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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, while be able to 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, a chronograph (a stopwatch separate from the main dial) or even a moonphase function. These can be convenient, but they’re also just cool.
The Best Watches Under $1,000 (Men’s)
1. Seiko Prospex
Seiko (now 140 years old) is known for ultra-reliable, classic watches at an affordable price point. This Prospex diver watch is on the expensive side for a Seiko, but, like their more affordable watches, delivers incredible value. You get all the components of a premium watch, including a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a reliable automatic movement and a date function, but you also get real usability. The Prospex boasts water-resistance up to 200 meters, making it a serious diving watch as well as a classic fashion statement. The watch is on the large side with a case diameter of 44mm, but we think the large size works well with the rugged diver character.
2. Tissot PRS 516 Chronograph
This Tissot PRS 516 is another example of an affordable watch brand pulling out all the stops to make a premium watch – and succeeding. The Swiss-made PRS 516 is a true racing watch, complete with a precision chronograph, tachymeter bezel and leather racing strap. Materials are top-notch with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, stainless steel case and ceramic bezel. The movement is automatic, and a transparent case back lets you see the movement at work.
3. Hamilton Ventura Open Heart
If the Hamilton Ventura looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen Men in Black. The watch 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 it’s cinematic history) makes it a great addition to any collection.
This Open Heart iteration of the Ventura upgrades the standard watch with an automatic movement that can be viewed through a window under the twelve-o’clock mark. Materials have also been upgraded in the form of a sapphire crystal and luxurious calfskin leather strap.
4. Longines Presence
Classy dress watches are among the most expensive options at most watch shops, but you don’t have to drop tens of thousands for a sophisticated timepiece. This Presence watch comes from Longines, a Swiss brand with a reputation for suave timekeepers. The brand was founded in 1832 (making it the sixth-oldest Swiss watch brand in the world) and their rich heritage is apparent in watches like this Presence.
The Presence delivers premium materials and a minimal, classic style – as any good dress watch should. An automatic movement is housed in a yellow gold PVD stainless steel case, which is actually more resistant to corrosion than solid gold. The elegant roman numeral dial is protected by a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. The watch is on the small side (as is typical with classic dress watches) with a case diameter of 34mm.
5. Frederique Constant Business Timer
Another great dress watch under $1,000 is this Business Timer from Frederique Constant. The Swiss brand is much younger than most watch companies (founded in 1988) but their pieces are as good – if not better – than many of the old guys. The Business Timer is proof of Frederique Constant’s expertise, sporting an elegant yet highly wearable style and premium materials.
The standout feature of the Business Timer is a moonphase sub dial which is useful for the astronomers out there, and just plain cool for the rest of us. Materials are top-notch, boasting a sapphire crystal face and a comfortable calfskin leather strap.
6. Sevenfriday M-Series
We all love elegant, old school timepieces, but modern analog watches deserve equal attention. This Sevenfriday M-Series is a great choice for watch lovers seeking a modern, statement-making piece. The face of the M-Series is very irregular with the time displayed on three rotating discs under a scratch-resistant mineral crystal. A reliable Japanese automatic movement is housed in the watch’s gunmetal stainless steel case, which lends an eye-catching industrial style. The watch is quite large at 47mm, which adds to the bold, masculine style.
The Best Watches Under $1,000 (Women’s)
7. Tag Heuer Formula 1
The Tag Heuer Formula 1 is one of the best deals in terms of brand recognition. 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 very versatile, classic style. The mother of pearl face and stainless steel build makes the watch easy to wear with everything from jeans and a tee to a dress. And, thanks to a sapphire crystal face, there’s no need to worry about inevitable knicks or scratches.
8. Longines Presence Ladies
This ladies version of the Longines Presence is pure elegance with classic roman numerals on a white dial (the men’s Presence is above, if you’re looking for his-and-hers watches). Top-tier materials (including a sapphire crystal) and a reliable automatic Swiss movement are neatly packaged in a petit 25mm yellow gold-plated stainless steel case. Overall, it’s a sophisticated dress watch that’s fit for dressy occasions as well as more casual settings. Plus, the watch comes with the substantial heritage of the Longines brand.