Inasmuch, it stands to reason that our choice jewelry (namely the wristwatch), headwear and footwear will irrevocably remain characteristically telling reflections of not only our unique personalities and tastes but also of our comported sense of occasion, rakish disposition and signature style given they all have a distinctive proclivity of speaking volumes in wear about who we are as individuals — of our comported mannerisms, sartorial sensibilities and (perhaps) lifestyle.
To wit revered en masse as an investment worthy accoutrement of unequivocal character and virtue that is capable of paying dividends — sartorial, emotional, social and monetary — for generations to come, the wristwatch, in all its practicality, glory and heritage, continues to hold court as a highly covetable object of desire routinely tasked with not merely keeping time (read: ensuring punctuality) but also being a divine finishing touch, calling card or personal badge of distinction for any gentleman of style and substance.
Bearing that in mind, this entry-level feature sees fit in not only championing the wholesome curation of a well-rounded wristwatch collection as being both a gentlemanly and sartorial prerogative (with respects being paid to some of the most highly esteemed, specialized and fiscally sensible value propositions under $5oo) but in tracing the wristwatches history as both a pioneering catalyst of modern aviation and ground-breaking instrument of warfare; exploring why it remains the one truly timeless accoutrement of enduring practicality, virtuosity, self-fulfilling pleasure and social influence; and finally espousing upon what essential industry wherewithal every budding enthusiast would do well in ascribing to memory — it is truly an all-encompassing introductory guide for prospective entry-level horophiles.
I’d wager it has been able to collectively withstand the trials of time, vicissitudes of fashion and the burgeoning technological revolution by simple virtue of astutely remaining THE one choice accessory with broad universal appeal and utility that can complete (and elevate) any outfit all the while fundamentally bespeaking in unity unto a gentleman’s finer tastes, cultivated elegance and charismatic refinement. It is, if you will, a world revered (and omnipresent) sartorial beacon of enduring practical merit that traditionally prides itself upon being the most covetable of all (retrograde) gentlemanly status symbols as well as an instant signifier of style, class, civility and (without question) good taste.
In light of that, it is often said that 'time (and the sea) waits for no man (nor woman)', but if the following timekeepers have anything to say in such a regard it would surely be that a statement such as this could benefit from an addendum given each is capable of stopping a gentleman dead in his tracks so as to both ogle and bask in their palpable aesthetic appeal, underlying glory and (subtle) statement-making presence.
Suffice it to say, in the minds of many a gentleman the eminently practical (yet often boastful) wristwatch ultimately makes for one of (if not) the most emotionally charged (and smartest) purchases he will ever make (akin to a woman’s wedding ring in some respects) especially when you factor in the possibility of passing them on as beloved familial treasures whose unique qualities will be cherished by generations to come for a myriadof reasons: for some it is the characteristic parallel between personal iconography, (mechanical) craftsmanship and artisanal tradition whereas for others it can be a balance between aesthetic draw, functional utility and cultivated cultural cachet that will prove most appealing over time..
Howbeit, you could say that there is no accessory in our constant (generational) employ that is at once as overwhelmingly timeless, distinguished, reassuring and self-fulfilling in wear than a fine timekeeper whose accompanying heritage, appealing design and sentimental spirit positions them as certifiable pieces of wearable art that often intimately speak of our tastes whilst flattering our sartorial personas and suiting both our wardrobe and lifestyles at-large.
Ticking all the necessary boxes whilst tabling a diverse and versatile platter wholeheartedly worth investment, the five below, which are all positioned within the affordable $2oo-5oo price bracket, have broad aesthetic appeal yet will speak most expressively to those with a classic sartorial sensibility who find divine solace and pleasure in simply peering down at their wrist for the time (and perhaps date) rather then yet another ghostly glaring screen.
As it stands, please do not take this feature in spirit as an affront to the illustrious (yet often pompous) world of Haute horology but rather as an alternative avenue for those just starting out in the hobby who could make good use of a fiscally responsible quintet of affordable icons that are exemplary of the reality that one can indeed attain a revered wristwatch (or several) of enduring quality, notable heritage craftsmanship and faultless functionality on the (relative) cheap. Having earned their widespread affectation, following and respect upon their wholesome functional merits alone, these timeless core investment value adders will raise any gentleman’s sartorial station and stature in addition too having future generations gleefully nipping at your heels in anticipation to inherit these symbolic distillers of instant characteristic flair, status and panache.
