Looking to buy a watch that stands out from the crowd without spending a fortune? We have put together a list of the best alternative watches for less than £2,000.
Buying watches for tens of thousands of pounds is no harder or easier than shopping at other budgets, but it does at least open your choices up to include pretty much everything in the window (check out our guides to the best chronographs and best dive watches) and that means there are plenty of ways to show your personal style. It can be a little harder to find that combination of high quality and genuine personality below about £2,000, so we thought we'd compile our edit of the watches that do just that. The qualities of Longines, Hamilton, Oris, Tudor and TAG Heuer are well known, so you won't find them here: these are watches that require one to step further away from the mainstream.
We always said Angus MacFadyen was gonna need a bigger boat, and boy were we right. By the time an online forum of #watchnerds had identified what Richard Dreyfuss was wearing in Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws the Scots tech CEO had owned the rights to Alsta for some years. He’s now up to three variants of fictional oceanographer Matt Hooper’s favoured diving-watch brand (like so many others, a victim of the Quartz Crisis), but it’s the launch model – on Milanese rather than the original’s flimsy ‘porthole’ bracelet – that still floats our proverbial boat.
£665 - Shop Now
Founded by American industrial designer Bradley Price, Autodromo does an effortlessly cool line in affordable watches directly inspired by the golden age of motorsport. And for Price at least, the Group B period (spanning from 1982 to 1986) was the last truly romantic era. His self-winding, titanium tribute to Group B racers is an homage to the technical advancement and exotic materials finding use at that time – plus an aqua-blue and flamingo-pink colourway that’s pure Crockett and Tubbs, rolled jacket sleeves and all.
$975 - Shop Now
Rheumy-eyed enthusiasts wax lyrical about the golden age (the Fifties) of manually wound chronographs – and they’re right to, given the movements’ architectural beauty. Venus made the finest, until they sold the tooling and plans to China’s Seagull watchmaker in the Sixties, to equip the nation’s pilots. This model from Besançon-based startup Baltic is a ludicrously affordable way of buying into that pedigree, powered by Seagull’s ST19, in exact Venus 175 guise. Make sure you pay an extra €30 to get the clear caseback, so you can gaze at that voluptuous Y-shaped bridgework (a rare opportunity back in the day).
€541 - Shop Now
Would-be JCB scion George Bamford and his Mayfair-based Bamford Watch Department knows no bounds. After infamous origins modifying Rolexes (in highly innovative fashion, it should be said) BWD now enjoys its status as an official custom shop for TAG Heuer or Zenith. But away from the big brands, George is freely developing a watch range in his own right, under ‘Bamford London’, starting with this take on the classic ‘GMT’ globetrotter. The cushion case and bright colours are fun, just nostalgic enough, and given the Sellita mechanics inside, priced almost ridiculously low.
£1,100 - Shop Now
Fans of Clive Cussler novels will be familiar with this Sixties diving-watch milestone, which pioneered hyper-legible dials, helium escape valves, and was the preferred wristwear for Cussler's square-jawed hero, Dirk Pitt. Fifty years on from the launch of its ‘Conquistador’ incarnation (the first to bring the helium valve onto the consumer market) it is now available in a choice of 6 dial colours. Orange was the original, so now’s your opportunity to show a bit of Pitt-esque bravery. ‘Divingstar’ yellow perhaps?
£1,820 - Shop Now
Founded by British watch obsessives who’ve cashed their chips in high-street retail management, bringing democratically priced Swiss-made mechanicals to the people… The comparisons to Christopher Ward are uncanny – except when it comes to the actual watches. Rather than Ward’s ‘homage’-led approach, Farer brings fresh, contemporary and multi-coloured fun to the world of no-nonsense field watches, with equally colourful model names. This particularly rakish manual-wind chrono’ was the official watch for 2019’s classic hill climb through the Italian’s Alps’ Bernina Pass.
£1,675 - Shop Now
Among a flourishing roster of homegrown talent we can count Fears, whose SalonQP debut of 2016 has proved quite the springboard. A sizeable watchmaking name from Bristol which had lain dormant since the late Fifties, Fears' modern revival is the brainchild of its founder’s great-great-great-grandson, Nicholas Bowman-Scargill. While the range now includes the manual-wind ‘Brunswick’, the Swiss-quartz Redcliff remains at the core – the latest Streamline iteration reviving a centenary design from 1946 and priced, as it was back then, at a highly reasonable £11.2.6 (adjusted for 73 years of inflation, mind).
£483 - Shop Now
If this looks like no watch you’ve ever seen, it’s because it’s the unfettered vision of people who don’t work at watch companies. Until now, anyway, as the six passionate watch collectors behind Ming (led by an eponymous Malaysian collector) now lead a brand whose mantelpiece is already groaning with silverware, despite a two-year infancy. This year’s GPHG awards rightly recognised the 17.06 Copper for its ‘Challenge’ to the preconceptions of pricing. In other words: bang for your buck. Specifically, a fine-adjusted ETA 2824, Jean Rousseau leather, etched copper dial’s worth of bang.
CHF1,250 - Shop Now
Once a maker of precision ships’ instruments and chronometers, this former German DDR brand was revived by Hans Jurgen Mühle in 1994 and overlooking the same village square as A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original and Nomos, is now in the business of crafting solid, mid-market Sellita-driven tool watches, designed with distinguished Teutonic cool. Something for the yachtsman who prefers to set his own course.
£1,515 - Shop Now
British outlet Page & Cooper has opened up a plethora of cult collector brands to the UK market recently (see also Zodiac, as well as Sinn, Laco et al.). In doing so it has revived the fortunes of Squale, the cult Italo-Swiss diving brand founded in 1946 by Charles von Büren, now owned by the Maggi family in Milan. These fantastically priced waterbabies still have a retro vibe going on, and enjoy a direct relationship with ETA in Grenchen. What’s more, for just over a grand, the 1621 practically spoils you with 600-metre resistance.
£1,065 - Shop Now
While Stepan Sarpaneva’s eponymous brand continues to evolve the master watchmaker’s mystical artistry in high-end form, his entry-level ‘SarpanevaUhrenFabrik’ celebrates the stoic pluck of Finland’s people – assembled on the same workbenches, in Nokia’s old cable factory on the Helsinki waterfront. SUF’s latest is the most stripped-back yet, and the most ‘Finnish’: Soprod mechanics come encased in high-grade steel impregnated with chrome mined near the coast, and it’s strapped with leather from Nordic Elk. ‘180’ also happens to be SUF’s postal code.
€2,220 (ex taxes) - Shop Now
Zodiac’s tonneau-shaped divers have been a favourite at QP Towers for quite some time – but there’s a whole lot more to this esteemed Swiss brand and its famous diving watch of the Fifties. Mostly thanks to the investment of parent group Fossil into ‘STP’ – an ETA-clone movement manufacturer based near Lugano, which, rather like Sellita, has moved swiftly from walking to a gentle trot. This ion-coated Bat-watch earns a place on the utility belt thanks to its STP 1-13 automatic, upgraded to swan-neck regulation and COSC precision.
£1,200 - Shop Now