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Affordable Automatic Watches - The Best Value Mechanical Watches

Posted on June 19 2019

 

Why are Automatic Watches Expensive?


There’s an assumption among the public that watch collecting is a rich man's game.

Mention that your hobby involves buying watches and people will ask you about Rolex’s. In the popular consciousness buying multiple watches is an expensive past time. They’ve seen the prices of Omega’s and Rolex’s in the jewellers windows and they imagine watch collecting has an entry level beginning in five figures.

It's not a bad assumption to make as mechanical watches produced by luxury brands are very expensive. They're the result of years of research and development and have a very high level of workmanship and precision. They're often made from precious metals and have intricate and decorated movements that use jewels to limit wear and tear.

Are there Cheap Automatic Watches?


The watch aficionado understands that there’s a place for everyone in the watch collecting community. That may involve collecting reasonably priced vintage pieces, buying cheaper homages to your favourite designs or modifying standard watches to suit your tastes. How and why you collect watches is up to you.
Importantly, just because you’re shopping on a budget there’s no reason to assume that you can’t have well designed and well built watches. And crucially, you’re not limited to battery powered quartz models.

There’s plenty of affordable mechanical watches for sale on and offline.

What is an Automatic Watch?


Automatic watches are mechanical. Think of a traditional watch with gears and springs that needs wound up every morning. An automatic watch has that technology but with the addition of a rotor that moves inside the watch. As you naturally move your wrist during the day the rotor spins and automatically winds your watch. This powers the watch - no plastic movement with a battery and the subsequent replacements - just a mechanical engine that can run for a century if well maintained.

The watch can have additional complications - all mechanical - from a day or date window, to the moons phase or a stop watch.


What are the Best Affordable Automatic Watches?

 

What are the best automatic watches involves a little personal preference and some discrimination. The cheaper mechanical watches range from blatant homages of expensive luxury models, to smaller boutique brands that just offer great value for money.

A large section of this market is also made up of big, well-established watch manufacturers that have specific affordable lines of watches. In Japan, for example, this is the Seiko 5 line and Orient's TriStar collection. These watches were created to be easily accessible and reliable automatic watches.

 

There are other companies whose whole range is affordable. The ones I've looked at closely include Stuhrling Original, Invicta and Avi-8

 

I'm a big fan of the affordable end of the market and here I'll take you through a selection of automatic watches that won’t cost you a small fortune. These are what I believe to be among the best.


Seiko

Where better to start than with Japanese legends Seiko?

Because they are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet we seem to feature them in every other blog post. They’ve had a great influence on the watch trade, having released the world's first quartz watch, the first quartz chronograph and introduced the innovative Kinetic models – a marriage of mechanical automatic watch features with quartz accuracy.

Although they do have their Grand Seiko luxury line the brand is primarily known for its affordable watches. Here’s a couple of the cheaper automatics that we find particularly interesting.

 

SNKM97

Seiko Recraft

 



This model is a part of Seiko’s Recraft line. A series of watches with a retro styling. It’s an attractive watch, very reminiscent of watches the brand was producing in the 1970’s. It’s an automatic and uses Seiko’s 7s26 movement which can be viewed through the exhibition back.

At 43.5mm wide it has a larger case more in keeping with today's tastes and there’s even 50m water resistance. Like all of the watches on this list, there’s a lot here for the money.

 

 

 

 

SNK805K2

Seiko_SNK805


We previously featured a version of this watch in our post about watch modification. There we highlighted the SNK809, which is the black version of this model. We noted there that as a part of the Seiko 5 line the watch has the following five features.

  • Automatic winding
  • Day/date displayed in a single window
  • Water resistance
  • Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
  • Durable case and bracelet


The SNK805 has all of that plus a green military styling. Like the 809 there’s the option to modify the watch with a series of aftermarket parts produced by third parties.

 

 

 

Vostok Amphibia

Vostok Amphibia


From 1965 Russian company Vostok were the official suppliers to the Ministry of Defence of the Soviet Union. They supplied the soviet state, army and navy with their watches.

The Amphibia is their most well known and highly regarded creation.

The original brief for the designers was to cheaply build a bomb proof 200M rated divers watch for the Soviet military. The result is a much loved design classic. A chunky automatic watch with some innovative features, yet still brutally simple. It is now available in a large number of dial and case options. The watch shown here is the classic ‘Scuba Dude’ design with a 40mm case and 18mm bracelet.