To that effect, you could say that the following timekeepers will most assuredly make for beloved (go-to) additions to any collector's cabinet, watch roll or hybrid (ebony) watch winder/case that is not crassly mired down by the allure and romanticism of Haute horology and its singular pursuit granted they were fastidiously curated upon the school of thought that while time certainly is money, telling it by means of an object strapped to the wrist needn’t entirely derail ones finances — that sometimes life necessitates finding sensible alternatives that punch far above their weight (i.e. watches that look like a million dollars but cost less then a month’s rent).
By design offering mesmerizing good looks, peerless value, timeless utility and enduring reliability in equitability erstwhile looking ever the part of elitist status symbols that would otherwise set one back tenfold their shock-inducing base sticker prices, some before you today will impress with their sleek, simple and classic designs while others beguile with robust housings of anachronous mechanical movements and feats of technical prowess.
Point being: Consider the following five (+) sterling timepieces as entry-level investments of the highest horological order that not only punch well above their purported weight class (so to speak) but that will never let a gentleman down in regards to usefulness, artistic appeal and tactile engagement. Horological cat nip, if you will, for the newfangled collector in the making who harbours a pressing desire to develop a greater appreciation for the often romanticized realm of (non Haute) horology through a combination of its unsung, hidden and worldly revered mechanical and quartz treasures.
That is all, of course, not to say that I am neither immune nor ignorant to the distinctive allure of the world of Haute horology or of the cultural affectations, status and appeal commonly attributed to iconic masterpieces such as the Omega Seamaster or Tag Here Monaco — I certainly am.
However, what I am above all else is a realist acutely aware that not everybody has the desire, inclination nor the means to dispense with a bonafide fortune upon a wristwatch, and that any prospective investment (horological or otherwise) should be rated upon its practical functionality, comfort in wear, technical performance, underlying craftsmanship and aesthetic/emotional draw rather than its nostalgic romanticism, status imbuing symbolism, enriched provenance or lofty brand name price tag.
So, in a bid to at once educate the uninitiated and pay homage to the oft under-appreciated horological feats and icons of past and present, here’s to celebrating the ethos of the wristwatch on the whole as well as the legacies of the entry-level crown jewels below with a definitive watch collecting primer replete with (nearly) everything a prospective collector or casual wearer would need to know.
For you see, at the end of the day a fine wristwatch is one of three quintessential accoutrements (alongside hats and shoes) that our sartorial character is both immediately taken measure of and continually adjudged upon — impressionable, lasting and statement-making indeed.
And these fiscally sensible, enduringly seductive five certainly do not disappoint in any such regard…
In retrospect a truly decadent minimalist dress watch with a delicately balanced dial, reliable manual movement, and a classic black and white formal palette (black leather band; white dials; black indexes), I must confess that the Marlin struck an instant accord with yours truly given it has a distinguished air of elegance, style and importance about it that effectively equipped it with all the essential tools it required to be able to punch far above its otherwise conventional “every man” branded (Timex) connotative station.
It is, to that end, a true modern gentleman’s dress watch in addition to arguably the elegant professionals answer to the businessman’s Rolex; a supreme sartorial accoutrement deserving of its own elevated pedestal adept at stylishly transitioning a man from the boardroom to cocktail hour (and everywhere in-betwixt) with ease and panache.
To wit, it stands to reason that it rests its vaunted laurels upon not merely being the undisputed horological star of Timex’s once storied formal lineup as well as a great leveller of the mechanical watch field but as the quintessence of the classic gentleman’s dress watch in every discernible measure; It is an essential wheelhouse timekeeper (as well as a refined formal centrepiece) in the making with a tasteful element of entitlement about it that every collector would do well in indispensably mining if afforded the opportunity.
