Building a watch collection is generally a progression, beginning with the accumulation of a handful of modestly priced favorites and building toward the quest for pricier and more coveted models as one's knowledge and disposable income grow. We've showcased many worthwhile models in many price categories, but it's the sweet spot between $5,000 to about $10,000 that many consider the most fertile ground for finding some of those Holy Grails of timekeeping from some of the world's legendary watch brands. If you're in the market for your first "icon" watch (and you're looking to buy new rather than vintage or pre-owned), here are 17 best watches under $10,000 to consider, all topping out below the five-figure price barrier.
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe
Price: $9,500, Reference: 5100-1110-B52A, Case Size: 38mm, Case Height: 10.8mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Blancpain Automatic Caliber 1150
Introduced in 1953, the original Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was not only one of the very first purpose-built divers’ watches but also one of the most storied and influential: the watch introduced the now-ubiquitous unidirectional rotating bezel for setting dive times and was worn by ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau as well as the French navy. In 1956, Blancpain launched the Bathyscaphe version, named after the underwater vehicle invented by Auguste Piccard and intended as a daily-wear alternative to the original Fifty Fathoms. In 2013, for the original model’s 50th anniversary, Blancpain revived the Bathyscaphe with a design that evoked the retro style of its 1950s ancestor. The period-appropriate 38mm case contrasts with the 45mm case of the modern Fifty Fathoms Automatique while still boasting a water resistance of 300 meters (substantially more than 50 fathoms, which roughly converts to 91 meters). The rotating dive scale bezel is made of satin-brushed stainless steel and frames a ceramic insert with markers made of proprietary LiquidMetal. The steel case is mounted on a sailcloth NATO strap and houses the self-winding manufacture Caliber 1150, which supplies an elite-level power reserve of 100 hours.
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 46
Price: $9,200, Reference: AB0137241L1P1, Case Size: 46mm, Case Height: 13.9mm, Lug Width: 24mm, Lug to Lug: 51.8mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Breitling Automatic Caliber B01
Breitling secured its leadership role in the field of aviation watches with the release of the Navitimer in 1952. Developed for the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), the watch became a mainstay of commercial airline cockpits thanks to its innovative slide-rule bezel, which allowed pilots to make crucial flight calculations on the wrist. In 2010, Breitling started equipping the Navitimer with its in-house Caliber B01, which features an integrated column-wheel chronograph function and a substantial power reserve of 70 hours. The stainless steel case measures a robust 46mm in diameter, with a screw-down crown, pump-style chronograph pushers, and the aforementioned slide-rule bezel, whose fluted edge makes it easy to rotate in both directions. The tricompax dial, here in a handsome and very contemporary British Racing Green, has contrasting black subdials for the chronograph counters and running seconds and, in a nod to the model’s origins, the winged logo of the AOPA below the Breitling logo at 12 o’clock.
Cartier Tank MC
Price: $7,350, Reference: W5330003, Case Size: 44mm x 34mm, Case Height: 9.5mm, Lug Width: 25mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Cartier Automatic Caliber 1904-PS MC
Louis Cartier created the Tank watch in 1917, deriving its rectangular, curvilinear case shape as well as its name from a French military vehicle used during the First World War. Perhaps fittingly, the recipient of the first Cartier Tank watch was U.S. General John “Black Jack” Pershing, a commander of the Allied forces. The Tank has been a coveted style object ever since, in a variety of sizes, colorways and materials designed to appeal to men and ladies alike. Delivering the most bang for the buck at our stated price point is this 44mm model in steel, containing a Cartier in-house automatic movement, Caliber 1904-PS MC (the “1904” denoting the year of Cartier’s founding, the “MC” standing for “Manufacture Cartier”). The silvered flinqué dial hosts the hallmark tank Roman numeral hour markers and blued sword hands, along with a date window at 3 o’clock and small seconds sundial at 6 o’clock. On the right side of the emblematic shaped case is another Cartier detail, a faceted crown topped off with a synthetic blue spinel. The case’s sapphire back displays the movement and the decorative Geneva waves that adorn its rotor and plates.
