I only intended to buy one quality mechanical watch, so after a lot of research I bought an Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch. Unfortunately I'm now hooked on watches, but I don't want to build a large collection of watches which I cannot really afford. As I really like chronographs, I would like to eventually buy a single example of a flyback, split-second, and foudroyante chronograph to complement my "basic" Speedmaster. What watches should I consider buying in each of these categories, that would be worth owning, but won't break the bank?
And welcome to the club (there is no cure!)
And congratulations on purchasing the Omega Speedmaster!. More than that, you bought the correct version and you bought it first! Often times I am asked to audit a collection and make recommendations and usually my first recommendation is to get rid of everything and buy a Speedmaster. So, you’re off to a great start!
The dilemma I see with your endeavor is that all of these movements are expensive. And the last thing you want to do is buy a watch that isn’t worth the money you paid just because it was the only one within your budget that had the complication you wanted (think about how some people buy those $500 Chinese Tourbillons. That is a total waste of $500 so don’t do that).
The easy one is the Split-Chronograph and I would look no further than IWC. IWC is one of the top brands, period. And they just came out with a batch of new Split-Chronographs for their Portugieser line. But the watch I’m recommending is the Doppelchronograph (Split Chronograph in German), from their Pilot Watch line pre-2003. This means it will be pre-owned and I'm recommending this for two reasons:
- Price - amazingly you can get a pre-owned IWC Doppelchronograph for under $5k. To put this in perspective, when Richard Habring developed this movement for IWC, which was based on a Valjoux 7750, it earned IWC a patent for 25 years. He, in essence, revolutionized how a Doppelchronograph was made. And for the first time ever a Doppel could be bought new for under $20k. So getting one for under $5k is an absolute steal for an amazingly cool and interesting movement. Not bad!
- Dial and Size - the IWC Pilot Doppel increased in size to 44mm+ and had its dial changed somewhere around 2003-2004. So the one you want is the version before those years with the smaller 43mm case and simpler dial. The older dial is true to the tradition that made IWC Pilot watches among the best ever. It’s a minimalist look and absolutely classic.
Regarding the Flyback, just as with the Split, good ones are expensive. In fact, even the “less” expensive ones aren’t cheap. For example, Eterna makes a pretty interesting Flyback Chronograph, their Super KonTiki, which sells for about $5k new. The problem is that for $5k you can get a lot of other watches, new or pre-owned that I’d say are better watches. One that springs to mind since we’re taking chronos is the Zenith El Primero 36000 vph (I wrote about it here).
Once again, though, the pre-owned market may be your salvation. Heuer made an awesome Flyback way back when: the Bundeswehr. If you’re lucky you can still get one of these at under $5k (vintage Heuer is trending upwards), and the bonus is that it's a pretty interesting watch and nowhere near common. In other words, I'd rather own the Heuer than the Eterna any day.
Then there are the Foudroyante chronographs. And just like with the others the really good ones are expensive. I think your best bet here is a pre-owned Girard Perregaux Rattrapante Foudroyante (which was branded for Ferrari). The bonus here is its a Foudroyante AND a Split Chronograph (Rattrapante is Split chronograph in French). So, you don't have to buy the third watch. The problem is it will still cost you $15k or more, you can buy a lot of watches I’d rather have for $15k than the GP.
Needless to say, if money was no object, the real heavy hitters make wonderful watches that are spectacular in every way, but now we're talking a different stratosphere budget-wise. So, I hope I could at least help a little and if nothing else, help fine-tune your collection theme. In fact, if you just stuck to “important” chronographs, you’d end up with better watches and save a ton of money… but that's a discussion for another day.
Thanks for the email and good luck!