Watch Budgets - $100 vs $500

What to look for and how to identify value in the $100-to-$500 price range.

The old saying "You get what you pay for" rings true for most consumer products out there and watches are no exception. In looking at a subset of the watch market where only mechanical watches from proven brands are considered, you can bet that a watch retailing for $500 will out-perform one listed at $100. But why might two watches that keep identical time be valued so differently? What, specifically, does the average $500 watch provide that the average $100 watch lacks? We believe that most of the time build quality and attention to detail drive the price difference.

We prepared a short list of factors that contribute to a watch's overall build quality. This list is by no means complete, but may serve as a good starting point for examining or comparing watches. It may also help explain five-fold price differences between watches you are looking at.

1) The Crystal

One of the main factors that separates the average $100 watch from the average $500 watch is crystal quality. By "crystal" we refer to the clear glass-like layer covering the dial. At the low end of the budget, watches will tend to feature mineral crystals while at the high end of the budget watches will tend to have synthetic sapphire crystals. This difference is important as sapphire crystal resists scratching much more effectively than mineral crystal. A scratch-free crystal ensures an unobstructed view of the dial and looks a whole lot better.

2) Lettering and Indices

Pay close attention to the detailing on the dial of a watch. Specifically, look at the indices and any lettering that may be present. A watch in the $100 ballpark is more likely to have lettering/indices etc. painted onto the dial rather than created seperately and then applied. Ideally, any additions to the dial should be applied by hand. For a good illustration of what we're talking about, compare the Seiko 5 with the Seiko Presage.

3) The Decoration of the Movement

The more expensive the watch, the more decorated its movement will tend to be. Manufacturers have a hard time bringing mechanical watches to market at $100 as it is, so at that price point movements will tend to have minimal decoration, if any at all. As you move up to the high end of the $500 budget, you will start to see watches with painted or engraved rotors, and occassionally other decorations like jeweled screws.

4) Case Construction

Case construction is difficult to judge when you're just shopping but still one of the most important signs of value in a watch. Variances in steel quality, water resistance rating, and overall sturdiness exist throughout this price range.

5) Movement and Crown Functionality

On the low end of the price spectrum being discussed, there is a chance that a watch will lack the crown functionality of a watch that costs more. Inexpensive mechanical watches like Seiko 5s, for example, are incapable of being hand-wound. These differences actually relate to the class of movement housed within the watch case. While many watches in this price range rely upon common movements by ETA or Seiko, there are a multitude of movement models and each has its own host of pros and cons.

If you enjoyed this list be sure to explore the interactive collection which includes a number of pieces in the $100-to-$500 price range.


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