Collecting watches, in general, is serious business. When you spend large amounts of money, you obviously want to spend it wisely. The specs should be on point, the looks should be exactly right, and the price should reflect the product perfectly. But spending money wisely doesn’t always mean a watch has to be serious. That’s why I wanted to take the opportunity to look at some less obvious picks for around €1,000. They might not be the first watches that come to mind at this price point. But these affordable watches stand out because they are cool and unique. These timepieces bring something different to the table than the standard list of specs we tend to look at. Let’s see where the real fun is.

We watch enthusiasts are quite a serious breed of people, and relentlessly passionate about the products we love. Whether we’re spending €500 or €5,000, we all want the best that our budget can deliver. The name of the brand we buy also needs to have a certain ring to it. Thus, if we created a serious list of the best watches to buy for around €1,000, you would end up with many of the usual suspects. Seiko, Tissot, Mido, Hamilton, Certina are some of the brands that will pop up on many people’s lists of the most value-packed watches. But what if you want something different, and something that offers a bit more fun?


Letting the heart speak instead of the mind

Let me give you a little behind-the-scenes look at the Fratello offices. There is always a pretty standard discussion about looks, size, materials, production quality, movements, and money whenever new watches come in. And those can end up as pretty serious talks. But sometimes, I find myself liking a watch simply because it looks cool or because it has a certain feature that I adore — full lume dials, anyone? You probably know that feeling when something brings a smile to your face and specs suddenly become a lot less relevant. Especially if a watch doesn’t break the bank, you might turn a blind eye to certain features that you normally would be very serious about.

Don’t get me wrong, the watches I am talking about are still very serious watches. But their focus is not to be the best in class or the most sensible options. No, these are the timepieces that bring a smile to your face because of their presence and/or functionality. At the same time, they do not cost you an arm and a leg. So they could be the perfect fun addition to any collection or a stylish statement for someone who likes wearing something different as their daily go-to watch. Today, we’ve picked five watches that could fill that role!

Isotope HydriumX “Will Return”

A watch that I truly adored when we had it in our office was the Isotope HydriumX “Will Return.” If there is a watch that brought a huge smile to my face recently, it’s this one. I wrote a review in which I explained the fun concept behind the watch. The HydriumX “Will Return” takes inspiration from the iconic “Will Return” door-sign clock that indicates when a shop will open again. Essentially, Isotope has created a colorful red, white, black, and blue version of that iconic clock for the wrist. But there is more to this watch than just a fun concept. The execution is perfectly on point as well.

The watch comes with a 40mm micro-blasted stainless steel case that feels sturdy and comfortable on the wrist. Inside the case, Isotope uses the automatic Landeron 24 caliber. To bring the concept of the “Will Return” clock to life, the handset is modeled after the water droplet-shaped hands from the door-sign clock. Additionally, the watch features a fantastic bright blue sapphire bezel and a domed sapphire crystal. Lastly, the true star of the show for me is the full lume dial. The white Super-LumiNova-smothered dial lights up brightly in the dark. The Isotope HydriumX “Will Return” is the perfect example of a watch that will probably not be the first pick on many people’s lists. Nevertheless, it is a ton of fun at £563. The only thing we have to hope for is that Isotope founder José Miranda will bring this model back, as it has already sold out.

Autodromo Group B Series 2 Automatic Safari

We haven’t covered this Autodromo Group B on Fratello yet, but I hope we will soon because this retro-inspired sports watch must be a ton of fun. Autodromo is the brainchild of industrial designer Bradley Price who founded the brand in 2011 in New York City. The brand’s tagline is “Instruments for Motoring,” and it perfectly captures the brand’s spirit. For the Group B model introduced in 2015, Price was inspired by the famous Group B rally class founded in 1982 and disbanded in 1986. In those four short years, Group B rally cars became legendary. You may remember the iconic Lancia Rally 037, the Lancia Delta S4, the Audi Quattro, the Peugeot 205 T16, and the Ford RS2000. Unfortunately, due to an increase in fatal crashes, the class only survived for four years. Its legacy, however, lives on to this day.

As I mentioned, the first Autodromo Group B models came out in 2015. Currently, you can still buy the more serious stainless steel versions with black dials and white or orange accents. But the most fun version you can get your hands on is the Group B Series 2 Automatic Safari in green. The watch was inspired by East African Safari rallies and the Paris-Dakar rallies of the ’80s. It features a 39mm case made of titanium and stainless steel as well as an integrated stainless steel bracelet. The stainless steel parts are green-plated and give the stylish watch a great look. Under the hood, you will find the automatic Miyota 9015 caliber. It’s a solid movement that does what it needs to, but that’s not what this watch is about. With the Group B Safari, it’s all about the style. And $975 will buy you style in spades.

