Making the Case for the Affordable Mechanical Watch

Since we last spoke, you will be happy to learn that my Neptune Series III has been as dependable and solid as ever. You may have seen it on Instagram, living a one-wrist life. It has joined me on some momentous occasions this past twelve months, such as moving house, Christmas in our first home (it is July, and I can already hear those sleigh bells jingling), and for what was the most special of days, my wedding this past Spring.

In that time, I have added a couple of straps to the collection, a lovely coffee-colored Strap Tailor ribbed strap which I think will be perfect come the Autumn weather. And a no-nonsense Zuludiver pass-through strap in green. We have a couple of trips planned this year, a summer getaway plus a proper Autumnal city break, and my Neptune will be on the wrist for those moments too.

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What inspired me to write this article was a conversation I heard on this site’s sister podcast, 40 & 20, The Watchclicker Podcast. Where Andrew and Everett did precisely what the title of this article says, they made the case for affordable watches (and debunked any false claims that said otherwise). As I have lived with what most people in the watch space would consider an ‘affordable’ watch for almost three years, I feel qualified to share my thoughts on what makes affordable watches so great.

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The elephant in the room with an article of this nature first defines the term affordable. I find affordable to be such a problematic word to contain, given that what is cost-effective to one person is not necessarily cost-effective to another. After going back and forth on a definition, I will frame it like this: I see affordability as something the average consumer would be able and willing to save up for without it crippling their financial security. I admit that this leaves a lot to be desired in terms of a tight definition, but I think it gives us scope and room for maneuver to apply this logic on a case-by-case (or watch-by-watch) basis. The average individual might be willing to put away up to £40 or £50 a month ($50 or $60) for 12 months to buy a £500 – £600 watch. At this price, you would have change left over for straps on some Loriers, Noduses, Drydens, and Fosters. You might even be able to get a Halios in this price range if luck is on your side, and if we stretch that budget a little, we are firmly in Christopher Ward and titanium Formex field watch territory.

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I feel this is an integral part of the discussion because we as a watch community should not overlook the fact that for lots of people in lots of countries doing lots of work, £500 ($600) is an extraordinary amount of money. That is one month of groceries, a good chunk of a mortgage or rent payment, the cost of a car bill, and you get the point. Spending this on an item that is, whichever way you slice it, ultimately a luxury to own is and should feel like a big deal. Yet, if you are serious about getting a fantastic mechanical watch that will last a lifetime (more on that later), saving a little every month gives you a good goal to work towards.

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Onto the second part of this discussion. I claimed in the header of this article – that spending less can sometimes get you more – and I’ll try to make that case here. Anybody who is reading this that is keyed into the watch community (reads the blogs, visits the forums, or listens to the podcasts) would have heard all about the meticulous details that brand owners hem and haw over to make their watch the best version of itself, irrespective of price. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Lauren and Lorenzo of Lorier, in which Lorenzo spoke about agonizing over the design details when designing a watch. And I am not just being a Lorier devotee here. You can say the same for Nodus, who assemble their watches in Los Angeles. Take a moment to consider the attention to detail that must go into the quality control of those watches. How often do you hear of a Nodus being sub-standard? I never have. It is that meticulous attention to detail to deliver the very best product at the very best price. I heard a similar story with the brand Momentum during an interview and how they endeavor to pick up any QC issues when assembling watches so the customer gets the very best possible product.

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So, in these examples, even though you pay less (than you would for many other brands), you don’t get any less regarding quality and care. I would wager that the deliberation and thought process that went into my Neptune, or your 11 Atmos, or her Sector Pilot is often substantially greater than what goes into watches that cost hundreds and thousands more, that are designed by committee rather than with passion, and an eye for detail.

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One of the most notable things about mechanical watches is their potential longevity. These little machines can and often do last a lifetime. When buying anything for a substantial amount of money, I think we all hope it will last, especially with a mechanical watch with a romanticism tied into the long life of the watch. To me, the coolest watches are the ones people wear, the old skin divers of the 60s, with scarred bezels and scuffed crystals, or the field watches that have become worn and weathered after being bashed about the garden. It is not all about luxury finishing, carbon cases, and climbing Everest when it comes to making a watch interesting for me. And for those companies mentioned above, I am confident that they design and build their watches to last a lifetime, which forms a core ethos of their brand identity. The same cannot necessarily be said for some watches that sell for hundreds more, where brands might sometimes lose track of who their core customer is and what is important to them about the mechanical watches they purchase.

To finish, a little more on movements and serviceability. One argument I have seen being levied against affordable mechanical watches is the repairability of their movements. An often-heard statement is that it is cheaper to throw away a more affordable movement and replace it with another rather than get the movement serviced. From a personal standpoint, I do not have an issue with this. Like an old vehicle, if that engine is not going to run, I do not see harm in replacing it. We can maintain the vehicle analogy here and look at resto-mods on classic Range Rovers or old Jeeps, where engines are sometimes built from the ground up in a road-worn chassis. I understand the possible argument against me here, and a familiar saying comes to mind, ‘I’ve had this broom for 30 years, and I’ve only replaced the handle, head, and bristles’. However, I would, in turn, argue that replacing every watch component is one extreme, and I do not think that replacing a movement so the watch runs well does anything to lessen the sentimentality behind a watch. Of course, collectors of vintage references may feel very differently from a ‘collectors’ point of view, but that is a different conversation and not a perspective I can speak from.

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Further, even though it might be cheaper to replace a movement rather than have it serviced, you can still get it serviced. That is entirely possible if you are willing to pay the extra to fix that tired movement. I, therefore, do not think it makes a difference whether it is an NH35, a Miyota, or a Rolex 3230 movement in the back of that watch; if you want it serviced rather than replaced, you need to find the right person for the job.

Some might argue that when you buy a Tudor or an Omega, you are indeed getting a greater quality movement. Maybe it’s COSC, maybe it’s METAS certified, or possibly even a co-axial movement. But to me, that is not greater quality. Instead, that is just a different quality. If METAS is what you want, do not let me stop you. However, I do not believe this makes a movement better, just more technologically advanced, which is not necessarily what everybody concerns themselves with when buying a watch. Recent years have shown that watches will cost whatever people are willing to pay for them, movement notwithstanding. Expensive does not mean quality, just like quality does not mean costly.

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Ultimately, articles like this should not need to be written. Over time, affordable watches will be as solid, timeless, and serviceable as watches costing thousands more. Let’s remember that microbrands (for lack of a better word) are still a relatively new phenomenon, especially as they are viewed in today’s watch sphere. Yes, brands like Raven have been around for well over a decade, but in terms of the greater wave of smaller independent brands (some of which are mentioned above), they have hit the scene in a more mainstream way within the last ten years. I sometimes worry there is a little of this ‘old-guard’ mentality with some enthusiasts, that if it did not live through the quartz crisis, then it doesn’t matter. Hopefully, this suspicion will fade over time as we start to see ten, fifteen, and twenty-year-old Miyota-powered watches going strong. The only real problem with affordable mechanical watches is that people can’t accept just how damn good they are.

Check out more of Andreas’ articles at The Watch Clicker here

Check out great affordable watch options from Nodus, Dryden, Foster, and Lorier

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