Although I'm pretty dedicated to vintage watches, being at the age of marriages, child births, and many milestones really makes a compelling case for a new watch to commemorate an occasion and create an heirloom. If you're looking for your first mechanical watch or perhaps your shopping for a gift for a significant other, here are some of my top picks for new watches under $3500 (USD).
Disclaimer: I use the term "best" watches in the title, for well, title purposes. This is certainly not a comprehensive list of options, nor are these watches necessarily better than others not listed. This is simply a roundup of some of my favorites in this category, and an un-endorsed list of options at that.
There are two ways the watches below made this list. Either they're a watch I've considered straying from my vintage ways for or one that comes to mind when I think about what i would buy if buying new. There are a lot of vintage inspired or vintage themed options throughout, but I chose these because they're based off of great design and have already proved to be timeless designs so they should be plenty versatile and satisfying for decades to come.
I guess my fondness of vintage comes through pretty strong with this one. The Longines Heritage 1945 was released earlier this year and it absolutely looks the part of a 70 year old watch. I love that this watch is so simple, elegant, clean, and timeless, sure to look great in a casual setting with a suede or more casual side stitch leather strap, or it could be dressed up some and tuck nicely under a cuff with a more refined pair of leather shoes. This will provide all of the charm of a vintage time only watch with a modern case size at 40 mm and an automatic ETA 2895 caliber. I think there is a lot of appeal here to those that appreciate clean and classic design, those that side more with vintage, and those that want a great watch that is very inconspicuous and perhaps a bit understated. At only $1,700 this watch really represents a lot of relative bang for the buck from a major manufacturer.
Nomos Tangente / Metro / Club
Just about anything from Nomos really is a great buy, in my humble opinion. They seem to march to the beat of their own drum with beautiful clean and modern designs and well made in-house movements. The watches are distinctly Bauhaus, minimal, modern, but each typically has a just a touch of funky character to keep it fresh and interesting.
The Metro is the embodiment of this description with the very subtle mix of color, the wire lugs, and super thin bezel making the dial feel very spacious and clean. The hands, the font, the knurled texture of the manual winding crown all meld together to have so much understated character and charm sure to delight the wearer for years to come. The no-date manual wind option starts at $2560 here.
The Tangente presents a slightly more angular approach with it's sharp, angular down turned lugs and slightly dressier, more classic dial layout and colors. Also available with and without date, and in more classically feminine 33 mm size with complimentary dial color options. Starting at just $1900 with a stainless steel case back here.
And the Club is the more casual of the three with it's more sporty and colorful dial options. Starting at a very reasonable $1500 with a 36 mm case and manual wound movement, and going up from there if you want to add a sapphire case back, date window, or automatic movement. I also really like the new Club Campus with the California-esque dial with Arabic and Roman numerals and a case back specifically made with engraving and commemorating a special event in mind.
I ever so slightly hesitate to recommend a new Tudor because they are very readily available in new or almost new condition from grey market (not officially authorized retailers) and watch forums, respectively, but if you're looking for a watch to buy, hold, and make your own heirloom from, saving the $500 - $1000 from the dealer and tax, probably doesn't matter in the long run. Regardless, Tudor is putting out some great sport watches in recent years under their Heritage line, celebrating their rich tool and dive watch history with design cues from past models such as the big unprotected crowns and snowflake hands.
The Black Bay features a versatile 41 mm stainless case, in house movement, domed sapphire crystal, and is rated to 200 meters depth, it is a true dive watch. Generally speaking, you're better off buying a watch on bracelet because it's far less expensive to buy it with the bracelet than to buy the bracelet later, and in this case with a throwback rivet style oyster bracelet, you won't regret it. The watch features a lot of the same layout and design characteristics for the original Tudor Submariners and has a great big, unprotected crown with the rose logo. This watch is rugged and versatile to take you from diving to the office for many years to come. On bracelet, it's a touch over the price guide at with an MSRP of $3675, but I trust you can get it in under that.
Admittedly, I hated the Black Bay 36, and now subsequent 41 for being a "dive watch" without a diving bezel when it was introduced. However, how many people, myself included, are actually diving with these watches? And on wrist, the BB36 is more slimmed down, less thick, and more refined than those with the bezels, but with nearly the same water resistance at 150 meters. So, you retain nearly all of the dive watch ruggedness and versatility with something that is going to arguably look more at home in the office and tucked under a shirt cuff. For most of us, that makes a lot of sense. Further, the watch can easily be dressed up or down with various bracelet/strap combos, and it does a great job of feeling vintage or having a lot of the vintage charm, without trying to be vintage. And with an MSRP of $2850 on bracelet, you're getting a really great watch that should last a lifetime both functionally and in form.
Like Longines, Oris is another company with a really strong and attractive vintage inspired line at a very nice price point. The Divers Sixty-Five is the epitome of this with great vintage inspired looks in a variety of dial colors and configurations with an MSRP of 2050CHF or roughly $2100 and some change USD. The watch is a functional diver, rated to 100m water resistance with functional bezel, and available on a great looking Tropic type rubber strap or oyster type bracelet. There are a number of great dial color options as well as all lume indices or the addition of 12-3-6-9 Arabic numerals in a great lumed art-deco font. These are a great buy for a really cool and fun watch that should be able to provide years of reliable use. An alternative to the Black Bay 36 listed above, this watch looks and feels vintage, while trying to do so. Neither are right or wrong, and I think both do this respectively well, but between the two, there's something for everyone.
Hamilton's catalog is big... dauntingly so. And, they really have a lot of really great options from Pilot's watches, to dress watches, field watches, diver's, and vintage dress pieces, if you're sensing a theme that I'm recommending tried and true, solid buys here, you're following along nicely. What makes the Intramatic 68 special is just how well it recreates the same look as the original from nearly 50 years ago. At just a little bit bigger (42 mm), it is definitely beefed up to modern standards, but all of the details are well executed, and finding an automatic chronograph that looks this good at this price point is pretty tough otherwise. Limited to 1968 pieces at $2195 MSRP, this is a true racer's chronograph that really nails the vintage inverse panda look. I know I'm featuring a lot of vintage inspired pieces, but what I particularly appreciate about this one is that although the design is a clear recreation/re-imagination of the original, I feel like it could have been introduced for the first time this year, and it would still look great; I guess a great classic design is just that no matter when it was released.
This really only brushes the surface, and I could go on with dozens more options, but one thing that I really like about all of the brands and watches I included is that they all have other versions, variations, and other offerings that also could have easily made the list. So, hopefully if you didn't find anything directly, you were able to get turned on to another option. As always, if you have any feedback, questions, or comments, please feel free to leave them below or contact me, and thanks for reading.