While it’s often the luxury watch space we end up talking about, there’s much to be said about the other end of the pendulum swing. There are ample brands playing in the entry-level sector of the watch market, and for those looking to dip a toe into the world of watch geekery, a good number of brands have mechanical watches on offer delivering huge value in the segment.
Best Entry Level Watch Brands
Sure, you won’t see high complications, precious metals, or elaborate in-house calibers, but you will see respectable finishing and generally smart design, backed by workhorse calibers that are still more than capable of lasting for decades to come with proper servicing. Today we’re having a look at five of our favorite brands in the space for a look at what to expect from their current collections.
Starting at a little over $500 for their mechanical offerings, Hamilton is a prime example of a reputable bang-for-buck brand with a wide range of models on offer. Ranging from the casual offerings of the Khaki Field line through to much more formal-friendly Jazzmaster and Viewmatic models, there’s something in the catalog to suit just about any aesthetic preference in the category.
For those with a soft spot for vintage watches, the American Classic collection continues to expand year after year, and includes numerous designs that play off past models from the brand. In years past, the chunky Pan-Europ models were the belle of the ball, whereas more recently the brand has focused on more compact watches that speak to the ‘50s and ‘60s, including the recently released 40mm Intra-Matic chronograph with a 2-register ‘Panda Dial’.
Generally styled towards the more conservative end of the spectrum, Raymond Weil is one of those brand names that doesn’t come up all too often, however their catalog isn’t without its gems. Most recently the brand has been leveraging partnerships in the music industry with releases of limited edition dress watches with ties to classic artists like Buddy Holly, The Beatles, as well as iconic gear producers like Marshall and Gibson.
They’ve also spent time investing in R&D, having launched the in-house yet affordable caliber RW1212 that they offer in a number of unique skeletonized pieces as well as closed dials that expose only its balance wheel. Personally I’m still rather fond of the brand’s Freelancer Diver that launched a couple of years back. Though the brand has no history in professional or recreational diving, the piece is very well executed, especially in all black guise with contrasting orange indices.
To this day I would argue Seiko is one of the most underrated watch manufacturers there is, especially in the entry-level space. Due to the preconceived notion of the masses that Swiss is the only way to go, many overlook Seiko even though the brand builds some fantastic timepieces in the sub-$2k price category. At the bottom end of the food chain, the SKX007/009 divers continue to be reported by many as the best budget dive watch on the market, though recently Seiko released a series of “Mini Turtle” models (the SRPC3/4x) are in many ways the model’s spiritual successors, delivering equal build quality with very similar aesthetics outside the addition of a magnifying cyclops for its date indication.
On the other end of the spectrum, the dressy Presage line wins huge points for offering beautifully executed dials using traditional enameling and lacquer techniques for a price point unheard of from any Swiss manufacturer. Case and point, the newest Presage Shippo enamel dials are right in line with guilloche and translucent blue enamel dials from Ulysse Nardin, yet the disparity between comparable models is in excess of $5,000. Sure, there are distinct differences between the mechanical calibers used, but that’s still an incredible value overall.
Of the contenders in this list Oris is by far the most in tune with the interests of the watch enthusiast market. From their limited bronze Carl Brashear models, to the compact and vintage-inspired Divers Sixty-Five, to the numerous variations of their Big Crown series, Oris definitely maintains a more casual aesthetic overall (albeit in a very tasteful manner). The brand has also been heavily involved with charity organizations, launching a number of dive watches with ties to oceanic research and awareness.
They also just unveiled their 2nd watch raising funds for cancer awareness through the Movember campaign. Not only are they one of the few brands in the space that are continuing to work with bronze as a case material, but they’ve also been upping their game in terms of calibers as well. The Oris caliber 111, 112, 113, and 114 models are quite impressive in the category, as they’re one of very few boasting a 10-day power reserve.
Reliability, robustness, and function are the name of the game with all things Ball Watches. Robust shock protection systems and additional case hardening practices ensure their watches can take a fair beating without the faintest running issue. Visually you’ll also be quick to note something different with their indices—the use of tritium tubes instead of the application of LumiNova or other luminous compounds. This practice has been part of Ball’s way of operating for some time now for two key reasons.
On one hand, these luminous tubes don’t require charging with sunlight or UV rays, meaning wearers are able to read their watches in darkness no matter how long they’ve been away from sunlight, nor do they have to worry about its glow fading as hours pass. Further to this, there are different colors available in these tubes, allowing Ball’s designers to use contrasting indices to further improve on nighttime visibility. Package this with finishing and other practices on par with the other brands in the category, and you’ve got a brand with ample curb appeal.