What Watch RJ Would Pick For €1,500
This idea started at the coffee corner in our (former) office in The Hague with some of the other editors. You’ll get €1,500 from your boss to go out and buy a watch, what would you pick?
And it doesn’t need to be a brand-new watch, it is also allowed to buy something pre-owned or even vintage. But I added a rule to this little game, inspired by a recent podcast by Mike and Balazs. You can’t sell it and you need to wear it at least two days per week for the rest of your life. It doesn’t need to be the only watch to have, but one that will last basically.
What is out there for €1,500?
This is not an article showing you what’s out there for €1,500, because there’s a lot on the market that ticks this box. Instead, I want to get something that I will truly enjoy, and something that will last for a very long time. And last not but least, I want something that can be serviced and repaired for years — or decades — to come. That already rules out several brands!
What do I want to wear?
So, I have €1,500 in my pocket. Where to go? First, I have to do a bit of a broad search of what’s out there. It is a bit unstructured, but it gives me some inspiration at least. I know that in the past, there was enough offering in this category from brands like Oris, Nomos, Sinn, Longines, and the likes, and it might even give access to brands like Omega, Breitling, and IWC on the pre-owned market.
Well, after my first round of searching, I can tell you that the landscape has changed drastically. Unless you are particularly lucky, the days where you could buy a Seamaster 300M for this kind of money are over. But also, brand new Oris or Longines watches have passed this station too. Sinn can offer me a nice 104 reference in this price category, but the classics such as the 356 Flieger Chrono are priced higher, and out of budget. NOMOS has some great watches, also priced below €1,500. Although I like NOMOS a lot, the Tangente that’s within the budget is rather small with its 35mm for my 19cm wrist.
Vintage watches under €1,500
In the vintage market, you will find plenty of options with €1,500 burning in your pockets. A classic Omega Constellation from the 1960s should be no problem. However, I know from my own experience that even though I enjoy them, I wouldn’t wear them every day. These are perfectly capable to do the job, but a 34mm vintage watch is not something I want to wear at least two days a week for the rest of my life. There are other vintage options out there, also from brands that are long gone, but I don’t want to go there for the reasons I explained above.
I decide I don’t want to go vintage
Servicing and repair of these might run you into trouble, especially when you will need replacement parts. From the big brands that are still there and able to service your vintage piece, you will find interesting watches for around €1,500 from Tissot (T-12), Seiko (Silverwave), or even vintage Grand Seiko. But most of them have the same issue I have with the Constellation — they’re often relatively small. And for nearly daily use (ok, two days a week), do I want to go vintage? I decide I don’t want to go vintage, but I am fine with a watch that’s 20 years old, for example.
I want a chronograph
During my quest, I also decide I want to choose a chronograph. Often, these watches are a little bit bigger, and over the years I developed a preference for a chronograph complication. One of the product development guys from an Haute Horlogerie brand once told me that a chronograph movement was quite challenging for them to develop. Moreso than some of the complications that usually come to mind when thinking about Haute Horlogerie pieces. It is also a complication I enjoy using, and in terms of looks, it often appeals more to me than a dive watch, for example.
Ebel 1911 ref. 1134901
But a mechanical chronograph under €1,500 isn’t easy to find these days. Especially not from a renowned brand that can provide a bit of service or repair if necessary. I have gone through catalogs and old magazines, to see what speaks to me the most. Without having to look in a catalog or magazine, I came up with one watch already: the Ebel 1911 Chronograph reference 1134901. An awkward choice, you might think, but I’ve had a weak spot for this watch for ages.
I love the quirky wave bracelet, but the main attraction is the Ebel caliber 134. This is a high-beat Zenith El Primero movement, ticking at 36,000vph. The budget can be the issue here, as these watches are literally all over the place when it comes to price. With a bit of luck, €1,500 is doable, but be very careful with those bracelets. They weren’t the best out there. Perhaps it is better to settle for the 39mm Ebel 1911 caliber 134 chronograph watch on a leather strap? Those are available for just under €1,500 on Chrono24. These Ebel watches are from the late 1980s/1990s and unfortunately, not as widely available as I would have thought. You really need to search for a good example if you don’t want to pay too much, that is.
Longines Conquest Heritage chronograph ref. L1.641.4
Alternatively, I also found a chronograph in one of the catalogs I kept in my office. This is a Longines Conquest Heritage chronograph. Reference L1.641.4, to be more precise. A 38mm automatic chronograph on a leather strap. It has some style elements from the classic Conquest watches, like the applied arrow-shaped hour markers and dauphine hands. Perhaps it comes across as a bit of a boring round watch on a strap, but it offers a lot of detail. Vintage-inspired, I might add, without making it some retro watch. Inside is Longines caliber L.650.2, which is based on the ETA2894-2. I would opt for the silver dial, but Longines also made these with a black dial. The gold applied hour markers, logo and hands give a nice contrast with the silver dial and stainless steel case. At 12 o’clock, there’s a big date window. On the case back, you’ll find the Conquest medallion, which consists of gold and blue lacquer. This watch can be found just under €1,500, but there aren’t many of them out there.
My pick for €1,500
If I must make the choice between these two, there are a few things to consider. Ebel would be my first pick, but it is also a brand I would never think to end up to what it is today. From a big brand in the 1980s and 1990s to nearly non-existing in the 2020s. To be sure it still exists, I visited the website and noticed they are offering a chronograph with the so-called wave bracelets for men. But with a quartz movement. Not only my eyes are bleeding when I see this, but it also just hurts my horological heart. The days where those cool guys like Don Johnson, Boris Becker, Yannick Noah, and André Agassi were Ebel wearers are over. Luckily, the Ebel movement can be repaired by Zenith if necessary (till 2003, Ebel was part of LvmH who sold it for over $62.2million to the Movado group. Money well spent).
The Longines Conquest Heritage chronograph ref. L1.641.4 would be the alternative if I was not able to find a decent Ebel 1911 reference 1134901. I don’t give up easy though. I can see myself with one of these two watches for years to come. The Ebel has the El Primero movement which I know I’d certainly enjoy, and the Longines has all the little details I wouldn’t get bored with over time. I realize these two are very personal picks, and as they are still affordable and not widely available, I guess most of you will pick something else. And that’s good, it keeps it fun and interesting.
I am keen to hear your thoughts on this challenge. I am sure you can see that it’s perhaps not quite as straightforward as it initially seems. What one watch would you buy for €1,500? Let me know in the comments!