Three-Watch Collection Under $5,000: Blake Buettner’s Picks

Building a watch collection that brings you joy shouldn’t have to break the bank. Setting aside $5,000 to build an ideal 3 watch collection is within reason both financially (with a bit of planning as needed), and from an horological perspective. Not all great watches are locked behind long waitlists and hefty price tags, after all. 

A wise approach would likely entail carving out 3 genres to provide a diverse range of options to cover each section of your wardrobe. Luckily, my wardrobe is pretty one dimensional, so all three of these watches would enjoy ample wrist time. While outliers exist, watches that catch my fancy generally fall into the “tool” watch category, meaning they are practical, legible, wearable, and, unlike myself, look better with age. 

With that cleared up, here are my three selections for a watch collection under $5,000.

Autodromo Group B Series 2 “Nightstage” ~$800

The Autodromo Group B with Nightstage dial

The Group B is an unconventional watch in its defiant design language. There is no clear horological inspiration or homage happening here, making it a rare bird these days. The design inspiration comes instead from the automotive world (if the name didn’t give it away, and if you’re not familiar with Group B racing, grab a beer and watch this), dripping with ‘80s dashboard stylings of the Lancia Rally 037. The Nightstage adds a grid pattern to the dial, and a (kinda but not really) integrated bracelet that dials the whole package up to 11. 

This watch spoke to me the moment I saw it, which incidentally was just hours prior to its formal introduction at the Windup Watch Fair of 2018. I took advantage of that fact and placed a deposit immediately, ensuring myself one of the first available models. 

With a case that measures in under 40mm in diameter and under 10mm in thickness, the Group B is as easy on the wrist as it is on the eyes, wearing effortlessly under the tightest of cuffs (or racing gloves). Inside beats the Miyota 9105, and automatic movement providing 42 hours of reserve and hacking functionality. No date window in sight, meaning a blissfully balanced dial.

Seiko SPB149 ~$1,000

The Seiko SPB149 with a perfect blue dial.

Like many of you, my watch collection is rarely without a Seiko dive watch of some sort. From the 7002 and SKX to the Marine Master, these are watches that just get it. Their newly released Prospex SPB watches offer up modern interpretations of their classic 62MAS in a more wallet friendly manner than the excellent SLA017 from 2017. The new SPB watches in any of their 4 variants (including 1 LE) hit all the right notes for my wrist, measuring in around 40mm, and costing around $1,000. The dial and bezel are robust yet balanced in a highly practical manner, making this perhaps the ultimate t-shirt and jeans watch. 

I’m a sucker for a well done bezel, and the execution on these SPB watches absolutely sings. To my eye, it adds a level of personality and character that elevates it from nearly every other Seiko diver. My only gripe is the Prospex logo on the southern half of the dial, and the lack of a dateless option, but neither are deal breakers here. I love these watches and in the context of a three watch collection, I could see this one getting the most wear.

Mid 90’s 1861 tritium Speedmaster ~$3,200

A lovely example of an old-but-not-too-old Speedmaster.

Lastly, a Speedmaster rounds out the collection, providing a foundation of historical relevancy and interesting complication. There are plenty of Speedmaster options out there, but in this exercise I’m partial to the 861 models from the mid ‘90s for a few reasons. As much as I love the earlier 145.022 references, within this budget, you’re likely looking at one that won’t be a comfortable daily wear option. With a mid-’90s model Speedmaster (early reference 3570.50 examples), you could still have a tritium dial and hands, hand wound caliber 1861, and with any luck, some nice aging starting to happen.

There’s not much to say about the Speedmaster that hasn’t been said already, and likely more eloquently than I could ever put it. Suffice to say, it’s a true icon of the watch world, even if you’re stingy about using that word, and deserves a place in a small collection. If not thanks to its merits (of which it has many), then thanks to its seemingly ageless dial and case design, which looks as modern as ever even today. 

With any money left over (if any, I might actually be in the hole a bit here), I’d splurge on a G-Shock or Bulova Computron just to cover the formal end of my wardrobe. If you’d like to share your thoughts on these three watches, or make any suggestions, head to the comments below. 

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.