Feature: 5 Luxury Watches That Are Cheaper Than You Think
It’s no secret that the price of watches is rising. Gone are the days when a Rolex Submariner cost just a few thousand; with every passing wave of new releases comes a little kick in the pants of the RRP, and there’s no sign of it slowing. Whilst this seems like a blow to the average enthusiast, it’s just one perspective on the industry—take a different view, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Oris Chronoris Date 733 7737 40 53 LS
It may seem like all the good quality watchmaking has been taken by the pricing tsunami, but it’s just a matter of where you look. High quality Swiss watchmaking from a brand with significant history is not just the reserve of the bigger budget, because thanks to a handful of brands like Oris, there’s still hope yet.
Take, for example, the ChronOris Date. This is made by a brand founded the year before Rolex, that was one of the top ten largest watchmakers in the world in its heyday, with over 800 people working to produce over 1.2 million watches a year. The ChronOris was one of those watches, a 70s racing design that’s back for the new millennium.
Given the near-insanity vintage watch prices have been experiencing of late, the ChronOris not only offers excellent value for money at £1,450 as a Swiss watch, but also as an alternative to something that actually heralds from fifty years ago. And it doesn’t fall into the trap of looking good but being oversized—at 39mm in diameter, it hits the sweet spot without being too small or too big.
Features are simple but effective, including the internal, crown operated bezel and the Sellita SW 200 automatic movement—despite the name, this is not a chronograph—and the choice of leather, rubber, fabric or steel straps offers a variety of styles to complement the grey or black dial options. But what you really get here is an attractive, well-built watch that’ll scratch an itch much bigger than its price would otherwise let on.
Rolex Oysterquartz DateJust 17013
It was almost a century ago when Bell Labs engineer Warren Morrison made a discovery that would, some half-century later, shake the watchmaking industry to its core. The seemingly innocuous detail he revealed was that a quartz crystal, when charged with a current, vibrated at a frequency that could be used to accurately measure time.
This simple little revelation was to change the course of history forever. Like the advancement of the computer chip or even electricity itself, the little shard of vibrating crystal in Morrison’s lab grew to become a multi-billion-dollar idea.
Not being one to get left behind, having heralded the acceptance of the wristwatch in the first place, Rolex saw fit to develop a watch using this impressive new technology. The Swiss government had already funded the creation of the Beta-21 calibre, which Rolex contributed to, but the design was fraught with problems, and so Rolex decided to take the idea in a new direction.
So, what Rolex did was take a mechanical 3035, throw the escapement away and add a quartz oscillator—one that beat four times faster than the Beta-21, naturally. From there, the movement is all mechanical, with the oscillator driving a pallet fork that provides motion to the going train and ultimately the hands. This full-on mechanical approach is what gives the Oysterquartz its backlash free second hand and its trademark ‘tick’.
But there’s so much more to the movement than that, with Rolex demonstrating one of the first examples of thermocompensation, using a thermistor to monitor temperature and adjust voltage accordingly. There’s even an option for manual regulation, such was Rolex’s commitment to the pursuit of accuracy.
But the craziest thing about the Oysterquartz, this 70s styled, prototype watch with its jewelled, decorated quartz movement, is that, at just over £3,000, it costs less than half the equivalent steel and gold DateJust today.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 3570.50.00
Omega’s Moonwatch is no secret, and neither is the story behind it. With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, Omega is being especially overbearing about the whole thing, like that one guy in your office who brags about the same damn story to anyone within hearing distance. You know the one I mean.
The moon landings are good and all, and Omega’s involvement is worth celebrating, but in amongst all this noise hides another fact that is also rather remarkable. It’s hiding in plain sight and, thanks to Omega’s obsession with telling anyone who stands still long enough that its watches have been worn on the lunar surface, has been somewhat overshadowed.
Perhaps a little background will make this clearer. Today, if you wanted to buy what many consider to be the only chronograph worth owning—despite not being selected by NASA to go to the moon, Omega will be keen to remind you—you’d be heading to Rolex. The Daytona is hot, hot property right now, despite early sales misery in the 60s, and despite an RRP of a whopping £9,550, is completely sold out, and probably will be until humans go to the moon once more.
