Discover how to find the highest quality affordable watches on the market
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Many people want a high-quality watch that will both look and feel great on their wrist. But at the same time, they don’t want to torpedo their bank account by purchasing a $8.5k luxury timepiece way above their means…The question is: how can we make sure to find a beautiful watch of the highest possible quality, without having to spend a fortune? Is it really possible to find well-made, reliable timepieces for less than $200?
The answer is yes, if you know where to look for…
In fact, many experts are saying that we are living in the “Golden Era” of watches, because thanks to declining costs of production and rapid technological progress, it’s now possible to find true marvels of watchmaking craftsmanship at extremely affordable prices. The problem is that these “hidden gems” – which combine flawless quality with surprising affordability – are not easy to find for the average consumer.
Why? Because a lot of new watch brands have been flooding the market with cheap watches over the past few years… to the point where it can be difficult to know which exact models are of truly exceptional value, and which ones are a complete waste of money (and unfortunately, there are many).
In this article, our experts explain how to find those rare watchmaking “hidden gems” that offer exceptional quality and value for their price, to help our readers find their ideal watch without “breaking the bank”. We also expose a curated selection of five high-quality watches for less than $200, using our expert selection criteria.
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The Truth About Expensive Watches
There are a lot of people who think that the more expensive a watch is, the higher its quality. But there is something that luxury watch brands don’t tell you:
Expensive luxury watches are often selling at a price which is 10 to 20 times higher than their true cost. For instance, many watches with a retail price of $5,000 can actually be manufactured for just a few hundred dollars!
But why are they so expensive then? Well, contrary to what many people think, that’s not necessarily because they are better made than lower-end watches (although they might be). That’s mainly because luxury brands spend millions on advertising to make their watches seem more exclusive, and if they want to recoup these costs, they have to raise their prices.
That’s why, according to Edward Faber, founder of luxury watch gallery Aaron Faber in New York, most of a watch price actually comes from advertising:
“Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe and all of the major luxury brands imbue a greater investment in marketing and advertising than other mass-market brands,” Faber explains. “They make their watches more exclusive, and more difficult to obtain ― that adds to its value.”
The key takeaway is this: price is not a reliable indicator for quality, because it mostly reflects how much the brand spends in marketing, rather than the sheer quality of the watch.
A watch from a niche, discreet manufacturer selling for $270 might display a similar level of craftsmanship than a heavily marketed luxury watch retailing for $4,800.
We will see in a second that there are three simple steps to evaluate the quality of a watch, so you can pick the best quality ones at the best price.
Why Top Quality Watches Can Be Found For Less Than $200
Now, is it really possible to find top quality watches under $200 on the market today? 20 years ago, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible.
But due to the declining cost of production and rapid technological progress that have been seen over the past few decades, it’s now possible to manufacture very high quality, simple watches for less than $100 (assuming no advanced complications).
As a result, many high quality watches models, like the Seiko Redraft or the Timex Fairfield, can be found at less than $200 – while still leaving enough margin to the watch manufacturer to remain profitable.
In fact, many watch specialists will tell you that some good quality watches under $200 sometimes offer far greater reliability and accuracy than “luxury” pieces selling at ten times the price… just because they spend their budget on pure functionality instead of marketing.
A recent surprising Swiss expert review has shown that it’s possible to find watches from $150 built in top-grade “316L stainless steel” – the same premium material used on the iconic Rolex Submariner, selling for well over $8,000…
What this means is that you can get a timepiece that both looks and feels very high-end for a fraction of the price of luxury watches, by searching for companies that don’t charge you for fancy front-page marketing – companies that don’t sponsor F1 events, or use A-List Hollywood stars as ambassadors…
This is what we call the “hidden gems” of the watchmaking industry: exceptional pieces of craftsmanship sold at extremely competitive prices.
How To Find The Affordable “Hidden Gems”
At this point, you’re probably wondering: how can I make sure to pick the best quality watches if my budget is under $200? We got you covered!
We prepared a checklist of three expert criteria to help you find the highest quality timepieces out there within this price range. If you keep these three criteria in mind when choosing a watch, you can be virtually certain that what you buy is of high quality, and will last for years – if not decades.
