Mechanical watches (which include both the hand-winding and automatic variety) have seen a huge uptick in popularity in the last several years, and this considering that battery-powered quartz movements are more cheap and ubiquitous than ever, and smartwatches are seen on more and more wrists as time goes by.
While producing a mechanical wristwatch can be an expensive proposition, the proliferation of relatively inexpensive but high-quality Japanese movements has meant that smaller boutique brands finally have a way to craft affordable hand-winding and automatic timepieces, while the larger brands can make this technology affordable with large-scale production. Whether you’re looking to gift someone a diver or a dress watch, there’s an affordable mechanical watch out there for everybody.
Seiko 5 SNK805
The Seiko 5 has long been a staple in the Japanese brand’s line, offering inexpensive mechanical goodness to the masses. The SNK805 features a military-inspired dial with day/date function, an automatic movement and 30m of water resistance. With its 37mm stainless steel case and matching nylon strap, the Seiko 5 is the perfect mechanical watch for the field.
Swatch Sistem 51 Cream
Famous for being the world’s first mechanical watch made completely via automated assembly, the Sistem 51 offers an automatic movement with date visible through a transparent case back. While there are numerous dial and strap options available, this black variant with cream-colored strap and case are neutral enough to pair with most casualwear.
Timex Marlin Mesh
A more casual take on the Timex Marlin, this collab with Todd Snyder pairs a svelte 34mm mechanical watch with a versatile mesh steel bracelet. An attractive silver dial, thin handset, acrylic crystal and handwound movement give the Marlin vintage vibes, while a 34mm stainless steel case lends the watch to both male and female wearers.
Dan Henry 1970
Dan’s Henry’s 1970, available in both 40mm and 44mm sizes and two dial colors, is a tribute to the compressor-cased dive watches of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Featuring an automatic movement and inner rotating bezel as well as a vintage Tropic-style dive strap, the 1970 is a modern homage to a classic case style from the height of scuba diving’s popularity.
Orient Sun & Moon V.3
Finding an affordable complicated watch based upon a mechanical movement is significantly easier said than done, but the Sun & Moon V.3 from Orient manages to integrate a day, date and day/night indicator into a 42.5mm case along with the time. Available in several dial colors, it’s an entry into complicated watchmaking that won’t break the bank.
Seiko Presage Mechanical SARY055
While the Seiko 5 offers great value in a mechanical field watch, the brand’s Presage line does the same for dress watches. The SARY055 features an automatic day/date movement against a cream dial with stainless steel Oyster-style bracelet, while a set of blue-steeled hands completes the elegant look. Perfect for the office or after hours.
MVMT Arc Automatic
MVMT may have made a name for itself as a maker of fashion watches, but their most recent offering is a handsome 41mm mechanical timepiece available in several dial colors that utilizes an automatic date movement. A simple design that ships on a leather strap, the Arc is a lot of watch for $300, and the perfect entry into the world of mechanical timepieces.
Bulova American Clipper
Boluva’s elegant American Clipper is a simple design that’s perfectly suited to dress watch duty. With its black dial, day/date function, automatic movement and black leather strap, this is an affordable mechanical piece that’ll go well with any look.
Brew Watches Retrograph
The Retrograph actually uses a mecha-quartz movement, a sort of hybrid mechancal-quartz movement, which means that it’s not technically a mechanical watch. Looking at its sweep second hand, however, you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of this, and the vintage styling cues and espresso timer functionality mean that this is one cool throwback design.
This limited-edition timepiece from Italian watchmaker Unimatic packs an enormous amount of field watch punch into 38.5mm watch. Features include the automatic Seiko NH35A movement, oversized screw-down crown, Super LumiNova C1 lume, 2.7mm-thick ultra double-domed sapphire crystal and two straps, including a 2-piece grey nylon model and a black rubber version.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
A reimagining of Hamilton’s military watches crafted for the U.S. Army, the Khaki Field Mechanical is a modern field watch built with clasic mil-spec design cues. A hand-winding movement from ETA and a 24-hour dial help to retain the vintage design influence, while a 38mm case brings the watch firmly into the 21st century.
Nodus Contrail 39 Black Sand
The Contrail 39 is a handsome everyday watch with 200m of water resistance, meaning you can wear it just about anywhere without having to baby it. Available in four different dial colors, the 39mm-cased Contrail features the Miyota 9015 automatic movement regulated to four positions for added accuracy as well as a steel H-link bracelet with micro-adjustment clasp.
Junghans Max Bill Hand-Winding
Max Bill was an iconic designer whose Bauhaus-influenced designs live on in the Junghans watches that bear his name. The hand-winding variant features a glossy dial with Arabic numerals, ETA 2801 hand-winding movement, 34mm stainless steel case and a black leather strap. Whether paired with eveningwear or jeans and a t-shirt, this is a watch that never looks out of place.
Autodromo Group B Version 2
Truly original designs in modern watchmaking seem few and far between, but Autodromo’s Group B certainly fits the bill. The Version 2 upgrades the original look with a funky integrated bracelet, which can be removed and replaced with a pull-through strap. One of the coolest automotive-inspired watches out there.
Available in several dial colors with different strap options (inclyding a steel bracelet), the Jetomatic is a beautiful homage to a vintage Zodiac pilot’s watch from the 1960s. An automatic movement with date, sword hands, gorgeous multi-colored dial and oversize winding crown make for a timepiece that looks great with casualwear.