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The Best Watch Brands by Price: A Horological Hierarchy

the best watch brands by price

A Horological Hierarchy

best watch brands
My first watch was a two-tone Seiko with a quartz movement, a mineral crystal face and a solid link stainless steel bracelet– and I loved it, not only for its crisp silver case with the gold bezel, the dark matte grey dial with the day/date window, but because it symbolized a coming of age for me. I wasn’t wearing a digital watch or even a plastic camp watch anymore. It was real metal and it made me feel grown up. I wore it every day and then later passed it on to a good friend who was just getting into watches. My next watch was an Oris TT1 Chronograph, a beast of a watch — and it was a Swiss automatic. My very first. It was another major milestone for me after getting a coveted job in the telecommunications industry. My next watch was easily a few notches up, an Omega Seamaster Professional Automatic that I’d fallen in love with in a magazine with Pierce Brosnan sporting it as the next 007. That was twenty years ago, and I still have it. Then came a stunning Omega Railmaster Automatic Co-Axial from my wife on our wedding day. What the next watch will be remains a mystery, but I have my eye on an IWC Pilot Chronograph. Maybe for my 50th birthday. That may not be your path along the progression of timepieces in your life, but it’s almost inevitable that if you’re serious about wristwatches, you’ll find yourself upgrading every so often because your watch sensibilities change and grow as you get older and as you get wiser about what watch brands have to offer. We’ve selected the progression of timepieces, explaining why each brand commands a certain price point. And we provide fine examples in each brand, from the bottom tier all the way to the top.
timex weekender, $31

Timex $25+

Timex had always been about value, rather than aesthetics — at least until recently. Timex really made its wristwatch presence known in the 1980s and has never looked back, improving its reputation with hypersuccessful lines like Ironman, Expedition and Intelligent Quartz. What’s great about Timex as a starter watch is that you don’t have to invest much, with classics like their Camper Watch and Weekender costing well under $50 and even higher end pieces like the Intelligent Quartz Flyback Chronograph for less than $200. Both watches have a handsome design and won’t steer you wrong when you’re just starting out as a budding watch lover.
seiko diver, $180

seiko $50+

If there’s one brand that captures value, reliability and longevity, it’s certainly Japanese watch powerhouse, Seiko. They literally have hundreds of styles including sport, casual, dress, and diving watches. Though the casual observer might think Seiko watches are cheap due to their Japanese origin, they’re one of the most beloved brands in the industry due to quality, reliability and extreme value. Every watch guy should own at least one Seiko in his lifetime, preferably one of their spectacular automatic divers.
invicta diver, $78

invicta $75+

Okay, so Invicta makes way too many different kinds of watches, with designs and pricing that can often be confusing to the uninitiated. Plus, they plug their wares on the Home Shopping Network like over-eager peddlers at a flea market. But in their massive selection, there are gems worth paying for. In fact, it’s easy to get a sub-$200 timepiece with a Japanese automatic movement and sapphire crystal. That’s a real bargain, given that you get features that show up on watches costing twice the price or more. The conservative dive watch styles are derivative from their far more expensive Swiss counterparts, but in models like the Pro Diver Automatic and the Ocean Ghost II, no one will fault you for your taste. It’s a solid upgrade over sub $100 models from brands like Timex and Casio. Just stay with their simpler styles, and you won’t go wrong.
orient mako, $133

orient watch company $80+

Orient doesn’t have the popularity of Seiko, despite being their subsidiary. But amongst affordable watch lovers, their reputation needs no introduction. From dress watches to automatic dive watches, their lineup is not only well-priced but versatile, classic and attractive with nothing overstyled or cheap looking. These are real watches for real people who use them day in and day out. The Mako is a fine example of watch that costs far less than its great specs would indicate. Their least expensive timepieces are slightly more expensive than their base Seiko brethren, but their priciest, the Pro Saturation Diver doesn’t approach Seiko’s Grand Seiko line, costing thousands.
skagen klassik, $114

skagen $90+

For those who like Danish minimalist design, Skagen watches are a good way to get into better than base watches, especially since most of their timepieces don’t cost more than $200. Clean dials, a lot of matte grey coloration and copious use of comfortable mesh bracelets make for a watch that’s stylish yet more on the understated side. Our favorites are the Ancher Titanium and the Holst Steel Mesh Multifunction.
fossil haywood, $165

