Three-Watch Collection Under $5,000: A Reader Writes In

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It’s been a while since the last installment of our popular Three-Watch Collection Under $5,000 series. Today, Allen Farmelo, one of our long-time readers, writes in with his picks. 

A quick refresher on the parameters before we get started. We chose $5,000 as the cap for the simple reason that $5,000 is generally regarded as a point of entry into luxury. So rather than drop all that coin on a single watch, we thought it’d be interesting to see how our team plays around with that number. Furthermore, the choices aren’t limited to specific categories of watches. Our contributors can choose watches they’d like based on their needs and personal preferences. Finally, for the sake of consistency, all watches currently being produced have to be valued at their MSRP. Vintage or recently retired models should be based on the average market rate.


We watch-heads constantly ogle, research, covet, and, alas, budget for watches we will likely never own. This is odd, even irrational, behavior. Case in point: why I annually seek the astronomical prices of Patek Philippe’s latest grand complications remains a grand mystery, especially given that such knowledge repeatedly deflates my spirit. Even my actual purchases can be right-brained affairs, and I’ll admit that the occasional evening here at Chez Allen operates under the following slipshod algebra: Single Malt + eBay ÷ Available Funds = New Watch. Indeed, we watch-heads rarely, if ever, grapple with equations as dispassionate and sober as $5,000 ÷ 3 Watches = Collection.

However, even under these abstract limitations—or perhaps because of them—I am compelled to work love into the equation. If you love watches, and if you’re going to even imagine having just three, then you have got to capital-L Love those three watches. No doubt, though, love can mess up otherwise rational thinking; it is fickle, deeply personal, and nearly impossible to calculate.And then there’s the work of generating horological love. To do this, we must project personal psychological energy—let’s call it significance—into the beating heart of a watch until we feel that energy radiating back at us from the dial. Both slow infusions of meaning (my father and his Bulova spending decades together) and quick injections of significance (my father giving me that same 30-jewel Bulova on my 30th birthday) are possible. Either way, it’s up to us; watches do not come prepackaged with significance.

However right-brained we chose to be, we still decide which watches to build a significant, loving relationship with, and the better we know ourselves, the better we are at finding lasting wrist-partners. Does a watch trigger my imagination? (GMTs always do.) Do I feel romantic in a watch? (Ah, my two weird Scotch-brown Seamaster redials.) Does my inner child have a say? (Sometimes, yes.) Would a watch suit me in my elder years? (Hublot, no; Rolex, probably.) Do I want to buy a watch in conjunction with a major life event or while traveling? (I tend to.) Can a watch’s design resonate with a life well lived? (Dad’s Bulova sure did, and still does.) Will there be love? (There has to be.)So, please know that I absolutely, unabashedly capital-A Adore my horological triumvirate of keepers under $5,000: an Omega Seamaster Professional Ref. 2254.50, a Sinn 556 Anniversary Limited Edition, and a Farer Universal Oxley GMT. Ostensibly a trio of tool watches, I will contend that these are three of the most versatile, robust, and handsome watches available in their respective price ranges. More importantly, they excel at absorbing and radiating my love.Save

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GO ANYWHERE, DO ANYTHING—LUME WOLF—OMEGA SEAMASTER PROFESSIONAL Ref. 2254.50—~$2,250 Used.

The 2254.50 was central to Omega’s dive watch collection from 1996 until 2009, and it is arguably the most iconic Seamaster diver. No, James Bond did not wear this model, which lifts the weight of that Hollywood crown, nor is the 2254.50 retro-styled, which lops off persnickety rear-view-mirror concerns. The 2254.50 is an unfettered and unaffected icon of its own moment.At 41mm across and only 12mm tall, this Seamaster slips under cuffs and never feels too big or small—or too blandly mid-sized, which can happen with lesser designs. At 5.25oz (150g) on a 7.5″ bracelet, the 2254.50 is hefty—or grunty as my partner’s Kiwi mother said upon palming it (she wears a 17mm Skagen with the heft of a postage-stamp). I love gravity tugging at my wrist, so grunty works for me.

Part of the 2254.50’s weight comes from the Speedmaster-style bracelet, a classic and understated bit of design brilliance. One might opt for the busier Bond-style bracelet on the otherwise identical 2054.50, while more curious oglers can check out the 2255.80 blue diver, the 2538.20 GMT, and the 2594.52 chronograph, and so on. They’re all essentially the same watch, a design that sustained Omega’s dive watch lineup for 13 booming years. That’s Rolex-level design commitment.

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Consequently, the 2254.50’s case is a masterpiece; the alternating polished and brushed surfaces, the dramatically scalloped bezel, the torqued Frank Gehry-esque lugs, and the puckered crown-guards all flow together to form an impossibly tranquil whole. Critics of the helium release valve at 10 o’clock abound, but to my eye that crown is the equivalent of elegantly crossed legs, a reminder that poise—not symmetry—is the hallmark of sophistication. The sword hands are wider than ’70s neck ties, the indices are blocky batons, and somehow the watch face, too, remains calmly integrated (while also surpassing ISO 6425 dive watch requirements). The only saturated color is the red tip of the hair-thin seconds hand.

