Desirable Automatic Watch features:
– A good movement. Automatic gets charged by wrist movement, mechanical requires a manual wind-up every 1-1.5 days, and quartz is battery-powered and most-accurate. Watch-philes recommend automatic: don’t need battery replacement, smoother seconds hand, and hold value better due the craftsmanship and tradition of a more complicated movement (though may require servicing every ~5 years). Swiss-made ETA movement is the highest quality but watches generally start at $400+, Miyota is a lower-priced Japanese substitute but still great/reliable with watches starting $250+, Seagull is lower quality but not bad, followed by super cheap/bad unnamed Chinese movements. Seiko makes automatics with quality that vary depending on level of model. There are also other types of battery-assisted hybrid quartz/automatics (Seiko Kinetic, Seiko Solar, Citizen Eco-Drive), but again these do not command the highest prices.
– Quality of the finish
– Sapphire Crystal glass (scratch resistant and prettier than mineral)
– Stainless Steel Case or sometimes black PVD (tho IMO is less versatile fashion-wise and too casual)
– Not too high profile (to fit under dress shirts).
– Don’t buy a watch made by a popular “clothing fashion” brand. These are usually quartz and are lacking in quality of their finish given their price. Buy from a watch-maker for watches that are better quality for the price and are more likely to hold value better.
– IMO watches aren’t investments. Why buy a watch if you’re scared of scratches and the subsequent “loss of value”?
Budget Automatic: ~$100-200
Parnis, Tao, or Alpha are decent cheap chinese brands (but I wouldn’t pay more than $120) ie Parnis all ~$100 but some models are not quality, Popular decent-quality models: Power Reserve (IWC Portuguese homage with Sea-Gull ST2505 movement) [Parniswatch.net], Panerai Radiomir homage [Parniswatch.net]
Amphibia Vostok (Russian) ~$80 from either Smirs (Smirs is cheaper than eBay) or Meranom, or Chistopolcity. If you find one with the new lug width of 22mm (like the sold out Amphibia Ministry), a nice Nato or Zulu from CheapestNatoStraps will fit and look good Another Russian watch, albeit only cheap if bought used is Sekonda ~$80 at [eBay]. Their 3017 Pilot watches are beautiful but $400+.
HMT (Indian) – $30-$80 NASL or ADSL models, or Secondarily: Sona, find them on Ebay
Seiko 5 (SNK series) $60-$110 ie SNKK71 [Amazon], SNK795 [Amazon], SNKL09 [Amazon], SNK809 [Amazon w/ Cloth Strap, Amazon w/ Steel bracelet, eBay], or SNKD97K1 w/ Steel bracelet [Amazon, eBay], or (SNZ) SNZG13 w/ Steel bracelet $125 [Amazon1, Amazon2, eBay] (possibly can find at an Ashford sale for $80), SNZG15 [Amazon]. Note: If buying from amazon, check camelcamelcamel.com for price history
Sea-Gull M187s $120 [Ebay]
Fliegers (WWII pilot watch):
Note: Real pilots wear titanium because it’s lighter! (but in all seriousness, titanium isn’t worth the extra money and is more prone to scratches), also I prefer the A dial as B dial is too “busy” to be classy
Maratec $280 [Maratec's Only Retailer] a little more modern
Laco with Miyota movement $370, sapphire glass, is 100% true to history and definitely quality. If you order it, note that you may request them give you the strap WITHOUT rivets. [Laco A-Dial, Laco B-Dial]. Or to skip the import hassle from Germany: [Amazon]
Also check LongIslandWatch Discount Sale for good value Fliegers such as Aristo (great value ETA) $300 (usually $429 on LongIslandWatch), or Lacos
Uhren von Uhr (great value ETA) $310 (newer company) A dial 40mm, A dial 42mm, B dial 40mm, B dial 42mm
Steinhart $455 ETA [A dial 44mm, B dial 44mm, B dial 47mm] (note the titanium ones not listed here are $469 with vintage-yellow font). Go Steinhart for a Flieger w/ ETA, but a substitute is: Archimede ~$500 [ArchimedeWatches].
