The question of how much to spend on a watch—and how much watch we get for how much we spend—has always been fascinating to me. Not only do we each see how much to spend on a watch differently—meaning that $500 for you could be peanuts while it would be an enormous sum of money for me—but we also define the worth of how much we spend differently. For example, you may think that spending $1,000 on a watch would guarantee a superior movement, while I might believe that for this much money I would have a hand-finished case and an enamel dial. Being as it may, I wanted to talk about the idea of spending money for a watch and how much we can expect to get at certain price brackets.
We All Have Budgets
Realistically we don’t all have the same watch budgets. As a watch collector and journalist, I know people who spend at least $2,000 on each new timepiece while others can’t bring themselves to spend more than $300. Although we are all watch nerds, we are not equally comfortable spending more than a certain amount on a watch as it is not an essential tool to our survival. (Or is it?) You may be a total watch nerd but not spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a watch. Or you may be the type to spend $10,000 without blinking an eye.
Given the fact that we each have different personal and financial situations, we can’t expect everyday to spend the same amount of money on a watch. And we can’t expect everybody to agree on how much $1,000 is worth or what one should expect to receive by spending $10,000. That’s because we each value different things—design, movement, materials and finish—and that we all look for something different in the watches we buy. Furthermore, we each have collecting goals, for example acquiring 100 watches or creating the ideal three-watch collection.
Or like me, you may only be interested in owning one watch only. And that in itself doesn’t mean that you should be spending a certain amount of cash on this one watch. I’m comfortable spending up to $1,000 on a watch (given my current situation) and for you that might be $250 or $5,000. However much we want to spend and what we value as worthy of the money we spend, we can delineate what kind of quality we can get depending on how much we spend.
Note About the Data
Many of the insights contained in this article stem from a survey I recently conducted of 3,700 fans of a particular brand. Other information stems from my own experience reviewing dozens of watches ranging in prices between $200 and $4,000. It became clear to me that we can expect a certain quality when we spend a certain amount on a watch, and that the more we spend, the higher the quality (see this article for more information on quality) And that is speaking from a general standpoint.
What We Get For $X
The sweet spot for many collectors is below or just around $500. Many models coming from micro and independent brands retail for that much, and generally speaking, one can get a lot of watch at that price point. For $500 or less, you can generally expect an entry level Japanese movement (Seiko NH35, Miyota 8000 series,) a bracelet with solid links and end links, sapphire crystal, and some kind of texture on the dial. What often happens is that brands put more emphasis on good finish (for example subtle transitions between brushed and polished surfaces) than high-grade movement. Lastly, you can expect a rotating bezel with decent ratcheting.
Moving away from the first price range, you can expect more bangs for your bucks when you spend between $500 and $1,000. It is within this price category that you can expect entry-level models from Swiss and Japanese brands, for example Tissot and Seiko. In the case of the latter, you can get a watch with an in-house movement which is pretty cool. Finishing on the case tends to stay the same but you will find better movements (Miyota 9000 series, Sellita or SOPROD) and rotating bezels with a smoother action. Also, that’s when you can start finding solid divers with 200 or 300 meters of water resistance.
Then things change when you start spending between $1,000 and $2,000. That’s when you see the first COSC-movements (Formex, Christopher Ward,) fine finishing on the case and bracelet, complex dial textures (well-executed sunburst finish or exotic materials like meteorite,) and smooth bezel actions. For that price, you generally also get more creative designs because brands spend more to find originality instead of repurposing overused designs. Additionally, you get diamond-cut hands, hardened steel, top grade sapphire crystal, proprietary technology like the MONTA on-the-fly micro-adjustments for the clasp, and higher tolerances.
Whenever you start spending more than $2,000 you enter the world of affordable luxury or just plain luxury, depending on how you see things. That is when, for example, you will find perfectly applied hour markers, aligned bezels, chronometer movements that run like champs, finely brushed bracelet links, élaboré movements with decorated plates, hand-painted dials, and watches that have gone through stringent testing to guarantee superior waterproofness, resistance to magnetism and shocks. When you spend more than $2,000 that’s also when you start seeing brands that produce everything in-house, from the case to the hands to the movement.
As we saw, it is possible to determine the quality of a watch based on how much it costs. But this is only a generalization and it is absolutely not always true. I’ve bought watches that cost $500 that come with an in-house movement, a GMT complication, and fine finishing. And I’ve bought watches that cost $1,000 that are superbly made but come with entry-level movements that run like tractors. This means we can’t completely generalize but the information delineated above is more or less true most of the time.
But again, we each define how much a watch is worth based on our own personal preferences, backgrounds, and priorities. We may all be watch nerds but we may not all want to spend too much money on a watch because it’s not a priority to us. We also differ in what matters: you may prefer to have a COSC-movement in a plain-looking watch, or a Seiko NH35 in a watch made of precious metals because the latter is more important than the former.
By way of this article, I wanted to share some general thoughts about what it means to buy a watch and what we can expect at different price points.Featured image: www.watchfinder.co.uk