Neither dated nor particularly modern per se, the Marlin is tastefully frozen in time, a watch with a seemingly ageless appeal whose pure lines, slim profile and rich (yet subdued) sunburnt dial are simply exquisite; an icon, if you will, worthy of being held as the standard barometer of horological purity at its price vantage in addition to quite possibly the finest antiquated (yet timely) symbol of Timex’s once venerated formal dress watch stable — a rakish signature mark of cultivated elegance with a modern sensibility and elevated stance that magically recaptures the mid-century decadence of a bygone (sartorial) age.
Function, performance and militaristic provenance aside, when strictly taken at face value its handsome and classically minimalist round case and dial (read: it tracks nothing but time), streamlined vintage no-nonsense lines, and traditionally rugged mechanical field watch structuring bestow upon it a truly rakish strength of character with a sensible no-frills presence that (perhaps) belies what is otherwise an intricately nuanced and roguish hand-wound mechanical masterpiece that has been put through the field grinder time-and-again and risen on most every occasion unscathed, unperturbed and unrivalled.
Simply put, the Khaki Field watch is well-designed, durable and unquestionably worth the price of (mechanical) admission, a timekeeper that not only deserves to be intimately cherished and worn with (reckless) abandon, but also sported in a variety of capacities in conjunction with an enterprising spectrum of watch bands/straps whether you are intent upon sussing it up for work or dressing it down for leisure — a watch well attuned to satisfying your every sartorial beck-and-call.
Unequivocally an investment worthy horological treasure stationed to age like a fine wine, the Khaki Field is (when the metaphorical dust settles) an understated yet bold option for men of good taste who have both a deep respect for military heritage and a peculiar penchant for vintage-styled field watch models that are grounded by a modern sensibility — audentes Fortuna iuvat indeed.
Proving that affordable needn’t mean cheap nor that finding a watch that was designed to impress as well as built to last be impossible, the Khaki Field mechanical makes a strong case for being amongst the finest heirloom quality entry-level investments a gentleman can make; a watch of unbeatable quality positioned to tackle any tall task with cultivated panache, a dateless design and level of fine heritage craftsmanship that is often unheard of below the $5oo (let alone $1ooo) threshold.
To that end, it tends to ring true that if you appreciate fine quality mechanical timepieces (diving or otherwise), yet are encumbered by a more sensible budget, than its best you reference the Japanese — from the Seiko SKX007 through the Orient Ray and Mako lines (see below) — who have developed a sterling reputation for crafting top-of-the-class diving watches at astoundingly affordable price vantages.
Case in point: the legendary and iconic Seiko SKX007, which in addition to being respected by even the most “snobbish” of Haute horologists, makes for one of the most failsafe (and customizable/moddable) divers available upon the market today — luxury or otherwise.
Why? Because it is a nearly faultless timekeeper whose robust build, ageless diving appeal and industry leading automatic performance position it as the epitome of affordable seafaring durability, toughness, and style — and all for less than $3oo.
Having dutifully earned its worldly accolade through decades of diving trials and lifetime’s worth of personal trials and tribulations,
Inasmuch, I'd wager it was certainly by no mere mistake that Hodinkee bestowed upon it the distinction of being the “single best value at any price point in an automatic watch that fits all the criteria of the infamous ISO 6425”, a telling endorsement fully deserved by such an storied workhorse with a verifiable track record for outpacing all rivals at its entry-level offering.
Capable of being worn with a broad spectrum of different straps, from stainless steel through NATO and specialized rubber diving bands, popular watch blog Worn & Wound put it best in aptly stating that if the Submariner is the quintessential modern dive watch in the luxury market, then the SKX007 is, pound for pound, its eminently affordable starter counterpart (read: the everyman’s James Bond watch) ; a watch, if you will, that will draw all the interesting conclusions you could ever want it to about your personal style and comported sensibilities.
My point being is that at the end of the day , whether styled to be worn upon terra firma or within the vast oris mare (read: divers are more commonly worn in the office then in the depths of the ocean today), Seiko's fully certified diver wears incredibly well no matter the occasion, venue or accentuating strap/band whilst notably casting an impressionable silhouette that is as sharp as it is practical, as resilient as it is sophisticated, and as contemporary as it is timeless.
