Cheap and mechanical are not normally two words a watch enthusiast would be used to seeing together in the same sentence. Unless it’s something along the lines of “Jeez I wish mechanical watches were cheaper”; or “There’s no such thing as a cheap ‘good’ mechanical watch”. We thought we’d bust that myth and give you a list of our top 5 favourite cheap mechanical watches.
A namesake. A rite of passage for the budding, budget-conscious enthusiast. This was one of my first mechanical watches, and whilst it sits atop my garage roof for a bit of an experiment for the next couple of years, my wrist has been yearning its versatility, it’s absurdly underrated quality and its alluring effect of being one of the world’s cheapest (if not THE cheapest) automatic timepiece featuring an in-house movement. Aside from that fact, I find that the Seiko 5 has a certain affectionate nature to it that I’ve definitely fallen for. Wear it on a NATO strap, a leather band or a stainless-steel bracelet, it doesn’t matter. The Seiko 5 could easily be one of the greats.
Seiko Divers SKX009K1
The second Seiko on this list is a touch more expensive, albeit a far more durable option over the Seiko 5. The SKX009K1 is Seiko’s deep-diving automatic timepiece that’s just as comfortable 200m below the depths as it is on land. This watch is primo, and I cannot overstate just how appealing it is. From its very recognisable aesthetic to the fact that it is powered by such an incredible movement, all the way to that obscure expandable rubber strap, the SKX009K1 is the epitome of what an affordable mechanical tool watch should be.
Another fan-favourite, and another timepiece that I purchased a few years ago. While it doesn’t have the exacting “haute horlogerie” appeal that many watches we feature seem to have, the Sistem51 has similar traits to that of the Seiko 5. The Sistem51 features an automatically-made movement, featuring only 51-components. It’s 100% Swiss made, has a beautiful textured dial and a super comfortable plastic case. Some may stick their nose up at the fact that the Sistem51’s case is entirely made of plastic and that it cannot be opened (meaning there is no servicing – a case that Swatch states definitively in its press release upon the Sistem51’s release way back in 2013), but for a Swiss-made watch that costs as little as the Sistem51 does, I say get over it.
Timex is synonymous with affordability, but when you throw the word “mechanical” in there, well that’s a whole other ball game. The Timex Marlin is actually a reissue of a timepiece Timex released during the 1960s. And the effervescent design cues of that time shine through the Marlin, from its sleek and understated design to its art-deco styling of the hour numerals. The Marlin is powered by an automatic movement and is available in a variety of colour palettes. It’s a sleek affair that perfectly embodies the quintessential personalities of an affordable time-only mechanical watch.
Orient Symphony II
From Seiko’s arch nemesis we have the final watch of the list: The Symphony II. Okay, I probably wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s any kind of beef between the two manufacturers, but some form of competition between the two is always a bit of fun. The Symphony II is a lovely dress watch with all the hallmarks of seeming far more expensive than it really is. There’s a lot to commend Orient on with the Symphony II, and there’s very little to speak ill of it. Fantastic proportions. A clean, very business-like look. A flow that is reminiscent of watches in the five and six-figure territories. And an automatic movement. You really can’t go wrong.