Now that 2024 is here, it’s time to look forward and predict the unpredictable. I say that because, really, who knows what will happen in the next 12 months? Somehow, though, it’s still fun to think about what will come and what we desire for the year. When it comes to our favorite subject, I’ve been heavily into simple watches for over a year now, and my interest in them shows no signs of abating. In 2024, you will likely find me even further down the rabbit hole!

“Simple watches” — yet another nebulous term in our hobby. For me, the definition roughly describes mechanical, typically smaller watches with little to no complication and a modicum of water resistance. It also fits what was very much an everyday watch up until the 1980s. So, once again, vintage will rank highly on my list along with some pieces into the ’90s before watches decided to go on a steroid diet.

Rolex Datejust 1601 Lavender 12

2023 in review

Overall, I was on pace to have a rather quiet 2023, as I predicted in last year’s resolution article. Early on, I picked up a couple of vintage Rolex models in the form of a Precision 6426 and a lovely lavender Datejust 1601. These relatively simple watches saw a lot of wrist time during the year and will continue to get the call in 2024. Along the way, I also made good on a promise to bolster my collection of vintage King and Grand Seiko models.

The crowning acquisition in this hunt was a 1967 Grand Seiko 44GS in lovely condition. It’s an amazing watch that is still tremendously underappreciated by general watch-collecting circles. Everything was rolling along smoothly after this until I completely went off the rails and took a major plunge on a vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava 570. To me, this represents the apex predator of simple watches. It has set my plans for 2024 in many ways.

simple watches Eterna 852

2024 and simple watches

If there’s one thing a Patek will do aside from providing copious amounts of wearing pleasure, it’s cleaning out a bank account. Simple watches may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean that they’re always inexpensive. So, to use a British term, the watch has left me “skint” and looking for vintage value. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by folks who are “helping” me in the pursuit. My podcast co-host Balazs is a huge fan of basic ’40s and ’50s watches, and his passion for them has affected me. As fate would have it, my friends in London tend to focus on these pieces too.

My relatively newfound focus on simple watches led to three very late 2023 acquisitions. The good thing is that all were at or under £1,000 per watch and are providing tons of value. The names are also rather impressive and include IWC, Universal Genève, and Eterna. Oh, and the watches are in really nice condition. I’ll be continuing down this path. So, what will I be looking for in 2024?

simple watches Alpina Rensie

A host of great brands

When I picked up the trio of watches in late 2023, I experienced an awakening of sorts. Suddenly, a whole host of brands that I’d long ignored were front and center. Seventy-five years ago, a plethora of companies produced pieces that fit within my definition of simple watches. The good thing is that many are affordable. Of course, finding specimens in good, non-refinished condition is a challenge, but hunting is part of the game. Names including Tissot, Movado, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Angelus, and more have a lot to offer, and there are some rather fervent collectors groups ready to assist with questions too.

A friend’s stunning “Big Indian” at a Longines get-together

A nice vintage Longines

I’d like to find a nice and wearable vintage Longines piece in 2024. The challenge, of course, is that these can get very expensive very quickly. A watch with a nice flat, coin-edge bezel would suit me, and I’d even be willing to slide down to 33.5mm or so. Many models from the brand contained similar case shapes to my beloved Calatrava. The aforementioned bezel along with long and rounded lugs is such a nice look and wears so well. No, I won’t be ponying up for a “Big Indian” like the model above, but there should be other models with about 75% of its traits out there somewhere.

’90s Vacheron Constantin

We can file my next pick as one that’s unlikely to happen due to budget, but it never hurts to look, right? It’s true that a Vacheron from roughly 30 years ago won’t sit within the £1,000 range, but these watches are still quite approachable. In particular, I like the Les Historiques models from the ’90s. Vacheron Constantin made some exquisite three-handed pieces in precious metals within this collection. The dials are lovely, and many had manual-wind movements. I’m familiar with these watches as my dad has a couple of beautiful different models. Are these the next blue-chip investments? Probably not, but I think they represent great value and certainly rival similar-era Patek.

simple watches Benrus 10K gold

Rectangular watches

Say it ain’t so! Yes, with the rise of Cartier over the last couple of years, I think the time is finally here for non-round watches. It feels like it has been decades since rectangular and tonneau-shaped watches were desirable. Well, I’ve been looking at some lately, and they’re lovely while fitting under my criteria for simple watches. The best thing is there are boatloads of these watches for sale everywhere from loads of brands at every price under the sun. This sector of watches also allows for some really lovely pieces from the likes of Hamilton, Bulova, Gruen, and others to enter the fray.

simple watches Universal Genève

Simple watches deserve great straps

If my watch choices are trending toward low-key styling, it means that my straps need to be on point. I don’t love a crazy strap, but let’s face it: a basic three-hand watch with a sparse dial benefits from the perfect strap. Think of a great strap as the slightly whimsical Hermès tie in the presence of a conservative shirt and suit. It enhances the watch, but it shouldn’t overwhelm it. Thankfully, we have so many great options today such as Saffiano, Epsom, suede, and more. Our own Fratello shop has some great options along these lines. Of course, as Balazs’s Watch Strap Review column shows, there are also great strap makers that reside in just about every country. It’s a cliché in our corner of the world to say that a new strap is like getting a new watch, but there’s a high level of truth in the statement. Plus, a new strap is almost always less expensive than a new watch.

Image: @mostlymovado

A pocket watch

I’ve always resisted the urge to buy a pocket watch for the simple fact that I have no practical use for one. Well, I now tend to work from home more, and I’ve come around to wanting one as a desk clock. However, I’m going to be extremely picky on whatever I end up buying at some point. In particular, I like the sector-dial pieces with thinner cases that came in the ’40s and ’50s. Steel would be the best option for me, and I’d also like a watch from a decent, recognizable brand. Zenith, IWC, Longines, or even Omega would do the trick. Pocket watches, at least here in England, seem to have more of a following than in other places. Either that or the market has awakened slightly. Regardless, I’ll be looking for something simple at a low price in nice condition, and then I promise not to buy a second one!

Final thoughts — enjoying the hunt

With a new focus this year, I expect it to be a lot of fun in a grassroots sort of way. This translates to a lot of learning and discovery, which is always exciting. Of course, looking at much older watches than I have in the past is particularly appropriate in a place like England. After all, the first half of the 1900s was particularly pivotal in this country, so I expect a target-rich environment for simple watches. We’ll see if I can behave this year and keep my number of acquisitions low while keeping my enjoyment high. That’s the plan anyhow…