Traditionally more ‘affordable’ watches haven’t been all that fantastic when compared to their exotic swiss cousins, but today this is far from true. There is a myriad of brands that high quality, beautifully designed watches all for the tiniest of fractions of the price of their luxurious counterparts. At their core, they still perform the same function and do so almost as well as their expensive counterparts, but they do so without a ridiculous mark-up that a brand with the cache of Rolex can do.
For some time, those who had the funds to delve into the world of fine Swiss watchmaking would raise their nose at the thought or sight of the likes of a Seiko or Citizen. Again, those times have changed and so has the watch community. Ultimately what binds the watch world together is a love for a small mechanical device that sits upon one’s wrist and tells the time. Whether you wear a $500,000 Richard Mille or a $50 Swatch, you ultimately share a passion for the same thing, watches. In this day and age, the worlds watch community appreciates this passion more than ever.
Sure an affordable watch, won’t have the most accurate Swiss movements or be made from some exotic blend of carbon fibre and white gold, but as a daily timekeeper they still carry out their main function and you don’t have to worry as much if they succumb to the odd knock or scrape.
Here are the 14 affordable watch brands that should be on your horological radar.
Seiko – the Japanese word meaning exquisite or success – has become one of the most recognisable names in horology since it was formed in 1881, and is credited with being the first to produce a watch that combined an automatic movement with the accuracy of quartz. The company’s most well-known series is the 5, which represents five criteria that a Seiko watch must meet to be able to use the moniker.
Founded in 1918, Citizen is another internationally recognised Japanese watchmaker. The company hold’s a few “world’s first” titles, such as the world’s first multi-band atomic timekeeping watch, which is accurate to within one second in one hundred thousand years. It’s the company’s Eco-Drive technology that’s perhaps most well-known though, which relies on a solar panel to keep the internal battery charged. This internal battery can last up to 40 years before it needs to be changed.
Casio is another Japanese manufacturer of watches, with its fingers in several other consumer electronic pies. Many of us no doubt had the company’s classic basic digital watch on our wrists growing up, before upgrading to the iconic G-Shock line. Designed to resist mechanical shocks and vibrations first and be a fashion accessory second, the G-Shock can unequivocally be deemed a success, with more than 100 million sales worldwide.
Starting life as the Waterbury Clock Company in 1854 before reforming as Timex Corporation in 1944, this Connecticut-based company is often credited as being the inventor of the wristwatch. Today, the watchmaker produces models for all occasions: sports; dress; automatic and solar to name but a few. One of its most iconic models is the Q Timex, first launched in 1979 but recently reissued, the Q Timex is as retro as they come. Good luck finding one to buy, though.
Founded in 1875, Bulova was one of the first to introduce the mass-production of watches in 1919. The company is responsible for developing the Accutron method of timekeeping, which used a 360Hz tuning fork instead of a balance wheel and promised to be accurate to one minute per month. The company was bought by Citizen in 2007 and sales of Accutron watches ceased in 2014.
Despite being found in Switzerland in 1895, Rotary watches are most commonly associated with the UK, thanks in large part to the company being the official watch supplier to the British Army in the 1940s. Today, the watchmaker produces a wide range of models, encompassing both quartz and automatic movements and even has a Revelation series reversible watches that allows the wearer to change between dial styles and time zones.
Swatch watches are synonymous with fun designs, practicality, and affordability – the name itself comes from 'second watch', as they're designed to be casual and disposable. Swatch watches have gained an international following because they allow consumers to own a Swiss-made watch without the usual Swiss-made price tag. With a range of styles available – automatic movements have recently been added – the young company has something for everyone.
Daniel Wellington watches are about as minimalist as you can get. It'll be no surprise to learn the company is based in Sweden. Relying heavily on the Instafluencer culture, DW watches are more likely to be found on the wrists of the younger generation. However, with a range of basic but perfectly passable dress watches that can be worn casually too, Daniel Wellington is one brand you should be following.
Named after Denmark's northernmost town, Skagen is another champion of typically minimal, Scandinavian design. Founded in the US in 1986 by a Danish couple, the company places an emphasis on sophisticated design at a low price.
Another watchmaker to come out of Japan, Orient is best-known for its self- and hand-wound models. Of the more iconic models is the Star which, first released in the 60's, was an inexpensive automatic timekeeper, while the Fineness, released in 1967, was the thinnest automatic watch of its time.
Invicta was founded sometime in the 1800s in Switzerland – the official year is subject to debate – but has since moved its headquarters to Hollywood, Florida. The company produces watches in a range of styles from classic sports watches to the slightly more garish. They're also the owners of some other affordable watch brands such as Glycine. If you're a fan of the brand but looking for something a little more exotic, they have a Swiss Made collection and
collaborations with various well known brands.
Vincero is a company still in its infancy. Founded in 2014, the watchmaker produces highly affordable timepieces – the most expensive model we could find is US$299 for a dress watch with an automatic movement – with a simple mission to fill the "middle-ground" between high-end, luxury timekeepers and cheap models that scrimp on quality.
Since starting life in 1997, Nixon has cemented itself as one of the go-to watch brands for the younger generation, particularly those with an interest in extreme sports – it's no wonder the company has three flagship stores in Australia alone, with others in France and California. Choosing a standout model from the vast range is tricky, but with the ability to look in both the boardroom and the nightclub, the Sentry SS is one of our favourites.
Your opinion as to whether you find the Apple Watch affordable depends on a variety of factors. If you just want a watch to tell the time, then steer clear. If however, you want a watch that can also track your daily activity, stream music to Bluetooth headphones, monitor your heart rate, let you make and receive phone calls without a phone and pay for things at the shops, and most importantly do all these things well, then we'd say it's pretty darn good value for money.