If you’re looking to get your foot in the door of luxury watches, it’s still quite the investment.
The quality and skill developed over the last hundred-plus years don’t come cheap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join the people with a piece of that history on their wrist.
Take a look at the best entry-level starter watches the top brands have to offer.
1. Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36 ref 126000
Some would say that the development of the Oyster Perpetual was a defining moment for Rolex and this line has become a quintessential trademark of the company. Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual dress watch in the 1950s and the design itself hasn’t changed much since then.
Its simple time-only design in the waterproof Oyster case is accompanied by a self-winding movement. Despite being an entry-level model, you’re still getting the COSC-certified Rolex caliber 3230 offering over 70 hours of power reserve and their guaranteed accuracy to within 2 seconds. The 126000 is recognizable with time-only dial and baton hour markers.
The options in the Oyster Perpetual line are practically endless, especially after the complete refresh in 2020. Later that year they released bright new colors beyond the traditional blue, black, and silver, as well as additional sizes: 28, 31, 34, 36, and 41mm.
This is a watch that can start or end your collection with a sophistication that sits on the edge of sporty, while also remaining dressy and stylish to suit all of your needs.
2. Omega Speedmaster MoonWatch Professional 3861
A watch with a touch of history, the Omega Speedmaster MoonWatch is the line that first landed on the moon. A collector’s item for any watch aficionado, the Speedmaster holds that historic position while maintaining its nostalgic design.
Any luxury watch collector will recognize the black Tachymeter bezel with a matching dial. Throw in the stainless steel case, sapphire crystal, and the updated 3861 caliber and you have a watch that maintains its original appearance while sporting groundbreaking technology on the inside. The 3861 caliber maintains accuracy within 5 seconds and has magnetism resistance of up to 15,000 Gauss.
It’s a lovely nod to the vintage styles that made this watch famous in the 1960s while balancing new features under the hood that make it more than ready to sit on your wrist no matter where you go.
3. Cartier Santos-Dumont
This is a striking men’s dress watch that very closely resembles the defining characteristics of Cartier watches of the early 20th century. The Santos line has been around for over a century (1904), the Dumont being a perfectly updated tribute to its sophisticated ancestor, still maintaining the famous Cartier square case.
Cartier manages the slender profile of the perfect dress watch with a quartz movement under a stunningly simple dial with Roman numerals and the iconic blue hands. Despite the slender proportions, the case still measures 43.5mm keeping up with today’s fashionable standards.
Place yet another piece of history on your wrist whether you’re tucking it under the cuff of your dress shirt or your daily wear, the Santos Dumont is still as relevant today as it was in 1904.
4. Breitling Navitimer 38
Designed for women, but tantalizing for men too, the Breitling Navitimer 38 follows closely to the vintage models of sports watches.
The styling and colors give a nod to their vintage inspirations with cases of steel or steel and gold over a dial in black, blue, or silver. The simplicity of this model is designed after the Navitimer of the 1950s (Reference 66).
A decorative beaded bezel compliments the slide rule and iconic red-tipped seconds hand. Their automatic caliber (Caliber 17) is COSC chronometer certified and the automatic movements can hold up to 40 hours of power. You can track the date with a small window located at 6 o’clock.
It’s a dressy watch without being overbearing. One that you can easily and comfortably wear every day and no matter what the occasion.
5. Patek Philippe Calatrava ref 3919
Over 80 years as a signature dress watch should speak for itself. The Calatrava model dates back to 1932 and the ref 3919 is one of the most iconic iterations of the style, and has set the standard for a classic dress watch.
Its elegance is in its simplicity. The 3919 reference was introduced in 1985 with a stark white dial and crisp black Roman numerals. The styling that’s most unique is the tiny adjacent pyramid decoration on the bezel also known as a hobnail or “Clou de Paris”. While the first Calatrava to sport this particular design was the ref. 3520, the 3919 is most known for it now. Inside you have the manual-winding caliber 215PS operating at 28,800 beats per hour and providing around 44 hours of power reserve.
6. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self-Winding
While “affordable” and Audemars Piguet have never been synonymous, they do have an entry-level watch within their Royal Oak line. While still starting at $26,000 in retail, the Royal Oak Self-Winding 41mm is one of this brand’s least expensive watches.
