The best 21st birthday watches for every budgetZach Blass
Twenty-first birthdays mean different things around the world. It could mean your first legal drink in America, graduating college, or even starting a new job or internship. The common thread is that you are full on adulting now, and at Time+Tide we believe part of being a grown-up is having a trusted wristwatch strapped to your wrist. We get it: watches are not something that anyone absolutely needs in the era of the modern pocket watch – the smartphone. But we also know that many of you still want one anyway, as they stir up a practical and emotional connection with their wearer – an artistic utility that serves as a form of expression on your wrist. At the age of 21, however, I believe the best avenue to travel down is what I call the “robust elegance” category. Sporty watches that have a bit or formal flair, which means they can be highly versatile and survive both foam and formal parties. Therefore we have assembled a list of 21st birthday watches that fit the bill, from least to most expensive, whether you want to gift one to a loved one or even gift one to yourself.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is arguably the best entry-level watch for new collectors to buy. While under $500, the watch specifications tick a lot of boxes for even veteran collectors. The stainless-steel case is 38mm in diameter, neither too small or too large for wrists of all sizes, and water-resistant to 50 metres, which means it can survive a variety of activities. Its matte black dial and aged colour SuperLuminova® evoke 1940s military vibes while also being an incredibly easy watch to pair with a variety of wardrobes – as well as straps considering its 20mm lug width. It also contains the Hamilton manufacture caliber H-50, a manually wound movement that boasts a lengthy 80 hours of power reserve. Price: $495
Tissot PRX Powermatic 80
The latest entry into the integrated stainless steel sports watch craze is also one of the most value-driven offerings introduced this year. Its case is a sporting 40mm in diameter while also being a classy and slender piece only 10.9mm thick. Don’t let its gorgeous Clous de Paris textured dial fool you, the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 walks a fine line between sporty and dressy with a water-resistance of 100 metres. This means you can take its boardroom aesthetic to the beach as well. It also contains a Powermatic 80 movement, an automatic caliber with over three days of power reserve at 80 hours. Price: $650
Longines Legend Diver
The Longines Legend Diver case and functionality is undoubtedly situated in the sporty category. But this dressy diver is extremely versatile on the wrist thanks to its smoked blue dial. The sage-toned numerals and indexes add warmth to the dial, and its date complication at 3′ is well crafted with a sage on black disc to seamlessly blend into the dial. By utilizing an internal rotating bezel in favour of an external bezel it has a cleaner and dressier aesthetic, it’s only give away that it is a utility-driven timing scale being the second crown on the case. It also has an added elegance factor due to its mirror-polished case, a finish usually more reserved for formal timepieces – with satin brush considered more sport and utility driven. Inside this 300 metre water-resistant stainless-steel diver is the automatic Longines manufacture caliber L888 that boasts 72 hours of power reserve. Price: $2,300 USD
Grand Seiko SBGA373
You might be surprised that of all the Grand Seiko Spring Drive models to choose from that I elected not to pick the SBGA211 Snowflake for this list. Sure the Snowflake is a catalogue icon, and classic flagship model of the brand, but it may be the too obvious choice here. By all means it would be a great pick, but I want to highlight the lesser discussed Grand Seiko SBGA373. Believe it or not, it’s highly dynamic champagne dial is actually harder to manufacture then the textured crisp white dial of the Snowflake – with more time and steps required to achieve its finish and tone. Certainly capable of being worn anything from a t-shirt and shorts to a suit, the stainless-steel watch is basically a Grand Seiko alternative to the Rolex Datejust – which is another model typically associated with robust elegance.
That being said, it has a very distinct aesthetic thanks to Grand Seiko’s grammar of design that leverages highly faceted geometries with mixed finishes to create incredible light and shadow dynamics. The 44GS case format is well known within the watch community thanks to its broad Zaratsu distortion-free, mirror-polished lug shoulders that create a sparkle which immediately catches the eye. It is also 100 metres water resistant which means it can go wherever a 21-year-old is heading. With the SBGA373’s in-house 9R65 Spring Drive automatic caliber, the wear and timing experience is totally hassle-free. Once set, the watch will maintain very accurate timing within one second per day (typically half a second a day at most in my experience) and with 72 hours of power reserve as long as you wear it every three days it will never stop ticking. Price: $5,200 USD
Growing up, those who are familiar with watches at an early age typically learn of Rolex and Omega straight out of the gate. The rival pair have always been associated with beautiful and robust timepieces. Both have made names for themselves serving as the timepiece of choice for fictional suave super spy James Bond, but only one brand can boast that they officially went to the moon. Known as the Moonwatch thanks to its lunar journey on the wrists of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, among others, the Omega Speedmaster chronograph is a go-to model for those looking for a luxury wristwatch with deep heritage. It has never been better in the modern era with its current incarnation thanks to its renewed use of subtle vintage cues, collector appreciated dot-over-ninety bezel, and co-axial 3861 caliber – the latest improvement of the 321 succeeding caliber 861, both of which are designed by Albert Piguet. The 42mm stainless-steel watch is highly robust given the fact it’s famed for surviving the harsh conditions of space travel, so it is fair to assume it can survive the lifestyle of a 20-something without issue. Price: $5,950 USD – $7,150 USD depending on the chosen configuration