Criteria #1: Has to use a high-quality movement
A watch movement is the “engine” of the watch that acts as the powerhouse to make the watch and its functions operate (hands, calendars, chronograph, etc.). If you want a watch that is precise and reliable – and which remains so for decades – you need to choose one that uses a high-quality movement.
According to most watch experts, the best quality movements available on the market, used by nearly all high-end watches, are the Japanese and Swiss movements.
For example, the Japanese “Miyota” movement is widely considered as one of the most reliable and accurate quartz movements in the world. This Japanese movement uses top-grade quartz crystals that vibrate at 32,768 times per second, to guarantee an incredible accuracy of +/- 15 seconds per month. The “Swiss Ronda series 5 movement” also has a strong reputation in terms of precision.
When choosing a high-quality watch, it’s therefore good practice to look for these types of movement (which are usually indicated in the watch characteristics). Some models of affordable watch do offer these types of movement (usually from $150).
Criteria #2: Watch parts need to be distinctive and show high attention to detail
One of the best ways to appraise the quality of a watch is to look at the level of detail of each of its parts (including the case, the crown, the hands, etc.). If you look at a watch and see that each of its parts has been precisely crafted, using a very distinctive shape, then you can be confident this watch was made by a quality watchmaker.
For example, high-quality affordable watches tend to have unique engravings on the crown, like the signature of the watchmaker. They also usually use unique and very distinctive shapes for the hands – specifically the second-hand. In other words, high-quality affordable watches have a distinct design “personality”.
On the other hand, poor quality watches are often designed exactly in the same way, with no distinctive elements. They use very basic crowns, unoriginal hands, and undifferentiated cases. Many well-known high-street brands are selling these poorly designed watches for over $200, so it’s very important to look for these details when you buy an affordable watch.
Criteria #3: Has to use high-quality materials
Finally, the best and most reliable affordable watches all use high-quality materials. You can tell if a watch is well made if the case is built using stainless steel, or, even better, “316L stainless steel” – a high-end steel that has a very high purity level and which is virtually unbreakable. It’s also called “marine grade stainless steel”, because it is often used in marine environments due to its ultra-high resistance to corrosion.
If you’re looking at watches with leather straps, make sure it uses at least “genuine leather” – it’s a sign that the strap is made with smooth, comfortable, and reasonably durable leather.
OUR SPECIALIZED RANKING SYSTEM
This specialized ranking system follows a unique and comprehensive process in which we measure the value of the products by carefully evaluating the design, quality of materials, value for money, craftsmanship, and customer satisfaction. These factors, combined with the insights from reputed watch makers and designers, make it easy to choose the best quality affordable watches available on the market under $200, saving you both time and money.
The Top 5 Affordable Watches On The Market Today
After hours of extensive research, in consideration of professional watch advice, combined ratings and verified online reviews from customers just like you, we’ve compiled a list of the top five affordable watches for men on the market today.
1. Nordgreen – Philosopher
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Philosopher is a very high-quality, elegant-looking casual watch made by the renown Scandinavian watchmaker Nordgreen. This sleek, smart and modern timepiece was designed by Jakob Wagner, a world-class designer acclaimed for designing collections for Bang & Olufsen, Hay, and Capellini. He is also a five-time recipient of the IF Product Design Award and Designer of the Year.
The watch was designed to look and feel “high-end casual” for a competitive price, by only using high-quality materials and precise craftsmanship. It’s powered by a state-of-the-art Japanese Miyota mechanism for maximum precision, and the case (40mm) is entirely made of premium 316L stainless steel, carefully polished to give the watch a sharp and robust look. The crown is highly distinctive: precisely tapered with bevels at the tip for easier grip, and engraved at the centre with the logo of the watchmaker – a premium feature that we usually only see in higher-end, more expensive timepieces.
But perhaps the most astounding and unique element of the watch is the asymmetric second-hand: it is shaped like a blade, slicing through the minutes and hours of the day. According to the Chief Designer Jakob Wagner, this unique shape serves as a metaphor to illustrate how we are constantly slicing through time.
With a price tag of only $150-$200, the Nordgreen Philosopher is regularly seen as having one of the best price-quality ratios on the market – with many watch models of comparable quality selling at 4 to 6 times that price.
According to Nordgreen representatives, the Scandinavian watchmaker was able to “pack” many high-end watch features into this model, by radically cutting marketing costs to the benefit of craftsmanship.
