We’re living during strange times.
We’re also living during strange horological times. Unprecedented demand for luxury watches means that many models once deemed relatively affordable have now significantly increased in value. However, that doesn't mean there aren’t more approachable timepieces available from the best Swiss, Japanese, German, and other brands. Every brand has an entry-point.
For certain brands, that might mean “sub-$1,000.” For others, it might mean “sub-$5,000.” For the very top Swiss marques, it means “sub-$40K,” but still — “entry-level” is relative, both for the brand, and for the consumer. Below, you’ll find some excellent, pre-owned entry-level pieces from some of our favorite brands.
NOTE: The price ranges we quoted are accurate as of publish, but markets are of course subject to change. Check our listings frequently for examples of current pricing. Also note that we’re speaking about pre-owned and vintage watches here — not necessarily the current entry-level from brands’ contemporary catalogs.
Rolex: Oyster Perpetual/Oyster Perpetual Date (~$6,000 and under)
If you’re looking for something with a coronet on the dial but popular offerings such as the Submariner or Daytona are a bit out of reach, we highly recommend starting with an Oyster Perpetual. While values have certainly increased a good deal over the past 5-10 years, an excellent Reference 1500 or 1005 can generally still be had for under $6,000. With their water-resistant cases, automatic movements, and incredibly variety of dials and configurations, these beautiful watches are excellent everyday options.
TAG Heuer: Aquaracer (~$3,000 and under)
Though the brand may be best known for its historical chronographs, TAG Heuer has been making excellent, affordable dive watches for decades. Introduced in 2004, the Aquaracer line recalls some of the earlier Heuer divers from the 1980s, updating them with modern movements of both the automatic and quartz variety, compelling dials and designs, and impressive technology such as solar-powered calibers. And while an Aquaracer may not have the cachet of, say, a Rolex Submariner, that’s not really the point: These watches are meant as entry points into the greater watch world, and they fulfill that role perfectly.
Cartier: Tank Must (~$4,300+)
In 2021, Cartier reintroduced a product family that was very much “of its time” — the Must de Cartier. It debuted in the 1970s as a less expensive alternative to more premium Cartier offerings: The Tank Must, for example, was housed in a vermeil case (rather than solid gold) and sometimes held a quartz movement. The new version, while more robust, is perhaps even more stylish, and still forms the entry point into the esteemed Cartier oeuvre. It even comes in colored variants, much like its vintage predecessor. (We personally like the all-black version.) There’s also a new Solarbeat variant that’s powered by light. Pretty neat!
Tudor: Oyster Prince Date (~$4,000 and under)
If you’re looking into a pre-owned or vintage Tudor, we say spring for something from the Prince line. These neo-vintage successors to references such as the 7909, 7908, and 7904 offer 34mm Oyster cases, different bezel options, a variety of compelling dials, excellent 5-link bracelets or straps, and date windows. Though equipped with off-the-shelf movements, these are quality Swiss calibres, and the cases housing them are built like tanks. Further, if you’re looking for something both more unique and with a bit more utility, there’s a Date-Day version — and it’s available, unlike Rolex’s Day-Date, in steel.
Omega Seamaster (~$3,000 and under)
Though the Seamaster is likely best known today as a robust dive watch sported by the likes of Britain’s most venerable (and fictional) spy, the line was built on dressier timepieces from its debut in 1948. Scads of these 34mm watches abound these days, and with their automatic movements, thick-lugged cases, beautiful dials, and sheer variety, they’re the perfect entry point into the world of vintage watch collecting. While some varieties have COSC-certified movements with date windows, others are time-only; and while some ship on beads-of-rice bracelets, others work best on leather straps. No matter which one you choose, you’re sure to be happy with these most excellent, stylish timepieces from one of the world’s top watchmakers.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Time-Only (~$10,000-$30,000)
When speaking of the world’s finest watchmakers, “entry-level pricing” means something very different than that of, say, Omega’s. However, every brand has an entry point into the catalog, and Patek is no different. First introduced in 1932, the Calatrava line was meant as an affordable wristwatch during a time of financial instability. It has since remained in the brand’s catalog, and though a new version will run you well over $30,000, a time-only version from the mid-20th century can be had beginning around $10,000. These are smaller watches, mind you — the classic Reference 96 is roughly 32mm wide — but boy, do they look killer on a simple leather strap when worn with a suit or tuxedo.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classique (~$6,000+)
We’re cheating here slightly: Though it’s possible to find beautiful, time-only vintage JLC dress watches for a few thousand bucks, we think the true entry point into Jaeger-LeCoultre — the kind that actually screams Jaeger-LeCoultre — is the Reverso Classique. This smaller, hand-wound Reverso is a neo-vintage classic, retaining the hand-wound movement of the 1930s original while providing a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a signed crown, and more. Appropriate for both men and women, this signature timepiece from La Grand Maison is a timeless classic that’s still being produced today.