And it’s not just for the white collared Wall St brokers with manicured toenails either. You scruffy, Carhatt-wearing, steak-eating alpha males complete the American Made spirit with a durable and dependable time piece that has gone to Hell and back with you, that just so happens to remind you when lunch break is over. Unless you’re a lineman or electrician. Don’t want to get shocked and/or die.
MIke Rowe approves.
Men don’t own jewelry. We own lasting impressions, and they begin with a watch and end with a wedding band. Anything else is an added accessory that really isn’t needed. A watch is a man’s equivalent to a woman’s purse. Sure, they’re all status symbols, but while hand bags are really worn by soccer moms to show off that they can buy a Coach or Dooney & Burke (haha what peasant status! your mom is poor!), your time piece descends from the functionality of telling time and now is upheld by a knowledgeable and wide spread community of horology. There aren’t legions of professionals and enthusiasts as passionate as the watch guys in the women’s hand bag category, trust me on that.
You’re living off of school loans or a part time job and don’t have the finances to cover a time piece to match Mr. Bateman’s golden Rolex Datejust. Maybe you come from a family of means and your father bought you a Rolie for your 21st birthday, but the rest of us 99%-ers have to get by on cheaper suggestions. But that is the beauty of horology: there is a great piece of engineering available to anyone at any price point, and you don’t need a Patek Philippe just to show you can interpret roman numerals.
Enter the Seiko 5 line. The “5″ stands for: Diaflex, Diashock, Automatic winding, Day/Date, and Water resistance. These tickers are highly praised by those who know much more about watches than I do, and are remarked as the definitive starter watch. Just check out online forums like Timezone and WatchUSeek and you’ll easily notice its stature. They don’t market the 5 line in the US either which increases it’s novelty and rarity. And since they are from Seiko, a reputable brand that offers in-house manufacturing, you’re given the head nod by the watch fanatics for a reliable make that will hold its value in years to come.
Which leads to my answer for a question that is in your mind: What is the single best watch for a young man on a budget? My solution is the Seiko 5 SNKE01, affectionately known in the watch community as the “Poor Man’s Grand Seiko” (The GS is one of Seiko’s flagship models). It is third from the left in the above picture of my personal time piece collection. I’ve owned my SNKE01 for a little over two years and have worn it almost daily ever since. Simply, it is my bread and butter and has held up very well to my abuse. With a simple black face and attractive hour and second marks, the watch is complimented with an athletic minute hand bezel. Along with a Day/Date, automatic movement (which means it runs on pure kinetic energy – no batteries required), and the veritable oyster bracelet and you have the makings of an incredible watch. And the best part? I only paid $100 new! You can have it on Amazon for a similar price, but I honestly would’ve paid twice the amount for this beut. Don’t let the dull stock photos full you. It is stunning in person and from own real world experience, people assume it is five times the cost of what you really paid for it.
The E01 is a traditionally sized watch at 37mm. Which is smaller than the gaudy bling-bling you see on rappers without being too miniscule like the vintage 34mm kind your grandfather wore. The alluring design has a resolute appeal that is formal enough for an evening gala, easily slipping under your cuff with its unobtrusive profile, while still casual enough with its bezel feature and sturdy frame.
Oh and did I mention it can be had for around $100? You can’t find a Fossil watch with automatic movement as cheap as that! That is precisely why the Seiko 5 line is my suggestion for a starter watch, with the SNKE01 leading the front.
You can work with the E01 as your only watch for the rest of you life. But for those of us who like our choices, I would put forward my Hamilton Khaki Field, pictured second from the left, as a beater watch. Worn with a James Bond NATO strap and reserved for my “JCrew Dad” weekender days of frayed chinos and suede desert boots. Opted by intellectuals and the traddiest of the trads alike, the field watch started out as a standard issue time piece for the military with Hamilton being the contract for US armed services in World War II. The company has since moved over into Swiss hands, but the Khaki will always be a time honored institution amongst Americana loving horologists.
I was able to buy my quartz version for an insanely cheap $65 from Ashford.com back in 2008 during a closeout sale. The current version costs above $300 but you can probably find a used one on eBay or Craigslist, if not a trading forum. I recommend forgoing the cheap looking leather strap for a preppier NATO instead.
The Seiko 5 line also carries a field watch at only $60.
My Khaki during it’s Humpty Dumpty incident. Since replaced with a retro “bubble” crystal.
The watch at the right end of my collection is my father’s Bucherer watch, a sub model from the Carl F. Bucherer Swiss brand of fine watchmaking. This watch holds certain sentimentality for me ever since my father’s passing, because otherwise it is a basic lower end watch with quartz movement. I remember my dad buying it during our family European trip years ago from the Bucherer retail store in Lucerne, Switzerland. I traded in the stock metal bracelet for a black calf grain strap so it may serve as my dress watch.
Although my prized SNKE01 can substitute in formal celebration, if you have the funds for a second or third time piece, you should get a proper dress watch option with a minimalist round face and a black or dark brown grain leather strap. Get your fiancé to help buy one (hey, she got the 3 months of salary afterall!) and wear it on the day of your wedding. Then keep it safe and reserve it for special events like a black tie gala or a somber funeral. Eventually you will pass it down to your son, which is why your formal watch may also be your most expensive, as any heirloom of antiquated longevity usually is.
