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Shopping for watches around $1,000 can sometimes feel like a bleak endeavor. It’s a middle ground between grail-level timepieces and affordable sets you can buy at department stores. If you’re currently in this situation, fear not: $1,000 can get you a great timepiece. The best watches under $1,000 have the build quality and features to compete with the most prestigious brands, and they can outlast cheaper, more common watches.
Many of the watches in this price range are top-of-the-line offerings from brands known for more affordable watches. This means you might not get that instant clout of, say, a Rolex, but real watch lovers will recognize and appreciate these timepieces for what they are. In terms of specifications, you can expect the best that watchmaking has to offer: automatic movements, sapphire crystal, and high-quality materials. These premium touches are what will make a watch not only look expensive, but last as an heirloom for future generations.
If you’re reticent about buying an analog watch in 2021, it’s important to note that (somewhat surprisingly) high-end watches haven’t disappeared with the advent of smartphone clocks and smartwatches. Instead, more people are embracing the beauty of old-school movements and the style of throwback designs. As proof, check out the recently-released automatic and mechanical watches from big brands such as Seiko and Timex.
Although $1,000 might not seem like much in a world where celebs are rocking $30,000+ Audemars Piguets, it’s more than enough to snag a high-quality, investment-worthy timepiece. Read on for our watch buying guide, as well as our picks for the best watches under $1,000.
What to Look for in a Good Watch
For some enthusiasts, watch buying is a full-time hobby. But unless you’re looking for an ultra-rare (or ultra-expensive) timepiece, a few key considerations are enough to identify a great watch. Below are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for the best watch on a budget.
Movement: The three main types of watch movements are automatic, mechanical, and quartz. Automatic is the gold standard (used by famous brands such as Rolex and Omega), harnessing the kinetic energy of the wearer’s movement. This allows the watch to “charge” itself and continue running without any intervention. Mechanical watches are the true vintage choice and must be hand-wound every couple of days. Quartz is the most common movement today (and the cheapest) using a battery that needs replacing every couple years or so.
Brand: With watches, a trustworthy brand typically means a trustworthy watch. Old, established brands often have well-founded reputations for lasting quality. A watch’s origin matters too, as some countries have higher quality standards and more competitive watchmaking culture. This is why Swiss watches are so desirable, and why Japanese watches have become synonymous with reliability (similar to car manufacturing).
Crystal: A watch’s “crystal” refers to the material used for the dial cover. Sapphire is the most desirable as it’s very hard to scratch, and reduces glare. Seven of our eight picks use this sapphire crystal. The other type of crystal you’ll encounter is mineral, which is a specially-treated glass. Cheaper watches also use plastic-like acrylic crystal, but none of our picks use this.
Water-Resistance: Almost all watches are labeled as water-resistant, but many watches can’t actually withstand a shower or prolonged submersion. If a watch is rated at 30 meters water-resistance, try not to get it wet at all. Fifty meters of water resistance is enough to withstand rain and occasional splashes. Any rating over 50 meters is safe for swimming, and 100 meters means a watch is ready for real diving.
Features: Some watches have added features such as a day or date reader or a chronograph (a stopwatch separate from the main dial). These can be convenient, but they’re also just cool.
The Best Watches Under $1,000
1. Seiko 5 Sports
The Seiko 5 line is jam-packed with some of our favorite budget-friendly watches in the world. Examples like this Sports watch prove why: You get a classic, mid-century-inspired design that’s at once sporty and sophisticated, pairing easily with jeans and sneakers as well as suits.
On the technical side, the Seiko 5 Sports watch is as competent as it is good-looking. Inside is a 4R36 automatic movement that can also be hand-wound if the watch sits for too long. Details like a day and date complication and LumiBrite hands and markers up the convenience, while a 100-meter water resistance lets you shower, swim, or even dive with the timepiece.
2. Mido Ocean Star 200
Mido, a Swiss brand with over a hundred years of experience, makes some excellent diving watches that fly under the radar of most shoppers. This Ocean Star is a great example, boasting a classic diver look (elevated with a gold-tone case) and an impressive automatic movement under the hood. Although it’s stylish as a daily watch, the Ocean Star is capable of real adventure thanks to a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and 200 meters water resistance.
3. Timex Marlin
This vintage-styled Marlin from Timex might be a fifth of your budget, but it’s good enough to hang with watches well out of its price range. It’s one of the only manual watches you’ll find for under $200 (you read that right), which gives the watch some admirable prestige. In terms of looks, the Marlin matches its old-school movement with clean lines, a classic silver case, and a black leather strap. We’ve owned one for years now, and it’s still a regular in our rotation — especially when it comes time to suit up for a wedding or any other dressy event.
