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The Inexpensive Watch Guide

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The truth is, not everyone can afford a $1,000 watch or even a $200 watch. Style doesn’t have to depend on how much money you have in the bank, so today we will look at how to buy a great looking watch for under $100.

How to Buy an Inexpensive Watch Under $100

These days, men no longer need a watch to tell time. Dress watches no longer serve a true purpose, other than to communicate your style and your means. Inexpensive watches won’t make you look like an investment banker, but they certainly have a role to play in every stylish man’s wardrobe. You’re going to get what you pay for, but there’s no reason it can’t still be a nice watch.

In the following, we will highlight a variety of wrist watches that are intended to support your style rather than your technical needs. That means you won’t find smartwatches, a GPS watch, or fitness trackers such as an Apple watch, a Fitbit Surge, or an Asus Zenwatch. These watches will complement your outfit but won’t be a triathlon watch that can measure your heart rate.

Three Places to Buy an Inexpensive Watch (and One Place Not to)

1. Online

While this may be a dangerous marketplace for fine timepieces, there’s no risk when you’re only looking for a basic wristwatch. By searching eBay, Craigslist, Amazon and various discount sites, you’ll probably be able to find the watch you’d buy in the store, but at a fraction of the price. This is an excellent source for low budget watches, and you might even look for pocket watches for less than $100, if you are so inclined.

2. Thrift, Goodwill & Pawn Shops

Treasures can be found at vintage stores but rarely during sales

Often, these are some of the best places to look for a great deal. You can generally find vintage watches at these places for a small fraction of what they’d sell for brand new in the store, and in the majority of cases, the staff doesn’t know much about horology, so you can actually find some pretty amazing deals. These opportunities may be hard to find, but they do occur frequently. Recently a man found a 1959 LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm at a Goodwill store in Phoenix. He bought it for $5.99 and turned around and sold it for $35,000 to a collector who also threw in an Omega. This same buyer who frequents Goodwill stores has also seen a variety of other luxury watches in the past at stores like these.  You can read the story here.

3. Department Stores

If you don’t have much time to spend and are just desperate to get a watch on your wrist, the final recommendation is to buy at a local department store. Typically, department stores sell higher quality watches than the bargain bin stores like Walmart and Target, but offer competitive pricing. This is the place to locate fashion watches and other watches that are of better quality. Of course, that’s not to say that Walmart and Target can’t be a viable source — I believe they also carry brands like Casio and Timex, which can be very good watches for the money.

4. But Not on Kickstarter

Kickstarter, along with fellow crowdfunding Indiegogo, has become the new frontier for men’s inexpensive watchmakers. Brands like MVMT (which was recently bought by Movado) and Vincero watches have aggressively moved into the low-cost watch market with sophisticated influencer and social media campaigns. These brands are due credit for reinvigorating the watch as an accessory for every man, but there’s a catch: very few of them offer watches under $100.

Kickstarter watches are rarely under $100

If you’re looking for a great inexpensive watch, we would recommend staying away from crowdfunding, or even brands that have evolved away from Kickstarter. To begin with, they tend to be oversized and minimalist to a fault, and they aren’t really adding much to that more established watchmakers aren’t already doing. Furthermore, they mislead customers into thinking their “direct to consumer” model benefits them; in fact, the quality isn’t better than other watches at the same price point. It’s simply a new way to market watches.

Inexpensive Watch Buying DOs & DON’Ts

The first step when buying a watch in this price range is to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to play it safe and stick with the basics. Focus on watches with fabric straps or metal bracelets and go in expecting to buy a quartz movement. Anything with a mechanical movement will be inferior, although occasionally you can luck out.

DON’T buy a faux gold or plated gold watch

This Nixon watch commits 2 sins: gaudy fake gold plating and trying to imitate much more expensive brands

There are a few things you want to look for when buying a watch in this price range. The first thing is making sure it doesn’t contain any fake or plated precious metals like gold. If you plan on keeping the watch for any considerable amount of time, both plated and fake gold (often called ‘gold-colored’) have the tendency to strip off or change color. A perfect example of this is with plated gold, as after some use you’ll notice that it turns a greenish color, usually starting at the lugs. Furthermore, fake plated gold will always look cheap compared to the real thing, so why bother? We recommend skipping it entirely.