fossil $100+

If you remember Fossil watches back in the day when you were getting your books dumped in high school, then know that things have changed a bit since then. No more Fossil Superman watches, only well-made and handsomely masculine watches that belie their $200+ price tag. They lean more in the direction of sport watches, and even their dressy styles are on the larger diameter side. The materials are easily a notch up from most Timex models, with consistent use of mineral crystal, stainless steel and medium grade leather. The Haywood Chronograph and the Wakefield Three Hand are both excellent choices that can toe the line between dress and sport without killing your wallet.
citizen perpetual calendar chronograph, $356

citizen $200+

Citizen watches are reliable, handsome and many even come with their Eco-Drive solar powered movement that never needs a battery. Their perception in watch circles as utilitarian tool watches is not unfounded, and that’s not a bad thing since they hold up incredibly well over time and are well designed, albeit sometimes busy like their Skyhawk pilot watches. Often shorn in mineral crystal for scratch resistance and made in larger diameter cases, Citizens are a solid masculine watch that won’t let you down. Our favorite is the sophisticated Perpetual Calendar Chronograph.
hamilton pilot, $356

Hamilton $250+

Hamilton used to be an American brand, until they were bought by the Swiss Swatch Group. But that doesn’t mean the brand has lost its American aesthetic. Bolstered by Swiss quality, Hamilton is definitely a step up from the sub $300 price point, especially their automatics which all boast solid stainless steel cases, sapphire glass and Swiss automatic movements. Their pilot watches are some of their best. The Hamilton Pilot is a sleek and beautiful timepiece.
oris divers Sixty-five, $1,650

oris $1,000+

To call Oris a Swiss bargain might sound like an insult, but that’s exactly what it is. Each of their models is well-designed (and not derivative), impeccably made and well-respected by anyone who knows anything about watches, though the name might be obscure to most brand-obsessed people. Oris has been issuing new models like the Oris Divers Sixty-Five that other watchmakers wish that they’d thought of but couldn’t possibly produce at that price ($1,650).
omega speedmaster mark ii, $4,195

omega, $2,000+

Omega’s horological influence goes way back to 1903, and the brand has never let up. It’s widely considered to be the sporting man’s Swiss luxury brand, with official ties to NASA (the Speedmaster, the first moon watch in 1969), the Olympic Games (since 1932) and the watch James Bond has worn in his movies since 1995’s Goldeneye. Vintage Omegas command great prices today, and collectors especially covet original Speedmasters. One of their most recent re-issues is perhaps their most beautiful, the Speedmaster MkII with their proprietary co-axial escapement movement.
Panerai History Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM 372, $6,995

Panerai $4,000+

Panerai owes its current cult fame to Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for wearing their big-diameter sandwich dial watches in their movies back when they were A-list action heroes. But the Royal Italian Navy diving watch has always been classy, rugged and masculine, making it appealing to watchlovers everywhere. The fame factor allowed Panerai to increase their prices after being acquired by luxury group Richemont in 1997. Their Panerai History Luminor 1950 3 Days PAM 372 is a classic that will never go out of style.
rolex submariner, $7,095

rolex $5,000+

Rolex is easily the most recognized watch brand in the world and for good reason. Their watches never seem to lose value, last lifetimes — and rare Rolexes like one Rolex 6062 triple calendar from 1953 in rose gold command upwards of half a million dollars. Vintage Rolex prices have skyrocketed, so new ones seem almost like a bargain. If you’re at this stage in your watch collecting prowess, stick with a classic like the Submariner, which will never look bad with anything you wear, ever. There are many copycats but only one original.
IWC Portugieser, $8,000

iwc $6,000+

Graduate to a timepiece from the International Watch Company and you’re in elite status. The Swiss watch company was actually started by an American watchmaker back in 1868 and boasts the fact that they are the only Swiss watchmaker located in the eastern portion of the country. Their designs are classic, elegant and utterly timeless (except for perhaps the Top Gun). If you’re lucky enough to own an IWC, especially a valuable vintage one like a Portugieser, IWC claims its service department has the replacement parts and can repair and restore watches from every era since IWC’s foundation in 1868.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1, $27,000

