Once you’ve actually started a watch collection, keeping it ticking along is fairly easy. There’s a world of boxes and cases to choose from, all of which will keep your watches safe. There’s a wave of winders available, all of which will keep them going. From case care to strap servicing, maintaining your timepieces is easy.
The tricky part is amassing a collection worth your time. When you finally decide to graduate from quartz watches, you’ll discover a mechanical watch market of bewildering, confusing size. There are so many options, that you’ll likely need some help deciding which models should form the foundation of your collection.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. With our own collections, we’ve found that variety is the best approach. So, from a military-inspired pilot’s watch, through a traditional dress watch, to a rugged reliable diver’s watch, these are the best affordable timepieces with which to start your collection.
To start a sleek Swiss collection: Frederique Constant Classics Index Automatic
Where better to start than with the timepiece Frederique Constant dubbed its ‘Gentleman’s Watch’? With a 38-hour power reserve, the FC-303 calibre movement is a strong start for your first foray into automatic watches. And, with that silver-coloured guilloché dial, it doesn’t look half bad either.
The Swiss brand is also a good bet for reliability — especially when it comes to your first big money timepiece. And, although the case is simple stainless steel, it’s dazzling enough to swing it as your new black tie timepiece. Come to think of it, with those hand-polished pearl black hands and leather strap, it does have a touch of the tuxedo about it.
Frederique Constant Classics Index Automatic
To start a rugged, retro collection: Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer Mechanical
As your collection grows, and even when you can afford to invest in Patek Philippes and Rolexes, admirers will still ask about your first watch. So you’d better make sure it has an interesting history. And there’s a banger of a backstory built into Hamilton’s trusty pilot’s watch. Itself a reinterpretation of a vintage military watch produced for the Royal Air Force in 1973, this is a retro timepiece with character to spare.
Even behind that stylish dial, this watch makes its stainless steel case for being the first timepiece in your collection — with an impressive 100 metre water resistance, 80 hour power reserve and military appropriate NATO strap. If you want to start a collection of watches you’ll actually wear daily, this is your best bet.
Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer Mechanical
To start a low-priced, practical collection: Seiko Prospex SRP779K1
While the Hamilton above may have an impressive water resistance rating, this Prospex from Seiko blows it out of the water. Resistant to depths of 200 metres, the Japanese offering has been designed with underwater practicality in mind — featuring a hardy silicone strap and easily legible ‘Lumibrite’ on all the hands.
It’s may seem a strange choice with which to start your collection — but bear with us. Inside the case, that 4R36 calibre is one of the most impressive you can buy for under £500. It’s automatic, but boasts a manual winding capacity, and has a power reserve of over 40 hours. Pair that with the handy day/date display and Pepsi bezel, and you’ve got a watertight contender for your first plunge into watch collecting.
Seiko Prospex SRP779K1
To start a timeless, traditional collection: Baume & Mercier Classima 10332
The clue’s in the name; here’s a watch for those of you after a sophisticated, traditional type of collection. Because this Baume & Mercier has class in spades — from the smooth calfskin strap to the subtle minute markers encircling the rim of the dial.
It may only have a water resistance of 50 metres, but with a power reserve of 38 hours and fairly priced automatic, self-winding movement, it’s got more than enough charm to be the first watch in your collection. Just look at that well-proportioned white dial and polished Roman numerals: timelessly elegant and destined to be a contemporary cornerstone of your collection for years to come.
Baume & Mercier Classima 10332
For a versatile, varied collection: Longines Flagship Heritage
In the early days of Longines, the maison’s designers were inspired by the pioneering spirit of adventurers tackling air, land and sea. Decades later, the heritage models are celebrating that same style. This timepiece brings together the history of the Hamilton with the class of Frederique Constant and Baume & Mercier — and would be the perfect way to kick off a versatile, varied collection.
In stainless steel — but with golden gilt indices and hands — the Flagship Heritage is a multi-metal delight. The brown alligator strap affords the watch an air of the traditional, and the self-winding mechanical movement (complete with 42 hour power reserve) displays the peak of reasonably priced modern watchmaking. A serious contender for your first serious watch.
Longines Flagship Heritage