4. Seiko Prospex Speedtimer Solar Chronograph
If you don’t have tens of thousands to spend on the coveted Rolex Daytona, this Seiko Prospex Speedtimer is an excellent dupe — and it costs less than $700. The Prospex line is Seiko’s higher-end range, upgrading the brand’s already-great watches with better materials and more robust movements. For example, this Speedtimer boasts a solar-powered movement and a split time function for ⅕-second measurements. It’s also water-resistant up to 100 meters and features a curved sapphire crystal on the face.
5. Zodiac Olympos Automatic Watch
Zodiac has always been somewhat under-the-radar, but their timepieces are beloved by enthusiasts. We’re big fans of this Olympos, a re-make of the same watch from the Sixties, which showcases a unique manta ray-shaped case and comes in a handful of vintage-inspired colors.
6. Shinola Runwell Field Watch
Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola was founded as an affordable competitor to high-end Swiss brands, and we think they make a compelling case for buying American. This Runwell is one of Shinola’s best-sellers, featuring a casual, military-inspired look that pairs very nicely with a modern wardrobe. It features numbers with a bright lume — just like vintage military watches — circling an eye-catching cream dial with a rugged green nylon strap. This durability continues in face thanks to a domed sapphire crystal.
7. Tag Heuer Formula 1
Tag Heuer is one of the biggest names in the Swiss luxury watch world, making this sub-$1,000 Formula 1 a steal. But don’t let the attainable price tag deceive you: this watch brings premium materials and a versatile, classic style. With a black stainless steel case and a rubber strap, the Formula 1 strikes a good balance between casual and smart: wear it with a suit to dinner or jeans and a t-shirt while traveling. Wherever you take it, the watch’s sapphire crystal ensures protection from bumps, and its 100-meter water resistance permits real diving.
8. Orient Star Automatic SAF02003W0
If you’re in need of a classic, no-frills timepiece, check out this Star Automatic from Orient. The watch’s stainless steel build, minimal face and versatile 38.5-millimeter size make it ideal for everyday wear. But one of our favorite features is the watch’s 40-hour power reserve, which means fewer resets when you put it on. Plus, the power reserve level is indicated underneath the 12 o’clock position. The watch also features a handy date complication and 50 meters water resistance for occasional swims or showers.
9. Frederique Constant Classics Automatic Watch
Coming out of Switzerland, Frederique Constant is younger than most watch companies (founded in 1988) but their pieces are as good – if not better – than many of the old guys. This Classics Automatic watch (Model FC-303MC4P6) is proof of Frederique Constant’s expertise, sporting a classy, modern look and premium materials. One of the watch’s standout features is a sapphire crystal, which, combined with its 50-meter water resistance, makes for real durability. But our favorite thing about the Classics piece is its style: the watch isn’t too old-fashioned or too modern and looks great with just about everything in our wardrobe.
10. Rado Diastar Automatic Black Dial Men’s Watch
Off-beat watches are having a moment right now (see pieces like Kanye’s Cartier Crash). This Rado Diastar nails the slightly weird, totally cool look with the Swiss brand’s recognizable, non-traditional case. The Diastar’s shape actually serves a purpose, reducing the likelihood of scratches on the face (it also has a sapphire crystal for even more scratch protection). Below this crystal, you’ll see a relatively simple face, save for day and date complications placed at the unusual position of six o’clock.
11. Hamilton Ventura Chrono
If the Hamilton Ventura looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen Men in Black. The watch’s original iteration is part of the alien-fighting uniform, and it looks just as exciting in the real world as it does in the Will Smith films. Because watches are now less about function than they used to be, we think the unique shape of the Ventura (and its cinematic history) makes it a great addition to any collection. This Chrono model of the Ventura upgrades the standard watch with a three-dial chronograph function.
12. Apple Watch Series 8 GPS + Cellular
We love analog watches, but smartwatches are fantastic too. With far less than $1,000, you can pick up the latest and greatest: the Apple Watch Series 8 with GPS and cellular functionality. Using the smartwatch’s crystal-clear, crack-resistant retina display, you can check texts, track heart rate and blood oxygen levels, stream music or podcasts, make phone calls and so much more. With the addition of GPS and independent cellular connectivity, you can connect the watch to the internet and make calls without being connected to a smartphone.