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Shopping for watches around $1,000 can sometimes feel like a bleak endeavor. It’s a middle ground between grail-level timepieces and affordable sets you can buy at department stores. If you’re currently in this situation, fear not: $1,000 can get you a great timepiece. The best watches under $1,000 have the build quality and features to compete with the most prestigious brands, and they can outlast cheaper, more common watches.
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Many of the watches in this price range are top-of-the-line offerings from brands known for more affordable watches. This means you might not get that instant clout of, say, a Rolex, but real watch lovers will recognize and appreciate these timepieces for what they are. In terms of specifications, you can expect the best that watchmaking has to offer: automatic movements, sapphire crystal and high-quality materials. These premium touches are what will make a watch not only look expensive, but last as an heirloom for future generations.
If you’re reticent about buying an analog watch in 2021, it’s important to note that (somewhat surprisingly) high-end watches haven’t disappeared with the advent of smartphone clocks and smartwatches. Instead, more people are embracing the beauty of old-school movements and the style of throwback designs. As proof, check out the recently-released automatic and mechanical watches from big brands such as Seiko and Timex.
Although $1,000 might not seem like much in a world where celebs are rocking $30,000+ Audemars Piguets, it’s more than enough to snag a high-quality, investment-worthy timepiece. Read on for our watch buying guide, as well as our picks for the best watches under $1,000.
What to Look for in a Good Watch
For some enthusiasts, watch buying is a full-time hobby. But unless you’re looking for an ultra-rare (or ultra-expensive) timepiece, a few key considerations are enough to identify a great watch. Below are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for the best watch on a budget.
Movement: The three main types of watch movements are automatic, mechanical and quartz. Automatic is the gold-standard (used by famous brands such as Rolex and Omega), harnessing the kinetic energy of the wearer’s movement. This allows the watch to “charge” itself and continue running without any intervention. Mechanical watches are the true vintage choice and must be hand-wound every couple of days. Quartz is the most common movement today (and the cheapest) using a battery that needs replacing every couple years or so.
Brand: With watches, a trustworthy brand typically means a trustworthy watch. Old, established brands often have well-founded reputations for lasting quality. A watch’s origin matters too, as some countries have higher quality standards and more competitive watchmaking culture. This is why Swiss watches are so desirable, and why Japanese watches have become synonymous with reliability (similar to car manufacturing).
Crystal: A watch’s “crystal” refers to the material used for the dial cover. Sapphire is the most desirable as it’s very hard to scratch, and reduces glare. Seven of our eight picks use this sapphire crystal. The other type of crystal you’ll encounter is mineral, which is a specially-treated glass. Cheaper watches also use plastic-like acrylic crystal, but none of our picks use this.
Water-Resistance: Almost all watches are labeled as water-resistant, but many watches can’t actually withstand a shower or prolonged submersion. If a watch is rated at 30 meters water-resistance, try not to get it wet at all. Fifty meters of water resistance is enough to withstand rain and occasional splashes. Any rating over 50 meters is safe for swimming, and 100 meters means a watch is ready for real diving.
Features: Some watches have added features such as a day or date reader or a chronograph (a stopwatch separate from the main dial). These can be convenient, but they’re also just cool.
The Best Watches Under $1,000 (Men’s)
1. Mido Ocean Star Captain V
Mido, a Swiss brand with over a hundred years of experience, makes some excellent diving watches that fly under the radar of most shoppers. This Ocean Star Captain is a great example, boasting a classic diver look and an impressive automatic movement under the hood. Although it’s stylish as a daily watch, the Ocean Star is capable of real adventure thanks to a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and 200 meters water resistance.
2. Seiko 5 Sports
The Seiko 5 line is jam-packed with some of our favorite budget-friendly watches in the world. Examples like this Sports watch prove why: You get a classic, mid-century-inspired design that’s at once sporty and sophisticated, pairing easily with jeans and sneakers as well as suits.
On the technical side, the Seiko 5 Sports watch is as competent as it is good-looking. Inside is a 4R36 automatic movement that can also be hand-wound if the watch sits for too long. Details like a day and date complication and LumiBrite hands and markers up the convenience, while a 100-meter water resistance lets you shower, swim, or even dive with the timepiece.
3. Timex Marlin
This vintage-styled Marlin from Timex might be a fifth of your budget, but it’s good enough to hang with watches well out of its price range. It’s one of the only manual watches you’ll find for under $200 (you read that right), which gives the watch some admirable prestige. In terms of looks, the Marlin matches its old-school movement with clean lines, a classic silver case, and a black leather strap. We’ve owned one for years now, and it’s still a regular in our rotation — especially when it comes time to suit up for a wedding or any other dressy event.