The company Nordgreen also deeply cares about making the world a better place, with the launch of its Giving Back Program: a charity that has established several partnerships with three leading NGOs in the health, education, and environmental sectors.
For every Nordgreen watch purchased, you can either give two months of clean water to one person in the Central African Republic, one month of education to a child in India, or preserve 200 sq ft of rain forest in Latin America.
Therefore, people who buy a Nordgreen watch not only get a fine piece of craftsmanship: they also make a positive and measurable impact on the world. It is currently one the rare watch brands that offers such kind of sustainable initiatives.
Overall, many wearers of The Philosopher can vouch for its superior quality, elegant look, and exceptional value for money. The company Nordgreen has a score of 4.8 out of 5 on Trustadvisor based on 3,000+ reviews.
Taking all these into our consideration easily places Nordgreen – Philosopher at our #1 spot.
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– Unique, one-of-a-kind design that makes the watch really stands out among other affordable watches of this range
– Robust and sharp-looking steel case using premium 316L “marine grade” stainless steel
– High precision Japanese Miyota movement
– Incredible level of detail, with engraved crown, distinct case shape, and blade-shaped second-hand “slicing through time”
– Comfortable, soft, and high-quality leather straps ideal for everyday use. Abundance of choice for strap colors
– Giving Back Program offers the ability to give back to a charity of your choice, for every Nordgreen watch purchased
– Exceptional price-quality ratio
– Unconditional 30-day money-back guarantee
– Can run out of stock quickly
– Limited “heritage” compared to other more established brands
2. Seiko 5 Automatic Stainless Steel Watch
THE BOTTOM LINE
Another strong watch model that offers an impressive price-to-quality ratio, is the Seiko 5 Automatic Watch for men. This simple yet elegant dress watch has become a true classic for anyone seeking a good quality timepiece at a reasonable price ($100-$200 price range).
The watch uses a high-precision Japanese automatic movement hidden behind a classic analog styling with discreet numerals. The movement can keep the watch functioning without batteries, using kinetic energy from the movement of our arms. As every automatic watch, of course, the time needs to be adjusted if the watch is not worn for more than a few days – so it might not be the best fit for those who don’t wear a watch every day.
The strong-looking dial of this stylish model contains a date window at the three o’clock position, and the whole dial is protected by mineral crystal. It comes with a robust, brushed-and-polished stainless steel bracelet and case, offering a water resistance of 30 meters.
Besides its strong and sharp appearance, the watch is very comfortable, and many users have praised its impeccable functionality and impressive versatility. With that said, we do note that the watch is smaller than most popular designs in this quality range, so it might look a bit too small on people with large wrists.
As every automatic watch, of course, the time needs to be adjusted if the watch is not worn for more than a few days – so it may not be the best fit for those who don’t wear a watch every day. Further, although it’s good to see some automatic movements at this price range, we must say that the automatic movement that it uses doesn’t look as good as higher-end movement (which is understandable given the price).
Finally, we highlight that the mineral glass used to cover the glass can be quite sensitive to scratches (including from keys or shocks of moderate intensity) – as reported by some users who had to replace the glass. But overall, this watch remains a very good pick offering outstanding value for its price.
– Simple and elegant dress watch offering incredible versatility
– High-quality craftsmanship for the price
– Very strong price-to-quality ratio
– Precise Japanese automatic movement
– Robust and effective design
– Strong water resistance
– Very basic automatic movement that doesn’t look as good as higher-end movements (but understandable for the price)
– Mineral glass potentially sensitive to scratches (including keys), as reported by some users
– Watch is smaller than most models in this quality range, and may look too small on relatively large wrists
– Not the most distinctive design, even among affordable watches
3. Timex Weekender
THE BOTTOM LINE
Timex has been known for decades as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of affordable, good-quality watches. If the brand has lost a lot of market share in recent years due to the proliferation of Chinese competitors, it still remains a trusted name in the watch industry, known for its simple and well-made timepieces.
The Timex Weekend is arguably the most iconic model of all Timex collections. In terms of style, the name is pretty self-explanatory: it’s a casual watch designed to be versatile for week-end usage, although it can be worn very well during the week as well (preferably with casual clothing).
The watch is made of a solid brass case with a polished silver finish. Its matte black diet is filled with large Arabic numerals displayed in a very practical, clean font. The level of craftsmanship for this watch is definitely satisfactory, with a degree of printing precision on the dial that is rarely seen for watches of this range (although it can’t really compete with high-end watches).