A flieger is more casual than classy with only the usual brown strap. If gunning for a flieger, go for a $350-$500 Flieger with ETA Swiss movement, ex: Aristo/Laco at [LongIslandWatchDiscountSale] or a Steinhart $455 [SteinhartWatches] or a Laco Augsberg $370 for its historical significance (albeit it’s a Miyota movement, not ETA) [Amazon].
Submariner Homages / Classic James Bond 007 Style:
Orient Ray or Mako $110 [OrientWatchUSA Ray, OrientWatchUSA Mako] to get them for $110 shop at [Ebay Ray, Ebay Mako] or [LongIslandWatch]
Seiko SKX007 $170 [Amazon SKX007K2] [Ebay] or for the less “original” but more classy squarish hour markers: [Amazon SKX173]. Get the superb bracelet for this: Super Oyster Evo S bracelet (solid end links) $70 from (email email@example.com) (it fits the SKX007/009, SKXA35/53/55, 7002, 6309-729X), but can instead get the Jubilee bracelet (dressy) or President bracelet (popping/unique). I’m not a fan of the Engineer (or Super Engineer) bracelet, less classy more “tool” watch. Instead of Yobokies, can also get a Super Oyster through William Jean (WJean Ebay), or Snapcode from Amazon.
Seiko 5 Series (budget route): get a Black Seiko 5 SNZF17 $136 [Amazon, eBay] or Blue Seiko 5 SNZF15 [Amazon, eBay] (I’d get SKX007 over the SNZFs, better quality)
Seiko Used Classic (6306/6309): $150-$300 off eBay. Either the: 6306 [eBay] or 6309 eBay]. I like the 6309-7040 better than the 6306. Unless you spend bigger bucks for a fully restored and pressure tested one you can’t really trust the watertight integrity. Otherwise you might end up with a “restored” watch that leaks while washing your hands and it’ll cost a lot just to clean up the gaskets (unless you do it yourself). For a reputable seller on eBay, use Loyswatch.
Seiko homage Marine Master / Poor Man’s Marine Master (PMMM): Order both the SKX171 and SKX007 bezel to create this SKX171 w/ SKX007 bezel, shown with President bracelet (SKX171K), ask them to do the bezel swap before shipping, optional: Type S hands (or genuine MM300 hands), Super Oyster Evo S bracelet is the best (better than WJean’s Super Oyster Type 2), MM300 clasp for bracelet, Sapphire Crystal, smaller font bezel insert
Seiko Sumo $560 Great value for the quality, but I don’t like the big lugs [Seiya Japan, eBay]
Squale 20 ATMOS Classic $440 from [GnomonWatches Black, or Vintage Off-black]. I’d remove the date magnifier. It’s slightly smaller than the Steinharts (40mm vs 42mm). Squale is a micro-watchmaker with a solid history from the 1950s.
