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12/15/2023
 6 minutes

Affordable Watches That Won’t Break the Bank

By Sebastian Swart
ONP-740-Badge-2-1

The luxury watch market has been rather turbulent in recent years. Prices for certain models – especially those from Rolex and Patek Philippe – have completely decoupled from official list prices. The most dizzying heights were reached between 2019 and 2022, in particular. When prices for numerous references fell back to earth, market euphoria quickly became disillusionment. Despite significant corrections, price tags for some popular luxury wristwatches are still very, very high. For many watch fans, they are simply out of reach; that, or logic kicks in and prohibits enthusiasts from spending so much on a single item.

The following examples show that major luxury watch brands still have models that you can buy on Chrono24 for excellent value for money, and often below their list prices. We’re showing you some classics from the past 20 years and how they’ve performed.

Seamaster 300 – Omega’s Elegant Diver

The 41-mm Omega Seamaster 300 ref. 234.30.41.21.01.001 is a direct competitor to the Rolex Submariner ref. 124060. The current version of the Seamaster 300 has been on the market in more or less the same form since 2014. Omega introduced the original model back in 1957, four years after Rolex unveiled their Sub. Perhaps it’s this time lag that has kept the Seamaster 300 in the shadows of the Submariner for so long. From a purely technical point of view, the Seamaster 300 is in no way inferior to the Submariner ref. 124060 – quite the opposite, in fact. The Omega Master Chronometer caliber 8912 is even superior to the Rolex 3230 thanks to its co-axial technology.

Legendäre Taucheruhr zum fairen Preis – Omega Seamaster 300
Legendary diving watch at a fair price: the Omega Seamaster 300

When it comes to updating the Seamaster 300, Omega proceeds with as much caution as their Genevan competitor. The basic design has barely changed for six decades now. The fact that the Omega Seamaster 300 plays second fiddle to the Rolex Sub does have one distinct advantage: The price remains more moderate.

While you have to pay over $12,000 for a new Submariner ref. 124060 on Chrono24, you can easily find a Seamaster 300 for less than $6,000. This is several thousand less than Omega’s official list price, while the Rolex costs several thousand more than its MSRP.

 

Heuer Autavia – The Sporty Racing Chronograph

Swiss watch manufacturer Heuer presented the first reference (2446) of the attractive Autavia racing chronograph in 1963. The brand produced several different versions of the sports watch up until the 1980s, at which point the model was discontinued. The line was brought back to life in 2003 with fresh Autavias from TAG Heuer. The first to return was the Autavia CY2111, a homage to the “Jo Siffert” model from the 1970s, with its crown on the left side. After a substantial break, TAG Heuer followed it up in 2017 with the CBE2110. This time, the manufacturer borrowed the tricompax design from the historic Autavia “Jochen Rindt.”

TAG Heuers beliebter Rennsportchronograph Autavia CBE511A.FC8279.
TAG Heuer’s beloved sports chronograph: the Autavia CBE511A.FC8279

One of the current references is the Autavia CBE511A.FC8279. Visually and technically speaking, the model doesn’t have much in common with early hand-wound variants nor the automatic timepieces dated from 2003 onward. This is due in large part to the inclusion of Arabic numerals on the dial. The 42-mm stainless steel case houses the Heuer Caliber 02, which has a tricompax layout. The automatic flyback movement is COSC-certified and offers an 80-hour power reserve.

If you want to buy this model in a retail location, it will usually set you back $6,750, TAG Heuer’s suggested retail price. However, on Chrono24, the same watch costs an average of just $5,900 in new condition. This corresponds to a savings of more than 12%.

 

Breitling Navitimer – Striking and Highly-Functional

Another legendary chronograph is the Breitling Navitimer. This model, which was first introduced with pilots in mind in 1952, has numerous functions that may even overwhelm the average watch wearer. With the assistance of its slide rule bezel and some mathematical know-how, this watch enables the wearer to calculate speed, rates of ascent and descent, and fuel consumption. This is in addition to the chronograph functionality, of course.

The Navitimer line in Breitling’s current catalog consists of an impressive 266 variants (as of November 2023), if you include the three-hand watches. Many of the new timepieces share very little with the original from 1952, but almost all are still immediately recognizable as a Navitimer.

