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Feature: Watches that are more affordable than you think

Have you ever dreamt of owning a complicated watch? Chronographs, tourbillons, minute repeaters … they’re all great, but they all have the same problem: they cost eye-watering amounts of money—or do they? Let’s explore a few watches that seemingly buck that trend.

Hand-wound chronographs

A chronograph is no small feat. Hundreds of tiny parts work together to achieve a common goal: allowing its user to conveniently—and accurately—measure elapsed time. The chronograph can be used as a stopwatch, or to calculate speed and distance. In reality? A chronograph will rarely see any use—other than to time the odd egg. So, if we don’t use them, why do we want them so badly? Maybe it’s the symmetry of the dial … but more likely, it’s for the view you get upon flipping one over.

And that’s where the hand-wound chronograph comes in, allowing you to see the movement in all its glory, unobstructed. A high-end, hand-wound chronograph—like this Patek Philippe 5170J—will set you back around £50,000. For that, you're treated to a 39mm yellow gold case, a simple and legible pulsation dial, and yep, you guessed it, a view to die for around back in the form of the calibre CH 29-535 PS. To really hit home why this watch costs as much as it does, we go in a little closer: to admire the finishing that’s held to a standard so high that Patek Philippe had to create its own seal of excellence.

But what if you were in the market for something a bit more, well, affordable? For those of you who have been living under a rock, this is the Omega Speedmaster. While you don’t get the precious metal case, the level of movement finishing, and dressy looks the Patek Philippe has to offer, the new generation of the Moonwatch kicks back by offering a legendary sporty design—mixed with an incredibly accurate Co-Axial movement resistant to 15,000 gauss—and a backstory you can tell to everyone and everything that glances in its direction—all for £6,600.

But what if you want to spend even less than that. Providing you can get your hands on one—these sold out quicker than wrapping paper on Christmas Eve—Studio Underd0g’s Watermelon is as bang-for-buck as it gets. Aside from its fresh—and fruity—take on the chronograph, the Watermelon is also fitted with the Seagull calibre ST-1901. Yes. It’s a Chinese-made movement and not Swiss. Yes, it’s not as well constructed or finished as the other two. But a view like that—for £500—you just can’t beat it.


The tourbillon is one of the most revered mechanisms in all of watchmaking. In simple terms, it takes the traditional escapement and spins it so that it’s affected equally by gravity; the result is a more reliable and accurate—albeit somewhat hypnotic—watch. Tourbillons are featured in some of the best watches ever made, and due to their sheer complexity, can cost an arm and a leg—but that isn’t to say there aren’t still some bargains to be had.

As rare Omega watches go, this De Ville Tourbillon is up there; I’ve only ever seen one or two pop up for sale. It’s not cheap—fetching between 30-50 thousand pounds over the years at auction—but for that significant chunk of change, you get the world’s first central tourbillon movement—in the shape of the Omega logo with a hand-engraved baseplate—a 38mm yellow gold case, a guilloche dial, and hour and minute hands that seemingly float above the dial thanks to sapphire disks driven from the outside. It’s an Omega, but not as we know it.

This is the Horage Tourbillon 1, and it’s the cheapest Swiss-made tourbillon watch you can buy—at just under £10,000. While it doesn’t carry the brand weight and complexity the De Ville Tourbillon does, the Tourbillon 1 offers a modern take on the centuries-old mechanism. Not only does the Tourbillon 1 have an openworked dial, silicon escapement—chosen for its strength and anti-magnetic properties—and a beefy 120-hour power reserve, but all that can be customised—offering some 160 different configuration options—pleasing even the pickiest of clientele.

What if I told you a tourbillon watch could be had for just £500? We’re heading back to China for this one: to the Sugess Tourbillon. While the watch won’t win any awards for its finishing—it is £500, remember—it does offer a genuine, reliable tourbillon for the price of a Seiko. There isn’t a watch out there offering the same for less.

Chiming watches

If you thought a chronograph and tourbillon looked complicated, they have nothing on a chiming watch. There are various levels of chiming watches. All incredibly complicated. Two popular examples are the minute repeater—which audibly relays the hours, quarter hours and minutes at the request of its user—and the automatic hour chime—which reminds you of every hour passed with a little “ding”.

This Jaeger-LeCoultre is the former of the two, a minute repeater. Jaeger-LeCoultre has built a reputation as the watchmaker’s watchmaker—producing movements for the likes of Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet—and yet, the minute repeater is so complex, even they refer to it as ‘The Infernal Tower’. The cost of a minute repeater, produced by one of the best watchmakers in the world, in precious metal: £200,000.

And that takes us to the automatic hour chime, the less complicated—but still a pain in the backside—brother of the minute repeater. These Chopard Tech Strike One watches can be had for just under £20,000, ten times less than the Jaeger-LeCoultre. While you lose the ability to request the time at the flick of a switch, and the precious metal case—the Tech Strike One opting for an exotic titanium build—the quality of the overall product and the legendary calibre 96 inside makes this watch somewhat of a bargain.

There’s no £500 option here, I’m afraid. The Christopher Ward Bel Canto—at just over £3,000—does, however, pack quite the horological punch. It’s made of titanium, like the Chopard. It’s got an hour chime, like the Chopard. Okay, it might not have the Chopard’s level of finishing, but what it can offer is an unobstructed view of the hour chime mechanism—which sits upon a colourful sunray-finished dial—for almost ten times less.

As advanced tooling and manufacturing methods become more accessible and time-efficient, the watches we’ve all gawped at from afar will inevitably get cheaper. Studio Underd0g, Sugess and Christopher Ward are to name a few who have taken advantage of developments these past few years, and I don’t blame them; it’s a win-win. They sell more watches, and we get better value for our money.

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