Chopard Mille Miglia Classic Chrono
Price: $5,790, Reference: 168589-3002, Case Size: 42mm Case Height: 12.67mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA Caliber 2894-2
Chopard’s decades-long partnership with the Mille Miglia series of classic car rallies has yielded a wealth of sharp, motorsport-inspired wristwatches with a distinctly masculine appeal, at a more accessible price point than many of the maison’s high-jewelry ladies’ watches and its higher-end L.U.C series. The dial of the Classic Chronograph has large, legible Arabic numerals in a retro font used on the dashboards of the type of vintage cars that take part in the Mille Miglia rallies. The three subtly snailed subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, for running seconds, chronograph hours and chronograph minutes, respectively, are joined on the dial by a racing-inspired tachymeter scale on the flange and a red-arrow-shaped Mille Miglia logo below 12 o’clock. Two pump pushers flank the screwed crown on the 42mm steel case to operate the chronograph. The black rubber strap carries on the theme with a textured pattern that evokes the treads of Dunlop racing tires.
Corum Admiral 42 Chronograph
Price: CHF 5,800, Reference: A984/04252 - 984.111.20/V705 AN52 Case Size: 42mm Case Height: 11.6mm, Lug width: 21/18mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Caliber CO 984, based on ETA 2894-2
The first Admiral’s Cup regatta was run in 1957, and Corum — then a relatively young watch brand, founded in 1955 — supplied the official timepiece of the biennial yacht race three years later. The aptly named Admiral’s Cup watch became an iconic watch for sailing enthusiasts, cleverly deploying colorful nautical pennants, used for signaling during races, at the hour markers. The last Admiral’s Cup took place in 2003, but Corum has continued to update its 1960s classic and has since expanded the original model into a full-fledged collection. Channeling the spirit of the original Admiral’s Cup most directly is this 42mm chronograph model with the 12 emblematic pennant hour markers in full color, swept over by luminous, openworked dauphine hands along with three subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock and a tilted date window at 4:30. The screwed crown, nestled inside protective shoulders and the two pedal-style chronograph push-buttons, helps ensure a seaworthy water resistance of 100 meters. The automatic movement inside, Caliber CO 984, is an ETA base caliber modified by Corum and offering a respectable 42-hour power reserve. The steel bracelet offers additional value at this price point.
Grand Seiko SBGH295 Soko
Price: $6,900, Reference: SBGH295, Case Size: 40mm Case Height: 12.9mm, Lug to Lug: 47mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Hi-Beat Caliber 9S85
In the relatively short time that its watches has been available outside of its native Japan (since 2010) and the even shorter time that it has stood apart from its parent company as an independent luxury brand (since 2017), Grand Seiko has already become a Holy Grail for many discerning collectors. Falling within our pricing sweet spot is this United States-exclusive edition whose textured, icy-blue dial evokes the blue skies over the Sea of Japan as well as the seasonal frost on its surface in early winter. The 40mm steel case is finished with Grand Seiko’s traditional Zaratsu polishing for a mirror-like shine; under its box-shaped sapphire crystal, the frosty dial hosts the brand’s familiar razor-style hour and minute hands and multifaceted hour appliqués, The movement inside is Grand Seiko’s Hi-Beat 9S85, which as its name implies boasts a high-frequency balance (36,600 vph) for utmost accuracy and a power reserve of 55 hours.
