Three Watch Collection: Budget to Luxury

Now, this is how you build a three watch collection.

The final part in my ‘Three XYZ Collection: Budget to Luxury’ series brings us watches. This is actually the collection/post which spurred the idea, since there’s a long held lust among watch enthusiasts to craft the perfect watch collection — consisting of only three. Here’s my take on this classic, without the baggage of my past decisions and life, and of course it is three collections across three budgets.

(Read Part 1 on knives, Part 2 on Bags, and Part 3 on Flashlights.)

Collection Coverage

I like to start a watch collection at the two bookmark ends, and pick the middle watch last. That’s because it is extremely difficult to build a three watch collection over time as it’s hard not to start with the daily watch, but if you start with the daily watch, you’ve messed up your collection already. That’s the excuse I shall use for the mess that is my personal collection.

See the actual first watch you’ll need is that daily watch, but by starting there you are more prone to pick something which straddles the other two categories to one side or the other too far — such that the daily watch can do more things for you (makes sense, since you are buying it first). So when I put these lists together, it was wild to try and pick three watches cohesive manner if I started with the daily watch. Anyways…I didn’t start with that, and you shouldn’t either — unless you are following my excellent advice below.

The three types of watches any good three-watch collection needs to cover are:

  1. Something durable, which can take a beating and still keep going while looking good. It should also be waterproof enough to go down as deep as you ever have in the span of your current life.
  2. The second watch should span the other end: it should be dressy enough to look good for dates. To work with a suit at a wedding or funeral. To look classy and well placed for job interviews, and all that. Some say this is a dress watch, I say there’s no such thing. I’ll call it your style watch.
  3. The last is your daily watch. The watch which works with 99% of your wardrobe, and fits with the life you live day to day. For some, that might be a duplicate of one of the categories above. For others it’s a more specific piece which could do both of the above categories in a pinch, but also could be something else entirely. If you start with 1 and 2, then you will have an easier time filling in the daily watch as it needs to sit in the middle of both. That’s why I call it the middle watch.

Ok, with that said, here we go.

Budget (Sub-$75 each)

I think this category is where most people reside when it comes to thinking about watches. All three of these are surprisingly good watches for the money. However, the jump from this category to the next is massive in terms of what you get for your dollar. That said, remember that the goal of this price category is to be as low cost as possible, while still resulting in a great product, not to go all the way up to the top of the range.

  • Durable: Casio MDV-106 is the tried and true classic here. The MSRP is $74.95, and it’s the most expensive on this list, but it can be found on sale often. That said, this is a classic diver appearance, durable, and with an excellent 200m water resistance. Bill Gates wears this watch, and really it’s quite impressive for the low overall cost. And it looks pretty good as well. Start with this, always. You might find you don’t need the other two.
  • Style: Casio’s A159WGEA-1 for $69.95 MSRP is the way to go. This is in their vintage collection and is honestly pretty bare bones. But it makes a pretty fun statement while being something that will pull off all the stylish type things you need a watch to do, because of how vintage-digital it is, it dresses up much better than people think it would. I can’t wait for people to email me on this one. I stand by this though, this is for sure the best move at this price point for something stylish.
  • Daily: Sensing a theme yet? Casio’s MTP-VD03L-1A is on Amazon for $47 at the time of this writing and is a classically styled watch, durable enough for everyday wear, without the bulk of a full dive style watch. Casio sells a lot of ‘MTP’ watches all in the sub-$50 price tier, this would be my recommended pick for versatility, but adjust to your taste (that mint dial in the EU is amazing).

I should note, that most Casio can be had well under MSRP on sites like Amazon. I’ll also note that they are very durable watches, so don’t let the price deter you there. For a collection right around $200 total, that’s a very flexible trio of watches. We can do substantially better, but not for anything within the realm of that total overall spend. That’s how good Casio is at what they do, and make. I personally own an MDV-106, because why would you not own one of those? I might need to pick up the other two on that list, they would be fun.

