A Three-Watch Collection: $30,000 or Less

A Three-Watch Collection: $30,000 or Less

| 07.06.23

This is the second installment in a series in which we build the perfect three-watch collection from pieces available at Analog:Shift using a predetermined budget. It’s always fun to build hypothetical collections, but the exercise also helps provide some context to various collecting philosophies. Today, we’re working with $30,000, and as you’ll see, there's no shortage of ways to have fun with this money, real or imagined!

The Categories

Like last time, we’ll pick three pieces that fit within three genres of watches: A dress piece for formal wear, a capable sports watch with some water resistance, and an everyday piece with versatile aesthetics, optimally equipped for almost every application. 

This time around, each piece needs to be an industry icon. At $30k, one enters a pricing structure that allows the exploration of what can be referred to as “benchmark pieces.” These timepieces are the types of watches that come to mind when thinking about a single watch that characterizes a category. Almost any watch within that category winds up being compared to the icon, and in this exercise, we have the budget to support a three-watch collection of industry-leading, iconic, benchmark watches. 

Let’s get started…

The Dress Piece: Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 3919

The Patek Philippe Reference 3919 (~$12,000)

The standard in dress watches, the Calatrava demonstrates that while Patek Philippe has mastered the grand complications (if you want to go to town, knock yourself out with this puppy, the magnificent Perpetual Calendar Reference 3940G), the brand simultaneously understands how to make even the simplest, time-only dress watch feel luxurious and of high quality. To this day, the Calatrava remains a fixture in the industry, and many other brands have modeled their own dress pieces after the success of this storied collection.

The Reference 3919 was introduced in 1985 and effectively summarizes the Patek philosophy of watchmaking. With a recognizable hobnail bezel, small case format, slim profile, manually-winding movement, cream dial and painted black hour markers, the 3919 may seem almost boring (read: perfect) on paper. In person, however, the watch has an incredible amount of character, oozing with vintage class. What must also be considered is the fact that the 3919 (and related Calatrava references such as its ancestor, the Reference. 96) established the blueprint for the simple dress watch; indeed, the entire concept of a time-only, slim, precious-metal timepiece is really a conception of Patek Philippe. This means that owning a 3919 means owning a watch that was truly significant to the story of the greater watch industry.

The 3919 is offered in rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold, so no matter your preference, you can find the piece in your favorite metal. If you like the design of the 3919 but wish the watch were larger than 33mm, consider the 5119, released after the 3919 with virtually the same aesthetics but a larger, 36mm case diameter. 

Dress watch alternatives. How many do you recognize? 

This pick obviously constitutes a significant portion of our $30k budget, and depending on where you choose to allocate your money, you may find yourself buying a Cartier Tank Americaine, JLC Reverso, or a vintage Longines to achieve the same effect more affordably. Each of these pieces is a recognizable dress watch that deserves to be added to your collection at some point. (We could easily build a $30k watch collection of only dress watches and still leave many significant pieces out!) For a bit of additional reading on the dress watch in general and some popular options, make sure to catch our previous article on dress pieces here

The Sports Piece: Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610

Submariner Reference 16610  (~$13,000)

Continuing to our sports piece, we arrive at arguably the most cliché and obvious choice, the Submariner. “Cliché" isn’t always a negative though! There’s a reason the piece is so popular: the Submariner is arguably a perfect watch with respect to size, heritage, and practicality. The Reference 16610, in particular, is 39mm, which should fit practically any wrist comfortably. 

From a historical perspective, when the Sub was first introduced in the 50s, it was the very first watch to provide a 100m-depth rating. After this achievement, Rolex redefined the identity of the dive watch market as a whole, pushing the rest of the industry to continually test the boundaries of watchmaking. Further, the Sub affords an optimal balance of beauty and capable specs, with solid case construction and a substantial water resistance rating that make it an obvious choice for everyday wear. This combination of features, from wearability to history, are the fabric of a successful watch design. 

The 16610, specifically, affords a great value, providing the advantages of a solid-link bracelet without shifting to the larger case dimensions of the later models — so if you prioritize vintage sizing but want modern solidity, this is the reference to go with. The 16610 also features many of the attributes of the most beloved Rolex vintage pieces, such as the ‘holey’ lugs that make strap and bracelet changes a breeze, and the tritium lume which patinas beautifully with time. This reference pre-dates the ‘super’ case of the Reference 116610 era, so those with larger wrists or with a preference for more wrist presence may favor the 116610.

Another distinction of note is the difference between Submariner and Submariner Date models: Some prefer the display of the date-magnifying 'cyclops' and its recognizable crystal profile within the industry, while others want visual balance, which a no-date Sub certainly has in spades. Before buying a Sub, it’s probably a good idea to try both types on in order to determine which is better suited to your tastes. 

Rolex's own Explorer is a good tool watch alternative to the Sub.

Good tool watch alternatives at different price points would be the Explorer or the Seamaster. Both offer attributes that appeal to someone in search of a solid, utilitarian adventurer's watch — the Explorer with its simplicity, and the Seamaster with its watch resistance and dive functionality — but each has its own distinct aesthetics and merits.

The Everyday Watch: Omega Speedmaster Ref. 145.022

Speedmaster Professional Reference 145.022 ($5,000)

This could easily have been a sports pick, but the Speedmaster is a fantastic everyday option, or even a one-watch collection. (Plus, the increased water resistance of the Sub makes it a more versatile choice for sports.) Available in myriad iterations, we chose a reference from the 1990s that is often categorized as ‘neo-vintage’ for its mix of classic and modern attributes. 

The Speedmaster first debuted in 1957 as a hand-wound racing chronograph. Since then, the iconic model went to the Moon and became a symbol of the watch industry, beloved by millions — even by those who know next to nothing about watches! As one of Omega’s flagship models, the Speedmaster has both history and looks, and is found in almost every well-rounded watch collection. 

The specific variant selected here, a Reference 145.022 from the 1990s, has just the right blend of modern and vintage appointments: A tritium dial has patinated evenly with the handset, the matching bezel remains in great condition, the links are solid and supple, and the domed Hesalite crystal softens the aesthetics with vintage charm. 

In terms of versatility, the Speedy is undoubtedly more sport-oriented than dress. Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly common to find a Speedmaster paired with a suit or sport coat. Additionally, this piece responds very well to strap combinations of all kinds, transforming the vibe of the watch with ease. A Speedy is often the cornerstone of a great collection, and here, we feel you can’t go wrong. 

The Collection as a Whole

A perfect assemblage of iconic watches that together amount to no more than $30,000, these industry-defining pieces afford recognizable design and serve as benchmarks within their categories. The Calatrava revolutionized the dress watch market, establishing the standard in elegant design; the Submariner is a horological icon whose water resistance makes it optimal for myriad activities; and the Speedmaster is both sporty and versatile, possessing a reputation founded upon both historical achievement and watchmaking. 

While $30,000 could easily be spent on a single watch, it’s surprising how many significant references can be acquired for the same spend. This collection truly covers all your bases!