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12 "Cheap" Watches That Look More Expensive Than They Are

There are a lot of cheap watches out there, and to be honest, many of them look the part. Making a watch that is inexpensive enough to appeal to a broad audience yet also capable of impressing a discerning watch enthusiast with its build quality, finishing, movement, and design is a challenging task for even the most experienced and resourceful of watch manufacturers. The brands and models we spotlight below, in our humble opinion, successfully tread the line between entry-level value (prices range from under $100 to just shy of $600) and noteworthy quality and aesthetics. 

Casio Vintage Gold A168GW-9VT

Casio Heritage Gold watch

Price: $65, Reference: A168GW-9VT, Case Size: 38.6mm x 36.3mm, Case Height: 9.6mm, Crystal: Resin Glass, Water Resistance: Water-Resistant, Movement: Quartz Digital

While its most iconic contribution to the watch world is undoubtedly the mega-popular G-Shock, Japan’s Casio offers different styles of digital timekeeping in its retro-influenced Vintage series, the most “expensive-looking” of which is this gold-toned model with a rectangular resin case, a stainless steel bracelet, and an electro-luminescent backlit display screen. The watch features an array of useful functions including a 1/100-second stopwatch with elapsed times and split times, daily alarms, hourly time signals, an auto-calendar, and timekeeping options in both 12-hour and 24-hour format. Best of all, this combination of high functionality and gilded flair can be had for under $70.

Timex Marlin Hand Wound 34mm

Timex Marlin Gold-Tone

Price: $139 - $199, Case Size: 34 mm, Case Height: 10 mm, Lug To Lug: 41 mm, Strap Width: 18 mm, Crystal: Acrylic, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Mechanical Hand-wind

Timex has built much of its reputation on making attractive watches at prices accessible to all, and the company has stepped up its design game in recent years and also embraced its long heritage to produce appealing vintage-look pieces. The Marlin was the first mechanical watch Timex had made in over 30 years when it was rolled out in 2017. It’s based on a 1960s model and was notable for sticking to the original model’s modest dimensions, just 34 mm in diameter. Under a domed acrylic crystal, the hour numerals on the dial are charmingly retro in their curvilinear font. With its thin bezel, hand-wound movement (you can get the automatic version, at a larger 40mm size, for around $250), and retro sizing, the Marlin could easily pass for one of those actual mid-century vintage models that are all the rage these days.

Timex Expedition North Field Post Mechanical

Timex Expedition North Field

Price: $229 - $249, Reference: TW2V00700JR, Case Size: 38mm, Case Height: 8.5mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Mechanical TY6DSK-1

With the Expedition North Field Post Mechanical, the other Timex on our list, the historical American watch brand brings together a classical field-watch dial, a 23-jewel, manually wound mechanical movement with hacking seconds, and an eco-friendly strap made of DriTan leather, all for an impressive sticker price under $250. The crystal is nonreflective sapphire (an upgrade over previous Expedition models, which used mineral crystal), and the stainless steel case resists water pressure down to 100 meters thanks to the screw-down crown. The hands and numerals glow brightly in the dark thanks to a coating of Super-LumiNova. 

Seiko 5 Sports SRPG61

Seiko 5 Sports

Reference: SRPG61, Price: $225, Case Size: 42.5mm, Thickness: 13.4mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46mm, Crystal: Hardlex, Water Resistance: 100 m, Movement: Automatic Seiko 4R36

Seiko 5 watches still adhere to the five principles the Japanese watch giant established for the series back in 1963, including all automatic movements, while still retaining the famously inexpensive price points that have made them so desirable — from under $100 to the neighborhood of $500 for the more exclusive editions.The gritty, gray-toned, textured dial of this model takes its cues literally from the street, i.e., the omnipresent cement and concrete surfaces that define our modern urban jungle. The streetwise, monochromatic appeal of the watch extends to its gray, coin-edged, rotating divers' bezel, whose aluminum insert has the same textured motif as the dial, and the gray nylon NATO-style strap. The day-date window at 3 o'clock, crown at 4 o'clock, and lume-coated hands (arrow for the minutes, syringe for the hour) identify the watch firmly as a Seiko 5 Sports, while the automatic 4R36 caliber beats inside.

Orient Bambino V4 Blue Dial

Orient Bambino V4 Blue

Price: $249, Case Size: 42 mm, Case Height: 11.8 mm, Lug To Lug: 48.2 mm, Lug Width: 22 mm, Crystal: Domed Mineral, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Automatic Orient F6724

Often under the radar of American watch consumers and overshadowed by its much larger Japanese brethren, Citizen and Seiko (which with it shares a corporate connection through Epson), Orient has been making value-oriented watches in Japan since 1950. The Bambino is Orient’s dressy gents’ model, fairly large in diameter at 42 mm with a domed crystal. The dial’s gradation sweeps from a bright blue center to black at the edges. Inside is an in-house movement, the automatic Orient F6724, with a hacking seconds function and a 40-hour power reserve. All together, it spells quite a bargain for the sticker price.

 

Citizen Promaster Diver

Citizen Promaster Diver

Price: $300, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 11.6mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Citizen Eco-Drive E168 

Japan’s Citizen Watch Company unveiled its Promaster line of professional-grade sports watches in 1989 and its Promaster Diver models — equipped with the brand’s proprietary Eco-Drive technology, which uses light to perpetually charge the movement — have proven to be among the most popular of Citizen’s vast portfolio of timepieces, as well as surprisingly affordable. This watch’s 44mm steel case features a 60-click rotating bezel made of aluminum (here in maritime blue) and a screw-down crown positioned at 4 o’clock. The blue dial sports wide hands and large applied hour markers, all generously lumed for underwater visibility, and a date window at 4 o’clock. The prominent minute hand with its orange detailing adds another layer of contrast, and hence legibility, to the dial. The Eco-Drive movement offers six months of power on a full charge and boasts an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds per month.

