Feature: The Bargain Starter Collection
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It’s a well-known actual historical fact that this famous mantra was first uttered by a watch salesman when faced with a customer who couldn’t decide whether to spend all his money on one watch, or several. After all, why have one when you can have many—and here are three great budget choices at less than £1,000 each to get you started.
Longines Flagship Heritage L4.7126.96.36.199
Having a watch in your budding collection called the “Flagship” is certainly a good start. This is a well-sized, well-proportioned classic watch from a company that used to make watches like this back before you could just look at the time on your iPhone, and that means something. It means that Longines is no opportunist trying to ride the luxury watch gravy train—it’s been there, done that and got a selfie with it.
In fact, Longines was making watches before watches—or rather, wristwatches—were even a thing. Longines was even making watches some half-century before the first light bulb was invented. Since 1832, the Longines watch company has provided reliable, accurate and innovative timekeepers—that’s longer ago than the reign of Queen Victoria.
So, as heritage goes, this Flagship has it—and that’s why its full title is the Flagship Heritage. And what you get could be straight from the pages of history, the simple, refined layout and choice use of golden dial fixtures making the Flagship Heritage indistinguishable from a watch made way back in the last century.
It is, in fact, a continuation of a model line that comes direct from the 1950s, right down to the font used for the “Flagship” branding. Longines may not have the recognition of a watchmaker like Rolex today, but back then it was a brand making waves. From the first wristwatch chronograph in 1919 to the thinnest watch in the world at less than 2mm in 1979—and a whole host of stuff in between—Longines was a name that demanded respect.
It’s anonymity today may be a head-scratcher, but it has a hidden benefit: this is a watch from a very special watchmaker that you can add to your collection for less than £1,000. There aren’t many watches that can offer all of that.
Ball Fireman NECC DM3090A-SJ-SL
If a dive watch is good enough for the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, then it’s good enough for a starter collection. Sorry, who? The Navy Expedition Combat Command. That’s not a fictional organisation from a straight-to-DVD show trying to avoid a copyright claim, it’s the central command for pretty much the entire US Navy. I don’t know much about the armed forces and what they get up to, but my guess is they know what they’re talking about when it comes to rugged equipment for use in the water.
So, what’s so special about this Ball Fireman NECC dive watch, then? There’s an automatic movement—of course—a unidirectional ceramic bezel—what diver doesn’t have that these days—300m of water resistance—naturally—and a folding clasp—it wouldn’t really be a diver without one. Can it really be just a case of Ball being the first watch company to ask the NECC if it needed a watch, and the NECC were like, “Yeah, sure”?
No. There’s something special about this Ball, something unique. Alright, so I don’t expect combat troops sliding into a foreign bay in the dead of night on a blacked-out to rib to be rocking a polished, 42mm mechanical diver, but the Ball Fireman does have a little trick up its sleeve that would make it perform better than its rivals if it did.
The secret is in the lume. Where other watches use a photoluminescent paint called Super-LumiNova, which absorbs energy from ambient light and releases it again as a soft glow that fades over time, this Ball makes use of the radioactive material tritium. Wait, isn’t that illegal? It would be if it were still used in the fashion of old, painted directly to the dial, but here the substance is kept in small glass vials, fourteen in total, with the benefit of having a night-time glow that never fades. Well, with a half-life of twelve years, the tritium will fade after roughly twice that, but you know what I mean.
With examples available at less than £1,000, and with a little bit of a unique talent to boot, the Ball Fireman NECC is a valid option to add to your budget collection. Just don’t go all Ross Kemp on us if you do.
SevenFriday Essence V1/01
In a world of very expensive haute horlogerie masterpieces that are as confusing to read the time on as they are fascinating to look at, it seems that this slice of watchmaking is only an option for the most heavy of wallet. Your Richard Milles, your MB&Fs, your Urwerks—it’s an area of the game of life that most of us will never get to unlock. Well, it was until 2013, when the SevenFriday P1 came along.
The essence of the brand was this: save costs where it can to bring a taste of that high-end watchmaking flavour for a price that’s actually achievable—and the P1 did exactly that. By using a reliable but cheap—you can buy one for about £50—Japanese Miyota movement, it left a healthy budget to make everything else about the watch exactly what you’d expect from a brand pushing the frontier of design.
That ethos continues with this V1—same Miyota movement, same approach to design. Whether you like it or not—and it most certainly will be divisive—you can’t deny how unique it is, and how refreshing it is to have the availability of choice at a price this competitive.
And in true haute horlogerie fashion, reading the time on the V1 is as complex as the design itself. Note how the hours only go up to four, and the seconds up to twenty. Thankfully, SevenFriday has provided a pair of wheels that let you know how many more hours or seconds need to be added to calculate the actual time. Thanks, SevenFriday.
But this watch isn’t about efficient, minimalist time-telling, in much the same way a Philippe Starck lemon squeezer isn’t really about squeezing lemons. The fundamental principles of both devices are inherently flawed in the pursuit of style and statement—but boy do they make a statement, something every watch collection needs.
If you had a few thousand to spend, would you put all your eggs in one basket, or would you spread them around a bit? If the latter is more your style, then perhaps these three will give you some food for thought on just how far the budget can be stretched. It’s proof that you don’t need to be a millionaire to have a respectable watch collection—although, let’s face it, it would be nice …
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