Once I had the versatile Seiko 5, the casual Hamilton, and an noble Bucherer, I satisfyingly enjoyed each of my watches for a long period of time. So…about a year. My itch for a final craving sprung up when I noticed that I didn’t have a “look-at-me!” kind of watch, that perhaps many of you had regretfully purchased initially instead of waiting for as a third or fourth (Gonna wear that to meeting your girlfriend’s parents, are we?) A gentleman shouldn’t have to wear a 50mm behemoth on his wrist to show off his tastes, and I’d rather you invest in a dialectic piece of elevated quality and craftsmanship. But, perhaps after the first two or so time pieces, that young man wants a bold character to break the mold. There are many a exquisite variety to choose from. A clunky chronograph. A complication-filled aviator. But for a budgeted man, I put forth the Diver watch.
Bringing us full circle all the way back to the Seiko watch company. Arguably their best product, Seiko is famously identifiable with the Diver (read: here and there.) And although they have lots of popular choices,the model that is known as the Seiko Diver is the SKX007, and the “Pepsi” version SKX009. Comfortably loud at 46mm without feeling like you’re supporting a tank on your arm, the SKX009, pictured first on the left in my collection picture, is a recent addition for me. Allegedly one of the toughest divers made, you can wear this to your rock climbing trip during the day and a dinner with friends at night and have pebbles and drinks poured on it without the watch even breaking a sweat. It’s the durable time piece that I can imagine Jason Bourne wearing, with its militaristic and aquatic styling (resistant to 660ft). Definitely not to be worn with a suit since it’s too big to wear, I’d advocate this Diver for tasks or fun outgoings to the happening discotheque. And unlike those club rat Jersey Shore type guidos with their rubber Nixons and slicked back hair filled with gel and STDs, you’ll have the type of flashy wrist candy that only a polished man could enjoy.
My Seiko SX009 came with an OEM jubilee strap. I prefer the more ornate oyster bracelet, and having done the research, decided on the after market Super Oyster II band by famed William Jean on eBay. You’ll see his bracelets talked about and enjoyed on the watch forums. He sells the strap for $90 with the Buy it Now option but regularly holds auctions starting at 1 cent. They typically go for the lower $70s in the end, but I was lucky enough to snag mine for $10 cheaper.
1) Invest in the classics. Go with a legitimate watch brand. Fashion houses like Burberry, Michael Kors, or even our Holy Brooks Brothers should be kept to the uneducated masses.
2) If an option, buy an automatic. They are more appreciated than the battery powered quartz.
3) Go with the occasion. Don’t wear the beefy Diver with a suit. Opt for the cheap beater when traveling to a questionable setting.
4) Generally, the more traditional, the better the endurance. Fashions come and go but a simple white or black face with minimal styling is the watch that’ll still be a definitive style in a few decades. Buy a clean, no-frills time piece first. Then a fun sporty watch for your second or third.
5) You probably already know the expensive brands like Rolex and Omega. For under $300, I like the following: Seiko (including the 5 line), Citizen, and Orient. Other than Seiko and Citizen, department store brands like Fossil and Bulova generally do not get my vote because of the mainstream consumerism. Actually…just stay away from Fossil all together.
6) For the most part, watches should be made only in Switzerland or Japan. Maybe Korea. Definitely not China.
7) Handle with care. Just because your watch is rated for 660ft does not mean you have to shower in it every day. Even with a highly crafted watch, if your gut instinct tells you to take off your watch, then abide by your beer pot belly.
8) Like clothes, you can find great deals. The after-market is huge for watches.
9) No fakes or gaudy watches for the sake of peacocking. I’d rather you own a minimalist, trad approved Timex Weekender and then save up for something nicer down the road.
10) Remember, a watch separates the men from the boys. This is why this is a trad mannerism. Always wear a watch. (or see #7)
The Dream List
Let’s say you are a few years out of college, have a nice income, and are ready to upgrade your Seiko 5 starter that you bought freshman year based off of my advise. The acquisition of watches mirrors the transitions found throughout life. Maybe you got your first Bugs Bunny electronic watch out of a Happy Meal when you were a snotty nosed elementary kid. At high school graduation, your dad passed down his 1974 Rolex Submariner to you, for you to cherish and hold only until you pass it down to your own son. And then you graduate with a finance degree and land an entry level position at some firm with a 1000 rung corporate ladder. You break in your first pair of black cap toes and match the leather to a Tag Heur Carrera while setting your eyes on the corner office. Then years down the road, you’ve made it big and finally get to snag the big tuna Piaget Altiplano worth the price of a used car. And finally, having retired and preferring coffee stains to a windsor knot, you slow it down with a cheap but sturdy Timex Weekender.
Congratulations! I have now bequeathed to you a new love for horology. Watches are now your checkpoints through life, and as you go through your growing collection, you’ll remember each individual significance every time you look down at your wrist.
What’s on my personal To-Buy list? Expensive watches will be one of many reasons for my downfall so it is dutiful to wait until a major accomplishment floats by on the river of adulthood. Here is how I see it:
Post-Graduation. Finally earning some cash? One of my first big purchases sourced from play money will be the Omega Speedmaster Pro, of Apollo Missions fame.
For active duty or maybe just playing Rambo while mowing the yard. Luminox F117 Nighthawk with resilient PVD bracelet.
Wedding Day. My appointed dress watch. Cartier Tank.
Promotion to the Executive Branch. Rolex Explorer II.
I don’t really foresee myself buying a watch the cost of a small house. But then again, maybe I’ll invent the next Facebook. These dreamer watches and the ones I already own establishes that I will have wrist armor for each day of the week..
…I suppose there are worst hobbies than the accumulation of archaic technology.