Men and watches go together like scotch and cigars; like fuel and spark; like bacon and freedom. It’s just how the world works. But many a misperception is founded on the pretense that good watches are always expensive, and that quality is best measured with a price tag. But that’s just not true, especially with vintage timepieces, whose craftsmanship and elegance are, well, timeless.
But what separates the gems from the junk? Which brands and models are the definitive who’s who of the watch world? Allow us to help. Here are 7 great vintage watches that won’t break the bank:
U.S. Military A-11
These WWII-era timepieces are well sought after for their simplistic design, incredible history, and incredible affordability. Three companies were commissioned for the work, starting in 1941: Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova. Different models offer different perks (dustproof, waterproof, etc.), but they’re all generally well made. While mint ones can fetch over $1,000, a good quality working condition A-11 can still be had for under a hundred bucks—not bad for a literal piece of history. Link
Waltham 17 Jewel
Waltham Watch Company produced Swiss-made watches for over 100 years, from 1850 to 1957. One of the most popular precision timepiece companies in the world, Waltham’s were highly regarded by everyone from average working Joes to astronauts. And the Waltham 17 Jewels are no exception to Waltham’s golden standards. These watches are all over the place, and working condition ones vary anywhere from $25 to $150-ish, depending on the condition.
There are few watches on the planet that can rival the quality and craftsmanship that go into producing Omega’s famous Seamaster line of watches, and it’s no real mystery why a new one will run you just about $3 g-notes. But if you’re like us and aren’t running around with James Bond money to throw away, you’re relegated to eBay hand-me-downs—which, in this case, are actually really awesome. Used, these watches regularly go for hundreds and even thousands of dollars (again, depending on model, quality, etc.), but they can also be had on the cheap. If you take your time, it’s absolutely possible to find in the $300 to $500 range.
Nacar Swiss Made (Multiple Models)
When it comes to wristwatches, we consider ourselves minimalists. You can almost always say more with less when it comes to what’s on your wrist. If you agree, you’ll absolutely love Nacars. These Swiss made timepieces are beautiful inside out, and it’s pretty routine to find perfectly working ones in great condition for under a hundred bucks. Link
The first Hamilton watches were made in Lancaster, PA, in 1892, and the company quickly became one of the standards for made-in-America timepieces. The 671’s (and 672’s) are beautiful, simplistic watches that are exceptionally well made and can be had in great condition for between $150-$200—and cheaper, if you’re willing to gamble on quality!
If you want to talk about Swiss timepiece powerhouses, Breitling should be at the forefront of the conversation. These watches are spendy by just about anyone’s definition of the term, and frequently go used for thousands of dollars—and with their reliability, build quality, and timeless design features, it’s pretty easy to understand why. However, finding one in the $600-$1,000 range isn’t unheard of, if you know what to look for. Breitlings with Venus movements can be had for a pretty reasonable price.
Tudor Oyster Prince
The words “affordable” and “Rolex” have probably never been used in the same sentence (unless it’s a sentence talking about how they don’t belong in the same sentence, of course). Rolex’s are the pinnacle of elegant and pricey wristwatches. They are the benchmark against which all other luxury timepieces are measured. Rolexes are the gold standard. And it was that sentiment which, in 1946, drove Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf to found Tudor, a sister brand to Rolex that would provide more modestly priced timepieces, while keeping up to snuff with Rolex’s impeccable standards of quality. The Tudor Oyster-Prince, first released in 1952, is an excellent example of Tudor’s primary goal: a strikingly elegant watch, oozing with quality and craftsmanship, still readily available and being worn on wrists all over the world to this very day. Tudors go for all different types of prices in all different types of conditions, but the Oyster-Prince (the successor to Tudor’s original Oyster), is perhaps the Swiss-made king of them all. They can be had for a few hundred bucks, but most commonly run in good working condition for around $750-$1,000.