Mechanical wristwatches, not very cheap or expensive: What brands/models should I be looking at?

I’ve decided that I really miss being able to simply lift my wrist and read the time, so now* I want to buy a wristwatch.
I know nothing about watches these days, e.g. what brands or outlets I should be looking for. Likewise, I don’t know what to avoid when shopping for a watch other than that a $50 dollar mechanical skeleton watch probably won’t make me a happy consumer in the long run.

I know from experience that cheap mechanical watches are rarely much good. For instance, the statement above perfectly describes a watch that I bought years ago at a sporting goods store. After a month or two, the tiny hand from one of the miniature “eye” dials in the face broke away and lodged itself into the escapement, jamming it. Similarly, I don’t need to have a Breitling or Rolex.
Ideally, I’m looking for a self-winding mechanical watch that keeps good time and will hold up for the foreseeable future. While I’m partial to skeleton watches, the watch I buy doesn’t absolutely have to be one.

What are the good brands these days? What should I expect to pay for something decent?

There’s an interesting new brand called Shinola that I’ve been hearing about. I don’t know if they are any good, but they sound like an interesting business model.

What do you consider expensive? Sinn and Damasko make excellent tool watches with anti-magnetic and shock-resistant features in the low four figures. Christopher Ward makes well-regarded mechanical watches using Valjoux and Sellita movements (which most watchmakers, even high end ones other than Omega, use in their watches either directly or with modification) in classic styles including aviator watches and racing chronometer/tachs as well as the ubiquitous dive/sport watches. On the lower end of good are Marathon watches. Seiko used to make a well regarded in-house movement, but I don’t know how they’ve held up in comparison to the resurgence of the Swatch group and affordable high quality movements from Valjoux and Sellita. Pretty much any self-winding movement under US$500 is guaranteed to be crap (e.g. Invicta) and you’ll pay a premuim for a Swiss brand even if the internals are from China, but with careful shopping you can find good mechanical watches on the secondary market.

If you don’t need/desire a mechanical watch for appreciation of horological quality, a inexpensive quartz watch will pretty much outperform any mechanical movement, and probably won’t require any service in its lifetime beyond changing the battery annually. A mechanical watch will require periodic servicing to clean and lubricate the escapement and complications. Something like a Citizen Eco-Drive won’t require that. Just please don’t buy one od those tacky watches with a bunch of fake complications and a gigantic watch face with printed-on microticks that so fine that the hand skips over them anyway.

Stranger

They are crap fashion watches. They advertise that their watches are built by a certified watchmaker but that is not strictly true; the watches are built in an assembly line process with supervision by watchmakers. The case materials are relatively good quality (compared to an Invicta, anyway) but you’re paying $500 or more for what is basically a $50 watch with a Ronda movment. Save yourself some money and just go buy a Fossil, which will die on you in three years but at least you’ll save a few bucks and still impress the douchebags at the club.

Stranger

Actually, I believe the Seiko 5 automatics are considered to be fairly decent and you can get those for around 50 bucks. I haven’t had mine for long and don’t wear it much, but it seems to do pretty decently (although it doesn’t keep ticking as long when it’s off as the Omega’s and so on).

I’m having a bit of a peak in my watch-window-shopping at the moment and have a few on my “must have” list. I just ordered a Tissot v8 diver for less than 300 dollars on amazon; even with costums charges etc it is a whole lot cheaper than the European prices. And Tissot is s well respected Swiss brand.

I’ve also been lusting after a blue Certina Diver, which goes for about 500 bucks on Amazon… again more than 300 less than over here. But for now I’m controlling myself, I don’t make the kind of money to just spend 800 on watches on a sunday evening.

If you don’t want to go Swiss I believe Seiko is considered to of good standard.

In addition to mechanic vs quarz, you have the “solar” and “eco drive” (Seiko and Citizen repsectively) watches that use light to power the battery. I have no experience with them, but they seem to be regarded as a step up form normal quarz watches (from what I read).

I wouldn’t want to pay any more than $400-$500 USD. I don’t expect absolute certified chronometer level accuracy at that price point, but I’d hope to get something sufficiently accurate that I wouldn’t have to set it more than a couple of times a week or so. And, of course, well enough built that it won’t break during normal wear.
If that’s not possible I’ll most likely go with a smartwatch instead.

In case anyone noticed the asterisk appended to the word “now” in my OP, I was going to elaborate on that: “Now”, because we recently replaced the audio system in our car and lost the digital clock that came with the old stereo. So it’s not only this, but this was the one thing that tipped it over the edge. Not being able to get the time while driving is a liability.

I have an analog Timex watch that seems to keep time for a good long time and is reasonably reliable. And it cost about $25.

