Let’s face facts. Not everyone can afford a $50,000 watch. Not everyone can afford a $10,000 watch. Not everyone can afford a $200 watch. That’s why, at Gentleman’s Gazette, we do our best to talk about products at various price points,
rather than just focusing on the most expensive products on the market, because we believe that style should not depend on how much money you have in the bank.
Being a “gentleman” doesn’t mean that you have to have the finest accessories available. Truth be told, if a perk of my job wasn’t receiving media samples, I would never be able to afford half of the items I own. Or at least, not be able to justify owning them.
The one thing with watches that cost less than a hundred dollars is that you can’t expect that you’re going to end up with the greatest timepiece in the world. You’re going to get what you pay for, but there’s no reason it can’t still be a nice watch.
That’s why I’m proud to present this primer on buying watches under $100.
How to Buy an Inexpensive Watch
The first rule that I encourage all readers to remember is that if you can’t afford the $10,000 Rolex, don’t try and imitate it. One of the biggest mistakes men make is buying a watch that just makes them look cheap. I’m talking about the oversized, fake gold, plastic stone encrusted watches. There is no humanely possible way to look good wearing these. They are a mistake – in other words – avoid them like the plague.
The second mistake men with expensive taste but low budgets make is buying knockoffs. While you may be able to trick the average consumer into believing you’ve got a real Rolex on your wrist, anyone who knows a thing or two is never going to take you seriously. Wearing a knockoff is like trying to pay your check with Monopoly money. The second someone notices it, you’ve lost all credibility. If you want to be taken seriously, avoid the fraudulent watches, because in the end, you’re going to look like a joke.
The first step when buying a watch in this price range is to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to play it safe and stick with the basics. Focus on watches with fabric straps or metal bracelets and go in expecting to buy a quartz movement. Anything with a mechanical movement will be inferior, although occasionally you can luck out.
There are three places you want to look when buying the watch:
While this may be a dangerous marketplace for fine timepieces, there’s no risk when you’re only looking for a basic watch. By searching eBay, Craigslist, Amazon and various discount sites, you’ll probably be able to find the watch you’d buy in the store, but at a fraction of the price. This is an excellent source for low budget watches.
2. Thrift, Goodwill & Pawn Shops
Often, these are some of the best places to look for a great deal. You can generally find watches at these places for a small fraction of what they’d sell for brand new in the store, and in the majority of cases, the staff doesn’t know much about horology, so you can actually find some pretty amazing deals. These opportunities may be hard to find, but they do occur frequently. Recently a man found a 1959 LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm at a goodwill store in Phoenix. He bought it for $5.99 and turned around and sold it for $35,000 to a collector who also threw in an Omega. This same buyer who frequents Goodwill stores has also seen a variety of other luxury watches in the past at stores like these. You can read the story here.
3. Department Stores
If you don’t have much time to spend and are just desperate to get a watch on your wrist, the final recommendation is to buy at a local department store. Typically, department stores sell higher quality watches than the bargain bin stores like Walmart and Target, but offer competitive pricing. This is the place to locate fashion watches and other watches that are of better quality. Of course, that’s not to say that Walmart and Target can’t be a viable source – I believe they also carry brands like Casio and Timex, which can be very good watches for the money.
What To Look & What Not To Look For
There are a few things you want to look for when buying a watch in this price range. The first thing is making sure it doesn’t contain any fake or plated precious metals like gold. If you plan on keeping the watch for any considerable amount of time, both plated and fake gold (often called ‘gold colored’) have the tendency to strip off or change color. A perfect example of this is with plated gold, as after some use you’ll notice that it turns a greenish color, usually starting at the lugs.
By focusing on buying an “authentic” watch, you’ll end up getting the best bang for your buck. Try looking for watches that are made of a standard metal, plastic or composite.
Next you want to look at the strap. Avoiding leather is usually a good idea since inexpensive watches tend to have cheap leather or imitation leather straps which will show wear very quickly. Unless you plan to use an after-market strap (which is a good idea), focus on finding watches that have fabric straps, metal bracelets or rubber straps. They’ll last longer and maintain their appearance, provided of course the metal isn’t plated or poorly made.
The final thing you want to look for is to make sure that it works. This isn’t such a big deal when buying new, but it’s still a good idea to make sure it keeps accurate time. Quartz watches are going to be your best bet. They may not have the appeal of mechanical or automatic, but they do keep better time and are usually what you’ll find in this price range. Ideally, you want to find a watch that has Japanese movement. You can often determine this by looking at the back of the watch or the six o’clock position on the dial. Finding something that’s Swiss Made is almost out of the question, although you may find ones labelled Swiss Movement or Swiss Quartz – they are not the same. While some watches with Chinese movements aren’t bad, for the most part they tend to be the least reliable when it comes to watch production. It’s not the end of the world if you find a watch you like with it, but it shouldn’t be your first pick.