DON’T buy a knockoff or a fake

The first rule to remember is that if you can’t afford the $10,000 Rolex, don’t try and imitate it (better to buy it used from a specialty retailer like Bob’s Watches). One of the biggest mistakes men make is buying a watch that just makes them look cheap. I’m talking about the oversized, fake gold, plastic stone-encrusted watches. There is no humanly possible way to look good wearing these.

Can you spot the fake Rolex? Those who can won’t tell you they know your secret

Buying a fake or imitation of an elegant watch poses the same risk. While you may be able to trick the average Joe into believing you’ve got a real Rolex on your wrist, anyone who knows a thing or two is never going to take you seriously. Wearing a knockoff is like trying to pay your check with Monopoly money. The second someone notices it, you’ve lost all credibility. If you want to be taken seriously, avoid the fraudulent watches because, in the end, you’re going to look like a joke.

DO focus on an “authentic” watch

As in, look for a watch that is not desperately trying to be something it’s not. This Seiko watch is classy and has a few interesting details, but it’s not trying to be something other than a Seiko. Try looking for watches that are made of a standard metal, plastic or composite, and you’ll end up getting the best bang for your buck.

DO lower your expectations for a leather strap watch under $100

Leather watch straps

Avoiding leather is usually a good idea since inexpensive watches tend to have cheap leather or imitation leather straps which will show wear very quickly. Unless you plan to use an after-market strap (which is a good idea), focus on finding watches that have fabric straps, metal bracelets or rubber straps. They’ll last longer and maintain their appearance, provided of course the metal isn’t plated or poorly made.

DO buy a quartz movement

Even under $100, your watch should work well. This isn’t such a big deal when buying new, but it’s still a good idea to make sure it keeps accurate time. Quartz watches are going to be your best bet. They may not have the appeal of mechanical or automatic, but they do keep better time and are usually what you’ll find in this price range.

Timex Intelligent Quartz Depth Gauge

Ideally, you want to find a watch that has Japanese movement. You can often determine this by looking at the back of the watch or the six o’clock position on the dial. Finding something that’s Swiss Made is almost out of the question, although you may find ones labelled Swiss Movement or Swiss Quartz —they are not the same. While some watches with Chinese movements aren’t bad, for the most part they tend to be the least reliable when it comes to watch production. It’s not the end of the world if you find a watch you like with it, but it shouldn’t be your first pick.

DO look for watch styles as if you had an unlimited budget

The Frederique Constant Automatic Dress Watch may be out of reach, but you can find something similar

By keeping this in mind, you’ll only buy one you really like and one that suits your lifestyle. If you’re going to wear it with a business suit, avoid sports watches; and if you’re going to wear it to the beach, make sure it’s water resistant.

DO save for the watch of your dreams

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch with a metal band

Furthermore, we always recommend saving more or paying less. The majority of watches between the $500 and $1500 mark aren’t worth the markup, because they aren’t adding quality above the $500 price point aside from better branding. In almost all cases, they’re overpriced. Stick with either a cheap daily wear watch or save up until you can afford the watch you really want where the quality matches the price tag.

Recommended Watch Brands

Watch Model Brand Price
T2N747KW Weekender Timex $
Casio GA100-1A1 Casio $
SNK805 Seiko $
699.02 Aviator Quartz Stuhrling $
N14555G NST Nautica $
AK715SSB “Retro” Stainless Steel Akribos $
BF0580-06E Citizen $
Silver Dial Black Bulova $

When it comes to watches that cost less than $100, the only thing that really matters is whether you like how it looks. The movement is not going to be anything fantastic so focus on its appearance — you just want it to look good on your arm.

