Like it does with many budding collectors, the watch bug bit me hard when I first started this hobby of ours. And like many early collectors, I didn’t have a disposable income big enough to satisfy all the purchases I wanted to make. So I began meticulously planning every buy, hoping I could create a versatile collection–a watch for any occasion–without breaking the bank. I never set any hard limits for myself (other than buying only what I could realistically afford), but I would argue that for the longest time I had a well-rounded collection valued at less than $1000.
So when Zach first pitched this idea–five watches under $2000–as a potential series, I was certainly excited at the prospect of revisiting the mindset of an up-and-coming collector. But this time, I’d be armed with the knowledge of a seasoned enthusiast. I thought long and hard about what watches would make the cut, until I finally realized I didn’t have to. As it turns out, the list below features watches I currently own and don’t plan on selling anytime soon. It’s about as honest of an assessment of what my collection would look like today if I were forced to set a cap for myself because, well, it is my collection. Let’s get to it.
This one is a bit of a no brainer for me, and it’s where my budget takes the biggest hit. There’s very little leeway in my mind when it comes to dress watches. All the elements of the design have to be just right for it to work, because even the smallest off-putting detail can throw the entire design out of whack. In my eyes, the Max Bill Anthracite is that perfect dress watch, and that it comes under 1K is just icing on the cake. The signature case and dial are classics in their own right, and coupled with the modern color palette you get a dress watch that’s surprisingly versatile. I’ve worn it with jeans and a sweater, and with a suit, and it’s never felt “wrong.” Of all my timepieces, I can honestly say I enjoy wearing my Max Bill the most.
I’m a chronograph guy, so I strongly believe that a mechanical chronograph belongs in any collection. But as Zach mentioned in his roundup, chronographs can be tricky to include in a guide such as this when facing budgetary constraints. That’s why I’ve decided to go vintage, and when it comes to affordable vintage chronographs of the mechanical variety, the Seiko 6138/9 series is the watch you want. As is the case with most vintage Seikos, these watches are built solid, powered by a robust column wheel chronograph movement with a vertical clutch and day/date function. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the watches are downright gorgeous, and there are enough varieties to fit anyone’s taste.
And then, there’s the history. The 6139 “Speed Timer” was one of the first automatic chronographs to hit the market along with the Calibre 11 and the El Primero (though which brand was truly the first is still hotly debated). The yellow-dialed 6139-6002 “Colonel Pogue” variant also holds the distinction of being the first automatic chronograph worn in space, done so by Colonel William Pogue during the 1973 Skylab 4 Mission. Talk about cool.
Some 6138/9 variants are valued higher than others, with the “Colonel Pogue” and Bullheads sitting on top of the pack. Still, it’s not uncommon to find most styles around the $200-$300 range, with the price generally depending on the condition of the watch. They key is to get one that’s as close to original as possible, especially because there are a lot of franken-watches floating around. But it’s by no means an impossible task, as I bought mine for around $150. So remain vigilant, because the deal is out there.
Diver: Seiko SKX007 and Strapcode Super Jubilee – $210
Sure, the SKX007 may be considered an entry-level watch, but it’s still one hell of a diver. I bought my 007 after owning–and selling–a number of more expensive dive watches, and I can honestly say the 007 holds its own quite well. It’s both rugged and refined, and it’s got a great aesthetic that practically screams Seiko. And the best part is that you can actually use it while swimming or diving without breaking a sweat. Its value far exceeds its price.
My one complaint, however, would have to be that the stock bracelet feels cheap. I don’t know about you, but I hate folded end links. So when I bought my 007, I didn’t even bother going with the OEM bracelet. Instead, I picked up a Super Jubilee with solid end links from Strap Code for $60. It’s a great pairing, with the jubilee adding a bit of a vintage elegance to an otherwise sporty watch.
Yup, another Seiko. But just like the other two on my list, this one’s no slouch. The 7a28 has quite the storied history (here and here). But to make a long story short, the 7a28 is the first analog quartz chronograph to hit the market, and at a time when the Swiss were being pummeled by the quartz crisis. Historic achievements aside, the 7a-series movements are no joke. Metal construction, 15 jewels, and the capacity to be taken apart and repaired–these puppies were built to last, and last they did.
The 7039 is one of my favorite variants. Sure, it resembles a Speedmaster, but it’s by no means a knock-off; it looks and feels like its own watch. Like the 6139, there are a number of variants out there; you just have to find the one that ticks all your boxes. I’ve seen some in near-mint condition go for $200-$250, and some NOS pieces for around $400. I purchased mine for $110 with minimal wear, so your mileage may vary. Just do your research, and try to get a piece with all original parts.
This is my go-to watch if I’m doing anything more adventurous than desk-diving. I wear it to the gym. It’s the watch strapped to my wrist whenever I find myself in a pool. And it’s the watch I’ve worn the countless times I’ve wiped out snowboarding. Unsurprisingly, three years later and, despite all that abuse, it’s still ticking (well, not ticking, but you get the idea). I wouldn’t expect anything less from a G-Shock.
Aside from its durability, the DWE5600E-1V is simply a good-looking watch. I’m not a big fan of a lot of prized G-Shocks (sorry, just can’t get into the Mudman), but the DWE5600E is perfect in its simplicity. No inflated case and no cluttered displays. Just a classic G-Shock one can wear without drawing attention to the wrist.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that my list comes well under the set $2000 threshold. Some of that surplus will undoubtedly go to shipping and other related fees. But whatever is left should be spent on straps, lots and lots of straps. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, shell cordovan is awesome, so get a few of those from Fluco, one of the best values out there for Horween shell. Also, check out our selection of Model 2s, which look great paired with smaller vintage watches. And last but not least, don’t forget to pick up a couple of pass-throughs for the 007. A nice selection of straps can go a long way in making a well-rounded collection feel even more complete.