Hublot Classic Fusion Titanium Blue
Price: $7,600, Reference: 542.NX.7170.RX, Case Size: 42mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Caliber HUB1110, based on Sellita SW300-1
It’s the more in-your-face Big Bang models that garner the most attention from enthusiasts but Hublot’s subtler, elegant Classic Fusion is not only a more versatile option for those with smaller wrists (and more modest tastes); it’s also the model that most faithfully recalls the earliest Hublot watches of the 1980s, which made history as the first gold watches on rubber straps. This blue-dialed, titanium-cased model is suitably dressy while still sporting hallmark Hublot details like the six visible H-shaped screws on the bezel, the stylized “H” counterweight on the central seconds hand, and the smoothly integrated lined blue rubber strap. The 42mm case has an array of brushed and polished finishes, while the dial is enhanced with a sunray motif. The Sellita-based, self-winding HUB1110 movement ticking inside the case (rather than the in-house Unico caliber) contributes to making this model one of the few Hublots at these dimensions that you can find below the $10,000 threshold.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43
Price: $8,650, Reference: IW329301, Case Size: 43mm, Case Height: 13.6mm, Lug to Lug: 52mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: IWC Automatic Caliber 82100
IWC’s first Big Pilot’s watch, made for the German Air Force in 1940, basically defined the look of a classic military aviation watch and its return to the modern lineup in 2002 kicked off an entire family of Pilot’s timepieces that has taken center stage in the Schaffhausen brand’s portfolio. In 2021, IWC engaged enthusiasts who have clamored for the Big Pilot’s style while lamenting its massive proportions (46mm, still smaller than the 53mm original) with the release of the Big Pilot 43 (or BP43), which not only offers a more universally wearable 43mm case size but also a new quick-change construction that allows the wearer to switch easily between strap and bracelet options. The dial is also evocative of the historical model’s utilitarian simplicity, sporting just the large, luminous Arabic numerals, sword hands, and the hallmark inverted orientation triangle at 12 o’clock and eschewing the date window of previous models for an even purer symmetry. The movement, automatic Caliber 82100, features IWC’s highly efficient Pellaton winding system and carries a 60-hour power reserve. In another departure from previous Big Pilots, the BP 43’s movement is also on display behind a sapphire exhibition caseback.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Small Seconds
Price: $8,750, Reference: Q397846J, Case Size: 45.6mm x 27.4mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Jaeger-LeCoultre Manually Wound Caliber 822
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s signature dress watch, the Reverso, was originally designed as a sports watch, its reversible swiveling case making it a practical timekeeper for polo players who wore it during a match to protect the crystal from being struck by errant mallets and balls. In production since 1931, the Reverso is now available in numerous variations, some at the highest level of complications, but the core three-handed Reverso Tribute model, which faithfully echoes the classical Art Deco look of its ancestor, can still be had for under five figures in steel. The rectangular case has the model’s clean lines and gadroons, the sunray dial (here in a warm burgundy red) features Dauphine hands, trapezoidal applied hour indexes, and a small seconds sundial at 6 o’clock, and the back side of the case offers a clean metallic canvas for personalization. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s manually wound manufacture Caliber 822, shaped to fit the case’s soft rectangular dimensions, beats inside. In another callback to the Reverso’s polo-playing origins, the leather strap is from Casa Fagliano, an Argentinean purveyor of high-end polo boots.
Longines Lindbergh Hour Angle
Price: $5,000, Reference: L2.6184.108.40.206, Case Size: 47.5mm, Case Height: 16.3mm, Lug Width: 25mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Longines Automatic Caliber L699
When Charles Lindbergh made his record-setting transatlantic flight in his Spirit of Saint Louis in 1927, Longines was the official timekeeper. Afterward, in 1931, Lindbergh collaborated with the Swiss watchmaker to create the Hour Angle watch, a wrist-borne timepiece whose cleverly designed dial and rotating bezel allowed early pilots to make helpful longitude calculations right on their wrists. The modern version of this forward-thinking timepiece (whose functionality has nevertheless been rendered obsolete by electronic cockpit instruments, of course) is very similar to that vintage model, with a massive 47.5mm steel case; a bulbous, vintage-style onion crown; a polished, white lacquered dial with blued hands and a central rotating disk for calculations; and the bidirectional rotating calculator bezel. The automatic Caliber L699 ticks inside behind a period-appropriate solid steel caseback. Longines, of course, offers many worthwhile choices well under $5,000, but for just a little more you can own a modern version of a watch that truly had a historic impact on the history of aviation.