Timex

Timex Weekender Central Park

You may remember Timex being mentioned in our Low Budget Watch Guide. Their Weekender line is a GG favorite watch for daily wear. It’s easy to wear, relaxed, and not so precious that it can’t get dirty or wet. If it breaks, oh well, it’s replaceable. It’s a nice looking, classic timepiece that is great dressed down but also with a suit. You can make it preppy for the beach with a NATO strap or dress it up with leather. All-in-all, it’s a great watch and when it comes to Timex, you really can’t go wrong. As far as classic watches go in this price range, Timex is a top pick.

Casio

The Casio G-Shock definitely isn’t for the office, but it’s a great sports watch under $100

Casio is a very safe brand when it comes to sports watches. They don’t try to make their watches look better than they are by adding imitation stones or gold colored metals. Most of their products are sturdy workhorses that add the necessary features, like water resistance for a day at the beach. If you’re looking for a decent sports watch for casual wear, any Casio in this price range is a solid investment. Check out this Casio G-Shock on Amazon.

Seiko

Seiko watches are about as good as they get in this price range as well as in many higher price points. They make some exceptional watches and a quick search on Amazon netted two pages of choices for between $50 and $100. This military inspired Seiko watch with a canvas band has a great retro look ideal for a casual men’s watch. It is an automatic watch with a stainless steel case,so it ticks the boxes for a weekend timepiece under $100.

Stührling

A lot of people don’t realize that Max Sturhling was actually a master watchmaker who studied under Louis Audemars of Audemars Piguet — one of the world’s most renowned luxury watchmakers.

Sturhling Original watch for under $100

However, Stührling wanted to make well-built timepieces that every man could afford. He left the luxury industry, in which he could have easily made a name for himself, and developed a line of watches that retails for no more than a few hundred dollars. Many of the watches feature automatic or mechanical movements and you can easily find some of their watches, like this one, for under $100.

Akribos

Akribos is one of those brands like Invicta, Fossil, and Nixon that caters to a younger crowd. They do attempt to imitate the appearance of some famous luxury watches, but they don’t put imitation stones or metals on their timepieces or make watches that are as big as fists. Granted, some of their watches should be avoided, but they also make some pretty interesting timepieces that are great for the hipster crowd, design-conscious artists or someone wanting a fresh look. Check out this interesting Arkribos watch for a great price.

Citizen

Citizen watches are really quite good for the price. Granted, their $500 timepieces are terribly overpriced, but any of the watches priced under $100 are well worth it. In 1979, the brand created Citizen Eco-Drive, the first analog quartz movement to be powered by light. Many of their watches with this feature are priced under $100. They are a very respectable watchmaker and one that is globally popular across almost all demographics. Here’s a handsome Citizen quartz dress watch. The case diameter is 39mm, which is an ideal size for most men.

Bulova

Many falsely assume that Bulova is a luxury brand. In effect, they’ve done a fantastic job making a lot of people think that they are. Bulova, despite these questionable marketing practices, actually realize what (some) of their timepieces are really worth. They do offer some crystal-encrusted and over-the-top chronographs, but if you look through their collection there are a few classy pieces. This simple Bulova stainless steel one is one worthy of your attention as it’s a perfect dress watch for a low price.

Conclusion

Inexpensive watches, by virtue of their cost, shouldn’t seem less-worthy. Just because something is less expensive doesn’t mean that it’s ‘cheap.’ However, let’s call it what it is. When you’re buying a fifty-dollar watch you’re foolish if you expect that you’re going to get a Rolex. You’re even more foolish if you try and get one that imitates it. Be proud of your watch, regardless of whether it’s a $30 Casio or a $30,000 Jaeger-LeCoultre. Your watch may not be an heirloom piece to hand down to your child, but you can be confident wearing it when you buy one that is simple, works well and didn’t cost more than a car.

Buy what you like, what you can afford and what you can justify. I know many men who can afford expensive watches but can’t justify in their own head spending so much on something that tells time.

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