Models of restraint: Luxury watches at affordable prices

Words by
Avril Groom

16th April 2018

The market for affordable luxury watches is booming. From Bulgari and Bulova to Chaumet and Chanel, discover the stunning designs at surprising price points

The watch industry may have had its ups and downs over the past couple of years, yet the market is nothing if not resourceful and the situation has concentrated minds on a neglected area — good quality, interestingly designed watches that represent real value for money. Greater accessibility means more sales and now, especially for women’s models, a sweet spot has emerged for pieces priced slightly above or below £3,000. Once treated somewhat dismissively — too many similar, small, round bracelet watches — it’s an area that has become a hotbed of inventive design. There is no longer any danger of monotony and a variety of firms are starting from different design standpoints. The most aesthetically innovative styles come from luxury fashion and jewellery houses, which were concentrating on high horological and jewellery pieces. Now they are enhancing more modest ranges that sit at the top of the affordable category price-wise, but come in some stunning designs.

Bulgari Serpenti

Bulgari’s Serpenti

Bulgari’s small new Serpenti (£3,840) is an icon renewed, the famous snake head given a contemporary, clean-lined shape and a narrow, double-twist strap. Hermès’ brand new Arceau Casaque (£2,725) is a fresh twist on the model’s open dial with bright lacquer and transfer techniques creating a woven silk texture, and the outline of a horse’s head, referencing Hermès’ heritage.

Tiffany Metro

Tiffany's Metro (£3,700) is another stunner, a round watch with curvy, asymmetric lugs echoed in the distinctive bracelet with a mix of brilliant and baguette diamond hour markers as reminders of its jewellery heritage. Chanel’s masculine-inspired Boy.Friend was launched in gold last year and now comes in black steel (£3,700) with a “tweed” bracelet, a subtle take on Chanel style. Louis Vuitton’s pretty new Tambour Moon Star (£2,515) has the option of myriad easy-change straps, while Dior’s La Mini D de Dior (from £3,000), with its signature simple dial and diamond bezel, has graphic new iterations each season. Chaumet’s new Liens Lumière (£2,500) has an interlaced steel bezel that is literally a new twist on an established favourite. Even elevated Cartier 
has a wide steel range, its Tank Solo with interchangeable straps starting at £2,120.

Oris Artelier Grande Lune

A fine, handmade mechanical or automatic movement used to be restricted to top watchmaking brands, but women’s growing interest in their perceived craftwork has led to less high-profile, independent brands making good-looking models with high-quality, well-priced Swiss movements. Oris has a long reputation in this area and its Artelier Grande Lune — not just automatic, but with a bold, fan-shaped version of the popular moonphase complication — is great value at £1,750.

“As an independent, we have a rich history of producing quality mechanical watches,” says Oris’s chairman, Ulrich W Herzog. “We’re proud of the traditions, integrity and value of our watches. The Artelier Grande Lune is an example of Oris’s abilities and commitment to offering quality and innovation for women wanting an attractive price, a Swiss-made watch and an in-house movement.”

Nomos Champagne

Nomos Glashütte's Champagne

A newer brand is Saxony-based Nomos Glashütte, which believes in good quality watches at democratic prices and thrives on modern, often unisex design. It makes its own movements, ensuring their adaptability to different models. The latest feminine collection, Champagne, features four classic 33mm styles in a delicious champagne colour with orange accents on a soft taupe-sueded strap and the chance to engrave a personal message on the back — all are under £1,500.

British brands, with imported mechanical movements, include Farer. Its GMT world time watch (a useful function for travelling businesswomen with families at home) is officially unisex, but the bright colourways are female-friendly and is a remarkable £1,175. The larger established watch brands, whose economy of scale reaps dividends, are also making strides on price when it comes to diamond trim. Rolex’s sister brand, Tudor, set up in 1946 to offer more accessible prices, has been associated with men’s sports styles, but the handsome Clair de Rose bracelet watch is an individualist game changer with three sizes and a choice of plain or diamond hour markers — the most expensive is £2,040.

Longlines Symponette

TAG Heuer is another sports specialist and the latest Aquaracer is a fully-functioning diving watch with a diamond bezel (£2,550). Bell & Ross is known for tough-looking, aviation-inspired design, yet the Novarosa (£2,300) is diamond-trimmed and soft pink.

Evening watches offer value, too. Longines’ Symphonette (£2,800) is a bi-colour bracelet watch, its oval dial outlined in diamonds, while the most spectacular version of Bulova’s new Rubaiyat (£2,850) has an airy double-ring diamond bezel and more as hour markers.

Female consumers are finally helping to dictate the watch industry’s values, something unexpected even five years ago.