Great Watches under $100

The Inexpensive Watch Guide

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.

Timex Weekender watch with leather strap

Timex Weekender watch with leather strap

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:

1. Online.

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.

Nice Nautica watch for under $100

Nice Nautica watch for under $100

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.

Fake gold Nixon is something to avoid

Fake gold Nixon is something to avoid

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

Watch ModelBrandPrice
T2N747KW Weekender Timex$
Casio GA100-1A1 Casio$
SNK805 Seiko$
699.02 Aviator Quartz Stuhrling$
N14555G NST Nautica$
AK715SSB "Retro" Stainless Steel Akribos$
BF0580-06E Citizen$
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.

Timex

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

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.

Great looking good quality Seiko watch

Great looking good quality Seiko watch

Seiko

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.

Stührling

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.

Japanese Movement Label

Japanese Movement Label

Nautica

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

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.

A great Citizen watch for under $100

A great Citizen watch for under $100

Citizen

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.

A great looking simplistic Bulova

A great looking simplistic Bulova

Bulova

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.

Conclusion

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.

Summary
Article Name
The Inexpensive Watch Guide
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The ultimate guide on buying watches under $100. With brand recommendations and shopping ideas.
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21 replies
  1. Joe says:

    Nice post and a very welcome nod to less expensive timepieces. I like a nice watch but don’t want to get to the shallow end of the pool even for a daily watch. Yet there are some TIMEX watches I’ve been impressed with on other’s wrists. While I think my ORIS is a nice daily watch and can see/feel the difference between it and a TIMEX, I have no illusions that it is a grand watch. I even insisted it have a stainless bracelet instead of a leather strap. I’ll save that for a more upscale watch if I ever go there. Point is, you are spot on with the advice to get what fits your style and your comfort level and enjoy wearing it.

  2. Airstream Style says:

    I have the Seiko. I’ve been wearing the exact watch in your article for well over a year now and I am extremely pleased. In fact it is much more accurate than my Citizen quartz watch. My favourite thing aside from never buying batteries is the stainless steel case. Most inexpensive watches are plated but the Seiko is stainless all the way through so there is no wearing away of the finish. It is a true bargain on Amazon.com which is where I too purchased mine. Thanks for another great writeup!

    • Athlone says:

      Allow me to voice my support of Mr. Evans’ suggestion. There are many watches available at this price point, but none of them can come close to the Timex 20501 in terms of simplicity, which is, after all, the essence of classic style at any price.

  3. Joe says:

    “Bulova, despite some marketing practices I don’t necessarily condone”

    – This caught my eye. Care to elaborate to an uninformed reader?

  4. Prus Prusic says:

    Good guide overall, I think. However I don’t quite agree with the “knockoff” part. There’s that one terrible company selling really cheap copies, and these really are terrible terrible watches. BUT, if it’s only heavily inspired… it might actually look really good! Like the Steinhart Racetimer.

    And about the gold plating part: I own a 20-year old Citizen 50m Alarm Chronograph. Works perfectly. Barely any gold-loss.
    And what’s more, a 40-year old Rubis 17… not much gold-loss either!

    So it’s not that bad.

  5. STS says:

    Loved this article, and appreciate the philosophy about prioritizing your luxury purchases while avoiding looking cheap. I’m old enough that I really feel naked if I leave the house without a wristwatch but young enough that I rely much more heavily on my cell phone to tell me the time, so quality and reliability in a watch have never been that important to me. Now, I do always make a point to change the batteries and update for DST, but (for myself at least) I’ve found that I would much rather buy a nice Visconti or Mont Blanc fountain pen than a luxury watch. Since college, I have owned the same three watch styles (which I have no problem throwing out and replacing when they get too banged up since you can easily find any of them for about $50) which have fit the bill for just about any occasion 1. A gold tone rectangular faced Citizen (with matching metal strap) for when I’m wearing gold toned jewelry, 2. an identical silver-toned Citizen, 3. and a Timex weekender with a canvas strap for anything casual/outdoors. One of these days I suspect I may get into the pocket-watch aesthetic, but today is not that day.

  6. Falkon Nightsdale says:

    Well, my wristwatch is from Tchibo outlet, where it was for something about $50 in that day exchange rates, $30 in these days, if I remember correctly.