An unfair comparison, perhaps. How about Omega’s own racer, the Seamaster Bullhead chronograph? That’s still a wallet-busting £6,620. Perhaps now you’ll see where this is going, because right now, in 2019, a Speedmaster Professional in full Moonwatch spec with the stunning manually wound calibre 1861 chronograph movement will cost you, brand new, just £3,810. Lightly used, you can pay less than £3,000. If that’s not good value, then I don’t know what is.
Grand Seiko SBGX321J
Sometimes people refer to something or someone as needing no introduction, but in the case of Grand Seiko, that’s rarely the case. This little-known subsidiary of the monster that not only produces Seiko watches, but a whole host of other imaging and electronic devices as well, has flown under the radar outside of Japan for a long, long time—and even now its mastery is often overlooked.
Having risen to founder Kintaro Hattori’s challenge to beat the Swiss at their own game, pipping every Swiss movement bar the Beta-21 quartz in the 1968 Swiss accuracy trials, the watchmakers at Grand Seiko hung up their loupes as the company focussed its efforts on its electrical endeavours. But although that was the end of a chapter, it was not the end of the story for Grand Seiko.
In 1998, Grand Seiko was revived, and challenged with the same goal as it was a century ago: to beat the Swiss. And how about this for a start: Grand Seiko makes every single part of its watches in-house. Everything. Not even Rolex can say that.
Take the dial, for example, specifically the hands and markers. A seemingly innocuous little addition to a watch that aids the clear telling of time, but for Grand Seiko, it is an opportunity to demonstrate hand-crafted perfection to an almost unreasonable degree. Each facet you see, every brushed line, has been applied by hand. From a distance, the difference is merely reflected in the flash the surfaces give you when they catch the light, but when you dare to look closer, the crisp edges and mirror finish do not falter. Rolex, by comparison, doesn’t even make its own hands.
And because this particular Grand Seiko makes use of the brand’s excellent 9F quartz movement—with home-grown quartz crystal aged for 90 days and twin pulse control motor—all this can be yours for less than £3,000.
Blancpain Leman Flyback Chronograph Grande Date 2885F-1130-53B
We all dream of owning a watch made by one of the very founding fathers of Swiss watchmaking, one fit to bursting with exquisite complication and expert finishing—but for most of us that’s a pipe dream that stands little chance of ever coming true. Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet—they’re all asking tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds for the kinds of watches we’d sell our own mothers for, and so the dream is dead.
But need it be? How about owning a watch with multiple complications from the oldest Swiss watchmaker still around today? Better yet, one with an exhibition back that lets you peer in at some of the best watchmaking in the world? And, as the cherry on the cake, one that you can purchase for less than that Omega Seamaster Bullhead mentioned earlier?
If this sounds like a cruel trick, believe me, it’s not. This Blancpain Leman Flyback Chronograph Grande Date may have an expansive name, but its price is not quite so excessive. New it costs some £10,000—very reasonable as you’ll soon see—but pre-owned? You’re heading for half that.
Why is that such a big deal? For a start, Blancpain’s origins can be dated all the way back to 1735. That’s closer to the discovery of America than it is the start of Michael Jackson’s solo career. Secondly, three numbers and a letter: 69F8. That’s the Frederic Piguet-based calibre that drives this thing, and it’s packed with complication. There’s a column wheel chronograph, flyback of course, and a big date tucked in at six o’clock so subtly it almost goes by unnoticed. It takes 382 components to do all this—that’s about 25% more than your average perpetual calendar.
But it’s really the beauty of the movement that seals the deal here. Even the surfaces you don’t see are polished, turned, striped and bevelled; it’s the kind of watchmaking exertion that warms the very cockles of the soul.
The future of affordable watchmaking may seem bleak, but we’re not licked yet. Look in the right places and you’ll still find fine examples of the world’s best for budgets less eye-watering than you’d imagine. If your passion for watches is about more than brand and status, then you’ll soon find that things are looking very good after all.
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