First: Ain’t a damn thing wrong with quartz. But there is something wrong with someone projecting their tastes in watches (or clothing, or shoes) onto others in the form of snobbery. There’s hardly anything more insufferable than a watch snob who just aches to have someone notice what’s on his wrist.
Second: There’s just… something… about automatic and mechanical watches. It’s hard not to be impressed by their movements powered by tension, springs, and gears, all without the aid of that newfangled source of power known as “electricity.” To some (and not all), the difference between mechanical watches and quartz watches is similar to the difference between candle light and a dimmer switch. Or, a stick shift vs. an automatic. They both get the job done, but the romance is superior with the former.
No matter what camp you’re in, the following automatic watches are all lookers for less than what the dude in the corner office is sporting (& is hoping you notice at lunch). As always, buy and wear what you like and can afford. Hard to go wrong with a strategy like that.
Small in stature and price, but big on variety, quality, and wearability. It’s reliable automatic Japanese movement features both the day and the date, which is a very practical thing to have, and the watch allows you to use a quick-set feature so you don’t have to spin the crown a million times to set the date or day. It also has an exhibition caseback. If you’ve never owned a mechanical or automatic watch, this is a great watch to get your feet wet. A complete classic.
There might not be a better bang-for-the-buck diver on the market. Automatic movement that hacks and hand winds (the previous incarnation did neither). 200m water resistance. 120 click bezel helps keep track of elapsed time. Classic dive-watch looks. Not everyone will like the shined up inserts on the bracelet, but it’s more subtle than many other competitors.
A more than acceptable, and far less expensive alternative to the Rolex Explorer. Classically sized (so, small to most average to large humans) at 38mm. Simple, timeless, and equipped with a dependable Seiko automatic movement.
Uncluttered with a nostalgic logo, the Visodate was originally created to celebrate Tissot’s 100th anniversary back in the 1950s. Case size is 40mm, which is as timeless as it comes (it’s the watch dial version of a 2.75″ or 3″ tie). Sapphire crystal with an exhibition case back. Comes in a few different color schemes.
Good gracious, look at that beast. As close as you’re gonna get to an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean without shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars. Hacks and hand winds. 200m of water resistance. Beefy at 44 mm in diameter. Can be a bit difficult to find here in the states.
In house movement. Domed dial and Bauhaus inspired stick hands and indices. Also available in a white, black, or blue dial. 40.5mm diameter without the crown. Usually goes for around $200ish direct through Orient, but Huckberry is running a decent sale right now.
Another Bambino, another 2nd generation movement which hacks and hand winds, and another timeless 40.5mm in diameter. But the dial on this one is much, much more vintage looking. Currently marked way down at LongIslandWatch.
Not available at the moment, but dollars to doughnuts they bring this drop back in the future. Swiss automatic movement. Hacks and hand winds. Great feel to the crown and stem. 200m water resistance. Multiple color schemes available when drop is active. Surprisingly thin, which is a bit unusual for most divers. This one should slide relatively easy under a shirt cuff.
This watch has a lot of things going for it, yet has one major drawback. The stainless steel metal band is awful. One of the worst I’ve ever felt, and it has no business being attached to an otherwise fine timepiece for the price. 42mm case, 200m water resistance, screw down crown, and a dependable Seiko automatic movement beating inside. Seiko’s own Hardlex crystal protects the dial. Good lume. Doesn’t hack or hand wind, but it’s really quite comfortable on the wrist (assuming you’ve changed bands), and the 120 click bezel is good and solid. A great all around watch, just get a new bracelet on it, or, if it’s going to be a casual “beater” in your rotation? Opt for a NATO or rubber strap.
Orient Adventurer Automatic ‘ $374.50 w/ DAPPERED30
Can be worn casually or dressed up. Sapphire Crystal. Convenient power reserve indicator at noon. World time indicator allows you to see what time it is in any of the time zones at a glance. Perfect for the traveler or the guy who dreams of one day doing a bit of globe trotting. Full review here. Three color schemes to pick from, but it appears that the white dial is sold out at present.
Orient Mako USA II – $262.50 w/ DAPPERED30 ($375)
Hacks, hand winds, has a sapphire crystal, a 120 click bezel, solid end links, and the best of both the Mako and Ray worlds when it comes to the looks on the dial. 41.5mm case size is wearable by most. Full review can be found here. Short in supply at post time.
That cushion case is something else. Came across a very similar model a few years back, and I’ve always regretted not putting it permanently into the collection. 40mm case diameter. The different textures on the dial are a terrific touch. Exhibition case back. A brilliant dress watch that’ll catch well deserved glances.
Big fan of the not quite circular “turtle” case shape. Terrific weight and feel to it. Hacks and hand winds. 200m water resistance. Seiko’s own “Hardlex” crystal protects the face. Soft, silicone hardware with a beefy buckle and strap keeper. A dependable companion for those who like adventure.
To me, it’s one of the best looking watches out there, no matter the price point. It looks and feels like a 4-figure watch. It’s elegant but interesting to the point it can’t be called a minimalist watch. Cobalt blue hands, including the GMT hand. Subtle 24 hr time ring helps you keep track of the time in another time zone. Nicely balanced, but not tiny.
Secret Agent looks on a cubicle worker’s budget. Good feel and solid, 200m water resistance too. Nice stainless steel band and case. Automatic movement. Exhibition case back. 40mm case dial. Also looks great on a rubber/silicone or leather strap. High end Swiss watch makers? They should subsidize Invicta’s production of this particular watch. This son-of-a-gun is a dangerous gateway drug if there ever was one.
If you’re the more casual type, then this is a watch you could wear almost every day for the rest of your life. Rugged. Dependable. Brown leaning tan strap pops next to that black dial. Terrific feel to the construction and finish. Also available in a 38mm size. Seen at the top of this post.
Thick in the britches and then some. 44mm diameter, 15mm thick, sapphire crystal, Miyota hacking and hand winding movement, big crowns that are easy to grip, and the Super-LumiNova coating is plenty bright. Unidirectional, 120 click bezel has a satisfying snap to it, and the silicone straps they come with are nice and comfy. Shown above on an aftermarket NATO strap.
An automatic Chronograph is almost unheard of at this price point. It’s just that much more complicated to make, so prices are usually pretty darn high if you want an automatic with a stopwatch. But somehow Tissot gets it done, all covered in a case and dial that’s dripping with class. Hands are a dark grey while the dial is more of a pale eggshell than stark white. Sure, some of us might have preferred the design elements of the previous Carson Chrono, but this new version is still a handsome as hell steal at $399.
Christopher Ward runs a couple of clearance sales every year, and the likes of the above drop under $400 when those roll around. Sure, the slimline square is a mechanical (and not automatic, so, you have to wind it by hand) but aside from that, it’s Swiss automatics from Christopher Ward. Get on the email list and keep an eye peeled. We’ll almost always mention the sales in the handful or tripod when they roll around.
So what’d we miss? Send in your best automatic watches under $400 suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, here comes the necessary reminder about the importance of knowing the seller when shopping for a wristwatch. Research them. Do your due diligence. Many of the links above point towards “grey market” dealers. Why? Because the savings are immense. Yet, there can be big time risks buying from a non-certified dealer. Buying direct from the brand, or, a certified dealer, means you get the manufacturer’s warranty. That’s good. What’s not good is the high price, compared to some grey market sellers. The bad news with those grey markets? You don’t get a factory warranty. So any potential issues and you might be on the hook for a big, big bill. So do your research.