One of the current standard models is the Navitimer 01 ref. A13324121B1X1. This 41-mm watch has a black dial with subdials at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock. A Breitling 13 caliber based on an ETA or a Sellita movement ticks away inside the watch. The COSC-certified movement offers a power reserve of 48 hours.

Idealer Einstieg in die Welt der Navitimer – die Referenz A13324121B1X1.
Ideal introduction to the world of the Navitimer – the ref. A13324121B1X1

The market price for this version of the cult chronograph is significantly lower than the list price of $6,550. Expect to see prices closer to $5,100 on the secondary market, meaning you could get savings of 22% by shopping on Chrono24.

 

Elegance Personified – Glashütte Original PanoMaticCalendar

The following example is more on the elegant side of things. The PanoMatic series has been part of Glashütte Original’s range for over 20 years. While the watches are immediately recognizable as part of the series, the manufacturer has experimented with different technical functions over time. One of the current variants is the Glashütte Original PanoMaticCalendar ref. 1-92-09-02-05-62. The model has a 42-mm red gold case that manages to perfectly strike the difficult balance between luxury and understated elegance.

Preiswert im besten Sinne – Glashütte Original PanoMaticCalendar
A bargain in the best sense of the word: the Glashütte Original PanoMaticCalendar

This is made possible not least by the lavishly decorated in-house caliber 92-09, which equips the watch’s large silver dial with a decentralized display. The hours and minutes are placed on the left between 8 and 11 o’clock, while the small seconds can be found at 7 o’clock. There is also a moon phase, panorama date, and retrograde month display. The latter extends from 3 to 6 o’clock, and the power reserve is a generous 100 hours.

This masterpiece of a watch comes on a brown nubuck leather strap, which features either a pin buckle or folding clasp. The MSRP for the latter from Glashütte Original is 33,800 euros (approx. $36,400). You can find the same watch on Chrono24 for an average price of $25,900, some 26% under list.

 

Explorer II 16570 – The Affordable GMT From Rolex

The Rolex Explorer II 16570 doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the watches on this list because it hasn’t been manufactured since 2011. However, since it is near impossible to buy a current model from the Genevan manufacturer anywhere near the list price – much less below it – we found a former model that still offers reasonable value for money (even if it has become noticeably more expensive over the past 20 years).

Noch eine preiswerte Rolex mit GMT-Funktion – Explorer II Ref. 16570
An affordable Rolex with a GMT: the Explorer II ref. 16570

Many fans consider the Rolex Explorer II an ideal alternative to the GMT-Master because it can also display a second time zone. The main differences between the watches are the overall concepts and intended target groups. While the GMT-Master has always been marketed for pilots and globetrotters, the Explorer II was originally designed for spelunkers. Rolex first introduced the Explorer II ref. 16570 in 1985. In the years to follow, its design has remained almost unchanged (although it has grown slightly larger), and its successors can be found in the two current watches with the ref. 226570.

The ref. 16570 was produced over a period of 22 years between 1989 and 2011. With a size of 40 mm, the model is suitable for almost any wrist size. Versions from the last production phase from 2006 onward feature the Rolex caliber 3186. This in-house movement features a Parachrom hairspring, Paraflex shock protection, and a power reserve of 50 hours.

If we look at the price performance over the past 14 years, it’s easy to see that prices for the Explorer II ref. 16570 reflect the trend mentioned earlier. Prices hit their peak in mid-2022, when the black dial version was going for $15,400. As of November 2023, however, you could call one your own for “just” $11,400. So, while the ref. 16570 is anything but cheap, it does offer a reasonably priced entry point into the world of Rolex timepieces with a GMT function. For comparison, a new GMT-Master II ref. 116710LN sells for an average of $16,300 as of the end of 2023.

 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, it’s still possible to get popular models from renowned luxury watch brands for less than the recommended retail price. The data from our Watch Collection shows how market prices are sensitive to supply and demand. As you’d expect, readily available models can be found for relatively good pricing conditions. However, the same can’t be said for particularly popular and/or rare models from certain brands. So, if you can be pragmatic, and don’t feel you have to reach for the stars (or crowns), you can save a whole lot of money.


About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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