Editor’s Note: We’re back with another reader’s edition of the 3 watch collection for $5,000. This week, we’re featuring reader Neal M., who offers his take on a well rounded collection that should cover pretty much everything. He even manages to come in under budget, which is a rarity with this exercise.
You can share your 3 watch collection for $5,000, fill out this form to send us your submission for potential publishing. With that, let’s dive right in with Neal.
Monta Atlas – $1,950
Monta continues to be underrated in the broader watch world, but anyone who’s handled one in person knows the level of quality they pack into their watches. The first thing that I usually see pointed out is the level of their finishing, which feels like it belongs on a watch in a much higher price point. But, to focus on the finishing misses some of Monta’s other strengths: clean, legible dial work with flawless hands and indices, and a fully articulated bracelet that is just better than anything else in its price point and above (and finished to the same quality as the watch itself). If you don’t like the bracelet, there are a ton of OEM strap options from Monta’s sister company, Everest.
The Atlas comes in #1 on this list because of its sheer versatility – it’s a steel sport watch in the mold of an Aqua Terra or OP, with sporty elements in the form of its bracelet, screw-down crown, and 150m pressure rating. At 38mm in diameter and 10mm thick, it’s right in the sweet spot for most wrist sizes. While it’s not a large watch, the Atlas nonetheless conveys solidity and its svelte sizing allows it to be worn far more easily as a daily driver or work watch. The Atlas is available in white, black, and blue dials, but the white feels a little more dressier than the other two, especially when paired with leather. I wouldn’t wear it with a tux, but it works well with a suit. Did I mention it’s a GMT?
$2000 may feel like a lot for a relatively new, independent watchmaker, but Monta’s work speaks for itself – the Atlas is worth every penny, and is a solid foundation for any small collection.
Longines Heritage 1969 – $1,750
If the Monta Atlas can be worn with anything but a tux, it follows that you’ll need a good dress watch! I think the Heritage 1969 was slept on when it first came out about six years ago. It’s out of production now, but can still be had preowned or from grey market sellers. There are a lot of things I like about this watch, but I’ll start with the dial and move outward. I love the rose gold (plate) stick indices – the most elegant of indices, and these are restrained even by that standard. The silver dial has a fine vertical brushing on it that you can only see in certain light. Same with the hands, which are rose gold like the indices, and are highly polished on the edges, then grained down the center for added texture and visibility. The 4:30 date window is polarizing, but for me it’s the feature that gives an otherwise basic dial the pop of personality that sets it apart (it’s also well executed, with a beveled frame and perfectly fitted numbers).
For a watch that’s all about the dial, I find the case to be cool in a sort of retro-futuristic manner. Outside of the inner lugs, there’s not a single straight line to be found on it. Everything is rounded off and mirror polished. It reminds me a little bit of old, unpainted airplane wings. Mostly it reminds me of those shiny Airstream trailers, which were also popular in the 60’s and 70’s, and seem to be making a (significantly upscale) comeback. The 1969 is sized just right for a dress watch, coming in at 36mm and about 8mm tall. It wears a little larger than 36mm, though, due to the rectangular case.
Out of the box, this comes with a really nice black alligator strap that’s perfect for formalwear. It’s proven to be really versatile with other leathers, but the caveat is that you have to be willing to invest in 19mm straps. Off the alligator strap, this can be a much more casual watch – I like it on tan and green leather.
Well, you need a watch with a bezel on it, right? Like the Monta, this is another watch that provides killer value for money. (And I’m not going to caveat that with “If you can get it…” There’s eight of these going for retail or less on WatchRecon right now, or just email them to get signed up for the release of the next batch).
What I love about Halios first and foremost is that the final watch truly is the product of a single person’s design tastes and quality tolerances. It means that the Fairwind (and generation sibling Universa) have had none of their quirks shaved off by committees of designers, focus groups, or the people in charge of cost control. I love the idea of wearing another enthusiast’s unique vision. Jason Lim also sets an extremely high bar in terms of quality control. Yes – that means production can be slow and irregular, but it also means that you get an amazing watch for $775. Good things are worth waiting for, right?
Like Monta, these watches ship with articulated bracelets, as well as a single-button microadjusting clasp that just doesn’t exist on other watches in the price range. The case is 39mm x 12mm, which makes it feel very “skin-divery” (the closest comparison would be an Oris 65, but thinner, and with 200m pressure resistance instead of 100m). That said, the styling is decidedly non-vintage, with long, angular lugs that swoop down sharply towards the wrist. It’s an aesthetic that seems equal parts Klingnon warships and Grand Seikos, and (apparently) 80’s Lamborghinis. The bezel is only 60-clicks, and it’s bidirectional to account for the popular 12-hour inserts (you can choose elapsed minutes or 12-hours, in either steel or sapphire). So that’s not ideal, and not ISO, but it’s also just fine. In keeping with the rest of the package, the dial (which can be had in grey or blue) is above what you’d expect at the price point. It’s a no-date with beautiful, symmetrical block indices, excellent lume, and high-quality hands that combine polish and brushing for extra visibility. (A good example of Jason’s attention to detail is the no-date function – the movements used in the Fairwind normally have a date function, but were specially modified to remove the date wheel and ghost position – who else does that?)
All in all, the Fairwind feels like a modernized skin diver that’s up for anything, while simultaneously recognizing that most of us aren’t actually diving with a mechanical watch on (if we’re diving at all). It wears beautifully, will be up for whatever you throw at it this summer, and it won’t break your bank – even if Halios could probably be selling it for a lot more.
There’s $575 left over in the budget – you’re welcome! So here’s the bonus watches:
1) If you’re about to do some serious outdoor adventuring and the Fairwind just won’t cut it, how about a blacked-out G-Shock Rangeman for $330? It’s stocked with all the good stuff – triple sensor (altimeter, barometer, compass, thermometer), atomic timekeeping, and tough solar, in addition to lasting decades and being impossible to break.
2) If (a) the Fairwind is tough enough and (b) you agree with me that $4425 plus 540 euros is kinda, sorta still less than $5000, take a look at the Baltic Bicompax. It’s a lot of style for the money (three different dial finishes), but what I like most is the dimensions. It’s really hard to find a chronograph that wears like an ordinary three-hander, mostly because brands struggle to get the height below 14mm. Baltic brings the Bicompax in at 38mm x 12mm, for a significantly improved wearing experience. It’s also pretty versatile, mixing scientific, field watch vibes with some vintage elegance, depending on your strap choice.