Things begin to get serious around the £5,000 price point. At this budget, buyers (many of whom are looking to invest for the first time) are likely to encounter a mix of iconic watch manufacturers, with the allure of their recognisable brand presence, and lesser-known watchmakers who balance their lack of a marketing budget with a keener eye on hand craftsmanship.
There’s plenty of great timepieces available in this range, but keep an eye out for in-house movements, intricate decoration and the use of secondary materials like rhodium and bronze, and you might bag a watch worth more than the sum of its parts.
Grand Seiko Calibre 9S 20th Anniversary Ref. SBGH267
OK, so this is technically more than £5,000, but not by much. Grand Seiko gained its cult following by doing two things extremely well: timelessly elegant watch designs and world-beating accuracy. To put it another way, there’s a reason why the most discerning horophiles own at least one of its timepieces. This year sees the launch of a collection dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Calibre 9S – a movement at the heart of Grand Seiko’s collections since its creation in 1998. Our favourite of the three anniversary 39.5mm models is the all-steel reference SBGH267. The watch manufacturer handles steel better than almost every other brand on the planet thanks to its use of the zaratsu technique (which has its origins in the Japanese art of swordmaking), and it wears beautifully here alongside a rich blue ‘GS’ patterned dial and rhodium-plated hands. Under the hood, regulation to +5 to -3 seconds per day puts the high-beat calibre 9S85 near the top of the mechanical watchmaking world for movement accuracy. For a shade over five big ones, that makes this watch one of the finest three-handed pieces on the market right now.
Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38mm
Under the stewardship of recently appointed CEO Georges Kern, Breitling has undergone a monumental facelift over the last nine months: a new vintage-inspired logo, the phasing out of hundreds of watch references, brand-new store designs, and a more diverse offering than its iconic pilots watches, tell the story of a brand rethinking its position in the horological pecking order. If fans of the brand awaited this year’s Baselworld with more trepidation than usual, they were duly put at ease by Kern’s impressive first collection. Our highlight is a new-look Navitimer with mass appeal. For a start, this is the first time we’ve seen a Navitimer in 38mm – a huge reduction on the standard-sized 46mm case – as well as having the most accessible price tag ever in the collection. Add to the mix retro detailings like the beaded and ratcheted bezel and replacing the usual B01 chronograph movement for the automatic B20 automatic movement (made in conjunction with Tudor), and you have an old-school sports watch perfect for the modern-day wearer.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
There are so many reasons to love Tudor’s slim new dive watch it’s difficult to know where to start. Certainly, the 39mm x 11.9mm case will appeal to a wearer looking for something a little less robust than the rest of the Black Bay collection but, beyond its perfect proportions, this is simply the vintage-inspired Tudor we never knew we needed. The gilt finishing on the dial, the copper numerals on the wide bezel, the lack of date indicator – it all adds up into one of the best put-together purist watches we’ve seen in a long while. There’s more to be impressed with on the inside, too. Tudor has created the new MT5402 calibre in-house movement to fit inside the smaller, slimmer case, while little touches of clever watchmaking like a non-magnetic silicon balance spring also help produce a chronometer-certified 70-hour power reserve and a water resistance of up to 200m. Staggeringly, you’ll get spare change out of £2,500. The Tudor reference 7924 dive watch, upon which the Fifty-Eight is based, was a favourite of naval forces the world over. But this watch? This is the sleeper hit of 2018 that nobody saw coming.
Nomos Glashütte Autobahn
German brand Nomos Glashütte has diverged from its usual mastery of minimalist watches to create the Autobahn – a driving-inspired timepiece created in collaboration with renowned progressive design studio Studio Aisslinger. The subtle hallmarks of classic car design are easy enough to make out in the bold speedometer-like arch of lume and the date window that shows three days at a time like an odometer on an analog dashboard. It’s a polarising design – some will point to this being just a little too cluttered in comparison to Nomos’ stripped-back timepieces – but fine details like the concave dial and further sunken sub-seconds dial give this sporty 41mm watch a pleasing amount of depth that many will love. The timepiece also comes with an update to the Neomatik movement, the DUW 6101, which includes a helpful quick-set date function that allows the day to be set by turning the crown in either direction. This watch is the antithesis of the numerous OTT driving-inspired designs available today – and, for that reason alone, we think Nomos is onto a winner.
Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre 16 Chronograph
Tag Heuer has a healthy knack of producing a number of wearable motorsports watches every year, and 2018 is no different. It’s using the 55th anniversary of the Carrera as an opportunity to give the iconic timepiece an update – the result being a handsome 41mm two-tone chronograph with ceramic bezel, aged luminous treatment on the hands and baton markers, and some distinctive red accents across the dial. Package it all up and you’re looking at a bold timepiece that plays with the 1970s heritage of the Carrera while still feeling like a contemporary piece. Under the hood is the highly durable Calibre 16 movement, also known as the ETA 7750, which comes with a 42-hour power reserve. Famous wearers of the Carrera in days gone by include legendary racing drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Jody Scheckter. While we can’t make any guarantees that you’ll carry off the look with quite the same panache, this is a watch with a broad appeal.