As much as we would all like to have a beautiful Swiss timepiece on our wrist, complete with the price, pedigree and mechanical complexity of a classic sports car, in reality, such watches are for the one-percent.
For the rest of us – or those who want to grow their collection without breaking the bank – watches with lower prices can be just as appealing. Many still look great and tell the time accurately, but lack the worry (and need for insurance) that comes with owning a more expensive timepiece.
1. Affordable prices
Yes, we’re starting with the obvious one. Cheap watches are significantly more affordable than the premium Swiss end of the market. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the home of watchmaking entirely, as Swiss brands like Mondain, Tissot and of course Swatch sell a range of options for under £200 and even £100.
The key difference here is how these tend to be quartz watches instead of mechanical. But don’t let that put you off, because quartz watches tend to keep more accurate time, have far fewer moving parts, don’t require servicing and don’t come with the burden of strapping something with the price tag of a car to your wrist.
2. Good design
A low price doesn’t automatically mean a less interesting design. While precious metals and intricate movements aren’t possible on affordable wristwear, fun, quirky and interesting designs are plentiful. From the classy Swiss railway clock design of Mondaine, to bright and playful options from Swatch and classic aesthetics from Rotary.
Cheaper watches might lack the supreme build quality of a more expensive piece, and are unlikely to endure generations of use as a result. But they are far from disposable, and with good care, they can still last a long time. Being quartz, replacing the battery is usually cheap and easy, and almost all watches use the same industry-standard lugs for attaching straps, making it simple to swap out the strap and change the look of your watch for minimal expense.
3. A great way to build out your collection
If you are a horological fan then one watch is rarely enough. Even if you have a luxury Swiss watch or two, cheaper watches are a great way to expand your collection on a sensible budget.
They might lack a prestigious brand name or precious metal, but they can be charming in their own right. And anyway, everyone knows what a Rolex looks like, so that sub-£100 quartz on your wrist could well stand out from the crowd and even serve as a talking point for fellow watch fans.
Browsing lower-priced watches is also a fun way to learn more about the industry and be introduced to smaller, independent businesses you might never have heard of before.
4. For when your expensive watch should stay home
They are often built tough, and waterproof to depths you’re never likely to reach, but luxury watches can still be damaged during daily use. Stainless steel can scratch easily, leather creases and wears out, lug bars can bend over time and bracelets can stretch. To give your precious Swiss watch a break, cheaper watches are ready to take over – and damaging or losing them is far less scary.
It can be fun to rotate around a collection of watches, and while strapping on a Swiss piece every day can be hugely rewarding, we like to switch it up. That way, we get something different to look at each day, and wearing a more treasured member of the collection feels even more special when it is worn less often.
Opening multiple watches, even cheap ones, means you can avoid wearing anything expensive while in the gym, playing sports, working in the garden or doing anything else where a watch could be damaged.
5. They still tell the time just as well (or even better)
Another obvious one, but it is worth ending on the fact that cheap watches tell the time just as well as expensive ones. In fact, a budget quartz watch is likely to be far more accurate than a pricey mechanical Swiss option. We’re talking accuracy of plus or minus 20 seconds per month, meaning the watch could be out by as little as four minutes after an entire year or use. Many mechanical watches could only dream of such accurate timekeeping.
Ultimately, buying a cheap watch is no bad thing. You might just need a device that gets on with the job of telling the time, in which case a sub-£10 Casio will do everything you need, while also being something of a fashion icon. Spend a little more and you unlock a huge range of styles from watch companies big and small, old and young.
They all tell the time accurately, most can have their straps swapped to any other you like, their batteries like for years and their quartz movements are highly accurate. They might not be as tough as more expensive alternatives, but their low price means they can be worn without fear.