Fratello Favorites: The Best Watches Under €5,000 — Thor’s Picks From Formex, Behrens, And Girard-Perregaux
I approach these stories with trepidation, especially when the budget nears €5,000. I still have a lot of nice watches well under the mark and plenty that I desire. So, unlike Balazs, who tried to squeeze all as close to the top line as possible, I’ll try to offer a slightly wider range of prices, emphasizing quality. As with many things, that might not pan out. But for now, these are my favorite picks for the best watches under €5,000.
In terms of subjectivity, this is a freer story, and it will reflect my moving away from vintage inspiration and reissues. After owning a lot of 1950s/’60s-inspired divers, I seem to have reached my fill of retro, and now I’m gravitating towards more modern designs. I get Lex’s point of wanting a well-known brand if it’s you’re buying your first luxury watch, but I can’t shake my love of the indies, so you’ll see this reflected in my story.
The best watches under €5,000: Formex Reef
Formex is an under-the-radar Swiss brand, and the Reef is its broad-shouldered, modern dive watch. Its 40mm bezel counters a muscular 42mm case. The flanks are broad, totaling about 48mm with Nauti-like details, but a 47mm lug-to-lug gives it comfort. Without treading on any toes, I’d say the vibe is similar to the Laventure brand but packed with value at right around €2K.
This latest bronze-dial model is a pretty tool-tastic, 300m-rated, and radiantly juxtaposed offering. Radiant Bronze is its name, and luster is its game (sorry). A perfectly color-matched date display sits discretely at 6 o’clock, and the Sellita SW300-1 movement inside is a COSC-certified chronometer. This Reef has a brawny case with a cool, stud-waffled rubber strap or a solid, micro-adjustable bracelet, but the dial’s the star. Framed by a sharp ceramic bezel with the requisite 60-minute timing scale sits a vertically brushed dial in solid bronze. It has been lacquered to stop patination, presenting a warm contrast to the steel and black design. At €1,950 on a strap or €2,080 on a bracelet from Formex, this is good value for a chronometer-spec diver with a slim 11.4mm thickness.
Coming closer to the budget cap is the value-packed Rotary from Behrens, a brand I’m glad to have discovered. If you’re an older petrolhead, you will get the inspirational reference to a rotary or Wankel engine. You can check the legendary Mazda RX7 and Wikipedia to find out why it’s a brilliantly complex piece of engineering. And so is this 42mm Behrens. For US$4,955 (just under €4,700 right now), you get a complex build based on an ETA 2824-2 ébauche that is rendered insignificant by the Behrens creative laboratory. What looks like a double-retrograde display with the hours on the left and the minutes on the right side is not. The Rotary shows the time via two rotating and laterally moving triple-tipped steel rotors (like the engine).
A deep black open-worked dial with generous lume is set within the recognizable and comfortable 42mm × 50mm Behrens case. And not only due to its size but also its complex aesthetic, the Rotary makes a big impact, trust me. You can get yours directly from Behrens here.
Girard-Perregaux Casquette 2.0
With a €5,000 retail price, the Casquette 2.0 is the least expensive watch from Girard-Perregaux in a ridiculously cool case. What’s the catch? Well, it seems to have sold out. But we’ll pretend otherwise as you’ll find them for €5K unused on Chrono24. And it looks like Darth Vader’s dress watch, nothing like French headwear. That’s the charm, even if it is, at this price, your best watch. Why follow the herd and strap on another retro skin diver? This is retro but in an entirely different way. With its dark, futurist glow of red numbers at the push of a button, it’s also a cool driver’s watch, especially if your vehicle is a wedge-tastic ’70s sports car like the Lamborghini Jarama.
LEDs light up within the slim opening, displaying the time, a full calendar, a chronograph, an additional time zone, and a special date of your choosing. Plus, it has future-proof ceramic and titanium construction, weighing 107g in total, even with a rubber lining for the bracelet. The 42.4mm × 33.6mm Casquette 2.0 comes in at around 12mm thick, making it not only light but also reasonably sized. In this day and age of connected, throw-away wristwear, this is a far cooler option with real staying power.
The best watches under €5,000: Pre-owned Zenith Defy Classic
Zenith dropped the Defy Skyline last year, and I love its star-dimpled dial. Yes, that includes the much-debated register at 9 o’clock with its fast-moving seconds pointer. But what about the similar Defy Classic in its 41mm guise from a few years back? It keeps to my modernist theme in this sub-€5,000 story and represents good value secondhand. On Chrono 24, you can find the previous skeleton-dial version starting from ~€4,800. Admittedly, Zenith did a grade-A job on the redesign last year. But a new Defy Skyline is €10,900, so this feels like a big save.
With a rubber-backed alligator strap, the angular 41mm cushion case is comfortable, but you’ll be over the budget for the bracelet. Around the back, you’ll see the Elite 670SK caliber. Through the skeletonized bridges, you’ll spot the tech-forward design with its silicon escape wheel and lever. Not too shabby at under €5,000, I’d say.
But what do you think, Fratelli? Would all of these be too modern if you were making your first big watch purchase? You might still be in full retro mode, so share your thoughts in the comments.