My first watch brand 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 men's 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 watch brand commands a certain price point. And we provide fine examples in each watch brand, from the bottom tier all the way to the top.
The Timex watch brand 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 hyper-successful 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 Weekender on a canvas watch strap costing well under $50 and even higher end pieces like the Waterbury line for less than $200. For more trendy styles, check the Timex x Todd Snyder collaboration. The expanding collection have handsome designs and won’t steer you wrong when you’re just starting out as a budding watch lover.
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, some of them unbelievably gaudy.
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 Speedway line, 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.
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 Minimalist and the Carlysle Smart Watch are both excellent choices that can toe the line between dress and sport without killing your wallet.
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 Milanese bracelets make for a watch that’s stylish yet more on the understated side. Our favorites are the Sundby Titanium and the Holst Steel Mesh Multifunction.
Orient Watch Company, $90+
The Orient watch brand 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 over-styled 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 a watch that costs far less than its great specs would indicate.
If there’s one watch 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.
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. Read more: What is a chronograph?
Bulova was founded in New York in 1875 and is now owned by Citizen, a Japanese company. They released their first line of wristwatches in 1919. Interestingly, Bulova ran the world’s first television advertisement in 1941. In 1960, Bulova released the Accutron, which uses a 360Hz tuning fork instead of a balance wheel as its timekeeping element. The tuning fork is now a symbol of the brand. In 1971, astronaut David Scott walked on the moon with a Bulova watch, making it the only brand other than Omega to do so. The Lunar Pilot, a reissue of Scott's watch, uses a 262 kHz super high frequency quartz movement that loses only about 10 seconds of timekeeping per year.
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.
Of the Swiss watchmakers Tissot represents a brand that offers a lot of value for their (relatively) modest prices. Founded in 1853 in the Swiss town of Le Locle – predating Omega by 50 years – the family-founded company got its start in machining watch parts and pocket watches and ignited a century of innovations. For a lower-priced option we love the design of the Seastar with the Powermatic 80 featuring an 80 hour power reserve, or for a handsome racing watch with a vintage 70s appeal, take a look at the Heritage 1973.
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).
Nomos Glashüte, $1,900+
In 2014, Hodinkee proclaimed, “At this price point, there’s no other modern brand that gets design, manufacturing, and quality consistently right – across a range of models, to boot.” Nomos Glashütte is the largest manufacturer of watches in Germany. The brand is known for their minimalist Bauhaus-inspired design championed by their Tangente model.
No list of the best men's watch brands would be complete without including Omega. 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.
Grand Seiko, $2,200+
While technically a part of Seiko mentioned earlier, the luxury arm of the watch brand is so well regarded it needs its own entry. Started to prove Japanese watches could compete with those from Switzerland, Grand Seiko’s highly evolved in-house movements date back to the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Breitling has long been a tool for those in the jet-flying trade thanks to the brand’s Navitimer function, literally a navigation computer featuring slide rulers, the feature represents a self-contained pilot instrument for the wrist.
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 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 [pronounced sub-meri-ner], which will never look bad with anything you wear, ever. There are many copycats but only one original. Hoping to get into the brand without the price tag? Find out what the cheapest Rolex is.
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.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is referred to as “The Watchmaker's Watchmaker”
Jaeger-LeCoultre, or affectionately JLC, is a Swiss watch brand founded in 1833, and is credited with over 300 patents on movements, cases, dials and bracelets in the Swiss watch-making industry. JLC has a 1000-hour control test which is notable compared to other luxury brands. JLC is referred to as a “Watchmaker’s Watchmaker” as they have provided calibers to some of the most prestigious brands including Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, and Patek Philippe.
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.
Audemars Piguet, $18,000+
The Audemars Piguet watch brand has been family-owned since it was founded in 1875 in Le Brassus Switzerland. The brand has had several important innovations since that time including the first minute-repeating movement in 1892 which was subsequently sold to Omega, as well as some of the world's thinnest watches. In 1972, the first luxury sport watch named the Royal Oak was introduced uniquely featuring visible screwheads on the faceplate, inspired by the engineering of diving helmets.
Patek Philippe, $19,000+
We hope that one day, we’re successful enough to wear a Patek on our wrists. This watch brand is 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 $31,000,000 in 2019. 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 $19K.
FP Journe is one of the largest independent brands still owned by its founder, making only 800 watches per year. The brand designs and manufactures everything in-house, including the gold-crafted calibers. While the brand was only founded in 1999, prices for the watches have been soaring at auction.