One of the coolest parts of the W.O.E. platform is exposing people to the world of watches in an unpretentious and engaging manner. Getting into watches can be intimidating and it is difficult to know where to start. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000. Just because you can afford a Rolex, doesn't mean you should start there.
In the “Ask W.O.E. Anything” Dispatch, I put forward my belief that a Seiko is a good place to start, and maybe end with watch collecting. That said, there are some great watches under $1,000 and there is no right answer to this question. In order to capture a broad collection of suitable watches, we asked a handful of our friends from both the traditional watch and NatSec communities to provide their choice for the “Best Watch Under $1,000.”
This is an incredibly diverse list of individuals from former Special Operations warriors, Intelligence Officers, and divers, to some of the leading experts in the watch community. The one thing they all have in common is a shared appreciation for watches. While all of them have objectively more “expensive” watches in their collection, they have a genuine appreciation for these more affordable timepieces.
CWC Royal Navy
Jason Heaton, author, freelance writer, and podcast host, The Grey NATO and author of Depth Charge.
I’ve long contended that the CWC Royal Navy dive watch is the watch a “real” James Bond would wear, at least the 21st-century iteration of MI6’s famous “blunt instrument” spy. Issued since the 1980s to British Navy divers and Special Forces operators, it is a tough, classic, unassuming watch that can truly go anywhere and manages the balance between looking good and not drawing attention to itself. The quartz version (Approx. $930), with its 300 meters of water resistance, long-life battery, and fixed strap bars means its owner can go forth in the world on adventures, clandestine or otherwise, without having to worry about his watch. And that’s the highest of compliments, in my mind.
Seiko Prospex SNJ025 aka The 'Arnie'
Chris Craighead, former British Special Air Service (SAS), @christian_craighead
The Seiko Prospex ($525) has a unique and rich history. Not only was it worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Commando, Predator, and Raw Deal, it was also one of the first watches issued to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare (NSW) unit. The watch is extremely tough and practical. The dual, analog and digital face makes it a versatile watch for whatever purpose you choose to wear it.
Brock Stevens, Active Duty US Navy Diver, EDC enthusiast, and photographer behind @deepsea_edc.
The Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) is a no-frills, straight-to-the-point tool watch. As an active duty US Navy Diver who believes in wearing watches for their intended purposes, I love that about it. With a robust movement, 200 meters of water resistance, a legible dial, and lightning bright lume, I count on this watch to get the job done during my working dives. I have beat the living hell out of this thing, banging it around on just about every type of warship the US Navy has to offer, and it just keeps on ticking. Any watch can sit in the collection and look pretty, but if you’re after ultimate function and genuine military heritage at a reasonable price point, look no further.
Rowing Blazers X Seiko 5 Sports Watch (Limited Edition 2023)
Eric Wind, leading expert in vintage watches. Eric founded and owns Wind Vintage
The Seiko 5 Sports line offers some of the best accessible mechanical watches on the market. Having had a bunch over the last few years, they are solid, reliable, and attractive - a winning combination. I really like the model we have used for our latest Rowing Blazers x Seiko watches ($495) as it is 40mm, but wears slightly smaller and looks great on men or women. They are hard to argue with for under $500 and are great for travel, the pool, and whatever else you might need.
Sangin Instruments “Neptune”
James Rupley, Co-founder of small arms reference publishing industry leaders, Vickers Guide and Headstamp Publishing. Regular photographic contributor to W.O.E.
I subscribe fully to the “buy cheap, buy twice” maxim, so buying an inexpensive watch can actually be a riskier proposition than buying a much more expensive watch. Is there a $200 watch that you can be happy with forever? It’s a fascinating question, and you can easily blow a day on YouTube watching others try to answer it.
As someone who spends so much time photographing collectibles, aesthetic merit is always going to be a dominant factor in just about anything I focus on. I think the Sangin Instruments “Neptune” ($859) is an excellent example of a watch that skillfully blends functional elements with an attractive design. I love that the Neptune comes with both a metal bracelet and a rubber strap – options that offer me plenty of variety for use in any situation.
