Which watches punch above their weight class? Here’s what you had to sayJamie Weiss
Part of the beauty of the watch hobby is that there are joys to be found at both ends of the price spectrum. We here at the Time+Tide delight equally in being able to review cheap and cheerful microbrands as well as being able to handle some of the most expensive and elaborate pieces of haute horlogerie in the world. Both are equally valid.
That said, I think we get a particular kick out of watches that far exceed the expectations set by their price tags… And we know most watch enthusiasts are the same. As nebulous as the term is, some watch brands just represent better value; they give you better bang for your buck. So we thought we’d put it to our community – what watches punch above their weight class?
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Before we start, I think it’s worth talking about that phrase – “punching above one’s weight class” – and examining it a bit, as it’s commonly misunderstood. A boxing term originally, these days it means performing or achieving results better than expected and beyond one’s ability – although in this case with watches, we’re really talking about market segment. That’s both a function of price as well as reputation.
For instance, many commenters offered Rolex as an example of a watch that punches above its weight. While it’s true that even at their current high prices, Rolexes do represent reasonable value when compared to other mid-tier luxury brands, it’s hard to say that the biggest and best-known watch brand in the world is really “punching above its weight”. It’s punching at its weight. It’s one of the heavy hitters. With that out of the way, let’s dive right in.
Okay, so I know I just got done talking about how Rolex can’t really be included in this discussion about watches that punch above their weight class, but Rolex’s more affordable sister brand Tudor most definitely can be. Indeed, Tudor was easily the most suggested brand in our little community survey. At the ‘affordable luxury’, ~A$5,000 price point, there’s arguably no brand that represents better value than Tudor. Not only do you get Rolex-level finishing for a fraction of the price, but modern Tudor has done much to differentiate itself from its bigger sibling, with exciting pieces like the Black Bay Ceramic and Pelagos 39 demonstrating that Tudor is by no means a poor man’s Rolex.
Seiko and Grand Seiko
The next most commonly suggested brand was Grand Seiko, but more than a few commenters also pointed out that both Seiko and Grand Seiko punch above their weight in both of their respective weight classes, which I’d say is a fair comment. Seiko is the benchmark for affordable mechanical timepieces, with their higher-end Presage and Prospex pieces rivalling luxury brands for fit and finish. Grand Seiko, however, straight-up embarrasses luxury brands ten times their price, with their characteristically beautiful dials, Zaratsu-polished cases and the unique, incredibly accurate movement technology that is Spring Drive.
Nomos received a lot of nominations, and they’re definitely a strong candidate: in-house movements that are nicely finished and meet chronometer spec; stylish Bauhaus looks and “honest” pricing all qualify these German watches as punching above their weight. Grand Seiko, Tudor and Nomos are often called “the new Holy Trinity” (the old ‘Holy Trinity’ being Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin), so it’s no surprise these three brands got plenty of love.
“Oris is miles ahead of some watches that are 3-4x the price,” one commenter shared, and I’d tend to agree. This quirky independent might not be as prominent as the other major watch brand in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, IWC, but Oris has long represented good value for consumers. Modern Oris is making some particularly interesting watches, such as the ProPilot X with its 5-day power reserve, as well as dive watches with mechanical depth gauges and carbon fibre pilot’s watches with mechanical altimeters.
If you mention Seiko, you’ve got to mention Citizen, and that’s what many of our readers did. Citizen might not get as much love as Seiko or Casio, but this major Japanese brand still makes many watches that seriously punch above their weight. Their Eco-Drive range sets the benchmark for solar-powered watches, while their premium The Citizen range is their answer to Grand Seiko, featuring artisanal finishing techniques and distinctly Japanese design cues.
Longines is a bit of a tricky one. As one of the most prominent luxury watch brands on the market (especially in Australia, where we Aussies are a bit culturally obsessed with Longines), it’s hard to say that the brand punches above its weight. Longines have also been aggressively repositioning themselves lately, bumping up their prices to compete at at Tudor (or higher) level. However, it must be said that they still produce excellent products for the price, and still rival much more expensive brands when it comes to what they offer.
A few people posited Bulgari, arguing that the Italian Maison offers haute horlogerie at a price far lower than some of the big players. “They are screaming deals on the used market,” one commenter pointed out. Bulgari’s a mixed one: I’d say their entry-level watches punch at their weight (or maybe slightly below, to be honest), but their higher-end creations do punch above their weight, such as their ultra-thin Octo Finissimo masterpieces.
Jaeger-LeCoultre falls into a similar sort of boat as Bulgari. Nobody would ever accuse JLCs of being cheap, but compared to some of their better-known contemporaries (or indeed the brands they supply movements to, namely the Holy Trinity brands) JLC represents tremendous value and deserves to be in the discussion alongside the crème de la crème of high-end watchmaking. For what it’s worth, fellow Richemont brand A. Lange & Söhne was also a common response, but I’d say Lange’s sky-high price points and inaccessibility count it out of this weight-class discussion – unlike JLC, which sits at a slightly lower price point and is much easier to acquire at retail.
I’d say all of the brands we carry at Time+Tide punch above their weight – which is why we carry them; that’s the point. Bias aside, though, heaps of commenters offered up Baltic as a brand that punches above its weight, so it’s nice to know I’m not just drinking our own Kool-Aid. The Baltic MR01 was singled out in particular, and I agree that it typifies why Baltic is such a compelling value proposition: where else can you get a micro-rotor at its price, let alone a watch with such handsome looks?
Dominating all weight classes: the Casio F-91W
Finally, we have the Casio F-91W. I think a few people suggested this watch as a bit of a joke, but I’d argue no watch punches above its weight more than the F-91W. The most sold watch in the world, it’s been in production uninterrupted since 1989. You can pick one up for as little as A$20 – yet it’s got more features than basically any mechanical watch: a 1/100-second stopwatch, a day-date function, a daily alarm, an LED backlight… They’re notoriously tough, the battery will last well over 7 years, and it even looks cool. It’s all the watch you’ll ever need and objectively speaking, it blows everything else out of the water. Good thing collecting watches is not an objective pursuit.