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Feature: 3 Great Value Watches

As nice as watches from the likes of Rolex and Patek Philippe are, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the budget for them—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fantastic affordable substitutes out there. So, here are three expensive watches—and three alternatives for under £1,500.

Rolex Submariner 116610 LN

Oris Divers Sixty Five 733 7720 40 55 LS

It may not be the first, but it’s certainly the most famous. This is the Rolex Submariner, and it just might be the most ubiquitous watch ever created, the watch people think of when they think of the word … watch.

We’re talking 904L steel, a proprietary blend that offers greater saltwater corrosion than regular, boring 316L; we’re talking a solid ceramic bezel insert polished to high mirror finish and inlaid with platinum; we’re talking an in-house calibre 3135 movement, a certified Swiss Chronometer.

These things are lovely and all, but they come at a cost—quite specifically, £6,250. It would be a shame if this barrier to entry prevented those of lesser means from enjoying the spirit the Submariner stands for, and thankfully it doesn’t, because Oris is on hand with the Divers Sixty Five.

Inspired, fairly obviously, by an Oris dive watch from 1965, it offers a vintage flavour in a modern package, replete with such contemporary features as a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, quick-set date and 42mm case. Unlike the Submariner, which is all modern, it’s the classic touches that make the Oris an attractive purchase, the skinny bezel, aged luminous paint, crown guard-less crown and domed sapphire nods to the era in which the design originated.

The addition of a distressed leather strap, or the optional riveted bracelet, keeps the vintage theme going—and the Sellita SW 200-1 keeps the price reasonable. It may not have the spec of the Submariner, but it certainly gives it a run for its money when it comes to charm.

IWC Big Pilots IW200401

Montblanc 1858 Small Second 113860

Big, bulky and built solely for ultimate legibility, the IWC Big Pilot is, by this point in time, an icon. It’s not just the 46mm case that means you can tell what it is from a mile off—the classic pilot’s dial, with bold numbers, triangle at twelve and sword hands sweeping over it, are synonymous with this behemoth.

It may be the most famous pilot’s watch, but it certainly wasn’t the first. In the infancy of the aviation age, there were a number of interpretations of what made the ideal aviation timekeeping companion; the Montblanc 1858 Small Second takes inspiration—plus a much smaller bite out of your credit card than the £10,600 IWC—from those.

There are little tells that pinpoint the moment in history this watch draws down from, such as the cathedral hands, six o’clock sub-seconds dial and—probably most unusually for a modern watch—the hand-wound movement. It’s a nice touch for the enthusiast who’s as interested in the moving bits as they are the watch itself, the sapphire case back offering a great view of the big, lazy balance wheel.

But if you’re concerned that Montblanc has wimped out and made the 1858 Small Second a tiddler in the shadow of the whopping IWC, you needn’t be; at 44mm it may be a little shy of the Big Pilots’ big stature, but it’ll still more than let you know it’s there on your wrist.

Patek Philippe Complications 5960/01G-001

Longines Heritage Column Wheel Chronograph L2.750.4.96.0

If only. At £50,350, this 5960 shares the same retail bracket as a BMW M3—or a sizable house deposit—and sits in the upper echelons of those watches we’d like but will be lucky to even see through a jeweller’s window. It has an annual calendar, power reserve indicator, chronograph, day-night indicator, all neatly packaged into a case 40.5mm wide.

And the calibre CH28-520 movement—what else is there to say other than look at it! Behind the solid gold rotor lies an example of why Patek Philippe is considered the master watchmaker of master watchmakers, every facet, every edge, treated with more dignity than your average member of the royal family.

But, £50,350 …. It doesn’t matter how much you want the 5960, if your pockets aren’t as deep as the Mariana Trench, you aren’t having one. But you can have a Longines Heritage Column Wheel Chronograph, and that’s no bad thing. Right, there’s no annual calendar or power reserve, that much is clear, but there is, as the name suggests, a column wheel chronograph, which is very impressive at this price point.

Your average chronograph is cam actuated, that is to say it has a flat, irregularly shaped piece that coordinates the levers and wheels, which offers a vague, notchy feel to the pushers. The column wheel, a complicated little part that looks a bit like a castle turret, takes the place of the cam, and gives the chronograph better precision and feel. It’s a nice feature to have.

It’s a movement neatly packaged up in an elegant 41mm case, with a dial that pops with a dash of colour in the hands and markers, only the date at 4:30 breaking up the clean symmetry. It’s no Patek Philippe, but then you could have thirty of them for the price.

Money no object, we’d all have collections fit to bursting with Rolexes, IWCs, Patek Philippes and the like, but sometimes reality gets in the way and throws a spanner in the works. It’s brands like Oris, Montblanc and Longines that come to the rescue, offering a tidy slice of watchmaking for a fraction of the price.

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