywhere near the same price point. Machined from a solid piece of saltwater-resistant bronze alloy, one of the cool things about this tank of a diver is the fact that it will start changing color as it ages. One thing to consider—especially those of you out there with smaller wrists—even though it’s only 43mm in diameter, it’s 15mm thick and quite hefty, so it’s basically the opposite of the slender Oris.
Seiko Presage Chronograph, $2,300
The Presage Chronograph has gone down as one of my favorite new releases of 2016 for a handful of good reasons. First, its design is loaded with ’50s-era charm—right down to its beautiful enamel dial and Breguet numerals. Second, its proportions are downright perfect in the way the IWC 3717 pilot chronograph’s used to be before it gained a little extra heft. That’s why I want it, but the fact that it’s powered by a column-wheel automatic chronograph and costs less than three grand? Yeah, you should want one, too.
Meistersinger Pangea Day Date, $2,825
This Meistersinger is a brilliant pick for those wanting a dress watch that’s a little out of the ordinary. Known for their watches that use a single hand to tell time, Meistersinger watches seem like a bit of a novelty at first, but they’re really a well-crafted timepiece that’s totally worth considering. The Pangea adds a useful day and date indication on top of the classic single hand time telling, giving it a touch more functionality as well as more intricate detailing on its dial.
Nomos Club Automat, $2,620
For many collectors both budding and seasoned, Nomos is effectively the be-all and end-all when it comes to quality dress watches that offer incredible value for the money. It’s one of the most affordable brands on the market whose watches all use in-house manufactured calibers (only outsourcing the rubies used as jewel bearings in the movement, and INCABLOC shock protection), and their finishing is absolutely top-notch. The Nomos Club is the slightly more casual option of the pack, making it a solid pick if you’re on the hunt for something you can dress up or dress down.
IWC Mark XVIII, $3,950
If you’re looking for a solid pilot’s watch, your best bet is to start with the gold standard. IWC is still the king of the heap when it comes to a classic pilot’s watch and the Mark XVIII is the brand’s latest rendition of its entry-level 3-hander. Black with white indices is of course the easy answer, but the optional silver dial gives the piece a touch more character.
Tudor Black Bay Red, $3,675
Especially now that the entire Black Bay line is powered by Tudor’s new MT5602 in-house automatic movement, there’s no way we could keep it off this list. The model range now includes something for everyone, from the blacked-out Black Bay Dark to the slightly larger Black Bay Bronze. We are slightly partial to the original red bezel variant with a gilt dial, but it’s really hard to go wrong here. The Heritage Black Bay was doing vintage before vintage became cool again, and even after a number of years on the market it’s still one of the best sub-$5k buys out there.
Much in the same way we praise Nomos and Tudor for their in-house calibers, Frederique Constant is another favorite underdog that deserves much more attention than it usually gets. We’re particularly fond of its Manufacture Worldtimer, which reminds us a little of Patek’s new World Time that launched at Baselworld this past year—only at a small fraction of the price.
Zenith Elite Ultra Thin, $4,300
Though simple, clean, and conservative, this slim dress watch from Zenith will always get noticed in a pack of watch enthusiasts. If you’ve got extra coin to blow, then one of the brand’s glorious El Primero chronographs is worth coveting, but the 8.3mm-thick Elite Ultra Thin is still nothing to sneeze at—plus it will make a great family heirloom to pass down through the generations.
Eterna SuperKontiki Chronograph, $4,700
Eterna is one of those names that has been around forever, but it takes a particular level of enthusiast to be particularly familiar with it. For the longest time, the brand had very little retail presence in North America, but its watches are built remarkably well and its new Super Kontiki Chronograph is just too cool to pass up. Powered by an in-house flyback chronograph movement, this chunky dive watch is just bold enough to get your fellow enthusiasts to pull a quick double take and ask, “Wait, what is that?”