When it comes to lume, however, Omega’s is about as restrained as a werewolf howling at a full moon. On the 2254.50, Omega piles the stuff on thick. Apparently Omega fills recessed pockets under the indices with lume, so it is layered more thickly than it appears. Why is Omega so far ahead of the pack? Is lume particularly expensive or difficult to layer on so thick? If you’re going to howl, then howl. If you’re going to glow, then glow.

I can wear this Seamaster almost anywhere at anytime and feel self-assured—even masculine. I’d venture a more edgy black tie event in the 2254.50, should the occasion arise, and I’ve worn it to romantic dates and business meetings with equal confidence. It’s so grunty (there’s that word again) that after sub-zero nights in the trunk, hot tub soaks, steam baths, and Russian saunas approaching 170°F, the damn thing just comes out looking and operating better for the abuse.

The 2254.50 runs on the venerable ETA 2892-A2 movement, heavily modified and rebranded here as the COSC-certified Omega 1120. The ubiquitous 2892-A2 is found in brands like IWC and Cartier, and it serves as the basis for Omega’s current Co-Axial movements, too. After a recent Omega service, my Seamaster consistently runs within +2/-2 seconds a day. It’s simply an excellent movement, obliterated from view by the solid case back.

I have to admit that the 2254.50 initially underwhelmed me. For a no-holds-barred dive watch with fat lume mounds, huge bezel numerals, and lugs like a postmodern concert hall, this watch is remarkably mellow. It took me a while to discern details like candle light playing off the curved polished surfaces as my partner raised a toast to our anniversary, or the way the watch seemed to float in profile on the bedside table the next morning, or how grunty it felt as I silently slipped it back onto my wrist while slinking out of bed to make us coffee. Omega’s slogan “Significant Moments” couldn’t be more apt.

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DRESSY TOOL WATCHES—RARE BREEDS—SINN 556 ANNIVERSARY EDITION—$1100

I recently attended a traditional funeral. In willing deference to old-school fashion, I wore a navy blazer, gray slacks, a subdued tie, and my Sinn 556 Anniversary. As everyone milled about after the ceremony, I was introduced to a friend-of-a-friend in a charcoal suit and a Rolex Datejust Dark Rhodium 41. Finding some comfort in this trifle, I silently considered our watches: so similar; sporty yet dressy enough for this somber affair; handsome and mature. The next day at a beach gathering for friends and family I chatted with the Rolex guy. We both wore untucked oxford shirts, cuffed chinos, bare feet; he in his Rolex, me in my Sinn—both watches as suited to this oceanside hang as to the funeral. Chuffed at the company my watch was keeping, I figured I had found my Sinn’s Swiss cousin. I was close. Months later, ogling Rolexes during one of my Single Malt + eBay evenings, I chanced upon the Oyster Perpetual 39 Dark Rhodium, my Sinn’s Swiss twin.The front-facing fundamentals of the 556 Anniversary and the Oyster 39 Dark Rhodium are nearly identical, but the movements are a different story. With a variable inertia balance wheel, a blue Parachrom overcoil hairspring, and a Paraflex shock absorption system all gliding on proprietary lubricants, the in-house Rolex 3132 movement seriously outclasses the Sinn’s ETA 2824-2. All that Rolex tech will cost you $5,700, though—that’s $4,510 more than the Sinn’s reasonable $1,190 MSRP.

Sinn did dress up the 556’s movement for the Anniversary edition. The rotor is gold-plated, adorned with Côtes de Genève, and there’s a black-filled Sinn logo engraving and serial number. Screws are blued, bridges are decorated, and so on. My gripe with the Sinn movement is that a date complication lurks beneath the no-date dial, such that one must pull the crown out two positions to set the time. For $1,190, you get what you get: a rock-solid, easily maintained, good-looking movement, but not a bespoke one like in a Rolex.

I’m rambling about Rolexes because I consider the Oyster Perpetual lineup (today the Oyster Perpetual 39, Datejust 41, Day-Date 40 and Skydweller) to be the pinnacle of sport/dress breeding. This combination produces a surprisingly rare breed (most watches lack a few key genes), yet the Sinn 556 Anniversary is exemplary stock. I’ll call this breed the Dressy Tool Watch, or DTW.

A dressy tool watch will be thin enough to fit under a shirt cuff, but not dress-watch-thin; it will have a moderate diameter (38 to 41mm feels right, maybe smaller); it will have traded legibility for elegance; it will forgo major complications in favor of durability. It seems countless specimens would meet these reasonable criteria, but no. Predictably, the Tudor Style at 38 and 41mm are a near replicas of Rolex Oysters, so those fit. The dressy Seamasters of yesteryear failed to truly master the sea, but today’s Aqua-Terra 38.5mm models are slightly chunky (though beautiful) DTWs. The IWC MK XVIII Petit Prince with its radiant blue dial would qualify if it weren’t for the utilitarian Arabic numerals. The Nomos Zürich with the brown dial looks like a DTW, but carries a meager 3atm splash-proof rating. To my surprise, the more I looked the more the dressy tool watch niche shrunk.

