The sub-$300 category is usually the price-point most consider when buying their first watch. The underlying problem is that most would also overlook their choices, giving themselves the leeway of frivolously buying. After all, “It’s affordable, and won’t break the bank”, until the realisation hits that the cash could’ve been spent elsewhere. In this article, we explore the nature of this price-point, and some great options that your future-self probably won’t hate on.
Nature of this price-category
Price is a relative subject, but most would agree that this is common ground for starting out without too much cash. At the same time, many brands, including fashion brands, target unknowing consumers thinking they could be getting ‘luxury’ at this price.
The domination of Fashion Watches
“We provide the same high-end watch, but at an accessible price-point”, Sounds familiar?
Most consumers paying this amount of money usually won’t do heavy homework, instead, they look at social channels where these brands excel at, marketing. Now, I do agree that I put aesthetic first, so the watches from these brands would be able to invoke 15-year old me to buy one. However for my current-self, function comes close second, and just like I wouldn’t wear a watch incapable of telling the time, I wouldn’t wear one if they’re unable to promise longevity.
While there exists a level of truth that the model these hot fashion brands are adopting, they’re not being fully transparent. The frequent promise of “Swiss Quality” is really just a way of marketing when none of the parts in their watch originate anywhere near Switzerland.
In fact, the reality is that these brands are intelligent enough to leverage social media to create their own facade. Their mode of marketing these minimalist, fashion-crazed watches is almost like a membership, when you own one, you’re compelled to share it, and the cycle continues with more attention on these not-so crazily priced watches.
The Burden Of Mainstream Marketing
When looking at a watch brands, those with retail stores, there’s always a small establishment year caption, like this:
And understandably, these brands adopt a more traditional approach to marketing, billboards and magazines, the problem with that is that even commuters keep their head down most of the time now. Social media marketing has become the new norm, and the ones that are really capitalising on that growth it became so has really been fashion brands.
But because I was intrigued with not just how watches looked, but operate, I looked at videos discussing the quality of the movements, the materials used, and the production of timepieces in this category. That newfound obsession of exploring the value category then got me, and here’s a list of what I know are great choices instead.
Our 5 Picks
1. Orient Bambino Gen 2 FAC00009N0
If, you have fancy the aesthetic of fashion watches, our first pick brings a similar charm to the table. The Orient Bambino is beloved by the watch community for good reasons, its a minimalistic look from a reputable brand at an unbeatable price.
A simple dress watch, the Orient Bambino shines as a top-contender in this price-category. Our pick would have to go to Gen 2. With a cream dial, roman numerals and blued-hands, the visual contrast brings just enough eye-candy without going over-the-top.
At about $120 USD ( ~$150SGD) though, you really can’t do much better, especially with the movement. The Orient Cal. F6724 features hacking and hand-winding, which are features its Seiko brethren aren’t able to provide with the 7S26 movements.
This is definitely a solid-pick for most people, an elegant, sleek wristwatch that just about does anything in a casual setting.
Seiko 5 SNKL23K1
I’ve owned it, I loved it. Once featured on Hodinkee with the bold title : “A Seventy-Five Dollar Watch That Looks Like A Million Bucks”, this watch deserved all the hype it got.
In this world where most custom-made leather straps cost more, you really can’t argue the pricing of this Seiko 5 model. For myself, what sold the watch to me was the visual package. Dauphine hands and a rather intriguing dial pattern(Mixture of sunburst and vertical strips) encased in a sleek sporty case made the watch a home run.
That being said, I implore anyone who’s able to see it in person to do so. It’s a watch I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone starting out, and is also a beautiful piece for long-time enthusiasts.
Orient Kamasu RA-AA0002L19A
With the previous two options leaning more towards casual and dressy, let’s move onto a sportier option, a dive watch for those who expect just a little more toughness.
While Seiko divers provides immense value, the spotlight it once possessed is now a shared with Orient divers. Without being a homage, Orient succeeded in bringing a dive watch to the center of attention. How it happened, really was its build quality at the modest price. Sapphire Crystal, Solid Bracelet, and a hacking and self-winding movement made this a value propositions beating previous Seiko contenders.
Which begs the question, how much can be a watch have at this price-point? Because most would argue of the various limitations a sub-$300 watch would get you.
Seiko 5 Sports SRPE55K1
Between our dressier options and a sporty one is a watch suitable for the everyday. Despite covering the SRPD line previously, we thought this one would be more fitting here.
The bezel-less appearance of the SRPE brings a much more versatile option to the table. It’s slightly reminiscent of the Rolex Explorer, but of course it’s honestly just the sportiness aspect.
At 100m water resistance, I wouldn’t pretend it’s suitable for diving, but it’ll probably survive pool activities. For the larger-wristed though, this would have no problem looking great under a dress-cuff. Those commonality made this our pick over the bezel-version SRPD line.
Casio G-Shock DW-5600E-1VQ
Ah, the trusty G-Shock, it’s no surprise this is perhaps the best value-for-dollar even below $100.
You probably need no introduction to the 5600, but if you do, enthusiast praise this as a must-have, I disagree. When buying watches, there are no non-negotiables, if you wouldn’t wear a G-Shock, you don’t need one.
That being said, the idea of a watch capable of telling time accurately for years on end without a chance of breaking, makes this an ideal companion for most. And while it’s not a function I need for myself, I understand the appeal of owning a G-Shock for the daily. With a 200-meter water resistance, backlit display in a tough, rugged case. This watch is useful for just about anything a modern consumer without a phone around would need.
As a gate-way to this hobby, my first watch was the Seiko Sea Urchin. While it remains an incredible choice, there are new offerings that I believe most should explore. The ‘value’ these watches have varies in form and function, and not one is above the other.
But really, these are ultimately just examples to explore with a touch of our credibility. As mentioned, there are no must-haves, picture a Venn Diagram with what you like and what you need, and work from there.