A. Lange & Söhne $15,000+

Of all things, a German watchmaker hailed as one of the finest in the entire world not just for quality, materials and accuracy but for artfulness. Their timepieces started with pocket watches back in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange in the town of Glashütte, near Dresden, Germany. The Lange family went on to make wrist watches for use by German pilots in World War II. Their current watches haven’t changed much (at least aesthetically) in decades, but they continue to innovate, which is what makes them so well-respected. Their Lange 1, for example has a feature where all the hands reset to zero when the power reserve runs out, making accurate watch resetting easy. Plus, they continue to develop their own in house movements (calibres) unlike other manufacturers who don’t go through the labor and expense of making proprietary movements.
Patek Philippe Grand Complications, $79,569

Patek Philippe $17,000+

We hope that one day, we’re successful enough to wear a Patek on our wrists. They are considered to be an ultra-luxury brand like A. Lange but with the bragging rights of the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, a Supercomplication pocket watch that sold for over $24,000,000 in 2014. Their predominantly automatic and handwound mechanical watches are art forms including the insane Calibre 89 with 39 complications, 1,728 unique parts, a 2,800 star chart and the ability to add a day to February every leap year, while actually leaving out an extra day for every 100 years. But you don’t have to go that far. You can get a Patek today for just under $16K.

Amos Kwon is the Editor-In-Chief for Web2Carz and has worked as the Automotive Section Editor for the popular men's digital lifestyle publication, Gear Patrol. He's covered topics such as cars, motorcycles, watches, cigars, spirits, travel, technology and style. He also has a background in real estate, telecommunications and law enforcement, which makes him oddly well-rounded. Amos is based in the Windy City, Chicago. Follow him on twitter @wrathofkwon.

  • Jerron Jorgensen

    There’s a few other brands on here that I was surprised to see excluded from the list, including Tissot, Bulova, Christopher Ward, and Daniel Wellington. Otherwise, a fine list, thanks for sharing!

    • TJ

      I agree, I’m surprised those were left out.

    • Russel

      I agree with Tissot and Bulova. I think the other wanted to highlight the more popular brands that is why Christopher Ward was left out. Also he wanted to do a list of Horogical Watch companies, Daniel Wellington is sometimes seen as an abomination.

      • Steve Kearney

        Daniel Wellington is an abomination? Explain

        • Russel

          They are cheaply made, terribly cheap quartz movements and inflated prices. Their design isn’t very original either. Skagen and Fossil also tend to have cheap quartz movements and sometimes some of them have hollow end links but they always tend to have decent finishing, an amazing warranty (I think 11 years) and they often have very original designs.

        • tr143

          It’s a nice-looking $5 Chinese quartz watch, sold for $200.

        • Drazen B

          Got given it for birthday, a month later glass popped out. Once fixed not long after the movement stopped. Tossed it in the bin. I agree with the poster bellow, $5 Chinese [email protected] quartz sold for $200+.

          You don’t happen to own one, do you?

    • tr143

      DW uses cheap generic watches that have just had their logo placed on them. They’re simple, low-cost watches likely buit to a lesser standard than your average $30 Timex, but sold for $200.

      They’re handsome, but they’re certainly not a “good” watch at $200 retail. I’d spend $100 more and get a Christopher Ward, which is actually worth the money.

    • billy

      Well it’s best brands by price. Bulova is a good $200 ish watch. But not as good as citizen around the same $200 and light years behind Hamilton in the $250-$1000 range. Tissot, is much better then Bulova, but still considered a step down from Hamilton by most people in fit and finish. Christopher Wards are good but overpriced lately for what you get. Daniel Wellington uses cheap movements and Fossil is typically better styled in that price range. Overall Hamilton is considered one of the best in that price range by most people for quality and style.

    • Marcelo

      World são Tissot, Bulova and Tag Heuer.

    • Skip

      Hamilton and Seiko are better than Tissot any day of the week.

    • Dr J and Mr H

      Tissot, Bulova, Daniel Wellington are garbage brands.Bulova is owned by Chinese company as DW is.Tissot reliability is not something they can be proud of.

  • Paden

    I’d like to see Bulova as well, I have one of their diving watches and other than the battery going out every few years its been a wonderful daily use watch.

  • CryptoReporter

    A great intro to watches, thanks!

  • Joe H

    Right under Skagen, the watch face reads ‘Denmark’, not ‘Germany’.

  • Butch_Zee

    I’m always on the lookout for a reasonably priced and very-well-made dive watch WITHOUT a date box. Under $500 would be great. Under $300 would be a must by [for me.] Any suggestions?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew
    • Scott

      You should check out the Binnacle Diver from http://www.bernhardtwatch.com. Sapphire crystal, solid end links, no date, and just a great value overall. They are highly regarded over at WUS.

