Start a watch collection with less than S$5,000 (and where to buy them)

Buying your first mechanical watch (or ‘real’ watch) is a daunting task. You simply don’t know where to start and what to look out for. Trust me, every watch enthusiast had been through this. It is easy to get caught up with the ‘more-expensive-more-value’ mentality, but here at Suave Watches, our passion is to open up perspectives and help readers see value in cheaper, or rather, more affordable timepieces.

Here’s how you can start your very own watch collection with less than S$5,000—a conservative budget for most serious watch seekers.

<S$500

Seiko 5

Seiko 5 is the entry level in the range of mechanical watches manufactured by Seiko. They are known to be hardy watches and are sold at a relatively low price. The 7S36 calibre, an in-house automatic movement, powers the Seiko 5 watches which somehow proved that ‘in-house ≠ high horology’.

Interestingly, the ‘5’ in Seiko 5 actually refers to five key features in these watches: Time, Day, Date, Water resistance and Automatic movement.

These diver-styled watches, SNZH55K1 (silver indices) and SNZH57K1 (gold indices), are 41mm in case diameter coming with hollow end links and decent steel bracelet. I used the term “diver-styled” because they are not professional dive watches. Nevertheless they are water resistant to 100m, which makes them suitable for a casual dip in the pool.

Seiko 5 Sports SNZG15K1

Another personal favourite of mine in the Seiko 5 range is the SNZG15K1, a field watch featuring a rugged, utilitarian dial marked with large numerals in o’clock format and small numerals in 24-hour format. The watch measures 40.5mm in case diameter and comes on either a steel bracelet or canvas strap.

A Singapore-based online merchant for Japanese watches is selling the SNZH55K1 at just S$163 and the SNZG15K1 at just S$135

Orient Ray II Blue (FAA02005D9)

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Dial and bezel in blue? Check! Screw-down crown? Check! Water resistant to 200m? Check!

The Orient Ray II, an upgraded version of the popular Orient Ray, houses the new Orient F6922 calibre which boasts an impressive two days of power reserve and can be hand-wound by the crown. While retaining the handsome features from its predecessor, the Orient Ray II remains extremely wearable at 41.5mm in case diameter and it comes with a new 120-click bezel.

According to Orient Watch USA, the Orient Ray II in blue on steel bracelet is priced at US$335 which is about S$450. You can probably pick up a brand new piece on eBay or you may want to check its availability at BIG Time.

S$500 to S$1,000

Seiko Cocktail Time (SARB065)

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This is the most beautiful dress watch in this price range, no kidding. The Seiko Cocktail Time is a collaboration between Seiko and award-winning Japanese bartender Sinobu Ishigaki, hence the model name ‘Cocktail Time’. The sunburst dial is undoubtedly the main highlight of the watch and its sure to keep you fascinated for a long time. Coming in at 40mm in case diameter, the Seiko Cocktail time is a modern dress watch with way too many charming qualities for the money.

We have found one for you here at just US$408 (S$557)!

Seiko Prospex Scuba ‘Sumo’ (SBDC031/SDBC033)

Seiko again? We can’t deny that Seiko is doing some amazing stuff at this price range, and the Prospex line-up is a prime example of their ingenuity.

The Seiko Prospex Scuba, affectionately nicknamed ‘Sumo’ by fans, is a professional specification dive watch with 200m of water resistance. It comes with either a black (SBDC031) or blue (SBDC033) dial and bezel, and features a screw down crown, solid end links and a hefty bracelet. The watch case is a work of art with bevels and a combination of brushed and polished finishing.

Similar to the Cocktail Time, the Sumo is powered by the Seiko 6R15 automatic calibre. Compared with the 7S36 in Seiko 5 watches, the 6R15 is a higher grade movement with 50 hours of power reserve and can be hacked and hand-wound by the crown.

Get the SBDC031 and SBDC033 from Seiya Japan at US$475 which is about S$650.

Steinhart Nav-B-Uhr 44mm Automatic A-Type

Steinhart Nav-B-Uhr 44mm Automatic A-Type

Another go-to brand for under S$1,000 mechanical watches is the brand Steinhart. Based in Germany, Steinhart produces Swiss made watches that pay homage to other more established luxury Swiss watch brands. Homage watches are not fakes but rather a reiteration of the watch they pay respect to. This is possible (and legal) because most of the watch design patents have already expired.

The Steinhart Nav-B-Uhr 44mm Automatic A-type is a traditional pilot’s watch powered by an ETA 2824 automatic movement. It has a large dial with painted markers and numerals, and the blue hands pop right out of the dial in certain lighting. The case is complete in brush finishing and the onion crown gives a nod to the heritage of pilot’s watches

Buy it from the local Steinhart retailer Gnomon Watches at US$480 (S$655 before GST)

Zelos Eagle E-1A

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We just did a review of the Zelos Eagle E-1A here.