If I can give one final tip: look for watches the same as you would if you had an unlimited budget. Only buy one you really like and one that suits your lifestyle. If you’re going to wear it with a business suit, avoid sports watches; and if you’re going to wear it to the beach, make sure it’s water resistant. Furthermore, I always recommend saving more or paying less. I don’t like the majority of watches between the $500 and $1500 mark. In almost all cases, they’re overpriced. I always stick with either a cheap daily wear watch or save up until I can afford the watch I really want where the quality matches the price tag.
Recommended Watch Brands
|699.02 Aviator Quartz||Stuhrling||$|
|AK715SSB "Retro" Stainless Steel||Akribos||$|
|Silver Dial Black||Bulova||$|
When it comes to watches that cost less than $100, the only thing that really matters is whether you like how it looks. The movement is not going to be anything fantastic so focus on its appearance — you just want it to look good on your arm.
You may remember Timex being mentioned in our Low Budget Watch Guide. Their Weekender line is actually one of my favorite watches for daily wear. I love wearing my Weekender Central Park or Easy Reader at the lake because I don’t have to worry about it when I’m playing catch with my son or building a bonfire. If it breaks, oh well, it’s replaceable. It’s a nice looking, classic timepiece that is great dressed down but also with a suit. I love the fact that you can make it preppy for the beach with a NATO strap or dress it up with leather. All-in-all, it’s a great watch and when it comes to Timex, you really can’t go wrong. As far as classic watches go in this price range, Timex is my top pick.
Casio is a very safe brand when it comes to sport watches. They don’t try to make their watches look better than they are by adding imitation stones or gold colored metals. If you’re looking for a really decent sports watch for casual wear, any Casio in this price range is a solid investment. Check out this one I found for sale on Amazon.
Seiko watches are about as good as they get in this price range as well as in many higher price points. They make some exceptional watches and a quick search on Amazon netted me two pages of choices for between $50 and $100. I really like this military inspired watch with a great retro look.
A lot of people don’t realize that Max Sturhling was actually a master watchmaker who studied under Louis Audemars of Audemars Piguet — one of the world’s most renowned luxury watchmakers.
However, Stührling wanted to make well-built timepieces that every man could afford. He left the luxury industry, which he could have easily made a name for himself in, and developed a line of watches that retails for no more than a few hundred dollars. Many of the watches feature automatic or mechanical movements and you can easily find some of their watches, like this one, for under $100.
Nautica is one of those prep-inspired brands that is worn by everyone from the fast food employee to the CEO summering in the Hamptons. There’s nothing overly exceptional about the brand, but it’s developed a good reputation for all of its products from polo shirts to watches. The best part is that you can easily find some under $100 that are nice but not flashy. Here’s one I found for $90.
Akribos is one of those brands like Invicta, Fossil and Nixon that really caters to a younger crowd. However, unlike the other aforementioned brands, Akribos doesn’t attempt to imitate the appearance of famous luxury watches, put imitation stones or metals on their timepieces or make watches that are as big as fists. Granted, some of their watches should be avoided, but they also make some pretty interesting timepieces that are great for the hipster crowd, design-conscious artists or someone wanting a fresh look. Here’s a neat one I found on sale for under $70 from regular $395.
Citizen watches are really quite good for the price. Granted, I wouldn’t buy one of their $500 timepieces, but any of the watches priced under $100 are well worth it. They are a very respectable watchmaker and one that is globally popular across almost all demographics. Here’s one that I found for $79.99.
Many falsely assume that Bulova is a luxury brand. In effect, they’ve done a fantastic job at making a lot of people think that they are. Bulova, despite some marketing practices I don’t necessarily condone, actually realize what (some) of their timepieces are really worth. I don’t personally wear their products, but both my wife and oldest son have Bulova watches that they really enjoy. This $99 one in particular is one worthy of your attention as it’s a perfect dress watch for a low price.
My intention was not to offend anyone by making inexpensive watches seem less-worthy. Just because something is less expensive doesn’t mean that it’s ‘cheap’. However, let’s call it what it is. When you’re buying a fifty dollar watch you’re foolish if you expect that you’re going to get a Rolex. You’re even more foolish if you try and get one that imitates it. Be proud of your watch, regardless of whether it’s a $30 Casio or a $30,000 Jaeger-LeCoultre. Your watch may not be an heirloom piece to hand down to your child, but you can be confident wearing it when you buy one that is simple, works well and didn’t cost more than a car. I own many of these watches myself and while I certainly wear some more expensive timepieces, I have no qualms about being seen in a Timex or Seiko.
Buy what you like, what you can afford and what you can justify. I know many men who can afford expensive watches but can’t justify in their own head spending so much on something that tells time. For some people, buying fine watches is important. For others it’s a sports car, and for most, it’s feeding, housing and spending time with your family.