      • Daniel

        Love Bernhardt. It’s my favorite watch.

      • Butch_Zee

        It’s an odd face, but it looks good. I guess it’s a tribute to the movie Jaws? Their “Binnacle Anchor III” watch is more my style. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Skip

      Orient Mako ($200-ish) or Seiko SKX or Seiko Turtle ($350+). Going Swiss I can only think of the Hamilton Diver that is like $475.
      https://www.amazon.com/Hamilton-Khaki-Navy-Scuba-watch/dp/B00193CVWW

    • Shayne Corritori

      I know that you are looking for a dive watch for under 500. However, there are better brands out there. If you go for the Rolex, which is 8,000, it will last you a very long time. I know that it is extremely expensive but it a a great investment. Those watches are so prestigious that they go into the category of legacy watches which you can deliver down the family without going out of style.

  • Geniuslives

    I have a Hamilton Khaki Pilot with leather bands and a Tissot with metal bracelet. I love them both. My jeweler said amTissots are made by Rolex, not sure how true that is. These two watches will get me through the next 20 years.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Beautiful, thanks for sharing!

      • Glen Ford

        Tissot and Rolex are not related. Tudor is.

  • TJ

    For me Seiko and Orient are that perfect mix of affordability, quality, and great aesthetics. I’ve got a Seiko 5 dive watch in Blue. My next is either going to be an Orient or Seiko dive watch with the “Pepsi” red and blue dial. I can’t decide between the two. I like the Seiko because it has the circles instead of the numbers but I like that the Orient one because it has the multiple crown/buttons.

  • JD

    I could have kept scrolling for days. Great list. I’m personally still enchanted by the Speedy. Such a wonderful watch with a magnificent history. Now if I can just find a black & white Schumacher edition I can die happy.

  • mtb rick

    Great article! With so many great watch brands out there, this is a good starting point to help those new to the world of horology. Articles like these keep me coming back to Primer.

  • Dan Nazaruk

    The Nomos Glasshütte Tangente is a very nice entry level luxury dress watch as well.

    • Shayne Corritori

      I am glad that you mentioned Nomos Glashutte. I love the brand with its disctinctive dark blue color.

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  • dancinginyourhead

    Some beautiful watches here, no doubt. But in this world where there are so many concerts to attend, records to buy, and countries to visit, I doubt you’ll ever see a watch costing more than $200 on my wrist. But hey, to each his own.

  • Aidan

    My first swiss automatic was an Oris diver.
    Best. Bracelet. Ever. made

  • Michael Barreiro

    Tissot and Victorinox are some of the highest quality watches for their price range. Sad to not see them on the list.

    • Skip

      For the money, Seiko makes a far better watch. I have owned a Victorinox automatic, and I regret it. Honestly, even Oris is kind of over-priced for the quality, but I would not go so far as to not recommend it (I would strongly recommend against Tissot).

  • Kyle Mitchell

    I’m sad not to see Jaeger-LeCoultre. Their newest master perpetual eight days is my favorite watch ever.

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  • Emíle-François de Coivier

    Where is Audemars Piguet and Ulysse Nardin?! Their absence disgusts me! I vomit upon all you Américains!!!

    • Shayne Corritori

      You are correct. However, we should also mention Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Richard Mille, Hublot, and others. I am glad that someone has some sense of real watches here. Did you notice how the Invicta was exactly the same as the rolex submariner exept for the second hand and the name. Plagiarism if you ask me. Also, I am looking forward to uying teh Ulysse Nardin Executive Dual Time. The only watches that I was happy to see were Rolex, Omega, IWC, Panerai, A. Lange and Sohne, Oris, and Patek Phillipe.

  • Zacharias Beckman

    Would love to know how BREITLING and FREDERIQUE CONSTANT fit into the horological hierarchy. Maybe even TAG HAUER. (Not just their price, it’s clear Breitling and Tag probably fall in between Oris and Omega – but a bit of background on the makers and watches themselves… for instance, isn’t Breitling credited with inventing the wrist chronograph)?

    • Glen Ford

      I really like my Bulova Precisionist and prefer a battery watch. Your discussion has been enlightening. I like the photo on the wrist watch.

    • HistoryProfessor

      How is it clear that Brietling fit between oris and omega?

