7 Affordable Luxury Watch Brands To Start Your Watch Collection
These high-end watchmakers offer real bang for your horological buck. The perfect entry point to watch collecting, you won't be disappointed.
Where to even begin with a category such as ‘affordable luxury watches’? After all, the notions of what constitutes both ‘affordable’ as well as ‘luxury’ are highly subjective. What makes one brand luxury and another not? Is this a question of price, materials, the ability to chamfer a bridge by hand? Or is luxury in the eye of the beholder?
For the purposes of this list, affordable luxury will be defined as those brands who have a selection of decent mechanical timepieces around the high hundreds, low thousands; the types of brands with whom you can imagine starting your watch collection (let’s face it you’re unlikely to be kickstarting your watch wardrobe with a £20,000 Royal Oak) but who offer something a little more elevated than the average.
That might be in-house movement – though there’s nothing wrong with sourcing from ETA or Sellita – or attention to design detail, or those that offer an entry point into watch collecting but with the potential to grow that collection with timepieces of increasingly higher price points.
Of course, this list and the criteria are by no means definitive. Feel free to disagree.
Look beyond the Black Bay and Tudor has your every watch need covered. In fact, Tudor was created as an affordable luxury brand. Launched by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, it was a way of capitalising on the former marque’s success. Wilsdorf realised that not everyone could afford his first brand, so he founded another.
Tudor watches had the same names as Rolex and the same build quality, but they used third-party movements and non-precious metals. A lot has changed since the 1940s but Tudor’s position as a luxury value proposition has not. As well as modified ETAs you now have in-house movements to choose from, gold has crept in on the odd model, and there’s not a bad design in the collection.
From classic contours of its 1926 line to the muscular Black Bay, you’ll easily be able find a Tudor to suit your lifestyle.
Entry-level model: 1926 on leather strap
This collection doesn’t generate the type of column inches that the Black Bay does, or even the Pelagos, but it is a 41mm example of why Tudor is such as great brand. Named after the year Wilsdorf registered Tudor as a trademark, it is a no-frills three hander with date display.
It is a reassuringly no-nonsense design, with legible gold indices and numerals, a 38-hour power reserve, and classic brown leather strap. It’s not flashy, just quietly confident.
This non-Glashütte-based German brand has been on a stealth mission, slowly inserting itself into the watch world consciousness as a maker of seriously desirable timepieces you can actually afford.
The turning point dates back to 2018, when Oris launched a green-dialled version of its Big Crown Pointer Date to celebrate the 80th anniversary of its eponymous mechanism. That’s not to say Oris wasn’t designing great watches before this, but there was something about this piece – with its bronze case and dial in a shade that was like a darker eau de nile – that turned heads.
Since then, it has been a regular on year-end watch round ups, with 2022 no exception. The Propilot X Calibre 400 had everyone salivating, and again it was all down to the dial. This 70s-style sporty, titanium number, powered by the brand’s revolutionary Calibre 400 – with its 120-hour power reserve, anti-magnetism and 10-year warranty – was unveiled with a striking pink dial that sat somewhere between salmon and Pepto-Bismol, managing to be both on trend and timeless.
Entry-level model: Big Crown Pointer Date
Technically speaking the Artelier Date is your way in but if you can bear to spend £100/$100 more you can be the proud owner of the frankly fabulous Big Crown Pointer Date, with a show-stopping red dial to boot.
It has a wonderful vintage design; at 40mm isn’t imposing on the wrist; and the pointer function means the dial symmetry isn’t thrown off by a date window. It’s the perfect example of why an Oris is now on everyone’s wish list.
Given that Nomos is a brand built on Bauhaus principles, it would be odd if it didn’t offer well-made watches at democratic prices. But the impressive thing with Nomos is the amount of horological bang you get for your buck.
All its movement are made in house; since 2014, it has created its own proprietary escapement; and, to insure it stays at design’s cutting edge, it has based its creative team in Berlin, in the incredibly trendy multicultural Kreuzberg district.
The result is a collection of watches that revel in their minimalism, with the dial colours the only point of frivolity. It has branched out in recent years – the Autobahn was a positively giddy launch for this pared-back brand – but Nomos is at its best when it adheres to the principles set out by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919.
Entry-level model: Club Reference 701
Again, technically the Ludwig is the cheapest Nomos on the market. However, it isn’t a quintessential Nomos. Yes, it’s pared back but the Roman numerals feel un-Bauhaus. So, for a fraction more there’s the Club.
Nomos bills the Club as its starter watch – it has even launched a collection called Club Campus specifically to appeal to gradates, who want to buy their first mechanical timepiece to signify their transition into adulthood.
Its mid-century aesthetic is unconventional convention, and it is powered by Nomos’ Alpha, a manual-wind movement – the daily action of which encourages a close connection between watch and wearer.