Steinhart Ocean all ETA movements, $400 [Steinhart Ocean 1 Black] with Ceramic Option but I’d remove the date magnifier (this is a superb homage to the Rolex Deep Sea Sea Dweller 116660), or go a little nontraditional with the flat bezel Steinhart Ocean 44 $440 [SteinhartWatches], or for more sporty color Steinhart Ocean 1 Vintage $400 [SteinhartWatches], or Steinhart OVM for gold vintage military trim $400 [SteinhartWatches] (a superb homage to the Rolex Milsub 5513 as seen in the classic James Bond 007 movies ie Sean Connery)
Ollech & Wajs Diver ETA movement $390 from [Ollechs and Wajs Home - Chronotime or eBay]
Budget Divers (popular non-traditionals):
Seiko Monster $160 [Amazon, eBay]
Seiko Mini/Neo Monster $140 ie SNZF47K1 [Amazon, eBay]
Seiko 5 Sports $125 Black SNZH55 [Amazon, eBay], Blue SNZH53 [Amazon, eBay], Black with Gold Trim SNZH57 [Amazon, eBay], All Black SNZH59 [Amazon, eBay]
Seiko SKX171 [Amazon, eBay]
Citizen Eco Zilla $200 (however this one is quartz, I’d take Seiko over this) [Amazon, eBay]
Bernhardt Binnacle $270 [BernhardtWatches]
Steinhart Vintage GMT $440 [SteinhartWatches]
Mid-level Classy Automatic ~$200-~$600
Android watches (ETA movement only) ~$240 (hard to find at good price) [Ebay]
Tissot PR 516 GL (old world sporty feel) $415 [Ebay] or Tissot Visodate $375 [Amazon, eBay]
Certina DS-1 $500 Certina (hard to find in US) [eBay]
Steinhart Marine $460 [Marine Chronometer II Roman, Marine Chronometer II Arabic, Marine Chronometer, Marine Chronometer Vintage] Only gripe on these is that they might be too thick for a classy watch and too classy for everyday watch
Mido Baroncelli ~$500, highly regarded brand but not well-known, hard to find these at good prices, ie Baroncelli II [AZFineTime] or All Dial [AZFineTime]
Seiko Spirit (Sarb) $430 SARB033 [Amazon, eBay], or step up looks with $570 SARB021 [Amazon, eBay] or SARB023 [Amazon, eBay]
Steinhart Triton 40 ATM $485 [SteinhartWatches]
Christopher Ward C60 tad expensive @ $535 [Christopher Ward USA]
Vintage Watches: Buran (Russian, made by Poljot ex-employees) good deal depends on the movement and condition $200-$500 [eBay] ie the Buran Sibiria / Siberia [eBay]
High-Level Classy Automatic $600+ (all ETA movements)
Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic $500-$700 I’m not a fan but they’re popular and great value for ETA [Amazon, eBay,]
Seiko Premier with 6R20 or 6R15 movement ~$500-700 on [eBay] (usually these are little too big/busy for me but great value)
Seiko Marine Master MM300 The ultimate diver @ $2300. Try to get slightly used for $1850. The only watch over $1500 that I’d happily recommend. Definitely worth it over the $570 Seiko Sumo. Might be too high profile to fit under dress shirts. [eBay]
Stowa Antea $850 [StowaShop], Stowa Marine Original [StowaShop]
Damasko DA36 $1125 [DamaskoUSA, Damasko DC56 $1750 DamaskoUSA]
Junghans Max Bill Automatic $900 [JunghansWatchesUSA, eBay]
Sinn 556 $770 [SinnWatches]
Oris and Glycine both widely known to be good quality/resale value, but I don’t find their lower-end watches awe-inspiring/classy $800+ (Glycine Stratoforte $1.2k expensive but might be able to find for $600-$800 [Glycine, eBay, Watchuseek for sale]
Mido Multifort $800 [eBay, Amazon BlackDial/GoldTrim/PVD, AZFineTime BlackDial/GoldTrim/PVD, AZFineTime Black Dial/LeatherStrap, AZFineTime Black Dial/Chain], or also Mido Baroncelli Chronograph [AZFineTime Black Dial, eBay]
Longines Hydroconquest superb brand but way too expensive ~$790 [eBay]
Beautiful but overpriced:
Magrette Regattare $545 (beautiful but not great value due to Miyota movement)
Halios (similar to Magrette, beautiful but overpriced for ETA)
MKII (mkiiwatches.com) great but $800+ (and the vantage or kingston are no longer for sale)
Prometheus (also not sure the quality of these) from PrometheusWatch or Watchgecko) (also check the movement, Prometheus tends to be overpriced even with watches that have crappy seagull/sellita movements, Baiji line and CR1 are recommended)
After all of my research, I’ve concluded: get an automatic watch, don’t spend more than $300 on a non-ETA movement watch (unless it’s a Seiko). My personal opinion is only get one or two watches that are versatile (both professional and casual), and don’t spend much more than $500 for a watch, unless it is gold (you can find good-condition gold watches for even ~$500-$600 on eBay).
