Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Watch Primer #06: Tiers and Price Range, Part One

Today's Watch Primer entry categorizes the wide range of prices you'll find in the world of horology (from $20 drug store digitals to six-figure bespoke models), some of the noteworthy brands that exemplify each price range, and the bottom line when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck from a watch, regardless of your budget.

Inexpensive: Under $50

The first category covers the watches you'd commonly find anywhere between the electronics counter of your local drug store to the "free gift" portion of a TV infomercial.  My first watch fell into this category; a Lorus Sports digital quartz that I got from Costco for $20.  (Amazingly, I still have it two decades later, and it's still working perfectly with battery changes averaging once a decade.)   Inexpensive watches can run the gambit from cheap plasticy throwaways to dependable, hardworking timepieces, but examples in this range will inevitably use relatively cheap quartz movements (which will still probably keep more accurate time than all but the most fine-tuned of mechanicals).  Noteworthy brands at this level include Timex and Casio.

Examplars of the Range:
Timex Easyreader T2H281, $40 ($25 on Amazon)

The Timex Easyreader series offers dependable analog quartz watches at the appealing sub-$50 mark.  The model above gets a special nod for being clean and classic enough to stand in as a dress watch, especially if you decide to upgrade to an after-market premium leather strap.

Casio F91W-1, $19 ($11 on Amazon
At 97 cents above $10, the Casio F91W-1 is perhaps the best deal out there for a rugged digital quartz watch with alarm and chronograph functions.  You can't really ask for a more convenient sports watch that will take a beating and won't break the bank if you're forced to replace it.

Economy: Under $200

The economy range offers more options as far as movements, special features, and finishes go, but remain accessible and affordable to virtually any watch aficionado.  These tend to make for perfect gifts for young adults who will appreciate higher quality features but probably will put their watches through paces that might not suit more costly models.  This is also roughly the lowest price point where mechanical movements and solar-charging quartz movements begin to become available.  Noteworthy brands at the economy level include Seiko, Citizen, and Casio's popular G-Shock line.

Exemplars of the Range:

Seiko 5 SNK793, $185 ($60 on Amazon)
The venerable Seiko 5 series of economical automatic watches (noteworthy for being equipped with "in-house" Seiko movements at an unheard-of price point) fall under $100 if you take advantage of Amazon's hefty discounts across the line.  The model featured above features a subtle dark-blue dial, a display caseback and lugs that will easily accommodate aftermarket watch straps.

Citizen Eco-Drive AT0200-05E, $225 ($129 on Amazon)
This Citizen Eco-Drive model features the brand's titular solar-charging quartz movement, chronograph function, and a highly legible dial and nylon strap.  It's a great casual watch with military styling that equals the convenience of an automatic movement and does away with the hassle of having to replace a battery (or service the movement) every 2-3 years.

Affordable: $200-$1000

The affordable category is admittedly a controversial one, both in terms of its scope and whether the term could - or should - actually apply to watches that cost up to a grand.  In context of watches that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, I believe that it does, especially since it is in this range that a watch enthusiast can acquire watches with genuinely impressive complications that would only be available at the aforementioned tens of thousands of dollars range in mechanical form.  The affordable category is also where you'll begin to find watches that employ Swiss-made quartz and mechanical movements, though those movements will almost certainly be sourced from large mass producers like ETA and Ronda.  Noteworthy brands include Swatch Group's Tissot and Hamilton, Citizen, Seiko, and smaller independent makers like Prometheus and Bathys Hawaii.

Exemplars of the Range:

Citizen Eco-Drive BL5250-02L, $400 ($240 on Amazon)

This Eco-Drive model is a great example of the impressive complications you can find in quartz watches in this price range.  It combines perpetual calendar, dual time, alarm, and chronograph functions, all complications that could easily run into the five-figure range in an in-house mechanical movement.  In terms of most bang in a watch for the least amount of bucks, it's hard to do better than this watch.  (Only downside for the slim-wristed: its 49mm size.)

Bathys 100 Fathoms in Black PVD, $395 (new batch coming in early 2012 from Bathys Hawaii)
Bathys has a special place in my heart among independent brands because it's located in Hawai`i (and even goes so far as to include "Hawaii" on their dials and engrave an image of the Hawaiian Islands on their casebacks).  They briefly went astray when they tried to price their watches upstream enough for brick-and-mortar watch stores like Ben Bridge - at which point their models simply didn't offer enough value to justify the premium you'd have to pay for the privilege of wearing the Hawaiian Islands on your wrist - but they've recently returned their prices to more modest levels along with a renewed emphasis on internet sales.  The result: my pick of their models, the Quartz 100 Fathoms in Black PVD, will be restocked in early 2012 at what I believe was its introductory price in 2007 - $395, rather than the somewhat overbearing $695 that the same model would have cost you a year before.  It's a reasonable price for a watch with a Swiss-made Ronda movement and sapphire crystal.

Coming up in Part Two: The Luxury Tiers.  What do you think of the ranges featured so far?  Are there any brands to which I should have given special attention?  Let me know in the comments.

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