Sinn, I contend, stumbled into the dressy tool watch party in 2016. I say “stumbled” because Sinn didn’t create the 556 Anniversary to add a dressier offering to their collection (they already offer purebred dress watches) or to sell an Oyster homage (totally not their game). They just dressed up some of their entry-level tool watches for their 55th birthday party and happened to capture the spirit of Rolex’s classic DTWs more successfully than even the most literal imitators.

The way the Sinn 556 Anniversary reflects light is kaleidoscopic and kinetic.  The dark rhodium (or anthracite) dial is in constant motion, while the mirrored indices and hands go from bright silver to pitch black with a flick of the wrist. Take it out under trees, sky, and sun and this watch starts throwing colors around like Jackson Pollack.

I delight in the 556 Anniversary’s light show, it’s moderate size, and its ability to withstand sundry abuses. Unlike conventional dress watches—which, let’s be honest, we seldom wear—dressy tool watches like the Sinn 556 Anniversary inspire elegance, sophistication, and charm on the daily. I’ll toast to that.

LONDON CALLING—THE NUMERAL 4—VONA VEL—FARER OXLEY GMT—$1,450

I live in Hopewell Junction, NY, so when I heard about Farer’s Hopewell Automatic watch, ownership seemed preordained. However, the Hopewell’s date window so abjectly decapitates the six o’clock marker that I had to shield my eyes from the bloody mess. Thankfully Farer’s quartz models gave safe harbor to all numerals, but their automatic movements are so robust and pretty that quartz felt like too big a concession. The situation was growing hopeless.

Then Farer announced their Automatic GMT line—the Lander, Oxley, and Ponting—all three sporting the most tasteful date window since Bell and Ross hid theirs on the BR123 and 126. The Oxley’s multi-color, multi-scale dial is a graphic design marvel: legible but fun; busy but uncluttered; classic but untraditional. The whole getup is delightfully British (think Paul Smith).

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The Oxley gives my three-watch collection numerals, big shiny applied ones on the 12-hour ring and small black painted ones on the 24-hour ring. The Oxley’s numerical font straddles the gulf between modern and traditional with aplomb; these are crisp, fun sans-serifs, but they aren’t goofy or forced like so many Bauhaus and Constructivist derivatives in vogue today. The numeral “4” is the sleeping flamingo of numerals, its bulk impossibly cantilevered over one thin leg. Push 4’s proportions even a little and it distracts, jars, and annoys, but the Oxley’s “4” is perfect, as are the other numerals.Unlike most micro-brands, Farer’s date discs use the same font as the watch face. That matching font is a front-window affirmation of how thoroughly customized Farer’s automatic movements are. Through the rear window, the Oxley’s top-grade ETA 2893-A2 movement exhibits excellent finishing. The movement alone puts the Oxley comfortably on par with watches from mid-size brands like Bell & Ross, Oris, and Sinn, but really all aspects of the Oxley feel like they come from a long-established watchmaker and not a start-up micro-brand.

Akin to celestial navigation, GMT-time (or dual time) inspires wonder and a sense of vastness that GPS and other map-spewing do-dads tend to pilfer. I’m currently tracking time in Reykjavik on my Oxley, and its hands remind me of my friends’ adorable twins, the softened consonants of Icelandic English, the lit-up Rolex sign above the watch shop downtown. Often worn while traveling, a GMT becomes a repository of our personal globalization; no social media check-ins required; just a mesmerizing mechanical memento of what we come to hold dear as we explore our planet.

Not content to let the Hopewell connection go, I had Farer etch the words “Vona Vel” into the case back. Vona Vel is Icelandic for “hope well”—a grammatically dubious phrase in Icelandic, but phonetically lush for English speakers (some readers may note that I’m riffing on Sigur Røs.) I didn’t expect this engraving to be such a potent injection of significance, yet the Oxley felt like mine the moment I read the inscription. For those seeking a lasting and loving relationship with a watch, I encourage you to consider engraving. It’s tattoo-level commitment. I have no regrets—only love for my dear Vona Vel.

BAD AT MATH—ALWAYS IN LOVE

Perhaps the ineffability of watch love is what drives us to stay up late, sipping Scotch, marveling at little machines that steadily remind us we’re mortal. If we can instill love into that baleful reminder of impermanence, then perhaps we have arrived at a solution after all. An Omega Seamster 2254.50, a Sinn 556 Anniversary, and a Farer Universal Oxley GMT make wonderful repositories for my life’s hours, minutes and seconds—a Swiss, a German and a Brit united with this Icelandophile against the ultimate conclusion.


Words and photography by Allen Farmelo. To see more of Allen’s work on Worn & Wound, check out his response to our podcast on the White Paper on Fine Watchmaking.

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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