The Timex Weekender is very well-built and projects an authentic, fresh look that can blend in almost any circumstances. Furthermore, it is very affordable (within $40-$90). It’s very hard to find a higher quality watch offering the same amount of value within this low price range. It might not be the most impressive watch on this list, but for people who just want a very simple timepiece, it does the job.
On the minus side, we note that the case is covered by thin mineral glass, which may be quite sensitive to scratches- especially for a casual watch like this one which may be more exposed to natural shocks than a dress watch (during sports, for example).
This watch is also very noisy compared to other models, according to many users. The noise is tolerable when the watch is worn outside or in public places, but in a quiet room, the ticking sound is comparable to a quartz wall clock – which is quite loud… So it might be a good pick for people who like to hear their watch, but not so much for others who are not really keen on hearing a ticking sound 24/7.
Finally, we highlight that the design of the watch looks extremely simple, perhaps even bland for those who are looking for a truly distinctive watch.
– Well-made and effectively designed American watch
– Very simple design and versatile look (although leaning more on the casual side)
– Strong, trusted watch brand with long history
– Extremely competitive price
– Decent level of craftsmanship considering the price
– Thin mineral glass makes it vulnerable to scratches
– Very simplistic design that may look bland to some people
– Very noisy watch compared to other models
4. Skagen – Ryle Two-Hand Silver-Tone
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Skagen – Ryle Two-Hand Silver-Tone is a sleek affordable watch with a classic, modern, and elegant design. It really distinguishes itself with unique Roman numerals on the face of the watch, and a rectangular face which is quite rare for this range of affordable watches.
It can be worn very easily on any type of occasion – whether it’s casual or professional – because the watch looks incredibly versatile. It is made of relatively high quality ingredients, at least considering its affordable price, and users appear to be satisfied with the look and feel of the watch. The price is very competitive for the quality, at $145. Further, the brand Skagen has a strong reputation when it comes to producing good quality watches at reasonable prices.
Perhaps one of the main weaknesses of the watch is that the crown looks extremely basic, there is no sign of distinction on this critical part of the watch, which is somewhat disappointing for a watch that is otherwise audaciously designed. We could also expect more transparency on the building materials.
The company mentions that the case is made of stainless steel, but we don’t know if it’s 316L stainless steel or a lower-end steel. Finally, some users have mentioned that the watch was a bit “too thick” – but this could just be a matter of taste.
– Unique Roman numerals and rectangular-shaped case make the watch stand out among other affordable watches
– Clean and highly versatile design, can look great in any circumstances
– Competitive price
– Reasonably high-quality materials considering its affordable price
– The crown looks extremely basic – disappointing craftsmanship on this part
– Lack of transparency regarding the grade of steel used for the case
– Some users have mentioned that the watch was a bit “too thick”
5. Daniel Wellington Classic St Mawes 36mm
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Daniel Wellington Classic St Mawes is a unisex, Scandinavian affordable watch with a sleek and ultra-simple design. Due to its quintessential yet elegant look, this watch can match with any type of clothes and styles, which makes it incredibly versatile.
It is powered by a precise Japanese movement, and the beautiful rose gold case is built of stainless steel (no more indication on the type of steel). Many users who have never worn a watch before seemed satisfied with this simplistic yet appealing modern timepiece, which can be bought at an affordable price (around $190).
With that said, this watch model is not for those who want a truly distinctive timepiece. The design is extremely basic, with no clear signs of differentiation. Hundreds of other models of watches use similar case shapes, similar crowns, and similar hands.
Even though the quality appears reasonably good for the price, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd of affordable watches, and higher quality models can be found for cheaper prices, in our view. Further, we note that there is a noticeable lack of transparency with regards to the quality of materials used. The brand doesn’t mention the calibre of steel used for the case, and we don’t know anything about the grade of leather either – which is somewhat disappointing.
But it might satisfy those who want a simplistic and good-looking watch for an accessible price.
– Affordable price
– Clean and elegant look
– Highly versatile
– Highly undifferentiated watch. Looks extremely similar to other affordable watches
– Clear lack of transparency on quality of materials
– Brand has become rather unoriginal
– No sign of dedicated craftsmanship