Omega Speedmaster Anniversary Series “Silver Snoopy”
Price: $9,600, Reference: 310.32.42.50.02.001, Case Size: 42mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Lug to Lug: 48mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Omega Master Chronometer Caliber 3861, manually wound
The Omega Speedmaster is not only the first watch on the moon; it’s also often the first “serious watch” in a budding connoisseur’s collection. The standard “Moonwatch” reference on a steel bracelet retails new for around $5,350, and for those willing to splurge a little more, pushing to just below that magical $10,000 cutoff, one of the most superlative Speedies is available. This Anniversary Edition released in 2020 commemorates 50 years since Omega received its first “Silver Snoopy” award from NASA in 1970 for its contribution to the U.S. space program. (Long story short, Snoopy from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip served as an official NASA mascot at the time.) The watch has the classic Speedmaster configuration, with a 42mm steel case, tachymeter-scale bezel (here in blue ceramic), and tricompax dial with blue PVD indexes and blue subdials for chronograph minutes and hours and running seconds — the latter subdial featuring an image of an astronaut Snoopy. The cartoon beagle also makes an appearance on the back of the watch, in a spacecraft poised at the tip of a hand, which begins cruising in a circle when the chronograph, powered by Omega’s manually wound Master Chronometer Caliber 3861, is activated.
Panerai Luminor Marina - 44MM
Price: $8,100, Reference: PAM01313, Case Size: 44mm, Lug Width: 24mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 300 meters, Movement: Panerai automatic Caliber P.9010
Like its predecessor, the Radiomir, Panerai’s Luminor took its name from the luminous substance that was applied to its dial, which aided the watch’s first users, Italian navy frogmen of the 1940s, in reading the time on underwater missions. What made the Luminor more famous, however, was its use of the patented crown-protection bridge device that now identifies the model from across a room. Panerai has expanded the Luminor series to encompass a variety of complications and high-tech case materials, but the basic stainless steel, three-hand Marina model is still a favorite and comes in at under $10K. Powered by the automatic manufacture Caliber P.9010, which imparts a three-day power reserve, the watch has a stainless steel cushion-shaped case whose 300-meter water resistance is ensured by the crown-locking device on its right side. The blue sunray dial in the pictured model is constructed in Panerai’s hallmark multi-layered “sandwich” style and features a balanced look with a date at 3 o’clock and small seconds at 9 o’clock to accompany the luminous central sword hands.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King
Price: $7,400, Reference: 126900, Case Size: 40mm, Case Height: 12mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Rolex Automatic COSC-certified Caliber 3230
While getting a hold of a new (rather than pre-owned) Submariner or Daytona is unlikely without a five-figure outlay, Rolex’s most under-the-radar icon — if that’s a thing — is still a relative steal, especially in light of the very well-received revamp the model received at Watches & Wonders 2022. Released in 1945 as a tribute piece for the British RAF pilots who turned the tide of WWII, the Air-King is actually Rolex’s oldest model still being produced and sports its most aviation-inspired design, with a 24-hour dial punctuated by a large 3, 6, and 9 at their respective hour positions and an orientation triangle at 12 o’clock. The emblematic Oyster case measures 40mm in diameter and its water resistance is aided by the screw-down crown, now protected by crown guards in the latest model. The time can be read on Rolex’s hallmark “Mercedes” hands while a seconds hand in Rolex green traverses the dial. Like all modern Rolex watches, it contains an in-house movement, the self-winding COSC-certified Caliber 3230, which is chock full of patented technologies and is accessible only to trusted Rolex watch repairers with special tools.
TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph
Price: $6,950, Reference: CBN2A5A.FC 6481, Case Size: 44mm, Case Height: 15.27mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Caliber HEUER02
Named for the Carrera Panamerica road race by its creator, founding family scion and former CEO Jack Heuer, the TAG Heuer Carrera made its debut in 1964 and swiftly became a trendsetter in the genre of motorsport-inspired chronograph wristwatches with its recessed subdials and minute-scale flange. This sporty-elegant two-tone model houses the automatic Caliber Heuer 02 inside its sleek but sizeable 44mm steel case, which uses rose gold for details like the pushers and crown and black ceramic for the stationary techymeter bezel. Gold is also used for the hands and applied indexes on the three-register dial, with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Made in house, the self-winding movement includes a column-wheel chronograph mechanism, stores a power reserve of 80 hours and winds its mainspring with a stylized rotor inspired by a steering wheel. The watch’s leather strap fastens to the wrist with a push button-operated safety clasp with an engraved TAG Heuer shield logo.
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph S&G
Price: $7,250, Reference: M79363N-0007, Case Size: 41mm, Case Height: 15mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Lug to Lug: 50mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200 meters, Movement: Tudor Automatic COSC-certified Caliber MT5813
If there’s a watch model barely a decade old that deserves to be called an icon (and of course, opinions on that may vary), it’s Tudor’s Black Bay, which has been at the forefront of the Rolex-owned brand’s portfolio since its return to the U.S. in 2013. The Black Bay Chronograph is even more of a newcomer, joining the Tudor lineup in 2017 and already cultivating a substantial following of its own, most hovering in price around $5,000. For a slightly higher price, you can access the most luxurious version of the Black Bay Chrono, introduced just recently at Watches & Wonders Geneva, the S&G model with a brushed-and-polished steel case with yellow-gold bezel, crown and chronograph pushers. The bezel frames a matte black anodized aluminum insert with an etched tachymeter scale. The black, domed bicompax dial is pure Black Bay in its design elements, including the “snowflake” handset, inspired by vintage Tudor dive watches, and large dot hour indexes. The movement is Tudor’s chronometer-rated Caliber MT5813, a self-winding integrated chronograph movement developed in partnership with Breitling that boasts a 70-hour power reserve.
Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur
Price: $8,300, Reference: 1183-310-3/43, Case Size: 42mm, Case Height: 11.1mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Ulysse Nardin Caliber UN-118
To many, Ulysse Nardin’s most iconic watch is the disruptive, idiosyncratic Freak, which the maison introduced in 2001 and has been refining ever since. However, more classical in its design and more evocative of Ulysse Nardin’s origins as a provider of chronometers to navies in the 19th and 20th centuries, is the Marine Torpilleur, which takes its name from a historical type of torpedo on battleships. The steel case and marine-blue dial take inspiration from a vintage sea captain’s chronometer, with Roman numerals, ornate hands, and a stacked subdial arrangement, with the smaller subdial at 12 o’clock tracking the watch’s power reserve and the larger one at 6 o’clock serving as a running seconds indicator with an inset round date window. Ulysse Nardin’s automatic UN-118 movement animates the watch, amassing a 60-hour power reserve. Each watch has a plaque on the side of its case with an individual model number, and is mounted on a blue rubber strap that harmonizes with the dial.
Zenith Chronomaster Original
Price: $9,000, Reference: 03.3200.3600/69.C902, Case Size: 38mm, Case Height: 12.9mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic El Primero Caliber 3600
Zenith made its biggest and most lasting impact on watchmaking history with the launch of the El Primero chronograph caliber in 1969, and one of the very first watches to contain that groundbreaking high-frequency automatic movement was recently resurrected for a modern audience as the Chronomaster Original. The watch’s modest 38mm steel case mimics the dimensions of the increasingly collectible vintage model, Ref. A386, and the tricolor execution of the three subdials — blue, silver, and gray — has become a visual shorthand for a watch with an El Primero movement. Showcased behind a sapphire caseback, the movement beats at a brisk frequency of 36,600 vph, meaning its integrated stopwatch function, driven by a column wheel, can measure times to 1/10 second of accuracy, as evidenced by the central chronograph hand on the dial, which makes a complete sweep every 10 seconds rather than 60, tallying 60 seconds at 3 o’clock and 60 elapsed minutes at 9 o’clock while the running seconds occupy the sundial at 9 o’clock.