The SKX007 is the perfect compromise between elegance and sport, an eminently versatile and exquisite (arguably peerless) diver squarely positioned in that oft elusive sweet spot between functional and dressy — at once modern yet retrograde and always a sound investment.
In architectural cadence as well as functional design originally presupposed for singular wear in the cockpit, it stands to reason that they have since shed their once specialized professional discourse in becoming highly coveted transitional timekeepers that nobly lend themselves well to day-to-day casual office, off-duty (civilian) and adventure wear.
Tack on to that versatility an inherent heritage prestige and a slew of uniquely rendered dials (including the B-Type above) whose draw seemingly never wanes, vintage markets riddled with retrograde treasures commanding eye-watering prices, and modern “fashion” interpretations that skew from cheap knockoffs to crassly ornate hybrid bastardizations, and what you tend to arrive with is an affordable/mid-tier market authentically starved of quality options…that is until one is introduced to the German horologists at Steinhart.
To wit, you could say that it is indeed exceedingly rare to unearth a modern day gem with a history in aviation, an avid and enthusiastic modern cult following, an acute sense of militaristic purpose, and a sterling reputation for delivering upon
Characteristically uncompromising and battle-tested, the NAV B-Uhr is an authentic Flieger (pilot’s) watch in every measurable respect that is strides ahead of all its (often pretender) entry-level competitors; An exquisite timepiece deserving of high praise for its blissfully simplistic and virtuous 1930/40s’ retrograde re-issuing of the brands original tentpole NAV B-UHR (Beobachtungs-Uhren) Flieger.
Lacking pretence in its operational utility, highly prized for its pared backed aesthetic discretion, and once originally the sole preserve of the German Luftwaffe as a specialized flight tool, this daring timepiece has dutifully transcended its humble militaristic roots in becoming a fine casual alternative whose rakish acclimation to everyday wear and civilian duty was seemingly orchestrated with ease.
Referentially sporting a precision retrograde B-dial that has iconic aviation roots dating to WWII (with the option of either a prominent 8mm onion or diamond crown to top it off), this fine ticker faithfully recreates the broad scale of its predecessor with a clean, expansive dial (with an inner hour ring consisting of 1 through 12 with accentuated dots above each as well as a compass arrow at 12) finished off with a stainless steel (316L) casing and a double-studded leather strap in due course of bearing all the common hallmarks of a quality heritage pilot’s watch that one could desire.
Buoyed by a bonafide, telling and storied military heritage, a highly covetable track record of success, and a classic round black B-Type dial with Superluminova C1 contrasting white indexes and (3) blue steel roman sword style hands, the B-Uhr has understandably become a favourite amongst pilot watch collectors and adventurers alike who’ve respectively come to treasure its streamlined Luffwaffe styling and jaw-dropping affordability in equality.
Pound for pound, the Nav B-Uhr II B-Type, which is a faithful recreation of the original German observation pilot watches produced in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s for the Luftwaffe (air force), is a true blue investment worthy classic exemplary of outstanding German-made quality, value, design and the utility of a bygone era; a roguish timepiece that makes a subtle statement whilst typifying the rakish spirit of the trailblazing flyboys of the days of yore — colour yours truly an eternal fan.
Unmistakably rendered so as to stylishly endure and prove timelessly appealing to the eye rather than to be overzealously resplendent or shock-and-awe inducing, the Bambino is arguably immune to becoming carelessly relegated to the sartorial doldrums of horological obscurity in spite of any generational turnover in taste or the vicissitudes of fashion.
To that effect, some call the Bambino THE quintessential entry-level mechanical (dress) watch, others a “poor man’s” Bremont Solo, and a select few a fine utilitarian stepping-stone that will open up ones eyes to the core romantic appeal, bond forming intimacy and nuanced design elements commonly attributed to the widespread mechanical watch realm.
