Sometimes viewed as a low point in watch design, the late ’90s and early ’00s saw some great watch designs emerge. Today, a select handful offer huge bargains in the pre-owned market and neo-vintage luxury for small sums.

As long as you don’t mind the odd over-scratched or over-polished piece, the value of watches like the Zenith El Primero, Cartier Pasha, and many more stand out today for two reasons. The engineering quality sometimes out-punches today’s offerings, while sizes are now seemingly perfect for our retro tastes. Call them “neo-vintage” or “millennial cool,” but here are five great examples from big brands.

Image: WatchUSeek (geoffm62)

Girard-Perregaux F300

The Girard-Perregaux brand has a history of fluctuating between trends and offers some stunning bargains, especially if you look at its diverse 2000s catalog of small-cased sports watches. Within this bountiful book of wristwear, you’ll find models from the brand’s 1994–2004 gig as an official partner with Ferrari. To put the record straight, I’m not big on automotive collaborations in watches as they’re usually too obvious. This is also true with some GPs, including bright red or yellow dials with that famous prancing horse. What I’m saying is, stay away from the most Ferrari-obvious ones.

Image: WatchUSeek (geoffm62)

That’s because, just like wearing a red Ferrari cap or windbreaker, they will cast you as a mere car nerd (at best), and Ferrari owners will likely not be wearing one. But the F300 series of three-handers and chronographs is lovely. They boast a lovely 38mm × 45mm case and a quiet Ferrari logo on the back. The chronograph in these images is a great example, and it comes with a solid steel bracelet with a chunky, short-linked design and polished and brushed finishes. The best part of all is the price. These are regularly available on Chrono24 for less than €3,000, as this search here exemplifies. Steel watches are the stars of this story, but you’ll find an F300 in solid 18K gold in the same C24 search for the scarcely believable sum of €5,800. Wow.

Cartier Pasha

The Cartier Pasha easily has the most polarizing shape in this article, but it has made a big return to my wish list. Blame our copy editor Brandon who knows it all too well, causing me to read his story with a big hint of jealousy. His GMT Power Reserve ref. 2388 usually sells in the €3,500–5,000 price range, but you will find some closer to €3,000. They will, however, likely be pretty beaten up compared to Brandon’s glorious silver-dialed gem. And while I love Brandon’s complex GMT, I have a sweet spot for the plain-Jane 35mm ref. 2324 with a black dial.

Neo-vintage Luxury

Image: Precision Watches

These are huge bargains in 2024, and the price often dips under €2,000 for nice ones. I don’t have anything against European sellers, but for my money, the Japanese dealers and private sales offer the biggest value these days. And that includes condition standards. There are a few options for dial designs, and though I’m not super-enamored by the date at 4:30 under its odd cyclops, this small-sized ETA-powered Cartier is my fave. For me, it should have the square-within-a-circle dial, just like Brandon’s GMT. And even at these low values, there are many to choose from, so pick the best, most regularly serviced one you can find with a box. You’ll get one for less than €1,800 if you’re lucky.

neo-vintage luxury Bvlgari Diagono Scuba Chronograph

Image: Tomida Shouten

Bvlgari Diagono

If you love the odd shape of the Cartier but don’t embrace its circular flamboyance, check out the Bvlgari Diagono. Mad, scalloped steel bezel, anyone? This family of tool watches has become almost forgotten, and most models share the superb sizing of 38mm prevalent in the early 2000s. The 200m-rated Scuba Chronographs versions are the maddest, with classic big “12” and “6” numerals and twin registers. They also come with the big-screw-in links that are still a feature of the Bvlgari Aluminium today. I love the quirky cool of these, and they offer serious value, with sub-€2,500 prices easily found. But remember, most are 20–25 years old, so any note of regular servicing is a big bonus.

neo-vintage luxury Bvlgari Diagono

Image: Brand Shop Lips

If you like purer lines and a more elegant vibe, check out the three-hand versions with the “Bvlgari Bvlgari” bezel. Look for the best ones, and you will be surprised by the prices of these 35mm glamor pieces. The two-tone model above features a solid 18K bezel and is on offer from Japan for €1,900. A watch with precious metal sporting this year’s comeback Bvlgari Bvlgari look for less than €2,000? If that’s not a steal, I don’t know what it is.

Image: Best Co., Ltd.

Breitling Navitimer Aviastar

Breitling has a strong back catalog, and for less than €3,000, your choices are vast, with plenty of gems out there. I would go for the timeless Navitimer in an off-spec, rare version, like the Aviastar from 1996–1998. This was before the rise of big bling and massive 48mm Super Avengers. The Aviastar’s dial looks quite simple for a Navitimer, doing away with the indecipherable slide-rule functionality and crisp in its monochrome style.

Image: Best Co., Ltd.

There’s one in Italy on Chrono24 for €2,950, which is quite low for a rare Navi version. The beautiful one in the pictures above, though, is on offer from Japan for a bit less (excluding import taxes, of course), and the patina on the lume is luscious. The Aviastar must have the oddest bezel of all Navis. It has a relief insert framing a box-style mineral crystal, but the watch maintains that recognizable slanted-link bracelet we know. It also has a restrained 41mm case, with pure markings and Arabic numerals on the matte black dial. Many people don’t love the prominent numerals mostly known from the Cosmonaute, but it was the first Swiss watch in space, right? I am all for their function-forward presence. After all, this is one of the purest tool watches of all time.

Neo-vintage Luxury

Credor Phoenix

As Seiko’s other luxury brand, Credor remains a studied choice and a quirky Grand Seiko alternative. With neo-vintage pieces not known very well outside of Japan, you’ll be surprised by a few of these offerings, which won’t all win the hearts of Western collectors. The Phoenix 6S78-0A10 (or GCB997) is a chronograph I owned last year, but I sold it as I also have the three-hand version. That was one of my big regrets, and there is a big chance I’ll buy another this year. Hailing from around 2000, the design is sharp, the black lacquer dial is beautifully finished, and it has a personality. Rounded arrowhead indices match the odd-shaped handset, while the recessed registers are a delight.

Neo-vintage Luxury

At a tad above 40mm wide, it is a great alternative to a Speedy and vastly cheaper than a Daytona. The gloss-white chronograph pointers match the crisp logo text on the dial, and what about the movement? Within this heavier-than-a-Daytona chunk of refined steel sits a gold-plated heart. The 34-jewel, column-wheel-equipped 6S78 caliber was Seiko’s first return to a self-winding chronograph movement. Oh, and for the nerds out there, a convoluted tale also makes this the base of TAG Heuer’s 1887 caliber, but that’s for another article. The Phoenix chronograph is a superb, underrated piece of Japanese craftsmanship for €2,000–3,000, and that constitutes a bargain.

My dear Fratelli, what are your thoughts? Did I stray too far into quirkiness, or are you scared of a 30-year-old movement’s service costs? Take your time to pick the best, and you’ll be OK. Let me know your comments on these neo-vintage luxury picks or if you have any personal additions.