For less than $200, my favorite budget watch with a great movement is the classic diver Seiko SKX007 $170 [SKX007K2] or for the less “original” but more classy squarish hour markers: [Amazon SKX173]. Then to go all out get the classier Super Oyster bracelet $80 (email firstname.lastname@example.org for his quality Evo S, or William Jean (WJean Ebay), or Snapcode from Amazon). Even though SKX007 is the “classic” (and similarly SKX173) and possibly the best quality for the price, you could go cheaper or find a different style with another good quality $70-$150 Seiko 5 or if you HAVE to get a more unique/complex design, find an automatic Orient for ~$100-140 at [LongIslandWatch Discount Sale or eBay] (see above categories “Budget Automatic” and “Submariner Homages” for example options).
For best budget ETA movement diver / submariner (classy), my favorite is the Steinhart Ocean 1 Black $400 [SteinhartWatches] with Ceramic Option, or [Steinhart Ocean 44 $440 SteinhartWatches]. For slightly smaller/classier, get the Squale 20 ATMOS Classic $440 from [GnomonWatches - Black, or GnomonWatches - Vintage Off-black]. If you choose Ocean 1 or a Squale, I like them better to remove the date magnifier (aka the cyclops).
For best budget high quality classiness, Seiko SARB021 at ~$570 on [Amazon or Ebay], or Steinhart Marine ie $480 [Marine Chronometer II Roman]. For ultra-classiness, the Stowa Antea 390 Day-Date black $900 looks beautiful, but again that’s a lot of money for a non-gold watch [StowaShop] so can’t fully recommend it.
Watch Straps/Bracelets: [need to research more alternatives]
Da Luca – highest quality leather (shell cordovan) but expensive $100+
Don’t get: Hadley Roma (doesn’t seem like high quality)
Watches I’m Not Recommending – Jaragar $20-90 bad quality movement/build, Tag Heuer is the worst bang for the buck, Chase Durer, Timex, Breitling bad value, Nixon overpriced and bad quality, Victorinox overpriced, Jean Marcel little overpriced at $800 used $1k+ new, Kienzle quality too convoluted for me to recommend, Dievas watches (vortex in particular) too expensive, Skeleton watch: Richard Mille RM11 homage (can’t find a decent trustworthy quality copy online), Not really into the Uniformwares, Croton, Invicta (also not great quality), Sturhling, Citizen, Accurist (British version of Citizen), just okay Tauchmeister (ex: T0252 $200 Miyota), Ocean7 overpriced & bad customer service & misaligned bezels, Helson good quality submariners but newer company and $600+, G Gerlach ($300 watches, stylish but cheap seagull movement), Rolex subs (ie Rolex Deep Sea Sea Dweller 116660) are small/common/expensive even though they hold their value very well. Lots of Omegas don’t have rotating bezel.
Flieger: IWC and A. Lange & Söhne are the popular uber expensive ones, Wempe and Tourby expensive $1k, Vollmer ($500+), Stowa are too expensive at [~$790] (even though the higher quality finish might be worth it to some people, get a leather strap Laco for half the price or a much classier metal bracelet Steinhart Flieger for slightly cheaper, as Stowa is not worth it as it is slightly overrated and they’re essentially homages with a good brand name but not authentic like Laco, Stowa Models [A dial, A dial with date, A dial no logo, B dial])
Hamilton watches are great quality and value but I’d rather not get a casual American-made watch that doesn’t come with a metal bracelet in the Swiss $350+ range (note they are on sale often so only get them on sale), Khaki Automatic (Khaki Field line or Khaki King line) is a good value ~$350 [eBay] but the Khaki Pilot and Officer lines also look good
Note: All my watch picks (due to build quality / style / value) come from general consensus research of the watchaholics on the watchuseek.com forums