You can buy them online from Zelos Watches or at Red Army Watches at ION Orchard in Singapore.

S$1,000 to S$3,000

Nomos Club

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Nomos has been making waves in the world of watches with their bauhaus design and well-finished in-house calibre. This German watch manufacturer is tucked away in a quiet watchmaking town, Glashütte, alongside horology giants like A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original. However, Nomos offers one of the best value proposition in the market without breaking the bank.

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The Nomos Club is an entry level watch powered by the manufacturer’s first in-house movement, the Caliber α (Alpha), a manual winding calibre based on the Perseus 7001. Coming in at 36mm in case diameter and at only 8.71mm thick, the Nomos Club wears like a traditional dress watch. The numerals and a dash of orange colour on the dial make the watch appears a little sportier and even funky. Another thing to note is the awesome Horween leather strap that comes with the watch—too sweet a deal!

They are currently retailing at Watches of Switzerland or you can buy directly from Nomos at S$1,830 for solid caseback version and S$2,210 for sapphire crystal caseback version.

Sinn 103 St Flieger Chronograph

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Sinn was started by Helmut Sinn, a German pilot who was unhappy with the watch market during the 60s and he wanted to create his own line of watches. The brand has one of the most original watch designs and impresses watch seekers with their high-quality build.

The Sinn 103 Flieger Chronograph is the best looking pilot’s watch in this price category. Powered by a Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph calibre, it is naturally on the hefty side at 15mm in thickness. Unlike other pilot’s watch, the Sinn 103 Flieger Chronograph has a good case proportion of 41mm in diameter and 47mm lug to lug, making it an extremely wearable pilot’s watch. And there’s the rotating bezel, crown guard, bracelet… It’s just perfect!

The Hour Glass is the official retailer for Sinn. Retail price should be around S$2,500.

(Pre-owned) Rolex Datejust ref. 1601

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Vintage Datejust ref 1601 with white gold bezel

For those who don’t mind venturing into the market of pre-owned (or, pre-loved) watches, look no further than a vintage Rolex Datejust ref. 1601. Over the past century, Rolex has produced so many fine watches with design that transcends time, and the Datejust is one of the company’s staple watch.

At a modest 36mm in case diameter, the vintage Datejust wears elegantly on the wrist with its white/yellow gold bezel and jubilee bracelet. Housed within the stainless steel case is a solid Rolex movement Calibre 1570, which you know will stand the test of time for generations to come. The Datejust ref. 1601 is just so classic and simple, and most important, it embodies the spirit of the Rolex brand.

This beauty can be found on most buy-and-sell watch forums and pre-owned watch shops at north of S$2,000 depending on dial, hands and year of manufacture.

S$3,000 to S$5,000 

Tudor Heritage Black Bay

It’s totally not surprising that the Tudor Heritage Black is my first choice under this price category. There’s nothing much for me to say about this watch. It wears like a Rolex, has huge reference to Tudor’s history and it’s ridiculously handsome on the wrist.

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The older version of the Heritage Black Bay with ETA 2824 calibre retails at S$4,680 on steel bracelet and the latest 2016 Heritage Black Bay with MT5602 calibre will retail at S$5,040 on ‘riveted’ steel bracelet in May 2016.

(Pre-owned) Omega Speedmaster Professional ref. 3750.50

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The Omega Speedmaster Professional ref. 3750.50 used to retail at S$5,900 until it was upgraded last year with a dedicated box set, bringing the retail price up to S$6,800 for the brand new set.

I can’t stress enough on how the Speedmaster is such a significant watch with its historical connection to NASA’s space missions. Besides, it uses one of the most reliable manual wind chronograph movement and looks absolutely timeless. Find out why I will never sell my Speedmaster here.

Pre-owned Speedmasters can be had at around S$3,500. Just browse buy-and-sell watch forums and you will find one in no time!

Pre-owned Rolex Explorer ref. 114270

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Sir Edmund Hilary wore an early version of the Explorer on his wrist when he summited Mount Everest in 1953. Since then, the Explorer is set out to target people with a passion for adventure in spelunking and mountaineering

The Rolex Explorer ref. 114270 is an unstated watch at 36mm in case diameter, exuding style and elegance while retaining a level of sportiness. I personally find the older Explorer more attractive and subdued as compared to the latest Explorer ref. 21427. Everything you love about Rolex are in the Explorer, which makes it the ultimate watch for both outdoor activities and boardroom debates.

Search buy-and-sell watch forums and pre-owned watch shops for the Explorer ref. 114270 at less than S$5,000.

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