Fratello Favorites: The Best Watches Under €5,000 — Mike’s Picks From Seiko, Nomos, And Breitling
It seems that they’ll let anyone in here, even a vintage curmudgeon like me! That’s right, it’s my turn to pick four watches under €5,000. It’s a challenge because many of my teammates have already chosen and I’m only allowed to pick one pre-owned piece. Tough work indeed, but I’m ready to bring you options from Seiko, Nomos, Breitling, and even Breguet!
It’s pretty wild how prices have changed in the watch world. It doesn’t feel like that long ago when less than €3,000 scored a new Speedmaster Professional. These days, watches like the Speedy, the Seamaster 300M, and every Rolex are now above €5,000. So while it’s easy to find watches under today’s threshold, the value leaders of the past have all moved onward and, crucially, upward. Brands like Tudor and Longines seem to dominate the space now, which is great. I’ve decided to hunt for some different watches, though. You’ll see that two of my picks get little to no coverage these days, while another is new, and the final one won’t last long at this price level. Of course, used options exist for all of the new pieces with even greater savings, but I’ll stick to the spirit of the challenge.
The best watches under €5,000 — Seiko Prospex SLA021
If we travel back ten years or so, the watch-collecting world was absolutely enthralled with what was then the Seiko Marinemaster 300. The watch, aside from its 300m depth rating, offered serious technical and cosmetic chops for the price. At that time, the watch was officially called the Marinemaster and carried reference numbers such as the SBDX001 and SBDX017. In 2018, the SBDX017 gave way to the new SLA series of Prospex divers. They were very similar but added a super hard DiaShield coating to the stainless case and bracelet along with a ceramic bezel insert. I own the first model under this series, the SLA019. The SLA021 (along with a blue SLA023) is the current rendition of the old Marinemaster, and while there are rumors of its demise, it still exists on the Seiko website.
Looks-wise, the watch comes off as a modern relative of the famed ’60s Seiko 6159 Hi-Beat diver. It’s very Seiko, but the specs are what really make it count. The SLA021 features a front-loading case and uses the brand’s 8L35 automatic movement. We often moan about the accuracy of Seiko movements, but this hand-assembled relative of a Grand Seiko caliber has a very different and accurate reputation. Leaning on the Grand Seiko vibe is a Zaratsu-polished case and production at the Morioka studio. While the size is daunting at 44.3mm × 50.5mm × 15.4mm, it wears surprisingly well. The bracelet is outdated and not great, so a strap is a good option. But all of this comes at a cost of €3,200, so it works perfectly for our “under €5,000” theme. Seiko offers a lot of watches these days, but the Marinemaster — or whatever we choose to call it — will likely go down as the best modern-era Seiko diver.
Nomos Metro 38 Datum
Now, here’s a surprising choice, and it’s one from the “Wayback Machine.” Like the Seiko, the Nomos Metro 38 Datum has been around for more than eight years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a cool watch. I reviewed it in 2015, and it’s one of these pieces that has truly stuck with me. I’ve gone through a lot of watches since then, yet I still recall the high-grade finishing on the Nomos case and its manual-wind movement. Nomos makes some great products, but there are several things about the Metro collection that have always made it rise above the rest of the brand’s offerings.
The Metro has a case that wears particularly well. It’s 38.5mm wide and just 7.8mm thick. Also, many Nomos watches have very long lugs. The Metro does not and comes in at a very reasonable 45.3mm from tip to tip. The manual DUW 4101 is a gem and has the brand’s in-house escapement. Yes, the styling is decidedly Bauhaus-esque, but at least it adds curves and roundness versus the overly clinical looks of so many watches from Germany. Of course, it also comes in as a great contestant for watches under €5,000. It retails for a very reasonable €3,460.
Breitling Navitimer Automatic 36
I’m sure my next pick for the best watches under €5,000 will attract some heat, but I’m fine with that. It’s no secret that I admire what Breitling has done over the past five or so years, and the brand continues to bring really attractive choices to market. A good example of this is a watch that was introduced last month known as the Navitimer Automatic 36. This isn’t the normal chronograph version of the Navitimer, but it does bring in several of its traits. The internal slide-rule bezel with bidirectional beaded bezel is here as well as a dial with curved edges.
Breitling categorizes this watch as a women’s model, but I think that’s downright silly for a 36mm watch that wears like a vintage Chronomat. Yes, some of the color options are less traditionally masculine, but who cares? I’ve tried on other Breitling offerings in this case size, and they wear beautifully. The controversy, as always, is the fact that these watches use Sellita automatic movements. Even though they are chronometer-certified, many feel that the watches are expensive. My argument is that Breitling isn’t going to sell below a certain price. Plus, I like the fact that the brand offers a thin 11.4mm watch without a date. At €4,900 on an alligator strap, I’d take the dark gray model.
The best watches under €5,000: Pre-owned Breguet Type XX Aéronavale 3800ST
Now it’s time for the pre-owned pick, and I think this one is a fun option for this sub-€5K budget. I’ve gone with the Breguet Type XX Aéronavale 3800ST. Breguet came out with this watch all the way back in 1995 and made it until 2018! The model is based on the historic French military Type 20 models, but it makes some nods to luxury for civilian use. The crystal is sapphire, and the case profile has the signature Breguet coin edge. Otherwise, it looks like a typical pilot’s watch. A black dial, loads of lumed numerals, and a unidirectional bezel make this 39.5mm chronograph far more tool-like than a normal Breguet.
The Type XX used the Breguet automatic caliber 582, which is essentially a Lemania 1530. It’s a cam-operated chronograph, which causes a bit of consternation among collectors. That said, it’s a robust movement. We know that, in general, Breguet has been overlooked by most until just recently. The Type XX is still a relative bargain with models available all day long for under €5,000. I’ve even found some with tritium dials that have begun to age nicely. A Breguet for under €5K? All day, s’il vous plaît!
Final thoughts on the best watches under €5,000
This was a tough assignment for several reasons. First, I am so used to trawling the used market that I would have a hard time not doing that if I were spending €5,000 on a watch. Second, it also reminded me firsthand how the market has moved over the past several years. Watches like the Explorer 14270 above were available all day long for well under our threshold not that long ago. Still, I hope you enjoyed my somewhat eclectic picks. Heck, some of them even come in well under the target. As always, feel free to share your thoughts!