Seagull 1963 Chronograph

Seagull 1963 Chronograph

Price: $300 - $500, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 14.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46.8mm, Lug Width: 18mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Crystal: Acrylic, Movement: Manual Seagull ST19

A mechanical chronograph in any price range that could be plausibly described as “cheap” is so rare a bird as to be practically non-existent. All the more appropriate that the only one we’re aware of comes from a brand named after a bird, specifically a Seagull. The 1963 Chronograph is based on a watch designed for the Chinese Air Force in the eponymous year and outfitted with the manually winding ST19 caliber, which is produced entirely in Seagull’s factory in China with tooling purchased from Venus, a then-prominent movement maker in Switzerland. In simpler terms, the ST19 is essentially a Chinese-made Venus 175 — a manual-winding column-wheel chronograph caliber that would likely bump up the cost of a watch to at least $3,000 in its original Swiss-made version. A true outlier in terms of value, the Seagull 1963 Chronograph also boasts an authentic mid-century military design pedigree.

Baltic HMS002

Baltic HMS 002

Price: $400, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Crystal: Acrylic, Movement: Auto Miyota 8315 

Paris-based Baltic is a microbrand that is perhaps best known for its Aquascaphe collection of vintage-inspired dive watches. With the HMS002, Baltic serves up a more elegant style of timepiece, which is distinguished by its sector dial with gilt lines and typography, sporting a grained finish in the center and a radial brushed surface on the minute track. The steel case measures a modest 38mm in diameter and 12mm thick, aping the restrained dimensions of the vintage watches that it calls to mind, and is topped with an acrylic box-type crystal. Aiding and abetting this watch’s eyebrow-raising value proposition is the movement inside, an 8-series Miyota automatic caliber which brings a bit of Japanese craftsmanship to the watch’s proudly French character. 

Seiko Presage “Cocktail Time”

Seiko Presage "Cocktail Time"

Price: $495, Case Size: 40.5mm, Case Height: 11.8mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Hardlex, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Seiko 4R35

The “Cocktail Time” series within Seiko’s automatic-only Presage family of attainable, attractive dress watches are designed to evoke the types of high-end cocktails served at Japan’s famously atmospheric rooftop bars. This model with a gold-toned steel case and a caramel-colored dial takes its nickname and inspiration from a classic Manhattan. The glossy-finish dial’s ridged, rippling edges help give it the look of a birds-eye view inside the cocktail glass; the tone-on-tone date window is a subtle but impressive bonus at this price point, as is the in-house, automatic movement inside. The 40.5-mm case is topped by a box-shaped crystal made of a proprietary Seiko material called Hardlex. A specially sculpted crown helps ensure the case’s 50-meter water resistance, and the movement is magnetic-resistant to 4,800 A/m.

Bulova Lunar Pilot Bulova Lunar Pilot

Price: $525, Case Size: 46mm, Thickness: 13.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 52mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Crystal: sapphire, Movement: Quartz Bulova 262kHz

The Bulova Lunar Pilot is an homage to the Bulova chronograph worn by U.S. astronaut Dave Scott on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission. Visually, the modern-day Lunar Pilot is a faithful re-creation of its spacefaring ancestor, retaining the curvy case shape and distinctive elongated pushers of the original. The dial is mostly similar too ― except for the addition of a date window at 4:30 and the label “262 kHz” at 6 o’clock within the running seconds subdial. Like most chronographs at this price point, just slightly above $500, the Lunar Pilot is equipped with a quartz movement, but not just an off-the-rack one: Bulova’s high-performance quartz movement buzzes away at 262 Hz, which is eight times the frequency of typical quartz movements, and has an accuracy of +/-5 seconds per month.

Bulova My Way Gold Tone, Silver Dial

Bulova Frank Sinatra My Way Gold Tone 

Price: $525, Reference: 97A158, Case Size: 29.5mm, Case Height: 9.05mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Lug to Lug: 47mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Quartz Miyota IL45

Bulova’s Frank Sinatra collection pays homage to the eponymous pop music legend, who owned many Bulova watches throughout his life and counted Bulova as a sponsor of his Frank Sinatra Show on TV in the 1950s. The watches’ designs are inspired by Sinatra’s 1950s-1960s heyday, when smaller, thinner watches were in vogue. The Art Deco-influenced “My Way” model in gold-toned steel features a white dial with gold and black accents, with a rectangular, railroad-style minute track, applied diagonal indexes and Arabic numerals, and a rectangular framed seconds subdial. Sinatra’s signature joins the Bulova logo near the top. Inside the Tank-style case is the Japanese-made Miyota Caliber 1L45 quartz movement, behind a Sinatra-branded caseback.

Tissot Carson Powermatic 80

Tissot Carson Powermatic 80

Price: $595, Case size: 40mm, Thickness: 10.25mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Lug to Lug: 47mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Powermatic 80.111

The Carson series occupies a spot within the “Classic” segment of Tissot’s vast portfolio, alongside the Le Locle and Tradition series, all of which offer dressy, elegant simplicity at entry-level prices for a Swiss-made mechanical watch. The Carson’s dial is subtly recessed in the center and features leaf-shaped hands, a date window at 6 o’clock, and hours designated by either simple indexes or, as on the snazzy, brushed-blue-dial model shown here, stylized Roman numeral appliqués. The quartz-powered versions of the Carson were joined by the Premium Powermatic versions in recent years, which display their self-winding movements behind clear sapphire exhibition casebacks. The Carson’s 40mm steel case is mounted on either a color-coordinated leather strap or a five-link metal bracelet.

 

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