Horology is dominated by a handful of companies to an extent that makes even designer fashion look wide-ranging. The banner brands are household names; Rolex is nestled alongside Lexus and Hyundai in Forbes’ list of the world’s most popular, and even people who tell the time on their phone know James Bond wears Omega.
But with recognition comes spiralling price tags. Yes, the Swiss legends’ names are built on exemplary engineering (at least, most of them), but you’re also paying for that crown or Calatrava cross embossed on the dial.
Looking further afield means you can find timepieces with less of a markup, and that are less likely to feature on friends’ wrists. It’s time to get in the know.
This Japanese institution is largely responsible for Swiss watchmaking’s late-century decline, after its quartz watches flooded (and nearly drowned) a market still focused on mechanicals.
The brand remains tech-focused; it released the world’s first solar-powered GPS watch, the Astron, in 2012 and at this year’s Baselworld announced a dual-time update that’s kept accurate in twin time zones by overhead satellites.
But tech isn’t for everyone and traditionalists should look to sibling Grand Seiko. It builds gorgeous automatic watches from in-house movements and, since it’s only been available outside Japan since 2011, is ideal for those who steer against the crowd.
Grand Seiko Mechanical, priced £3,500 at jurawatches.co.uk.
Detroit’s tragic decline from industrial powerhouse to ghost city in the last three decades has been harrowing for its residents. But from the ashes comes a glint of manufacturing light.
Resurrecting a defunct shoe polish company, Shinola first gained fame for its watches – made in Detroit factories (albeit often from Swiss parts), mostly by workers who lost their jobs when the automotive industry died – but has since branched out into bikes and leather goods with a similar ‘Made in the USA’ focus.
Think traditional pieces with a subtle industrial nod.
Shinola Brakeman Blue Face With Date, priced £540 at shinola.com.
Picture Scandinavian design and the mind steers towards minimalism and affordability.
Stockholm’s TRIWA bucks the first trend – its enormous array of watches runs the gamut from white-faced two-handers to blingy gold-plated chronographs – but heeds to the latter; steel bracelets only just bust the two hundred pounds mark, with most falling nearer £150.
You’re best holding back some of your budget for one of the brand’s eye-catching leather straps, which let you switch up your look affordably and will age with wear to give your wrist some personality.
TRIWA Ivory Halvern, priced £175 at triwa.com.
Skagen takes its name from Denmark’s northernmost town, which juts into the North Sea at the tip of a narrow peninsula.
The brand’s designs are more obviously Scandinavian – think clean faces and brushed metals – but also slightly more trend-led. You’ll find all the big Baselworld themes in the label’s collection, from titanium cases and mesh straps to blue faces and black, sunburst dials.
With prices mostly in the mid-£100s, Skagen offers a pocket-friendly way to dip into on-point styles.
Skagen Ancher Leather Chronograph Watch, priced £185 at skagen.com.
Despite a storied history that stretches back over 150 years and includes work with Bauhaus legend Max Bill, Germany’s biggest watchmaker gets little look-in on these shores. Which is a shame, as it produces minimalist automatics at competitive prices – making them ideal for the guy looking to buy his first “proper” watch.
And due to aesthetics that have barely changed in the last 50 years, you can be sure your investment will still look as sharp when you decide to enlarge your collection.
Junghans Max Bill Automatic, priced £725 at watchesofswitzerland.com.
MVMT (pronounced “movement”) started life on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo two years ago, and smashed its target by almost 1,500 per cent thanks to sleek, fuss-free timepieces made as affordable as possible.
Which translates to a watch built from the same high-end materials as the mid-hundreds brands, but for the price of a night out.
MVMT Classic, priced £63.18 at mvmtwatches.com.
7. Georg Jensen
Best known for its jewellery, Danish brand Georg Jensen also makes beautifully designed watches powered by Swiss automatic movements.
Its timepieces are as unadorned as you can get; delicate hands seem to float over acres of white dial, broken up in some designs with a tiny date window or power reserve.
The brand’s watches are best paired with a roll neck, thick-rimmed glasses and the corner office at a leading architecture firm.
Georg Jensen Koppel 41mm, priced £1,440 at georgjensen.com.
This youthful Belgian brand produces good-looking sunglasses as well as watches, with its product range linked by a focus on classic designs crafted from quality materials (without the accompanying price tags).
The brand’s wristwear is known for its eye-catching colours, from all-scarlet cases and dials through to subtler white faces on statement straps. It’s the easy way to add a pop of interest to an outfit, at prices that definitely won’t break the bank.
Komono Winston Black Zirconium, priced £70 at thewatchhut.co.uk.
You may lust for that Rolex or Patek, but you don’t need to drop huge sums to make a horological statement. Think outside the big brands and you can get more for your money, with hipster bragging points thrown in.
Are there any brands we’ve missed that you would personally recommend?
Culled from FashionBeans