Watch collecting, in general, is an expensive hobby. While most people would love to own a Rolex or a Patek Philippe, not everyone has six-figure budgets—or more. But being on an average salary doesn't mean you can't own a great timepiece.
It is surprising how many great, quality watches you can get on a very reasonable budget. In fact, there are so many that for this exercise, we will have to limit the choices to the following criteria:
1. The budget will be set at P12,000. Why P12,000? Simple—even if you can only set aside P1,000 a month, you can afford to buy one of these after a year of saving.
2. We will only consider watches with a local distributor. While this leaves out some great timepieces, we have to assume that for someone on a budget, special ordering a watch from abroad would mean spending a lot on shipping and import taxes.
3. Only brand new watches are allowed. Used prices are constantly fluctuating, and you can't always get a good deal for a used watch. Same goes for vintage – there are a lot of great vintage options for under P12,000 but again, you aren't always assured of having one in the market.
4. No fake or counterfeit watches. Not only is this illegal, it's also a total waste of money. It's quite easy for a watch collector to spot if you are wearing a fake watch, and for the amount that you spend on these poor quality counterfeits, you can get a great timepiece that will last many, many years, hold it's resale value, and be something to be proud of.
Now that we have our ground rules set, it's time to list down some great options for a budget friendly piece. There are still a ton of options available, and everyone has their own taste in watches. So to narrow the search down even further, we will have several categories so that you can choose the best watch to fit your lifestyle, and I will list my favorite watch in that category. This doesn't necessarily mean that the watch selected is the absolute best in its class, nor does it mean that it's the only one worth buying. It's just the one I would choose if it was my money. Now enough technicalities – bring on the watches!
Category 1: Diver's Watches
My Pick: Seiko SKX007
Diver's watches are perhaps the most popular kind of sports watch. And here, there are so many options that it's hard to choose just one. But if I had to choose, it would be the SXK007 or its sibling, the red/blue “Pepsi” bezeled SKX009. With a 200 meter water resistance rating, a day and date function, steel bracelet, and a bulletproof automatic 7S26 movement, it's tough to find something that can match the “007” in terms of value for money. The design is done intelligently, too – the dial is extremely legible, with large indices. The crown is positioned at 4 o'clock so it doesn't hit your hand when your wrist is bent. Even the size and proportions are spot-on. I love this watch so much I have an 007 myself. I guess that's all that needs to be said about that.
Honorable mention: Orient Ray II
A little bit dressier, but with the same 200 meter water resistance, the Orient Ray II is a legitimate option for someone looking for something a bit more stylish than the SKX007. The black dial with the IP coating in particular is a really cool looking watch.
Category 2: Dress Watches
My Pick: Choice: Orient Bambino
The Bambino has everything you want in a dress watch, and nothing more. There are a lot of versions with different dials, hands and case materials, but my favorite is the Version 1 with the stainless steel case and black dial. At 40mm, it's just the right size for most people, and the proportions are excellent. The bevelled hands and applied indices are usually found on much more expensive watches, and the bordered date window is done very cleanly. It also has an automatic movement, which is a great bonus for this price range. Another variant that I like is the Bambino Small Seconds, which has a simple but elegant seconds subdial which adds a little panache to an otherwise very straightforward but classy piece.
Honorable mention: Seiko 5 SNK883
The SNK883 checks all the boxes – sharp hands, applied indices, and sleek, elegant styling. There are other Seiko 5s that you can choose from – some with nicely textured dials. It's a bit small at 37mm, but that's the only fault it has. The automatic movement makes up for the lack of fine detail, but at this price range, the Seiko 5 is tough to beat.
Category 3: Casual Wear
My Pick: Swatch Sistem Fly
Much like the G-Shock is for the rugged watches, you really can't go wrong with any of Swatch's Sistem line. The Sistem 51 is famous for having just 51 parts, and being the only fully automated production for an automatic movement. What that means is that Swatch has figured out a way to manufacture cheap, reliable Swiss automatic movements. The Sistem 51 range has a lot of designs, but the Sistem Fly might be the best looking. With a blue sunburst dial, brown leather strap, and a polished stainless steel case, this is a more mature looking Swatch. And with a 90 hour power reserve and an exhibition caseback, even hard-core watch nerds will appreciate this piece.
Honorable mention: Timex Weekender
Sometimes you want to wear your favorite pair of faded jeans, most comfortable sneakers, and a simple t-shirt. With a name like the Weekender, you know Timex made this watch just for this occasion. It may have “just” a quartz movement, but for it's price, you really can't complain.
Category 4: Chronographs
My Pick: Casio Edifice EFR-557TR
Chronographs are meant to be used for measuring elapsed time, making them perfect for racing. At this price range, however, it's almost unthinkable to find anything with real racing heritage, and yet the Casio Edifice EFR-557TR has just that. Designed with the Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team, this quartz chrono certainly looks like it was designed for motorsport. It's a loud and colorful watch—with the team's logo printed on the carbon fiber-look dial—but the steel bracelet dresses it up just enough. If you're a Formula 1 fan, this might be for you.
Honorable mention: Seiko SNDC89
You actually can't go wrong with any watch in the Seiko SNDC quartz chronograph range. They're well proportioned, inexpensive, and accurate. And if you want something a little less conspicuous than the Edifice, this might be your best bet.
Category 5: Rugged and Outdoors
My Pick: Casio G-Shock G-5600
If you're looking for a near-indestructible beater watch, you can actually choose almost any G-Shock and won't go wrong. The range of styles, colors, and features are so diverse that it's near impossible to choose a definitive “one.” But I went with the G-5600 because of its iconic heritage, being the direct descendant of the DW-5000 – the first ever G-Shock. Just as much as its history, the G-5600 does it for me because it has everything you need, and nothing you don't, while being a versatile size. Most G-Shocks are massive things, but the G-5600 is just right, even for people with smaller wrists. It has a stopwatch, world time, and alarm functions. It is water resistant up to 200 meters, shock resistant, and is solar powered, so it loses very little despite its (relatively) small size.
Honorable mention: Seiko 5 Sports SKZ211
Nicknamed the “Land Shark” and the “Atlas,” the SKZ211 is built like a tank. Aside from the 200 meter water resistance, it has a rotating inner bezel that acts as a compass. It's a go-anywhere watch for those who want something more civilized-looking than the G-Shock.