The 5 best affordable mechanical chronographs under $3,000

The 5 best affordable mechanical chronographs under $3,000

D.C. Hannay

If you’re looking to build a well-rounded watch collection, a mechanical chronograph has to be in the conversation. You could go all in with a blue-chip piece such as a vintage Speedmaster, Daytona, or Navitimer, but that might eat up a good chunk of your discretionary budget. Luckily, it’s a great time to add a mechanical chronograph to your roster, as you’re truly spoiled for choice these days. There are plenty of worthy contenders at (or well below) our self-imposed budget cap of US$3,000, so here are five of my own favourites.

Baltic Tricompax Panda – €1,645

France’s Baltic has a well-earned reputation as a maker of classic-looking, well-crafted timepieces that are way more beautiful than they have any right to be at the asking price. Although they’re a relatively young microbrand, their lineup has a real sense of history, without falling into the trap of being overly derivative. Their fantastic Aquascaphe range of divers grabs the lion’s share of attention, but don’t sleep on this gorgeous chrono, the Tricompax Panda. You can see hints of Universal Geneve and vintage Rolex in its throwback design, but this stunner stands on its own quite comfortably, thank you. The well-sized 39.5mm case has a height of just 13.5mm, including the domed sapphire crystal, and the finely textured off-white dial and aluminium bezel insert are period-correct perfection. For that final touch of vintage flavour, it’s a handwinder, with the reliable Sellita SW510-M ticking away, offering 63 hours of sublime Swiss timing.

Tissot PRX Automatic Chronograph – US$1,958

tissot prx automatic chronographTissot’s retro-leaning PRX series has been one of the biggest smashes of the past few years, bringing an attractive integrated design to the masses, and the lineup continues to grow. One of their best is the PRX Automatic Chronograph, which sports a Valjoux A05 H31 with 60-hour power reserve and a skeletonised rotor visible through the caseback. Under $2000 is a great price for a Valjoux-powered chrono with this much swagger, and it’s available in a panda version with rose gold accents, or my choice, the serene blue reverse panda variant. Both feature an attractive vertically brushed dial finish, sapphire crystal, and the 41.5mm tonneau case is water resistant to 100 metres, making it a great weekend watch, too. You can find this and other PRX models right here in the Time+Tide Shop.

Farer Universal Bernina Chronograph Sport – US$1,955

British microbrand Farer Universal inject surprising jolts of colour into their otherwise classically styled range, and the Bernina chrono brings a bit of attitude to the sometimes staid world of tool watches. The Alpine White dial and bezel is punctuated by red, black, and blue markings for that perfect summertime look, and the blue and red two-stitch strap makes for an ideal match. Dimensions include a 41mm diameter, a 44mm lug-to-lug measurement, and a surprisingly trim 13.5mm case height that includes the domed sapphire crystal and display caseback. This triple register model is also handwound, utilising an Elaboré grade Sellita SW510-BH movement that features some lovely decoration, including a drool-worthy custom-engraved bridge.

Hamilton Intra-Matic Automatic Chronograph – US$2,481

Hiding among Hamilton’s incredibly deep catalogue is this gem of a chrono that sports a great late-’60s vibe. This two-register beauty comes in both manual and automatic versions and several dial variants, but this auto version in faded olive and off-white looks the business, with its jazzy lines and unique colourway. The case size hits the sweet spot with a 40mm diameter, and the polished lug faces and sloped bezel give it a bright demeanour that contrasts beautifully with the muted dial hues. The automatic H-31 movement boasts a 60-hour power reserve, and the screwdown crown gives the Intra-Matic a 100 metre water resistance rating. It’s a strap fiend as well, with your choice of leather or a sinuous stainless mesh. The Hamilton Intra-matic Automatic Chronograph is available in the T+T Shop.

Longines Avigation Bigeye – US$3,000

We’ve reached our limit: our budgetary limit, anyway, and this last one goes out with a bang. It’s hard to believe, but the Longines Avigation Bigeye pilot’s chrono was the reissue that almost didn’t happen. Thanks to a tipoff from an avid collector, Longines ended up winning the GPHG Revival Watch Prize for a timepiece they didn’t even have in their own museum. Good thing, too, because the Bigeye is one of the brand’s best chronographs. Besides the fetching look, there’s a right-sized 41mm case, an L688 column-wheel chrono movement with a 66-hour reserve, a domed sapphire crystal, and a highly legible black dial with snailing on the subdials, including the “bigeye” minute counter at 3. The Bigeye’s a long-time favourite among the T+T staff, and to think that it almost didn’t happen!