As a watch writer, the question I get asked most often is: Where do I get started? While some serious collectors are comfortable spending thousands—if not millions—on a one-of-a-kind specimen, most folks are simply looking for a watch they can reliably wear every day, that will last, and is a good value. And over the past years, watchmakers have been appeasing those exact buyers with a slew of excellent affordable models. Right now, the field of competition for the best watches under $1,000 is more crowded than ever.

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When I recommend a watch under $1,000, I don’t necessarily turn to what’s hot and new. The selections on this list are meant to be as timeless and meaningful as their expensive counterparts. These days, relatively affordable watches come in every flavor. If you want a piece that’s walked red carpets on A-list wrists, that exists. There are serious divers from a brand trusted by Jacques Cousteau, genre-defying icons, and watches that look so good no one will ever believe you paid so little for ’em. The only other rule this list follows is that every watch featured is available for purchase right this very second—and not from the gray market. These are the 12 best watches under $1,000 you can buy right now.

Your Favorite Celeb’s Favorite Affordable Watch

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Watches have the ability to help us rub elbows—or wrists, anyway—with the people who’ve worn them previously. It’s why we call certain versions of Rolex’s Daytona the “Paul Newman” or a specific iteration of the Submariner the “James Bond.” Purchasing watches like these typically requires good standing with the various Swiss auction houses and an even better standing with your bank. The G-Shock DW6900 is a unicorn, though: a watch once worn by the likes of John Mayer, Justin Bieber, and Kanye West that you can own for less than $60 bucks right this very moment. G-Shocks are best known for their virtually indestructible rubber construction, which made them a staple on jobsites the world over. Eventually, however, the boxy digital timepieces caught on with skaters, who helped muscle the line up the cultural ladder.

The Perfect Starter Watch

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If someone were to build an Affordable Watch Hall of Fame, the Seiko SKX007 would be the very first piece enshrined. While it’s no longer in production, the no-fuss dive watch helped introduce a generation of collectors to hardy mechanical watches. Which is why in the summer of 2022, the watch’s legions of fanboys thought they were seeing ghosts (of the sexy, Patrick Swayze variety) when Seiko released a new model drawing from the beloved SKX’s design: the Seiko 5 Sports GMT (SSK001). Seiko, already famous for pressure-cooking value into its mechanical pieces, developed a brand new movement for the updated GMT—a name for a watch that can track two time zones—series that barely affected thickness. If the SKX007 was the perfect first diver, the SSK001 captures that same feeling for the GMT.

The Goldilocks Diver

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Launched in 2016, Baltic’s Aquascaphe strikes a perfect middle ground between the delicate, pricey vintage divers of yore and the jet-puffed modern ones that only look right on the wrists of larger-than-life figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. If you’re looking for a clean, classic dive watch, the Aquascaphe’s svelte shape, ’60s-inspired design, and nerd-approved automatic movement make it a serious steal at just $630.

The Affordable Luxury Flex

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Anyone who’s worn a Tissot PRX 80 knows there’s only one word to describe the way it feels on your wrist: luxurious. That’s high praise for a watch that only costs $725. But the PRX offers ’70s-chic sport watch looks at a cost that feels equally retro. Looks-wise, the piece often draws comparisons to steel-sport-watch grails like Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak or Vacheron Constantin’s 222, thanks to its angular case, tapisserie design on the dial, and integrated bracelet (meaning the bracelet is cinched directly to the case rather than hooked onto lugs). The brand isn’t shy about leaning into this opulent feeling either, having recast it with upscale attributes like a yellow-gold coating or an icy blue dial (my personal favorite). Wearing a PRX is the cheapest way to feel like a million bucks.

The Jacques Cousteau Special

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In the world of diving, does it get any bigger than a co-sign from Jacques Cousteau? Cousteau did for his favorite scuba gear what Kanye West did for longline tees in the mid 2010s. In his prime, Cousteau frequently turned to Doxa’s famously chunky SUB 300 in safety-vest orange. In 2019, Doxa streamlined the design of that tentpole diver with the creation of the Sub 200. The SUB 200 serves up many of the same winning qualities as the original: serious diving bonafides and pedigree amplified by a variety of poppy colors. There’s Cousteau’s signature bright orange, a Tiffany-adjacent turquoise, and a delectable banana yellow—all fitting for a dive in the Maldives or a dip at that one wild rooftop pool in Singapore. It’s outrageous that a watch this good limbos under the $1,000 limit.

