Decent watches aren’t cheap, but you don’t need a six-figure salary to buy yourself a respectable timepiece
The best watches under £1,000 aren’t necessarily the biggest, flashiest or blingiest ones you can get for the money. They’re models that represent real value, whether in terms of the craftsmanship and heritage, or because they come with a host of useful features. As such, we could be talking about a smartwatch brimming with cutting-edge tech or an elegant entry-level automatic from an esteemed Swiss brand.
Just south of the £1,000 mark is where you’ll start to find “serious” watches; the types of timepieces that will catch a collector’s eye from across the room. It’s a good place to aim if you’re looking for your first proper automatic, a daily driver to add to an already extensive (and expensive) collection of luxury watches, or a high-end smartwatch for tracking your fitness and activities in detail.
While there are lots of excellent watches in this price bracket, for every great value proposition, there’s a cheaply made, overpriced piece of tat that will age like milk and struggle to keep time. So, here we help you avoid the latter, offering all the information you need to ensure you pick up a good-quality timepiece that will last for many years to come.
How to choose the best watch under £1,000 for you
Should I buy a quartz watch or an automatic watch?
You’re going to see the words “quartz” and “automatic” a lot when shopping for a watch. These are the two main types of “movements” that most watches use – which, for the uninitiated, is the name for the internal system that makes a timepiece tick. Quartz watches use batteries, whereas automatic watches use kinetic energy that’s stored in a special cell as they move around on the wearer’s wrist.
Quartz watches will generally keep the time reliably even when they aren’t being worn, which means they won’t die or need a reset if sat in a drawer for some time. Unfortunately, this also means there’s a battery to replace. That said, a quartz movement takes up less space than an automatic movement, which means quartz watches are typically slimmer and sleeker than their automatic counterparts.
Automatic watches, on the other hand, don’t require a battery to function. Kinetic energy powers these watches, so if they’re not moving, they will eventually run out of juice. On the plus side, this means an automatic watch will keep working indefinitely, as long as it’s serviced every now and then. Such watches generally command much higher prices, because of the intricate handmade mechanisms they use to keep them ticking.
Less commonly, there are manual movements, where a watch requires to be wound by hand regularly to keep it working.
What type of watch strap is best?
You need to think about when and where you plan to wear your watch. If it’s a sporty smart watch, you’ll probably want a rubber strap that will be comfortable and doesn’t absorb sweat. For a watch for fancy occasions, a smart leather strap or metal bracelet strap will look far more presentable. For everyday watches, a nylon “NATO” strap is casual, inexpensive and durable enough to stand up to the rigours of daily use.
What style of watch should I choose?
Again, think about when and where you would like to wear your watch. Sports watches such as divers and chronographs are great for day-to-day use. There are also dress watches, which feature simple, elegant styling that makes them great for formal occasions. If you’re often training hard and pushing your body to its limits, there are techy watches that are designed to provide detailed fitness feedback for running, hiking, swimming and more. Think about your lifestyle and what you want from your watch before settling on any one particular style.
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The best watches under £1,000 you can buy in 2024
1. Seiko Prospex ‘King Turtle’: Best everyday watch under £1,000
Price when reviewed: £520 | Check price at Goldsmiths
Japanese watch brand Seiko’s Prospex line has long been the go-to for affordable dive watches. These models are tough as nails, beautiful to look at and instantly recognisable with their off-centre, screw-down crown and set-back dial. Are there better divers available in this price bracket? Yes, but at £520, this version of the affectionately nicknamed “turtle” isn’t so expensive that you’ll be terrified to wear it. This makes it perfect as an everyday watch.
With a name inspired by the curved edges of its case that make it look a bit like a turtle’s shell, this chunky diver features a 3D grid dial, automatic movement and unidirectional rotating bezel. A 45mm case means it isn’t one for dainty wrists, but its classic looks mean it can be worn with anything short of a tux. There’s also a nice strong Lumibrite for time-telling in the dark, 200m water-resistance and a magnified date window.
Key specs – Case diameter: 45mm; Case material: Stainless steel; Movement type: Automatic
2. Casio Digital Stainless Steel Bracelet Watch: Best digital watch under £1,000
Price when reviewed: £24 | Check price at Amazon
This modest little digital watch from Casio has remained basically unchanged yet consistently popular since the 1980s. Granted, it isn’t exactly a Rolex, but it does look cool and costs only a tiny fraction of the price. It’s a stylish accessory that brings a little extra flair to casual outfits, and keeps accurate time while doing so. There are plenty of watches out there in the £10,000+ category that do exactly the same thing, so for the frugal, style-conscious shopper, this one is a no-brainer.
The watch itself is slim and dinky, sitting close to the wrist with its low-profile case. This makes it nice and subtle, which means it’s versatile enough to wear with all sorts of casual and smart-casual outfits. Okay, it probably isn’t the type of timepiece that’s going to cut it for formal wear; but at a mere £24, who cares?
The backlit digital display is clear, easy to read and the strap is light and comfortable for all-day wear. We would encourage you to buy this watch if you want a no-frills timepiece you can run into the ground without worrying about losing money.
Key specs – Case diameter: 33mm; Case material: Stainless steel; Movement type: Quartz
3. Doxa Sub 200: Best dive watch under £1,000
Price when reviewed: £990 | Check price at Goldsmiths
Doxa is a historic Swiss watch brand with a diving pedigree. Its iconic Sub 300 and Sub 300T dive watches were launched in the late 1960s and proudly worn by everyone from Jacques Cousteau to Robert Redford. This entry-level Doxa was launched in 2020, and while it may look a little different to the brand’s most notable timepieces, the watch it’s based on actually predates all of them.
The Sub 200 is based on a vintage Doxa from the mid 1960s and features lots of little retro details that make it stand out from the competition. Aficionados will instantly notice the domed sapphire crystal, shiny sapphire bezel and trademark “grains-of-rice” bracelet that come together to give the watch a truly unique yet tastefully subtle appearance. It’s the sort of watch you can dress up or down with ease. It’s rugged enough to handle the day-to-day, but won’t look out of sorts teamed up with tailoring, either.
Available in a number of different-coloured dial options, the orange “Professional” version is the one for which Doxa is best known. Buy this watch if you’re looking for a serious Swiss-made dive watch that can run with the big boys.
Key specs – Case diameter: 42.5mm; Case material: Stainless steel; Movement: Automatic
4. Apple Watch Ultra: Best smartwatch under £1,000
Price when reviewed: £699 | Check price at Amazon
A common complaint from Apple Watch users is that the fitness feedback isn’t detailed enough. This is because the Apple Watch is geared toward the general market rather than athletes, so if you’re an Apple Watch user who is also a keen runner, you might have found yourself wanting an additional smartwatch from a specialist brand such as Garmin or Polar to handle your athletic endeavours. But the Apple Watch Ultra offers an all-in-one solution.
This all-singing, all-dancing fitness-focused watch from the tech giant is designed for daily abuse while undertaking activities such as running, swimming, hiking, scuba, free diving, mountaineering and much more. It’s built for adventure, offering an impressive 36 hours of battery life, and the thick outer casing is far more durable than that of the regular Apple Watch. It also has world-leading GPS navigation and an accurate compass for venturing off the beaten track.
Key specs – Case diameter: 49mm; Case material: Aerospace-grade titanium; Movement: N/A, rechargeable