Designed by the late Gérald Genta, it’s become not just a luxury watch, but a statement piece for the brand. Gérald Genta was a talented watch designer that cornered the market in luxury sports watches, changing the styles and lines across all brands. Like many luxury watch brands, Audemars Piguet has been around since the late 19th century, but didn’t rise to fame until the 1970s and after stars like Lebron James, Jay-Z, and Arnold Schwarzenegger began to wear their watches.
This sports watch is designed to cater to everyone with a stainless steel case and the famous integrated bracelet. In 2019, they updated the model to include one of their newer movements, the 4302 caliber which holds a 70-hour power reserve behind a larger dial.
Despite being an all-around everyday sports watch, the minimal supply has increased demand, even with the higher price tag as an entry-level luxury watch. This watch is perfect for those that want nothing but incredible luxury sitting perfectly on their wrist.
7. Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight ref 79030B
Even as an entry-level watch, the Tudor Black Bay has topped the sales charts for the last few years, and for good reason. The original Black Bay watch launched in 2012 as a modern incarnation of Tudor’s iconic dive watches, while being a quintessential example of modern toolwatch design.
While it did extremely well for Tudor, many found its 41mm case on the bulkier side. So in 2018 they decided to tap into the growing market of watches that sported a classic, vintage style. Enter the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight: with a smaller 39mm case that’s 12mm thick, it was not only more in line with diver’s watches from the 1950s, it also provided an alternative Black Bay for smaller wrists.
Matching dials and bezels in black, blue, gray, green, and brown are contrasted with light colored hour markers to increase legibility and offer easy, everyday use. It’s still a chronometer with incredible accuracy fueled by the MT5402 Tudor caliber and the highly desired 70+ hour power reserve.
8. IWC Pilot Automatic
IWC adapted the Pilot watches to add stunning style to the pure functionality of ages past. Settling on a 40mm case size, the IWC Pilot Automatic has returned to a style with simplicity and functionality in mind.
Whether you want a silvered dial with sharp black numerals or a stunning black dial with bright, white numerals, the Pilot’s Watch Automatic will give you clearly legible and easy-to-read faces no longer cluttered with the older altimeter style. A simple date set at 3 o’clock blends seamlessly into the rest of the face in matching tones.
These time-only watches are powered by a Sellita caliber that is prominent in these style watches. The soft iron case easily fights any magnetism issues and holds considerable water resistance. In place of links bracelets is a stunningly simple calf strap with vintage style stitching. It’s luxurious in its simplicity.
9. A.Lange & Sohne Lange 1
The Lange 1 is stunningly classic and traditional while still making a remarkable statement on your wrist. If you want something out of the ordinary, this entry-level watch with a large face to accommodate the offset hour is sure to please. The Lange 1 collection re-established the ranking of A. Lange & Sohne in 1994 with 4 different models that still ring true today with only minor changes.
With a movement finished in German Silver, the style really defines this watch and is an excellent choice as a first introduction to the A. Lange & Sohne luxury watch line. The manual wind caliber alongside the stunning look is definitely a throwback to the early pocket watch designs. The improvements brought about by the L121.1 movement in 2015 features a balance spring rather than screws to set the movement.
The replacement of the L901.0 caliber after 20 years of solid use really distinguishes the new from the old not only in function, but with an impressive 72-hour power reserve that’s sure to please.
10. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface Quartz
Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface Quartz (photo: Jaeger LeCoultre)
Many brands place quartz movements (Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 657) in their entry-level watches, but that doesn’t make them any less of a timepiece. Jaeger LeCoultre is no different. The Classic Monoface Quartz may have a Quartz movement, but as the least expensive Reverso in their catalog still stuns at all levels.
While other, more expensive, Reverso models are powered by a mechanical movement, this smaller watch is still as much a classic Reverso as any other model. The simple and elegant strap sits flush on your wrist and the slim design will slide effortlessly under any sleeve.
The watch head is reversible within its stainless steel case and is perfect for engraving and personalization for gifts to that special someone.
Best Starter Watches: Final Thoughts
While each brand has their own idea as to the price point of an entry-level wristwatch, there’s no denying the appeal and the value of any of these amazing starter watches.
Explore your own favorites available from SwissWatchExpo.com and take your first step into the luxury watch market. You never know what you’ll find to be your new favorite piece to adorn your own wrist.