If you want cheap but excellent value, the Seiko 5 mentioned above is good. Better IMO is the Vostok Amphibia. $80 will get you an in house automatic movement (with real horological history) with 200 meters water resistance, in a tough as nails case that can take anything you throw at it.

I have a large watch collection. I own 2 of these. Awesome watches.

I wear a Citizen Eco Drive wrist watch that cost me slightly over $100. It has a quartz movement, and is quite accurate. It is solar powered (and it doesn’t need much sun to charge its battery) so I never need to change the battery. It is “water repellant to 100”. I don’t know whether that is feet, meters, or centimeters, but I’ve gone swimming with it several times and it did fine. There are several styles. I bought a smallish one with arabic numerals and a seep second hand, because those were the features I was looking for.

The only thing I wanted and didn’t get in this watch was a sapphire crystal, which is now somewhat affordable and makes the face nearly scratch-proof. But I haven’t had any trouble with it scratching. Oh, and I bought one with a stainless steel band, because plastic doesn’t do well on my wrists, and leather wears out too fast for my tastes.

That’s what I was going to say too- unless you have a thing for mechanical timepieces, your best bet in your price range is probably something like a Citizen Eco-Drive or Seiko Kinetic- they’re quartz movements, which means they’re accurate, reliable and maintenance free, and they have the self-charging technologies that removes the need for periodic battery changes.

I second that recommendation. Good pieces, those Vostok Amphibia’s. Poljot Amphibias are good too, if you can find one.

Have you considered a pocket watch? When I was visiting London, I bought a beautiful skeleton pocket watch at the Greenwich Observatory. Where would be a better place to buy a time piece?

I’ve been wearing a Seiko 5 for years, and jever had a problem with it. They aren’t the most accurate watches in the world, and mine probably gains 5 mins per day or so. I could probably have it adjusted, but I don’t mind. I just set it to my iphone in the morning, leaving it a minute or two behind. That’s accurate enough for quick wrist-time checking. If I need the time to supreme accuracy, I can check my phone.

That would drive me nuts. I have a Sinn 756 Diapal, and it is so accurate I can go for months without resetting it except for adjusting for months with less than 31 days. I’m amazed a purely mechanical self-winding watch can be that accurate.

Stranger

Five minutes per day? Ye Gods. I wear a $50 Casio, which need adjusting by a second or two every three or four weeks. But if you enjoy it, well, more power to you.

My Seiko SARB017 is gorgeous, incredibly well made and finished and keeps great time.
My SRPA21 is a classic Turtle divers watch, rugged and reliable.
I could go on about the dozens of other Seikos I own.
The 5 is the very cheapest auto they make, moving up to a 4r36 or 6r15 movement is a huge jump in power reserve and performance.

I like my Orient, have had it for years. it can really take a beating.

I’m going to third or fourth the Seiko 5. You can’t beat it for twice the price. I got it used for ~$50 off ebay, and I think they’re only $80-$100 brand new. Mine keeps great time. I bet it doesn’t lose a minute per month. I have to change the date every time we end a 30 day month anyway, and I take that opportunity to adjust the time, too. It’s never more than a minute or so.

It is cheap, so it doesn’t have all the features of a fancier watch. I miss second hacking, so I’m always ten seconds to half a minute off just because I can’t adjust the second hand. Also, I like the automatic movement, but I’d like to be able to wind it too, and this one at least doesn’t have that option. You have to swing it in some pendulum fashion to start it up again if it ever winds down. I just keep it on all the time though. My last watch was big and I had to take it off to sleep, but this one is a good small-medium size so I have no trouble sleeping with it on. The numbers and the hands glow in the dark, so I can always tell what time it is at a glance without having to think about it.

Tissot
Alpina
Hamilton
Seiko
Frederique Constant

Additionally: Numerous independents that use Seiko movements.

Listed: All offer Entry-level (or better) horology watches and entry level luxury, where better movements are used and/or modified in house.

A guy who lives for entry level mechanicals of tremendous value and watches that are flirting with mechanical horology pieces that most can afford is: Just One More Watch on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzllztCuniR_83Fwuz70xcg

Seiko is often a super safe start. I prefer my watches to be automatic, with hand winding and seconds hacking (rotor keeps it charged, but you can wind it and when you set it you stop the seconds).

Take a look at my list. The Swiss brands mentioned will typically not use the base/cheapest ETA sourced movements and will use a mid-grade and/or modify them to boost quality while preserving the inexpensive service and low care.

Used watches are the best value from reliable dealers. Shout out to Oris as well.

For 350 USD, you should be able to secure something that will last your lifetime and check a lot of proverbial boxes. You can go cheaper, but the value is best just above 350 USD

Jomashop is an example of a reputable place. Chrono24 has served me well.

Example: https://www.jomashop.com/hamilton-khaki-king-h64455523.html
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