In love with the sweeping second hand : affordable mechanical watches 2021 guide

Six mechanical timepieces and a "meca-quartz"

Some people believe that automatic watches are automatically better (pardon the pun) than quartz watches. Now, that's not necessarily the case as quartz watches can be more accurate, but they're certainly more fascinating and one could argue that with an automatic/mechanical* watch, you don't have to worry about changing the battery.

On average, mechanical and automatic watches are a bit more expensive than quartz watches but you still can find quality timepieces with a mechanical movement available for a reasonable amount of money. So what I thought I'd do is put together a list of reasonably-priced mechanical watches available online.

Seiko 5 (SNK Series)

The Seiko 5 is the answer to several different questions across the horological spectrum. As a general rule, if you're looking to buy your first "serious" watch, whether you're looking at your first chronograph or first diver or first mechanical watch, the case in point, Seiko usually has something for you.

In this instance, we're talking about the iconic 5 SNK, part of the 5 Collection, possibly the most popular watch collection ever created by Seiko. The name '5' refers to the five attributes that every watch in the collection should have: a self-winding automatic movement, water resistance, a day-date in a single window, a recessed crown and a durable case. The SNK is available in beige, green, blue and black (and plenty more) and it is one of the best-selling models in the collection for good reason. Reasonably priced, powered by a 21-jewel automatic movement with a 40-hour power reserve. An incredible all-rounder.

Price: £75-100

Seiko 5 (SKZ Series)

The SKX and SKZ are highly regarded series watches in the '5' collection. Some collectors prefer the SKX, others like the SKZ, but the good news is they're both affordable and because there's a huge pre-owned market for these watches, you'll always find a buyer should you decide to trade it for something else.

I want to talk about about this particular model, the SKZ211K1, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I think it looks great, chiefly because of the additional crown located at the 9 o'clock position for the built-in navigational compass with cardinal direction. It's a chunky, solid watch and even though the design is indeed a bit polarizing, because some people like solid heavy watches and some don't, it is also a distinctive characteristic that sets it apart from competition. Water resistance is 200 mt, which means you can dive it with it, and the movement is a proprietary 21-jewel movement with a 41-hour power reserve.

Price: £200-230

Orient 3 Star

The Orient 3 Star doesn't get a lot of love because it is often overshadowed by the Mako (we're going to talk about that in a second) and then of course the Bambino, one of the most popular Orient products.

However, I'd definitely give the 3 Star (ref. AB0007B19B) a chance because it is a great automatic watch, with an attractive price tag, that you can use everyday for a variety of activities. Water resistance is 50 mt, good enough for a swim in the ocean if you feel like it (don't use it for diving, though) and while the crystal is mineral, not sapphire, it is a quality scratch resistant mineral, so you'll be fine.

Price: £70-85

Orient Mako

This is another great watch by Orient, the Mako II (ref. FAA02001B9). It is powered by Orient Calibre F6922 automatic movement, that's a hackable** movement by the way, with a 40-hour power reserve and comes in with a water resistance of 200 mt, which means you can indeed use it for (nearly) everything underwater.

If you want to buy an Orient, most people would tell you to start with the Bambino and that's a fair point, but if you wanna get different watch with more sporty looks and credentials, I'd go with the Mako.

Price: £130-150

Bulova Curv meca-quartz Chronograph

Bulova, now part of Citizen, was founded in 1875 in New York and it is one of my favourite brands. And well, yes, this is not exactly a mechanical timepiece but I still wanted to include it because you get the best of both words because this particular model, the Curv, is powered by the Bulova's flagship meca-quartz movement.

This means that the watch vibrates at 262 kHz, which makes it more accurate than a standard quartz and the seconds hand sweeps, instead of ticking. The Curv is one of the world's first curved chronographs (hence the name), with a 43 mm stainless steel case with scratch resistant sapphire crystal, paired with an alligator strap with a 3-piece buckle closure. You can easily dress it up with a stainless steel bracelet, or dress it down with a Nato or rubber strap.

Price: £350-500

Festina Classic

Festina was founded in 1902 in Switzerland and it is, in my view, one of the most underrated brands out there. They know how to make a great timepiece, and they're especially good at creating dress watches. The Festina Classic, for example, is a beautiful dress watch with amazing value for money. It looks and feels a lot more expensive than it actually is.

The silver dial definitely stands out, housed in the 41 mm stainless steel case and protected by scratch resistant sapphire crystal, and underneath you'll find a proprietary M821A automatic movement. Honestly, if I were to buy a watch from this list based on looks alone, this is the one I'd have. There's also a quartz version, which looks almost exactly the same (and it is a bit cheaper) but it has mineral crystal, not sapphire, and, well, it's powered by quartz.

Price: £150

Citizen Marine Sport

You can never fail with Citizen because if you're buying a watch from the brand, you're either getting the wonderful Eco-Drive solar-powered movement, or you're getting an automatic watch. And both alternatives are excellent.

This is the Citizen Marine Sport (NH8385-11EE), an automatic sports watch that kinda looks like a diver, even though it technically isn't one, and comes with a proprietary automatic movement and 100 mt water resistance. In simple terms, this means you can't use it reach the coral reef in Australia, but you can use it for just about anything else involving underwater swimming. I know some people have a downer on rubber straps but you can always spice it up with a matching black stainless steel bracelet (pictured). Which would make it look like a tank.

*as opposed to quartz watches, which are powered by batteries, mechanical watches feature mechanical components that regulate the release of energy created by motion. In other words, mechanical watches are powered by your wrist movement. Mechanical watches are either manual, which means you have to manually wind them, or self-winding, which they start working automatically when you wear them.

**when the movement is hackable, it means the second hand will stop ticking once the crown is pulled out all the way.

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Comments (27)

  • Are Orients decent? I really like the look of the neo 70s panda.

      14 days ago
  • What a great read! Love all of these watches! Great research - thanks for the article!

      12 days ago
  • Cool watches! You say they are affordable in your headline but don’t say how much they cost.

      13 days ago
  • Thanks. I’ve seen other watches that get a similar effect by just placing a curved back on the watch.

      13 days ago
  • The Bulova Curv is a nice looking watch with the DNA of the original Accutron. But where does the Curv curve? Is it shaped to the wrist or something to do with the crystal?

      13 days ago
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