Nomenclature notwithstanding, the Bambino (Gen 2) in itself is a truly legendary automatic (i.e self-winding via your arms kinetic movement) timekeeper whose classically staged minimalist design and well respected Japanese provenance make it at once a core value adder and timeless horological proposition of the highest order that is
As smart as it is casual, the Bambino (Ver. 2) simply looks stunning (and functions impeccably) whether worn to the office upon a genuine leather strap or with a NATO band or metal (perhaps jubilee style) bracelet on the weekend. That having been said, one of the most endearing and pronounced charms of this timekeeper is that it tastefully trades off any technological excess so as to retain a distinctively clean and traditionally wholesome sartorial aesthetic which has handsomely proven time-and-again to be ageless in both its broad appeal and draw; the Bambino is, if you will, short in technical bells-and-whistles but tactful, refined and abundant in class, character and mid-century aesthetic bravado.
To wit, it is a gorgeous, eternally fashionable “do it all” watch fit for everyday wear that I often recommend to any clients who fancy a classy timepiece with modern panache that is automatic (rather than quartz), eminently versatile (in both a formal and casual context), and attainable for less than the cost of a weekend getaway to the countryside.
The Bambino (Ver. 2) is sartorially pithy, sleek, striking and effective, an aesthetically pleasing yet industrious work-horse timekeeper that tends to make a subtle statement erstwhile proving broadly appealing to both enthusiasts with a discerning Haute palette and “average” gentlemen alike — a bonafide utility player that never draws in any undue attention whilst being sartorially capable of perfectly accenting any uniform from a three-piece suit through t-shirts and jeans or button-ups and chinos
Now widely acclaimed and held in worldly reverence as endearing status symbols, signifiers of wealth and success, and as elegant, albeit eminently pragmatic sartorial accoutrements of truly timeless utility, the finest wristwatches (whether entry-level gems or Haute grand complications) tend to age like a fine wine in accruing monetary (and sentimental) value in spades that strengthens their hold as beloved heirlooms in the waiting as well as one of the most failsafe investments a gentleman can make in life.
Arguably immune to depreciation (no matter the measure), holding both elevated court and notable cultural clout above all others is the mechanical watch which — for those with a discerning horological eye — can make for a highly covetable object of desire whose intoxicating marriage of intricate artisanal detail, aesthetic beauty, technological composition and iconic design often make them works of wearable art arguably akin in draw to canvas masterpieces hanging in the Louvre.
-- 12 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying --
Now as for the opinion of yours truly in such a regard, all I would simply care to add to such a (often heated and distastefully condescending) debate is that I’ve come full circle in both understanding and appreciating the applicational merits at each respective end of the classic movement (or calibre) spectrum. Inasmuch, I am the proud owner of a variety of notable mechanical and quartz watches (some with iconic heritage; others that some would deem “cheap throwaways”) that I routinely find near equal pleasure in wearing whether they arrived with revered cultural cachet attached to them or not — with few exceptions, of course.
On that note, it is often said that being sartorially sophisticated can be, by most measures, not only one of life’s most self-fulfilling pleasures but also (inexorably) one of its most expensive habits; It is a lifelong pursuit, if you will, that can easily get out of hand (and pocket) rather quite quickly if not sensibility tempered at every variable twist and turn. And this realization is never more so immediately evident than when discussing one’s maiden entry into the realm of watch collecting wherein the most iconic timekeepers are typified by characteristic exclusivity, presence, heritage and provenance that demand highly exorbitant costs be in the fold that ultimately make (Haute) collecting inaccessible to most…lest one knows where to cast a sensibly discerning eye elsewhere.
Delivering upon a level of characteristic charm, comported sophistication and timelessness in wear that is often left unheralded, unsung and under-appreciated, the 5(+) timepieces proffered for your perusal today, while they may indeed be scoffed at by those who turn-up their noses in horological contempt at anything that does not feature a grand complication set, a Swiss-made provenance or a four (or rather five/six) figure price tag, are nevertheless well-equipped icons in their own merited right that punch far above their weight class in striking an accord where it matters most — quality, longevity, style and affordability.
Distilled with precision and a functional yet rakish sartorial joie de vivre, these archaic yet lively instruments are most assuredly investment worthy, entry-level gems that have proven themselves time-and-again in having an enduring draw and unique heritage that is underscored by industry beating form and function (not to mention the ability to take on a variety of newfangled personas with but a quick watch strap switch here or there) that is respected world round..