      For future readers

      IWC
      Rolex
      Breitling
      Omega
      Tag
      Oris

      • Davedd

        Agreed

      • Shayne Corritori

        You forgot Hublot. Very sturdy and very durable as well as luxury like the ones that you listed.

  • Michael Martin

    A good list despite the subjectivity of personal tastes. I own a 1968 Omega Seamaster (redialed); three Seiko automatics including the Orange Knight dive watch, a Recraft, and one of their watches from their “Superior” collection; three Hamilton’s, two automatic and one manual wind…a 1930-1940’ish vintage piece; one d Freemont, which was my first automatic/mechanical watch…and a Chinese knock-off IWC Big Pilots watch, though it is not as big as the genuine watch. Having failed to pull the trigger on an IWC Mark XV when I could have bought one I balked and decided to build a collection consisting of multiple affordable (but not cheap) watches that still don’t cost as much as the IWC.

  • Jonas Wegelius

    Please remove Fossil from any serious watch discussion. Me and my better half have had in total 3 of them, 2 broke within a year the third had its watch band break. They are utterly garbage. Look nice but that’s about all there’s about it. Please note as well that many of the wathes like Tissot use the same watch movements made by ETA. in other words the only thing distinguish between them are materials and design.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      That sucks, I have a fossil that I bought in 1999 and still works great!

      • Jonas Wegelius

        Maybe the old ones were better. My experiences with them from 2009-2011 are not good at all. And since it happened to 3 consecutive watches I don’t believe it was bad luck…

  • Hivort

    And what about Vacheron Constantin

    • Shayne Corritori

      Exactly.

  • Chris

    Solid list, while I don’t agree with some I think the core of these are spot on. I’ve built my own <$500 catalog a while back and think it not only adds to the discussion but also helps with brand and watch education. http://www.venturio.us/watches

  • Michael

    I have several watches, maybe 12 or so, and they go from my Weekender to my Hamilton, to the Speedmaster I just bought over the weekend. This is a great list with each brand outlined very well.

  • Tom

    You forgot http://www.royaletimepieces.com – they have some beautiful and affordable watches for men

  • https://www.apakboutique.com APAK Boutique

    Impressive collection.
    Check out this list of affordable watches and many other items: https://www.apakboutique.com/collections/mechanical-watches

  • Davedd

    Sorry, can’t recommend Invicta or Fossil at any price point. Both are generally garishly designed cheap mass produced disposable watch. Yes, Invicta tosses the odd base eta movement in one of their cheap cases but at that price you can get a the same movement in a watch with some style and pedigree such as Hamilton or Certina.

    • Shayne Corritori

      Good opinion. Did you notice how Invicta basically plagiarised and copied the Rolex submariner. Only the second hand and the name were different. Actually, even the name was arranged like the Rolex.

  • Zetsuke4

    WHERE IS G-SHOCK???

    Panerai Luminor is ugly and overrated.

    • Shayne Corritori

      Sorry buddy, why don’t you go back to your cheap Japanese quartz for $5. Your a discrace to watches if you would prefer G-SHOCK over Panerai.

  • Shayne Corritori

    I love the plagiarism by Invicta. Somebody must have noticed the Rolex Submariner in the image of the Invicta. Only the second hand was different than the rolex and the name as well. On first glance, I would have been sure that the watch was the submariner.

    • Mac Mathew

      Are you in Canada or USA ?

      • Shayne Corritori

        Why do you ask?

  • Priya Khan

    it was make for the young girls and boys. Latest Watches Designs for Girls 2017

  • Rajshekar Kumaresan

    Good list ! I jus wanna know whether Seiko Astron worth the price 2000$. Im looking for a rose gold casual watch.

  • http://www.dealmonitor.in/ The Believer

    Awesome collection… ! Rolex has always been my dream. A premium watch worth buying! I’ve seen few more good watches at http://www.watchista.in/

  • johnw1104

    I got my first decent watch recently, it’s the Bulova Accu Swiss 63C121. I’ve always loved the blue and silver combo, and so it just seemed like a great watch to get started with and see if it appeals to me.

    So far I’ve loved it. Apparently I should have waited a while as the retail price has dropped from $2,000 to only a few hundred now lol, could have saved me a bit of money. From what I’ve seen this appears to be happening to most watches over the last year or two, so some of the better brands might be in striking distance now 🙂

  • Dr J and Mr H

    I couldn’t put this article better.

  • Michael Kerwin

    Shinola is another great American watchmaker.

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