Mid Tier (Sub-$800 each)

This tier offers the most value for your spend. Watches more expensive than this, generally will only offer you a marginal return and broadly put in a place of paying for luxury names, finishing, and materials. Like with flashlights, you aren’t getting something better at the core function (in this case, timekeeping) but rather the fit, finish and materials are what changes throughout the price range. But for the mid-tier the difference from the budget tier is like a completely different world in terms of comfort and ease of wear. And it’s an exciting world, as I revised this three watch collection every week for months. I feel really good about where I’ve settled here, giving a well rounded, and pretty distinct overall collection. Let’s do it:

  • Durable: Seiko Alpinist SPB117, this is made for adventure, for outdoors, for life. It’s a sleeper hit for a durable watch. I went with the black dial here on the bracelet as that adds a larger wearing versatility, and is easy to swim without any changes. It comes in at $750 MSRP, automatic movement, 70hr power reserve, 200m water resistance. Oh and it looks really cool with the second crown to control the inner bezel. I love this watch.
  • Style: Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Auto, for $775 MSRP. I flipped this one around so many times to make it fit better and better with the others and I think this is a supremely classy option. With an 80hr power reserve, the silver dial, the brown leather strap — it all works together. It looks like the perfect mix of not too dressy, while not being to casual at all. It’s a proper watch, and I think maybe my favorite on this list. Of the three on this list, if you are less ‘near water’ then I would start by buying this one.
  • Daily: Which brings us to the cult favorite, the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 at $675. The blue dial here really pops, the integrated bracelet, and the fantastic Powermatic 80 movement — it’s easy to see why this watch is wildly popular. I stuck with the more subdued blue, as it will work better with more styles, and have a longer staying power after some of the more trendy bright color dials fade out of popularity over time. It’s a fantastic watch at a killer price. Exactly what you want from a daily watch as the entire setup/spec sheet reads as a no-fuss, no-worry, watch.

Total that all up and you are at $2,200 all in, or about ten times the cost of the last grouping. You’ll get ten times better watches though, and they will all last for a good long time with nice and robust automatic movements in them. In fact, I could argue that any one of those watches would be easy to wear all day, every day, without much concern. It’s a good setup.

We won’t even come close to touching the total price of these with one watch in the next category…

Luxury (Sky’s the Limit)

I’d love to tell you that these are all watches I own, but they are far from it. In Luxury watches you start around $3k (debatable) see a sweet spot around $6k – $8k, jump up to about $10k – $15k, and then head far north with almost no limit, no rhyme, no reason. I stayed true to the budget here, and decided that I wouldn’t even consider price, and instead, I would try to decide based on: has to be something still in production, and if I could pick three brand new watches to get for free, what are those three? This is that list:

  • Durable: I think this is going to be the controversial pick here, but I am going with the Grand Seiko SBGC251 Chronograph and True GMT for $11,400. There’s a lot to like here, such as the durable and accurate Spring Drive. A Chronograph for timing things. A true GMT to help with your adventures. Grand Seikos have underrated 100m water resistance (which is rated for activities up to diving without a breathing apparatus) and the Spring Drive can handle use. It’s also titanium, so it’s 30% lighter than a stainless steel watch would be, keeping you nimble which is good to offset for stuff later on in this list. It’s a really cool watch, and yeah, that’s my durable pick.
  • Style: Jaeger-leCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Calendar at $26,100 MSRP is my pick here. This watch is very cool, and makes an awesome statement, while being a bit of an under the radar wear for dressed up activities. I love the little year window on it, what a cool addition. I’d rock it, it’s the perfect watch when you want to get fancy without the bling factor.
  • Daily: I fretted here, what do you pick to wear everyday which works for most of what you do, when you don’t have a budget limit, and then it hit me. You get a Rolex Day Date Platinum 228236 at around $64,000 MSRP (it’s a call to know pricing thing, and I didn’t call, but I did Google it). Ice blue dial, non-Roman numeral indices, platinum — I mean what more could you feasible want out of a daily wear watch? At first I thought it should be, erm, less expensive, but if there’s truly no worries of a budget — yeah man this is what I am wearing and I don’t give a shit. Tell me there’s a better watch for daily wear, and I’ll tell you how many ways you are wrong.

Just a touch over $100k and you get a pretty smart three watch collection if I do say so myself.

But like I said, that mid-tier is pretty good too.

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