Fratello Favorites: The Best Watches Under €3,000 – Jorg’s Picks From Christopher Ward, Aquastar, And Straum
A budget of €3K seems like enough to pick some amazing timepieces. What I found, though, was that it was a pretty hard task. It’s not that there weren’t enough options, but what were the ones that ticked all the personal boxes? As it turned out, there weren’t all that many that truly made my heart sing. Nevertheless, I did find a trio of watches that I would love to wear every day. Even better, I found five if you include my pre-owned pick and a “secret” new option that only qualifies in certain parts of the world. It’s not as exciting as it might sound, but it is quite a wonderful way to round out my list of the best watches under €3,000.
With many of the Fratello writers having already revealed their picks, it has become increasingly hard to come up with some original timepieces or brands that people haven’t mentioned. But after a quick scan, I picked some watches under €3,000 that perfectly sum up my preferences. I would gladly add any of these watches to my collection and wear them a lot. If you haven’t read the previous installments in this series, you can read all about the watches that Lex, Daan, Thomas, RJ, Gerard, Nacho, Thor, and Balazs picked by clicking the links. Enough talk; let’s jump into it.
The best watches under €3,000 — Christopher Ward C65 Dune GMT Limited Edition
My first pick was a no-brainer. And sure, I am aware that the watch sold out quickly. But as I said in my review of the Christopher Ward C65 Dune GMT, there will be a new version of the same watch with a different dial color, and I will make sure to be ready to click and order that one. If that doesn’t work, I might have to find the black-dial version on one of the online sales platforms – as you probably guessed, I am already keeping an eye out for it. So, what makes this watch such a great pick for me? If you want the full lowdown, I suggest you read the full review I wrote not too long ago.
In short, the C65 Dune GMT was a matter of love at first sight. I am still frustrated by the fact that I missed the introduction and, therefore, the opportunity to buy one of the 200 pieces produced. The C65 Dune GMT has everything I want from a modern GMT. And funnily enough, that means no bi-directional bezel with a 24-hour scale. The watch comes with a perfectly sized 38mm stainless steel case that is 11.9mm thick and 43.7mm from lug to lug. As it turns out, the watch is the perfect size for my wrist on the stainless steel bracelet. And with these proportions, it will be perfect for a wide variety of wrist sizes.
The overall level of quality is impressive
The design of the black dial is in line with the C65 Dune Automatic model that I also reviewed. But for the GMT version, Christopher Ward decided to spice things up by integrating the 24-hour GMT scale on the rehaut of the dial. The two-colored scale divides day and night and adds exactly the right amount of visual attraction for me. Add the hints of red with the tip of the GMT hand and the GMT text on the dial, and you will get a lively but perfectly functional dial that is super easy to read.
Inside the case, Christopher Ward equipped the watch with the Sellita SW330-2. It’s not a traveler’s GMT, which would have been even better. But you will not hear me complain when a watch looks this good and has a price tag of €1,610. The overall quality impressed me the most about the C65 Dune GMT. The case, the Oyster-style bracelet with its oversized clasp, and the dial look and feel a lot more expensive than its actual price. And that makes it the perfect first pick for a list for which I could have picked watches almost double the price.
Aquastar Deepstar II
I have a huge soft spot for Aquastar. Ever since I first tried on the first Deepstar back in 2020, I was sold on the Deepstar’s skin-diver case, no-decompression dive bezel, and quirky dial style. The first two 41mm and 39mm Deepstar chronographs might have turned me on to the relaunched Aquastar brand, but it’s the time-only Deepstar II that stole my heart. The 41mm chronograph did fit my wrist but might have just been a bit too much size-wise. The 39mm version corrected that and turned out to be a winner. But if anything, the two recent Fratello Deepstar II limited editions perfectly tell the visual story of why I love that model.
The watch comes with a smaller 36.75mm case measuring 12mm thick and a substantial 46mm from lug to lug. Especially on the super comfortable beads-of-rice bracelet, the Deepstar II also looks great on bigger wrists. The combination of the circular-brushed case with the polished bidirectional no-decompression bezel looks really good. Aquastar altered the dial design in comparison to the chronograph by taking the big-eye sub-dial at 3 o’clock and moving it to 9 o’clock. It is accompanied by oversized markers at 3, 6, and 12 o’clock and smaller dot markers placed further to the inside of the dial for the remaining hours. It is quirky, but in my book, it looks awesome.