Baume & Mercier
This is your entry into the Richemont Group – the luxury conglomerate that has the likes of Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre (some of the most expensive watch brands in the world) in its stable. Baume & Mercier started life as Frères Baume back in 1830, changing its name in 1918 when company director William Baume partnered with Paul Mercier to found Baume & Mercier.
It joined the Richemont Group in 1988 and was synonymous with making polite watches for the sort of people who holiday at the Hamptons, but don’t own a house there (one of its collections is actually called Hampton).
Then came the Baumatic, its in-house movement with five-day power reserve in 2018, housed in a rather stylish Clifton, and a slew of more interesting designs that made Baume & Mercier worth re-evaluating.
2022 saw its strongest collection to date with poolside companion Riviera, which was given a semi-opaque dial and some bold new colourways for the Classima, including an amazing burgundy and blue combination. Definitely a brand to keep an eye on.
Entry-level model: Baume Ocean
Baume was the eco-friendly collection Richemont launched back in 2018. Then it was adamantly not part of Baume & Mercier, but sense finally prevailed and in 2020 the two merged. The brand is eco-conscious and partners with Waste Free Oceans, a non-profit organisation that collects plastic from oceans, beaches and rivers.
The case is made from 80% of this recycled plastic, which has been reinforced with glass fibres to increase its resistance. The strap is made with ecological SEAQUAL yarn, which is 100% recycled plastic.
This is all admirable, but useless if the watch doesn’t look good. Luckily this does. Inspired by old pocket watches, it’s clever enough to be interesting but not so out-there that you can’t tell the time.
Initially a movement company called Schlup & co, run by three brothers – Fritz, Ernst and Werner Schlup – Rado found success in 1957 with its Golden Horse collection, a steel sports design with an unusual rice grain panel through the middle of the bracelet.
It is known for material experimentation, which started in the 60s with the launch of the DiaStar1 in 1962. It pioneered the use of hard metal and sapphire glass and was the first scratch-resistant Rado, 20 years before its new adventures in ceramic.
In the 90s, experimentation continued. It unveiled cermet – a titanium-based ceramic – and plasma high-tech ceramic, which allowed it to produce ceramic watches with a metallic sheen. Alongside this material innovation, it was also launching smart dress watches, and cool divers, like the Captain Cook.
There’s so much more to Rado than ceramic, but the ceramic certainly helps
Entry-level model: DiaStar
This is maybe not the watch to start your collection with, but it’s such a design revelation that it’s made the cut. This is the timepiece with which Rado debuted its scratch-resistant case material, and its bold case shape is considered iconic.
There may be some who object to diamonds or are not keen on the yellow dial, but if you want to make a statement there’s no better way to do so.
Longines is one of those brands that loves to surprise. Just when you think it’s all Kate Winslet and horses, it launches a heritage-inspired piece called Legend Diver and kickstarts the vintage watch craze that is still going strong.
With this 2007 piece, Longines made a name for itself as the purveyor of cool retro styles at very acceptable prices. This reputation has been cemented with its Heritage collection: a line of beautifully-designed watches inspired by the brand’s history, from automotive-esque chronographs to sleek dress three-handers.
It also makes a mean pilot’s watch, which isn’t surprising seeing as it has a history of creating unique tool watches for aviators. This includes the Lindbergh Hour Angle Weems, which allowed for in-flight calculations of longitude using the time, the Hour Angle and a sextant – all of which were on the watch itself.
Entry-level model: Conquest
Every collection needs a sporty steel number, so you might as well start it with one. There isn’t anything game changing about this design, but that isn’t what you want from a steel bracelet watch with a blue dial.
The oversized numerals give it a point of difference, while the 300m water resistance means it’s more than capable of holding its own in the pool. It’s a solid, reliable timepiece that’ll go with everything in your wardrobe, which is precisely what every man needs.
If the TAG Heuer of the early 2000s was all about high-concept, high-value watches, its latest incarnation is about cornering the entry-level market. This new direction is a result of 27-year-old Arnault Jr who, in 2020, took over the brand as CEO and has since moved TAG Heuer away from movement experimentation into designs that appeal to a younger audience.
Sure, it launched a Carrera at Watches and Wonders 2022 coated in 11.7ct of lab-grown diamonds, but its real market is where the Formula 1 watches are at. These retail from £1,050/$1,050, though are admittedly quartz.
It’s probably the least affordable of the ‘affordable luxury brands’, but if you want a Swiss name that everyone knows then TAG Heuer is where you start.
Entry-level model: Formula 1 Calibre 5
If you’re trying to keep the spend down but still want mechanics, then this is the most reasonable model in TAG Heuer’s stable. However, for that little extra investment you’re buying TAG Heuer’s popular Calibre 5 movement, 43mm of stainless steel and 200m water resistance.
It’s no Monaco, but it is still a TAG Heuer. And that’s what counts.