    As standard for TCM (Tchibo Certified Merchandise) product, they are pretty resistant. Only leather strap fall apart after maybe 4 (?) years, so I had to replace it. I settled for cheap (~$3) leather strap. It’s pretty thin leather, but it’s comfortable and in good condition after almost year. There are some cracks on inner side in closing area, but for that price, it’s perfect..

    Photos with description there: https://plus.google.com/photos/110280789852694880757/albums/6117314930671291489?authkey=CNnr6fighoqt1AE

  7. David Schwartz says:

    I love this entry. I own a Timex and a Japanese watch called a Swanson, which is a Rolex-style watch. The watch I regret tossing out was a fully mechanical, “student” Timex, vintage 1985. Great watch – simple mechanical movement, white dial, black numbers. I now have a very expensive watch as well, but the pleasure of a simple mechanical movement that costs less than one percent of my expensive watch cannot be described!

  8. Alessio Moscara says:

    Esquisite as always. I am 25, and own five watches: a Raketa and a Vostok (original pieces from Russia), a sector (cheap looking but though), a CK chronographer elegant but big and last but not the least a seiko 5 like the one you have shown up in the article. I made a promise that the first watch i would have brought with my very money had to be a mechanical automatic. I paid it 60 € on amazon and it totally worth its price. I am very proud of it and despite my father wants to make me a present giving to me one of his watches or buying me a serious one, I think that this will be a life companion to me. This article was very inspiring. Thanks.

  9. Edwin says:

    I have several watches. Benrus, Caravelle Bulova, Invicta, Casio and Timex and I love them all…and that’s not all of them but some names escape me right now… I had an Omega Speedmaster I loved but it needed some repairs and was more then I wanted to spend so I sold it and got more then I paid for it…

  10. Tom says:

    I am surprised that the name “swatch” hasn’t been mentioned as an option in that price range – something not stylish enough for a gentleman?

  11. Ray says:

    First of all, when a man is not abel to afford a $200 watch, he should put in the work to be able to afford a $200 watch. It easy the easy way to buy a cheap watch, a man should never go the easy way. Put in the work, save the money and buy a watch which represents you. Are you a cheap cat? OK, go with the $100 piece.

    Second, I understand that not everyone is willing to spend $5000 for a new Omega. This is something I wouldn’t do either. What I recommend is, buy a secondhand vintage Omega. Recently, I spent around $800 for a Omega Seamaster from 1964. A classic vintage piece. This is the way to go for a man who is modest, but not cheap.

    Ray

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Ray, there are people in this world who earn very little money. Of course, they work hard but they have expenses and often they already work 2 jobs. Buying vintage and used is always a great way to get great value for your money. But if you only ever had used things, sometimes you just want something new that is your’s and your’s alone.
      People are different, please respect that. Just because something is ideal for you doesn’t mean it is the holy grail that everybody should adjourn to. Also, if all people would buy used Omegas, there wouldn’t be many around after a while, although this is of course just a theory and will never happen practically because you will always have people who buy new.

    • Falkon Nightsdale says:

      Well… I’m afraid, that I see no point in paying outrageous sum of money for a device, that is more a decoration, as it usually do nothing is, than monitor time… 😉

      Actually, I prefer to be (hopefully positively) represented by my knowledge and wisdom, not expensive trinkets… 🙂

      Not mentioning, that while I’m working for government, my wage is barely enough to pay tuition and my share on a rent for flat** where I’m living with friends… Even if I’ll make it to the ministry, it wouldn’t change too much…
      (**Well, to be honest, I’m living in a nice and large (125 m2) 3+1 flat from the beginning of last century in center of our capital city, where usual 3+1 is about 60-80 m2, with venetian stucco all over the kitchen).

  12. Chad Schiel says:

    I have four Stuhrling Origional automatic watches and LOVE them. They tend to run a bit fast, but I don’t care since I rotate throughout the week anyways. I feel that it’s a beautiful time piece all it’s own… Unique! They’re not trying to copy anyone, and as a financial planner who’s conscious about over spending and likes a good value, it pleases me to know that I have yet to spend over $100 on a watch. I also have that Seiko military watch in olive and am very impressed with it.

    I look at wrist watches as accessory pieces, and since the smart phone keeps perfect time and my schedule, alarm, and calendar, that’s all it will ever be to me… Just a fun accessory.

  13. Tom says:

    I have a couple of Citizen’s (brown and black, both with face). Love them and work for all occasions. The Eco-system (whatever its called) means no winding and no batteries – bonus. Thank you for this article. — DrT

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