The Deepstar is well within the set budget
Every time I see a Deepstar II, I am reminded of how much I love the design and how well it works with the different dial colors. I am a big fan of the two Fratello limited-edition versions in ice blue and pink salmon that sold out quickly. But the regular versions in darker blue, black, and silver also sport the same fantastic looks. Inside the case, Aquastar uses the Swiss automatic Sellita SW290 movement with a power reserve of 41 hours. It is a reliable movement for the Deepstar II that is easy to service. At US$2,090 (roughly €1,945) excluding taxes, my second pick also stays well within the set €3K budget. But it also beats a lot of more expensive watches easily in terms of character and presence.
Straum Jan Mayen
Only a couple of weeks ago, we included the Straum Jan Mayen in our Top 5 list of the best affordable integrated-bracelet watches. Back then, I also explained that the Jan Mayen is high on my list of wants. While the Fratello limited edition might not have been my favorite in terms of dial colors, it doesn’t take anything away from the amazing watch that the guys from Straum have created. They have taken massive steps from the previous Opphav to the new Jan Mayen. As I explained in the Top 5 article, they also solved the issues of the small markers and gave Jan Mayen a fantastic bracelet as well. The result is a watch that is a definite best in class at €1,600 excluding taxes.
The Straum Jan Mayen’s case is 39mm in diameter, 11.9mm in thickness, and 45.82mm from lug to lug. One of the beautiful things about the integrated bracelet is that it tapers from 24.82mm to a nice 18mm at the clasp. As Fratello’s own Dave will tell you, the guys at Straum put a lot of effort into creating an awesome bracelet, and they succeeded magnificently. This is the best bracelet at this price point, hands down. The watch is powered by the La Joux-Perret G101, which features a 68-hour power reserve, making it a perfect choice for this timepiece. I still have to decide whether to get the white or the green dial, but seeing the Straum Jan Mayen again in the pictures makes me realize how much I love this watch.
Longines HydroConquest GMT
My final new pick — or rather an honorable mention — is the Longines HydroConquest GMT. Our European readers will frown because they are probably aware that the list price of the watch is €3,150, putting it above the set €3K budget. But in writing the Top 5 Recent Longines Releases article that we published last Friday, I noticed that the price in the United States is “only” $2,775. Additionally, in the United Kingdom, it is £2,550, also keeping it within the budget (before taxes). And at that price, it makes it an instant pick for me. The 41mm GMT diver takes the basics of the HydroConquest line and improves them massively. Gone are the large numerals on the dial, and the vintage-inspired looks for my favorite green and brown dial models come in.
With its black ceramic bezel insert and gold-colored details, the green-dial version is my favorite. I thought the 39mm Spirit Zulu Time was my favorite GMT at this price point, but the HydroConquest is the more exciting overall pick in my book. Besides the looks, the watch is a perfect fit for my wrist with its 41mm stainless steel case, which is 12.9mm thick and has a 300m water resistance rating. The H-link bracelet with a double-safety folding clasp and micro-adjustments looks great and is executed very nicely. Add the self-winding ETA-based Longines caliber L844.5 with a 72-hour power reserve, and this HydroConquest is the full package. It might be slightly above the €3K cap in the EU but well under in the United States and United Kingdom, and that is why it deserves a mention.
Pre-owned pick: Tudor Heritage Black Bay ref. 79220
For my pre-owned option, I went for the first version of the Tudor Black Bay. The Black Bay was powered by the ETA 2824-2 until Tudor’s thicker MT5602 movement debuted in 2016. The original Black Bay featured a 41mm case, just like the current model, but at 12.7mm thick, it was 2mm slimmer. On top of that, the dial of the original Black Bay has several different features. The first is the Tudor rose at 12 o’clock, and the second is the curved, vintage-inspired “self-winding” text at 6 o’clock, giving the watch its “Smiley Face” nickname.
Another detail that I love about the first Black Bay is the use of a bracelet without the faux rivets that the current bracelet has. It just makes this Heritage Black Bay ref. 79220 a watch to have and enjoy. In terms of different versions, you have the choice of the 79220R with its burgundy bezel and the 79220B with its blue bezel. You will be able to find these well under €3,000. The rare 79220N with its black bezel was only produced for five months, making it much more sought after and expensive (above the set budget of €3,000). But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that prices will go up for the first Black Bay models, and they will eventually become much-wanted collector pieces. But most of all, they are simply great watches.
Final thoughts on my picks for the best watches under €3,000
There you have it — my list of five watches under €3,000. Okay, the Longines is only part of the list depending on your geographical location, but that didn’t keep me from including it. As with any list, selecting the watches is where the fun is, but it also takes time. As I was the last in line, I tried to avoid the brands and models the other writers already picked. I can honestly say without hesitation that I would love to add all of these watches to my collection. They would most certainly bring me a lot of joy. But what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section which of these are your favorites. We’ll be back with a new series of the best watches under €5,000 soon, so stay tuned for that.