 

Vostok Komandirskie K-35

Vostok K-35


The Vostok Kommanderskie, or 'Commander' is the Chistopol based company's other iconic watch. Where the Amphibia is one of the worlds best value divers, the cheaper Kommanderskie was one of the best value mechanical watches full stop.

Having been first introduced over fifty years ago, there's been a considerable number of variations released, including both automatic and hand wound models. The current range gives plenty of choice including the newer K-35 models.

The watch pictured (Model 350749) has an inhouse Vostok automatic movement, a water resistance of 100M and a chunky 41mm case.

 

 

Pagani Design SX071

Pagani Design Auqaracer


Homage watches make up a significant part of the affordable watch market. Classic designs produced cheaply but without the watches being outright fakes. It’s a bit of a grey area, but for many, an enjoyable part of their watch collecting hobby.

Pagani Design are a Chinese company and the SX071 is clearly based on TAG’s Aquaracer. It’s a large watch, coming in at nearly 48mm. The automatic movement is the ST6 by Chinese giants Sea-Gull and there’s a ceramic bezel. Overall, a nice and very cheap alternative to the Aquaracer.

 

 

Orient

The Orient brand is part of the Seiko Group, so like the better known brand they make well regarded quality watches with their own inhouse movements.

Orient produce some great divers that we’ve featured in this blog, but we’re going to look at a few more dressy designs in this list.

 

Bambino FAC0000CA0

Orient Bambino


The Bambino is Orients most popular minimalist design. There’s a number of generations and versions and this model is a second generation, version 3.

The watch has an almost Bauhaus styling and is reminiscent of some of the more affordable German brands like Junghans and Junkers.

At 40mm it’s probably a little larger than you’d expect, the Junghans Max Bill for example comes in at 38mm. However, the styling, other than the date window, is very plain and symmetrical. All clean lines and subtly. If you’re new to watches and have already contemplated a Daniel Wellington or similar, we’d really suggest considering the Bambino as both a cooler and higher quality daily dress watch.

The addition of both a domed dial and crystal are touches you’ll not find on modestly priced high street brands.

 

 

Bambino FAC00009W0

Orient Bambino White

This version of the Bambino takes its style cues from even further back, with a clear vintage inspiration. It’s busier and more colourful, and again, a worthy contender for your daily dress watch.

 

 

Invicta 8926

Invicta 8926 Black

Invicta are another brand we’ve mentioned a few times here - the last being our look at watches that you can use as a base for modification. It was this model that we highlighted, the 8926 Submariner styled diver.

Although the company is now American owned, Invicta has its roots in Switzerland during the late 1880's. So it has heritage. Its corporate headquarters are in Switzerland along with its customer service centre and its current president is a fifth generation watchmaker. Invicta also own a number of other brands including Glycine.

The 8926 is a relatively straightforward take on a Rolex Submariner. It’s 40mm with 20mm lugs and 200M WR. It also has a Seiko NH35A automatic movement - an improvement on the movement used in the two Seikos above.

Everyone needs a divers watch so this is a good place to start if you want something with classic styling and the option to customise down the line.

 

 

Parnis Pilots Watch

Parnis Pilot


We’re going to cheat a little here and include a handwinding watch.

Chinese brand Parnis have made quite a name for themselves by producing a large selection of homage and classically styled watches. They’re readily available in the west, from both the big eCommerce sites and independent retailers.

The particular model is clearly inspired by the IWC Big Pilots watch used by the German Luftwaffe. At 44mm it’s not as big as some of the other similar styled aviators and the dial is a little busier than those too.

That’s probably a positive - Parnis have added a faint touch of colour, a sub-seconds dial, a logo and numbers for both hours and minutes. But they’ve kept the large, simple case, onion crown and the classic brown strap.

Overall, it’s a nice watch with an exhibition back to see the mechanical movement in action. If you really must have an automatic version you’ll have to go a bit over the £100 budget.

 

 

Alpha Explorer

Alpha Explorer Watch


In a very similar vein to Pagani Design and Parnis, Alpha are a budget Chinese brand that produce mostly homage watches.

There’s not many brands producing watches inspired by Rolex’s Explorer I, although we did pick out a few here.

The Alpha Explorer is a tidy watch with all the design details you’d expect from a homage. It has the modest 38mm sizing and simple black dial with numbers at 3, 6 and 9. This particular variation is powered by a Japanese Miyota automatic movement and comes with a mineral crystal. Again, like others on the list, there’s a lot of watch here for a sub £100 price tag.


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