4. Shinola Traveler 2 Eye Chrono
Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola was founded as an affordable competitor to high-end Swiss brands, and we think they make a compelling case for buying American. This Traveler 2 is one of Shinola’s best-sellers, featuring a casual, military-inspired look that pairs very nicely with a modern wardrobe. A chronograph, the watch’s reliable quartz movement is complimented by two subdials and pusher buttons for accurate timing. There’s also a handy day display, and a domed sapphire crystal face that keeps the watch safe from scratches or drops.
5. Tag Heuer Formula 1 Quartz Black Dial Men’s Watch
Tag Heuer is one of the biggest names in the Swiss luxury watch world, making this sub-$1,000 Formula 1 a steal. But don’t let the attainable price tag deceive you: this watch brings premium materials and a versatile, classic style. With a black stainless steel case and a rubber strap, the Formula 1 strikes a good balance between casual and smart: wear it with a suit to dinner or jeans and a t-shirt while traveling. Wherever you take it, the watch’s sapphire crystal ensures protection from bumps, and its 100-meter water resistance permits real diving.
6. Orient Star Automatic SAF02003W0
If you’re in need of a classic, no-frills timepiece, check out this Star Automatic from Orient. The watch’s stainless steel build, minimal face and versatile 38.5-millimeter size make it ideal for everyday wear. But one of our favorite features is the watch’s 40-hour power reserve, which means fewer resets when you put it on. Plus, the power reserve level is indicated underneath the 12 o’clock position. The watch also features a handy date complication and 50 meters water resistance for occasional swims or showers.
7. Frederique Constant Classics Automatic Watch
Coming out of Switzerland, Frederique Constant is younger than most watch companies (founded in 1988) but their pieces are as good – if not better – than many of the old guys. This Classics Automatic watch is proof of Frederique Constant’s expertise, sporting a classy, modern look and premium materials. One of the watch’s standout features is a titanium bezel, which, combined with its 50-meter water resistance, makes for real durability. But our favorite thing about the Classics piece is its style: the watch is neither old-fashioned nor hyper-modern and looks great with just about everything in our wardrobe.
8. Rado Diastar Automatic Black Dial Men’s Watch
Off-beat watches are having a moment right now (see pieces like Kanye’s Cartier Crash). This Rado Diastar nails the slightly weird, totally cool look with the Swiss brand’s recognizable, non-traditional case. The Diastar’s shape actually serves a purpose, reducing the likelihood of scratches on the face (it also has a sapphire crystal for even more scratch protection). Below this crystal, you’ll see a relatively simple face, save for day and date complications placed at the unusual position of six o’clock.
9. Hamilton Ventura Open Heart
If the Hamilton Ventura looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen Men in Black. The watch is part of the alien-fighting uniform, and it looks just as exciting in the real world as it does in the Will Smith films. Because watches are now less about function than they used to be, we think the unique shape of the Ventura (and its cinematic history) makes it a great addition to any collection.
This Open Heart iteration of the Ventura upgrades the standard watch with an automatic movement that can be viewed through a window under the twelve-o’clock mark. Materials have also been upgraded in the form of a sapphire crystal and luxurious calfskin leather strap.
10. Apple Watch Series 7 GPS + Cellular
We love analog watches, but smartwatches are fantastic too. With a $1000 budget, you can pick up the latest and greatest: the Apple Watch Series 7 with GPS and cellular functionality. Using the smartwatch’s crystal-clear, crack-resistant retina display, you can check texts, track heart rate and blood oxygen levels, stream music or podcasts, make phone calls and so much more. With the addition of GPS and independent cellular connectivity, you can connect the watch to the internet and make calls without being connected to a smartphone. The Apple Watch comes in a range of colorways for styles, but we’re partial to this chic graphite Milanese loop bracelet for daily wear.
The Best Watches Under $1,000 (Women’s)
11. Tissot T-Classic Automatic Ladies Watch
Ladies’ watches can be tricky to shop for. Some are feminine to the point of cheesiness (see: bedazzling all over) and some are too plain. We think this Tissot T-Classic avoids both pitfalls with a sophisticated yet interesting face that incorporates mother of pearl and a subtle string of jewels. But it’s not all looks: the watch boasts an automatic movement with an 80-hour power reserve.
12. Gucci Diamantissima Stainless Steel Ladies Watch
This Diamantissima is one of Gucci’s more tame-looking watches, providing just enough flair to elevate casual outfits or blend in with dressy attire. To achieve this look, Gucci uses a stainless steel mesh bracelet, a mother of pearl face, and four diamonds to mark the three, six, nine, and 12 o’clock positions. Despite its elegance, the watch can actually hold up to light swimming and showering thanks to 50 meters water resistance.
13. Longines Presence Ladies
This ladies’ version of the Longines Presence is pure elegance with classic roman numerals on a white dial. Top-tier materials (including a sapphire crystal) and a reliable automatic Swiss movement are neatly packaged in a petit 25mm stainless steel case. Overall, it’s a sophisticated dress watch that’s fit for dressy occasions as well as more casual settings. Plus, the watch comes with the substantial heritage of the Longines brand.
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