In such a regard, each of those offered pride of place within this entry-level horological primer were only entrusted wth such a distinction after all due diligence was administered: from extensive online research (on popular horological forums and websites/blogs) and professional consultations through personal field tests and sample trial runs by yours truly (the entire process took roughly two months in betwixt a smattering of alternative work engagements/projects).
To that end having wholeheartedly earned their plaudits with not only present company included but also amongst horological enthusiasts, working professionals and casual wearers alike world round, you certainly would not be remiss in drawing upon the conclusion that these notable heritage icons all arrive with not only vested horological merits aplenty to their eternal account but also highly attractive forms that can be acquired for but a small monetary pittance — in most instances less than the price of a round-trip to Paris.
To that end, these certifiably iconic timekeepers — some profoundly sophisticated and divine; others hardy and industrious — are unequivocally worth their (rather quite alarming) general price of admission given each respectively delivers where it respectfully matters most: in style AND substance (ie. horological craftsmanship, nuance and design).
Point being: They illustrate that buying for less needn’t explicitly entail a compromise in craft, quality or heritage (with the inverse holding true as well).
And should they (for whatever reason) not meet your (high?) standards nor tickle your sartorial fancy, I’d advise otherwise taking your time in searching for the right specimen for you (whether it be of luxury or entry-level distinction); One that ideally, if you will, not only lives up to a certain implied expectation (and delivers upon a reasonable return on investment) but that at once also suits your style whilst being eminently versatile and comfortable in (everyday) wear — perhaps a grail piece akin to the Cartier Tank Solo above.
All things considered, and whether it is a rugged field watch or its handsome dress counterpart, a metal link bracelet or a military issue NATO strap, or perhaps a vintage (or re-issue) design in lieu of those with newfangled (often fleeting) appeal, at the end of the day what I overwhelming hold to be true is that it should be deemed a characteristic prerogative for every modern gentleman to curate a discerning collection of exquisite timekeepers that are dually reflective of his tastes and capable of appeasing an eclectic array of occasional dress code and sportive necessitations —wristwatches, in other words, which offer an equability of style, reliability, purpose and cultural resilience.
Howbeit, and despite there being a variety of more convenient (and less costly) means of telling time in the modern age (read: your cellphone), it certainly stands to reason that there remains no (self-fulfilling) equivalent in personal timekeeping to that of the oft romanticized and beloved wristwatch whose nostalgic draw and punctuality-inducing horological alchemy continually ensure that these oft treasured (heirloom quality) totems are routinely embedded with an effervescent sentimentality and heritage draw that is not only poetic in character and invigorating in wear but that can embody our spirit, embolden our style and provide a glorified vessel to which our legacies can live on via the wrist of future generations to come for time immemorial.
As for those proffered above, they were — in addition to debunking the age old maxim of “you get what you pay for” — purposefully selected for their seemingly inherent ability to take on a variety of those guises in stride as well as for their general easy wearing nature, notable provenance, and an underlying ability to impart an air of importance, gentlemanly distinction and immediate presence upon whomever sports them.
Characteristically flattering, charming and utilitarian, these horological instruments remain without sartorial parallel (within their field) and ultimately prove in kind that starting a well-rounded collection of (accessible) evergreen icons can be plausible without spending a fortune.
So, whether it is a watch with a mechanical or quartz movement, classic pilot or dress watch looks, or a vintage or modern design, my steely advice will always be to opt for a timekeeper that (above all else) both tastefully embodies your passions and emboldens your sartorial persona — and wear it with great pride and abandon.
All in all remaining in almost every measurable right the practical yet elegant accoutrements of the highest gentlemanly order they were originally purposed to be whose ability to set both the tone and sartorial benchmark for the rest of your style (or any occasion) is unparalleled, wristwatches truly are worth every penny pinched as well as their eternal pride of place upon our wrists (and collecting wish-lists).
Pragmatic. Elegant. Timeless. Peerless. Essential.
Proceed according (and with rakish aplomb) gentlemen — caveat emptor.
Share your though, opinions and anecdotes…
PS. I've also included four of the most iconic and highly coveted wristwatches in the world of horology below for those with a loftier budget looking for a true statement-piece of intent, style, and timelessness.