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The Best Budget Watches

The maxim that you get what you pay for is a beguiling conceit. In one stroke it denigrates inexpensive items as naturally inferior while extolling the belief that expensive goods are inherently of a higher quality. 

But we know this is not always the case. Sometimes there is no genuine luxury contender (see smartphones). Sometimes a simpler, less overengineered option can be better (Henry hoover versus a Dyson, or, for that matter, any human-powered vacuum over a robot one). And sometimes scrappy smaller brands compete by offering surprisingly high-caliber products while undercutting respected global players. This, fortunately, has been happening in the watch world for some time now—yes, even with proper automatic movements.

Here is a selection of budget watches, all fully automatic—so, yes, “proper” watches if you are the kind of person to shun digital, smart, and quartz timepieces—that laudably punch well above their weight. All should serve you well, from diving to fine dining.

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Rotate North Atlantic

Rotate North CEO Damien Cranney says that the reason he set up this Irish adventure watch brand in 2019 was “to develop a range of elegantly design tool watches at an affordable price that were fit for purpose.” Having tried the German-engineered Atlantic diver (£285) ourselves, we can attest to its quality, with a solid screw-down crown, toothed bezel, hardened mineral crystal, and Super-LumiNova hands and markers. The NH35a Seiko shock-proof movement supplies 41 hours of power reserve, and the piece is good for depths of up to 300 meters (just shy of 1,000 feet). 

Plus, the sustainably sourced vegan rubber straps arrive with half-punched holes, so you simply pick the notch that fits your wrist and leave the rest unbroken. Some brands selling at 10 times the price have not been as inventive. The new Seal Black edition is a genuine steal at £285 and comes on those rubber straps or a stealthy NATO. Want something more serious? Rotate North has a 500m diver complete with helium valve coming in the form of the £345 Arctic. Either variant represents excellent value. The final clincher? Right now the brand is offering free express worldwide shipping.

Price: £285 | Rotate North

Farer Pembroke


Farer, a British brand, also sells exceptional automatics under $1,000. Its 38.5mm Pembroke field watch (£875) with a 200-meter depth rating is made from marine-grade stainless steel (higher levels of chromium and molybdenum, so it's tougher and has greater corrosive resistance). Inside is a robust Sellita SW221-1 automatic movement with a 38-hour power reserve and in-built shock system. What's more, this bargain timepiece also comes with not one, not two, but three quality straps included in the case: a marine blue American Horween leather strap; a green waterproof NATO; and an integrated “5 row” 316 marine-grade steel bracelet—all with quick-release fitting systems. Many high-end brands would not be nearly so generous.

Price: £875 | Farer

Unimatic UC-2


Unimatic makes achingly stylish yet modern watches (hardly surprising when you consider the Milan-based brand was founded by a pair of industrial designers in 2015) at ludicrously low prices. The €400 ($463; £345) UC-2 comes in a minimal brushed 316 solid stainless steel case waterproof to 300 meters (1,000 feet) with anti-reflective sapphire crystal, and the black matte dial is finished with Super-LumiNova C3 pale green markers. The NH35A automatic movement offers a respectable 41-hour power reserve, while the black nylon two-piece strap finishes the package nicely. In a final flourish, at this price, amazingly, you also get the watch delivered in a Unimatic tough case.

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Price: €400 | Unimatic | Huckberry

Seiko 5 Sports


Seiko has considerable dive watch heritage, and then some. This is, after all, the only watch brand that has an association with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), established in 2016. But if you are looking for a watch with a little more versatility, Seiko's 5 Sports (from £172) range, powered by a Caliber 4R36 automatic movement, come in at preposterously low prices. 

Now, Seiko has been producing its 5 Sports watches in various guises for more than 50 years, but the latest collection has something for everyone—27 iterations, each in one of five styles: Sports, Suits, Specialist, Street, and Sense. The collection also has a range of straps and bracelets from steel mesh to silicone-leather hybrids. This classic Sports model has a 41-hour power reserve, silicone strap, and 100-meter water resistance.

Price: From £172 | Amazon | Watch Hut

Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic


The Hamilton Khaki Field is no stranger to lists of value watches, and rightly so. The military look is very much in style (not that it ever really is out of fashion) in the horology world, but now the brand has brought in lightweight titanium options. This 42mm piece (£815) with a stealthy coating of PVD black houses the H-10 automatic movement, which offers an impressive 80-hour power reserve. The simple, clear dial will never look dated, while the tough canvas strap and 100-meter water resistance make this a watch that can serve for sports and evening occasions. 

Looking for something less Bruce Wayne in demeanor? Try Hamilton's new Far Cry 6 collaboration with Ubisoft. Identical to the in-game watch, this piece, also in titanium, has a stylized "6", red seconds hand, an additional leather strap, strap-changing tool, and leather carrying case. But take note: It's a limited edition of 1983 pieces.

Price: £815 | Jura Watches | Watch Nation

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

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