Feature: Sub-£1,000 Watches
While £1,000 won’t get you the best watch—not by a long shot—it can still get you a good watch, and even a great one. Choose carefully, do the research, and you’ll find something worth hanging on to—or you can cheat and let us suggest something instead.
Longines Conquest Heritage L1.6126.96.36.199
It’s a wonder that Longines is a brand that doesn’t share its status with much more expensive watchmakers. It was founded before Patek Philippe, manufactured its first in-house movement in 1867, won multiple awards and is even considered to have introduced the industrialisation of watchmaking to the Swiss, who had previously relied on independent specialists.
The precision achievable with the introduction of machine tools not only laid the foundation for watchmaking as we know it today, but also allowed Longines to manufacturer some of the most accurate movements in the world, competing with the likes of Vacheron Constantin and, again, Patek Philippe.
This precision earned contracts with the US Navy, the Aeronautical Federation and even with the pioneering aviator and first person to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic nonstop, Charles Lindbergh. The brand even holds the accolade for manufacturing the first chronograph movement designed for a wristwatch, the 13.33Z and the first with a flyback function, the 13ZN.
It seems at odds with its history that Longines is not regarded more highly today—but depending on your outlook, this can be a good thing, because it means a watch from one of horology’s most influential pioneers can be yours for less than £1,000.
Based on a collection first introduced in 1954, the Conquest Heritage is every bit the vintage watch—without actually being old, of course. You get a delicate 35mm case, angular dauphine hands, double-size markers and a simple black dial. Only the addition of the date separates the appearance of the new and the old.
Being part of the Swatch Group, there’s no in-house Longines calibre like there was before, an ETA 2824 fulfilling time-telling duties instead, but for less than £1,000, it still equates to a whole lot of watch and a whole lot of heritage.
Oris TT1 WilliamsF1 Team Pointer Date 754 7585 41 64 RS
For something a bit more energetic, it’s to Oris we turn next. If you think Oris is some middle-of-the-road brand with no history to speak of, you’d be wrong. Founded a year before Rolex, it was one of the largest watchmakers of the early 1900s, with hundreds of staff across six manufacturing locations—including its own electroplating facility.
This is a company that was managed by Jacques-David LeCoultre for a decade—yes, that Jacques-David LeCoultre, co-founder of Jaeger-LeCoultre—that manufactured its own escapements and earned over 200 distinctions for accuracy. By the 1960s, the company produced over 1.2 million watches per year, employed over 800 people and even developed its own tools and machinery. It was one of the top ten largest watchmakers in the world.
As many of these stories go, Oris’ fate was met with the devastation of quartz technology, which reduced the brand’s workforce down to just a few dozen. At the time, the company was owned by the Swatch Group’s predecessor, but after a management buyout, Oris was independent once again—and the first order of business was to abandon quartz and focus solely on mechanical.
Although the company survived, it never managed to regain its former glory—but that just means its watches are more affordable today, so it’s not all bad. And there are some exceptional watches to be had, such as this WilliamsF1 Team Pointer Date. It takes a complication first adopted by Oris in the 1930s, the pointer date, and applies a liberal dose of F1-inspired touches.
It’s a very different watch to the traditional Longines, textured dial emblazoned with the logo of Frank Williams’ eponymous racing team, 42mm steel case fitted with hinged lugs to keep the treaded F1 tyre-like rubber strap comfortably in place. If it’s a unique, sporty watch you’re after, it’s a good bet for under £1,000.
Ball Engineer II Marvelight NM2026C-S6-BE
When an American railroad conductor’s watch stopped for four minutes in Kipton, Ohio, 1891, it resulted in a head-on collision between two trains, killing eight. Officials vowed never to let a disaster like that happen again, and so Cleaveland jeweller Webster Clay Ball was enlisted to bring accurate and consistent time to America’s railroads.
Ball instigated watch and timekeeping standards across the network, which according to the Ohio Historical Society, prompted the expression, ‘Get on the Ball.’ He enforced fortnightly checks of all the watches worn by railroad workers, insisting they be within thirty seconds per day, earning workers a reputation for always having the correct time.
These origins continue to play an important role in the brand’s direction, inspiring functional, practical designs such as with this Engineer II Marvelight here. The ‘RR’ railroad logo remains a prominent feature of a Ball watch, complemented by the train medallion on the case back.
But the Engineer II Marvelight isn’t just about the past—it provides a very modern set of features that make it a more rugged wear than its polished, DateJust-esque appearance suggests. The movement is protected from magnetism, for example, to 4,800 A/m, and can withstand shocks of up to 5,000 g.
The best trick is saved for last however, for when the light fades and the sunburst blue dial can no longer be seen, because while many watches use Super-LumiNova as a luminescent material to make the hands and markers glow, this Ball uses tritium. Super-LumiNova, a phosphorescent paint, absorbs light and slowly releases it, offering a glow that ultimately fades with time if not recharged.
Tritium, however, when interacting with a phosphorous material, emits light continuously via radioluminescence, because tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Not to worry, though—the beta particles can’t penetrate skin, and are here shrouded in glass vials.
These are three of a vast selection of sub-£1,000 watches that could be gracing your wrist. Doesn’t matter if you’re looking for something vintage-inspired, something sporty or something somewhere in-between, there’s plenty to choose from.
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