The Grail Look-Alike

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While other watches on this list make use of celebrity co-signs or impressive history to boost their value proposition, Furlan Marri pulls off a much more challenging magic trick. On the strength of design alone, the Swiss brand’s watches wouldn’t feel out of place behind the rostrum at a fancy-pants auction house. The first time I saw Furlan Marri’s Mechaquartz series, I immediately had so many questions: This isn’t some vintage grail? No, FM only launched in 2021. Are we sure Patek’s new novelties didn’t get mislabeled? Nope, although FM’s founders aren’t shy about the fact they were inspired by all-timers like Patek’s beloved ’40s-era Tasti Tondi watch. It’s only $620?! You bet. And when did you pull that quarter from behind my ear? In addition to its vintage inspiration, FM also makes use of an interesting technology called mechaquartz, which hybridizes mechanical and quartz movements to keep costs low.

The Standard Issue

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Certain watches are so definitive in their category that they set the standard for every competitor that follows. Nearly all of them—like the Rolex Submariner, the ultimate dive watch, or the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which reigns atop the luxury-sports class—come with price tags that cause jump scares. Then there’s Hamilton’s Khaki Field. The American watchmaker, founded in Pennsylvania back in 1892, began crafting watches for the American military during World War I. That relationship reached its pinnacle, however, in the 1960s, when Hamilton released the Khaki Field, a watch built to the then-new specifications laid out by the Department of Defense. With a 24-hour clock marked inside its super-legible 12-hour numerals, this is the defining field watch. It’s the white T-shirt of the watch world: a classic piece that’ll ruggedly complement just about everything in your wardrobe.

The Culture Setter

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The Omega and Swatch MoonSwatch turned watches into a massive pop cultural phenomenon. By drafting off the design of the historic, NASA-approved Omega Speedmaster, the line managed to excite longtime collectors while inviting a new audience into the hobby with irresistible colors and an easy-to-stomach price tag. The collaboration helped watch collecting transcend its bubble; I’ve heard from countless dealers and auction specialists working with people who first developed a taste for timepieces through the MoonSwatch before coming to them looking for the next level up.

Available for purchase in person at your local Swatch store.

The Cheeky Diver

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In the ’60s, humans were not just committed to going high—moon landing, ever heard of it?—but also going low. The decade was a golden age for scuba hobbyists and watches designed for diving. To stand out from the crowd, Bulova decided to become the lovable class clown of dive-watch manufacturers, with ads that depicted divers catching a ride on sharks. The brand’s flagship Oceanographer model was capable of withstanding depths of 203 meters, which set the record at a time when the industry standard was 200 meters. Of course, Bulova being Bulova, it cheekily chose to promote that 203 meter limit as 666 feet—and the “Devil Diver” was born. In 1973, Bulova released a version of the Oceanographer with a fiery orange dial that became the prototypical version of the Devil Diver. And, thankfully, the watch has been back in the Bulova catalog since 2021.

The Sub-$200 Vintage Stunner

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Timex and hype don’t often come up in the same sentence—but the Marlin isn’t just any old Timex. In 2017, when the stalwart American watchmaker first reissued the Marlin—a ’60s-era archival model—it quickly sold out and eager customers shelled out nearly double the retail price for it on eBay. The mania was befitting a watch that nailed all the details: The Marlin was Timex’s first mechanical release since 1982, a feature that makes its $200 price that much more appetizing, and the brand wisely preserved much of the original’s midcentury charm, from the striking sunray dial to the elegantly elongated numerals. Most importantly, while many brands are guilty of enlarging reissues, Timex kept the Marlin at its petite 34 millimeter size. That might sound too small, but wear it for a minute and you’ll find yourself converted.

The Only Watch You Need

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It’s hard to imagine a wrist the Marathon GPM wouldn’t look good on. First created in the ’80s for the US Army and adhering to the same specifications that birthed the aforementioned Hamilton, the Marathon boasts historic pedigree in addition to good looks. But, boy, is it a stunner: the 34-millimeter diameter, black dial, and matching black steel case make for an understatedly handsome watch you’ll want to wear every day—and thanks to its hardy, knockaround build, you can do exactly that without thinking twice.

The Diver of the Future

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“If you want to never meet someone with the same watch,” Giovanni Moro, Unimatic’s cofounder, told me last year, “Unimatics are a very good choice.” The Milanese brand operates like an elite streetwear label, releasing limited-edition drops with a wide spectrum of collaborators—everyone from South Park to Undefeated. The U1, then, is akin to Unimatic’s Jordan 1: the timeless template that interlopers are eager to remake with their own designs, but remains handsome enough to stand on its own. Founded in 2015, Unimatic is a relative baby in the watch world—and yet the U1, with its sleek, distinctive design, has already established itself as a modern classic. It’s a piece I imagine divers will be reaching for far into the future.

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