What to buy under $5000

"Dear Spazz,

I'm hoping you can help. I'd like to buy a watch, I don't want to buy a 'pre-owned' watch (I just want to make my first good watch something new and not used), and my budget is capped at $5000.

Everywhere I look, including your posts, so called experts say that to get something really worth it, I need to go over $5000. But surely there has to be something under $5000 that is worth it's price tag and that isn't used?

Thank you and I appreciate your time."

Well, it's not a terrible question. I get your frustration and I can also see why this can be a little confusing.

Let me try to explain the whole "going over $5k for anything good" position, and then offer some suggestions.

The thing about the watch industry today, is that if you broadly look over the watches in the up-to-$5000 range, the overwhelming majority are almost like cookie cutter watches. 

That is to say, they have the same sugar daddy (Swatch or Richemont), all use generic ETA or Sellita movements, not their own in-house movements as many of these brands used to, and are focusing more on trends than actual watchmaking, again like many of these brands used to.

As a result, people like me will always recommend go vintage.

But thats not what you want, and I get that. It's nice to buy something new and to create with it, your own history.

So focusing on new watches only, and under $5000 msrp, lets look at some examples of what NOT to buy, and then lets see what's out there that is OK to buy.

Unfortunately, one of my favorite vintage brands, Heuer, ever since becoming TAG Heuer (maybe even slightly before), is one of the most guilty at making watches that are just not worth it.

Ever since Swatch bought them, they've become one cliche after another. They use $300 ETA movements, and completely ignored their amazing past.

The best they've been able to do is make some very nice looking watches inspired from previous Carrera models from the 60's.

Of course, TAG Heuer does seem to be waking up a bit. With the purchase of a very solid Automatic Chrono from Seiko, now their 1887 caliber, and some of the very cool things they're working on in the whole "Mikro" division of their company. Heck, on their website they even separate "watches" from "Haute Horlogerie", a dead giveaway that even they know they've become a cookie-cutter company.

And before you think "great, I'll just buy one of their Mikro watches!"

Forget it, they're over $5000.

Another brand that used to be great, but no longer is, is Omega (except their manual Speedmaster).

It's almost as if Heuer is trying to become Omega, and Omega is trying to become Rolex. What with Omega's recent marketing strategy, it's obvious they're taking a page out of the Rolex book of how to convince people you're great even when you're not.

The difference being that Rolex still makes some worthwhile watches, albeit extremely overpriced (for what you get).

But thankfully, you do have some options. Not many, but some.

The first is the Omega Speedmaster Pro ref. 3570.50 and ONLY ref. 3570.50. The others are all worthless or gimicky. And I am including all of this "coaxial" talk too. It's a cool technical achievement by George Daniels (not Omega), but its worth is inconclusive at best, and all of the Automatic Speedmasters are still stuffed with ETA movements where the coaxial component was added on. That's how they get to the whole "made exclusively for Omega" crap.

Ignore it.

I would still suggest buying a Speedmaster used, it'd save you about $1000. But if you absolutely have to buy a watch new, with an MSRP of $4500, the 3570.50 is your least expensive way into the real world of Haute Horlogerie.

Next, I'd strongly consider anything by Nomos that isn't over $5000. Not just because $5k is your cap, but because at over $5000 I would buy something else anyway.

Nomos is German, and everything about this company is in-house. And not that in-house means well made all of the time, sometimes it doesn't (just think of Hublot's latest in-house and very pedestrian movement), but in the case of Nomos, it means high-quality and a great bang for your buck.

Now, if you don't like Nomos' bauhaus look (some people don't), you may also consider a Jean Richard Terrascope. 

It's made within the house of Girard Perregeaux and uses an ETA movement, but its priced right. You can probably get one well under $3000.

And thats an important point: there is nothing wrong with ETA movements. They are very well made, etc., but if you're paying Jaeger LeCoultre prices for a watch with an ETA, then there is something wrong. You should have just bought the Jaeger.

Moving on, another contender would be Frederique Constant watches. Often times these are in-house assembled movements with parts outsourced to various 3rd party companies. This keeps down the cost, and avoids the whole "it just has an off-the-shelf ETA movement" problem.

Plus, their look and feel is very classic and timeless. And I suppose, would be a nice counter to the Nomos look.

And finally, another admirable watch, that you can easily buy for under $1000 (you read right!), is the Hamilton Intra-Matic. It too, has an ETA movement in it, but at under $1000 who cares? 


But besides the price, what I really like about this watch is that it doesn't have a second hand. Some people dislike that. They say it's impractical. 

But I love it. It reminds me of some legendary watches from the past. For example, the Royal Oak 15202 with the legendary c.2121 does not have a second hand either.

One thing though, buy only the 38mm variation and NOT the bigger 42mm version.

The intra-matic has such a thin bezel, that the 38mm feels like you're wearing something much larger, and the 42mm version feels like you're wearing a hockey puck.

Just trust me on that one.

It also comes with a stainless steel strap if you prefer that.

Those are a few solid examples that I hope you like. I suppose I could dig up a few more, but each time I do, I keep thinking "what I could buy in the vintage market for that money!"

So, let's quit while we're ahead.