5 of the best watches released in 2020 under $3k, including Grand Seiko, Bulgari and MontaThor Svaboe
This has been a bountiful year for the horologically inclined, and full of surprises. We have gone shopping with the virtual Time+Tide gold credit card, and found what we think might be five of the best watches under $3kUSD in 2020. It is an eclectic selection, from established microbrands to tough divers and a flyweight re-edition from Bulgari. The choices are diverse, if not easy to make. A fool might suggest to double your budget and take two home, but play your cards right and your budget might stretch further than you think.
Grand Seiko SBGP005
Yes, the first watch here has got a quartz movement, and I’m very happy to admit it is also my debut as a quartz fan, as a Grand Seiko quartz movement is something very special. But what we notice first is, of course, the Japanese mastery of case finishing and dial details. The term “Luxury Quartz”, coined by Nick Kenyon in our story on the SBGP005 here, might still be contradictory to some, but is spot-on for this vision in dark blue and steel that punches way above its weight.
The case is the classic strong-sided design we know well, giving us that special interaction of tough solidity with exquisite detailing that no one does better than the Japanese craftsmen of Grand Seiko. The brushed lugs are balanced beautifully by the Zaratsu detailing on the flowing yet sharp sides in this sharp iteration of the classic 44GS case. This time in a pitch-perfect 40mm with a mere 11.1mm thickness. Let’s add that the 3-link bracelet is one of the most comfortable I know, and though it does not have micro adjustments, it has removable links and half links. It does looks sharp on a leather strap, but with this bracelet you will struggle to take it off; worse still, it will divert your attention from much more expensive pieces in your collection, so consider yourself warned.
The dial work of Grand Seiko is worth a story alone and, suffice it to say, the hand-applied polished indices and sword hands are finished to such a level that this watch competes with timepieces of quadruple the price point, reflecting the tiniest refracted light. There is a reason this is first on the list, with its impeccable build quality. So stand up and say it with me: I LOVE QUARTZ.
Price: The Grand Seiko SBGP005 is $3200USD (very near $3KUSD).
DOXA SUB 300
Yes, we love the pitch-perfect colourful ’60s vibe of the fruity coloured DOXAs, and with the slimmer and sharper new SUB 300 on a comfortable rubber strap, we have another favourite tough tool. Is the dress watch dead? Do I wear a big sports watch with a suit? Contrasts are the perfect way to cheer up a dull day at the office — don’t relegate the tool watch to the weekends.
This means that you are allowed to brighten up any day back at work with an iconic vintage diver like the new DOXA SUB 300 under that crisp white shirt cuff, with its slim profile. The well-proven ETA 2824-2 automatic movement underlines the Swiss quality of what is now part of a growing range of divers, and they tend to wear both smaller and more ergonomically than the size suggests.
What this means for you is that unless you are shy of nature, the wrist presence, comfort and tool watch solidity this brings to the party is sublime. And yes, it will, by the mere look of it, encourage you to buy a Land Rover, throw the scuba gear in the back and throw the tie out of the window. But why not?
Price: The DOXA SUB 300 is US$2490
Monta is a well-known microbrand from the creators of the famous Everest rubber straps for Rolex divers, with a strong following and tough divers. They have this year created the smaller Noble, on pre-order now awaiting a November release, with a superb fumé dial finish and a perfect 2020 case size and design. The design is refreshingly not derivative, with little inspirational clues here and there, but a general image of integrity and a pure Monta design language. The new Noble is a comfortable 38.5mm with a sub 10mm thickness — the sub 40mm size du jour and deliciously slim on the wrist. Bevelling on the case, bezel and bracelet punches way above its price point.
As designs go, this skirts the line between sports and elegance, nudging towards the sports with its compact case and solid oyster-style bracelet. The reputation of Monta as a microbrand is understandable, with the detailing on the Noble — whether in a fresh white or this exquisite blue fumé dial — creating a nice sense of depth to the dial. Under the caseback we also find the proven reliability of the ETA 2892 or Sellita SW-300. At only $1760, with a pre-order price of $1600, you’ll have a superb value sports watch with a dressy touch if you’re quick enough.
Price: The Monta Noble is $1600USD
Seiko Prospex SPB151
After the fêted SLA025 – the long-awaited reissue of the mythical 6105 diver, aka Captain Willard — they finally released a people’s choice model in the form of the superbly executed and medium-priced SPB151 in a black and olive green version. All the right clues are here, with the large turtle-shell case lending a nickname to countless variants over the years, and the unshakeable provenance of the inspirational 6105 on the wrist of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now.
Seiko Prospex has had a meteoric rise over the last three to four years outside of the domain of the watch enthusiast, and onto wrists of Omega, Rolex and Patek owners, creating a crossover appeal few others can replicate. The SPB151, whether in its original black guise on a solid bracelet, or the jungle mission-green on rubber, is a watch that’s up to any adventure you might throw at it, just like its inspirational forefather.
For the price, the fact that Seiko has perfect vertically integrated production of everything from movements to crowns inspires a loyalty second to none when attached to an appreciation of the craftsmanship involved at all price levels. Applied indices, bold polished hands and applied LumiBrite lume that seems to last indefinitely with the power of a lantern … you can’t go wrong with this tough yet exquisite tool.
Price: The Seiko Prospex SPB151 is $1300USD
From the top-tier masters of ultra-thin, with their game-changing Finissimo, comes an unexpected sporty and flyweight fighter in aluminium and rubber. This summer-fresh minimalism is resurrected from the ’90s and endowed with amazing lightness. Easy-wearing lightweight luxury, without the need for carbon fibre or high-tech polymers from the maison of Bulgari? Count me in. The first thing to strike you is the incredible comfort with which the Bulgari Aluminium embraces the wrist. Nothing can prepare you for just how light a perfectly sized 40mm watch can be, and how basic aluminium can feel positively futuristic.
The Bulgari lineage is clear, even without the tough black bezel having the classic large BVLGARI script, while large black indices and clear 12 and 6 Arabic numerals make this one of the most legible watches of the year. The bright white seconds hand brings a perfect dash of colour to the minimalist scene with its delicate red circle counterweight, and syringe tip. This lightweight goodness is driven by the reliable Bulgari B77 calibre, based on the evergreen ETA 2892.
Our suggestion here is the summer-fresh white dial version, with its monochrome aesthetic underlining the sharp modernity and yet tool-like vibe. One of my favourite details is the large pivoting lugs holding the linked rubber and aluminium strap. A soft silicone rubber strap is comfortable in itself – while here this is only underlined by the large links, making it feel strange at first yet at home.
Price: The Bulgari Aluminium is $2950USD