NOMOS Club Sport

Nacho and I both really like the NOMOS Club Sport with its great orange California dial. Nacho made it one of his three picks with which to start a watch collection for €10K. And it’s a great choice that offers superb value for money. But we also both agree that the Club Sport is a ton of fun with its stylish looks. NOMOS sells the Club Sport in different sizes and with different dial colors. The one that has stood out from the get-go is the 36mm variant with the orange dial. But if you look a little closer, it’s more than just the dial color that makes this such a nice piece. Yes, it starts with the orange base, but the next brilliant move was to make it a California dial. On top of that, the white lumed numerals feature a soft cyan outline that adds another layer of detail.


A bold but brilliant choice is the small seconds hand executed in a slightly darker orange color. It creates enough contrast for perfect readability, but it matches the overall look extremely well. And it’s a look that is elevated even more by the soft gray velour leather strap. The toned-down look of the strap gives the 36mm polished stainless steel case and the orange dial the opportunity to take center stage. Inside the case with its thick bezel and domed sapphire crystal, NOMOS uses the in-house-built Alpha caliber that adds even more value to this €1,100 piece. And to top it off, you can have a personalized inscription engraved on the case back. It’s the perfect signature for your stylish Club Sport.

Studio Underdog

Studio Underd0g Mint Ch0c Chip

Studio Underd0g has become a watch-crowd favorite very quickly, and I perfectly understand why. From the moment I first laid eyes on the trio of models known as the Watermel0n (01WMB), the Desert Sky (01DST), and the Go0fy Panda (01GPB), I knew this brand understood fun. The dials of these three watches had the entire Fratello team talking. Some liked them, some didn’t. But there was no way we could ignore these special watches. Rob reviewed those three specific models, and he explained that it was not just all fun and games. The 38.5mm case turned out to be perfect for a great variety of wrists. It’s hard not to keep staring at the dials, but the sapphire display case back reveals the manual-winding 3Hz Seagull ST-1901 chronograph movement. It’s a great pick that only increases the number of interactions an owner can have with the watch.

But it’s all about these dials, of course. The sapphire crystals on the front of the watches reveal the whimsical textured dégradé dials. But which one is the best? While the Watermel0n immediately stands out due to its colors and brilliantly conceived seed-shaped hours markers, the blue Desert Sky would probably be my pick out of the first three. But the best version overall, in my opinion, was the Mint Ch0c Chip that came out late last year. The mint-green dial, the chocolate-chip hour markers, and cream tachymeter scale provide the perfect balance of style and fun. It’s no wonder that all these models sold out very quickly, as they were very affordable watches indeed. The Mint Ch0c Chip was £440 (about €520). For the new batches that will come out this April, the prices will go up to £500. But what you get in return is still a wristful of fun at a very friendly price point.

Unimatic Modello Uno U1S-MN

But fun does not necessarily mean colorful. Au contraire, fun can be the total opposite of that, and that’s the message that the recently released Unimatic S-series sends. The guys at Unimatic love to play with the traditional idea of watch design, but this is pushing it, even for their standards. The most fun of the four models, in my opinion, is the full black version of the Modello Uno, the U1S-MN. In essence, you are staring into the darkness with only the white of the hands and the lume pip to guide you through the pitch-black surroundings. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is to have this minimalist Unimatic on your wrist. And for serious reliability, Unimatic equipped its S-series watches with automatic Sellita SW200-1 movements. Unimatic will make just 400 of these watches with a price tag of €1,010 (excluding VAT). While they’re on the more expensive end of this list, they’re still very affordable watches overall.

But if you find all that black a bit too serious, fear not. Unimatic is no stranger to the fun world of brighter colors. There are plenty of colorful limited editions often developed in collaboration with other brands or franchises. The perfect example is a series of SpongeBob limited editions on the completely opposite side of the spectrum compared to the ultra-minimalist U1S-MN. But other examples that come closer to the blacked-out Modello Uno are the recently released U1-SW1 and U1-SWN1. Essentially, these watches utilize the same concept, but they use more traditional dial designs and a bit more color. As such, their presence changes while the style remains the same. All the models I have mentioned perfectly show why the seriously stylish Unimatic models are so fun, especially for the price.

Isotope HydriumX Will Return

Final thoughts

What stands out to me after looking at this list is how successful all of these brands have become with their less-than-traditional approach to watch design. Indeed, limited-edition releases from four of the five brands are known to sell out almost instantly every time. It shows that there is more to the world of watches than stoic, reserved, and serious options. What is your favorite fun timepiece that doesn’t break the bank? Please let us know in the comment section. We look forward to hearing about the models that you think offer the perfect balance of affordability, serious watchmaking, and fun.

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