Timex Marlin Automatic
Marty Skovlund, Jr., Former Army guy, avid coffee drinker, aspiring sketchy dude, current Editor-in-chief of Task & Purpose
I love a classy watch that is comfortable on the wrist but doesn’t draw attention or accusations of elitism. Timex is the opposite of elite in the watch world, and they make a helluva wrist piece that you aren’t afraid of wearing as a daily driver. And frankly, I wore a digital Timex Ironman on many deployments in a past life, so a non-digital, automatic Timex with a day and date complication feels like a natural evolution. I love mine, and it’s one of the most affordable automatics on the market.
The Timex Marlin Automatic ($269) rocks a 40mm stainless steel case, a beautiful deep navy blue dial, and a classic domed acrylic crystal — it looks like a compromise between an ultra-rugged sport watch and a black tie dress watch. This isn’t a go-everywhere, do-anything piece with only 50m of water resistance and a crystal that’s easy to scuff; but it’s perfect for long days at the office or hitting all of Hemingway’s old drinking spots in Madrid in a single day.
Pro tip: My Timex Marlin came with a leather strap too orange for my taste. I swapped it out for a W.O.E. Jedburgh Leather strap, and that dark brown leather complements the navy dial perfectly.
Dave Hall, SOCS (SEAL), USN, Ret. Retired US Navy SEAL. Watch and firearms enthusiast. @davehall1911
The Seiko “Turtle” ($300-600), a nickname for the 6309-7040, could easily be described as the “AK-47 of the watch world”. It’s simple, rugged, affordable, reliable, and has stood the test of time with little necessary improvement. The watch is at home underwater, in freefall, or running an obstacle course. It’s accurate enough to keep track of your total time of dive, calculate M700 time fuse burns, or keep track of your dune run times. You don’t have to take it off to enter a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) and it is as equally at home on a direct-action mission as it is at the hotel bar in Zangaro (“Dogs of War” cameo reference). The modern Turtle, known as the Prospex SRPE93, has all the same clean lines and durability from the original 6309 and keeps better time than ever.
J.R. Seeger, retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer and author of seven MIKE4 espionage novels and three Steampunk Raj novels set in WWI.
T-R is a US-based watch company that builds field and dive watches that have the DNA of 1960s and 1970s MIL-SPEC watches. The Paradive ( approx. $900) is a modern take on the vintage Benrus Type 1. It is a bead-blasted stainless steel, purpose-built automatic watch with excellent luminous markings and comes with either a standard dive bezel or a 12-hour bezel providing a means to track two time zones. The watch has a depth rating of 200m. It is the most robust dive watch I own. T-R is a small company and there is a wait time while they make your watch. It is well worth the wait.
Marathon Navigator Steel SSNAV-D
James Stacey, Lead Editor with Hodinkee.com and co-host of The Grey NATO podcast.
If we’re talking about a great tool watch under a grand and you really want to use it, you can’t do much better than the new steel version of Marathon’s long-standing (and long-serving) Navigator ($800). Trading the common and gov’t issue-ready composite case for one in steel, this newly announced Marathon is still 41mm wide, 11mm thick, and sports a field-ready 12-hour bezel. Add to that a high-accuracy quartz movement, 100 meters of water resistance, and tritium tube illumination and you've got a worker.
It’s a modernized take on a classic design that traces its lineage across some of the toughest locales that our world has (and had) to offer and it remains a watch that was primarily designed to be offered in contract to governments and special outfits all over the globe and the new steel version even has its own Nato Stock Number.
If you want a go anywhere, do anything watch that remains subtle but tough enough for any sort of work, the Navigator is a natural in steel - just add your fav color NATO. I recommend grey.
Sangin Dark Professional
Asha Wagner, HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and watch and gear enthusiast. @wildlander6
My pick for a sub $1,000 watch is my Sangin Dark Professional ($658). This has been my go-to work, play and travel watch for the past few years. The reasons why I keep opting for this watch are it’s durable, versatile, and comfortable.
I am a full-time Fire Captain and a HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and am also pretty active with a bunch of outdoorsy hobbies in my off time. I am rough on equipment and an impact-prone individual. I need a watch that can keep up with me and that I don’t have to worry about whether I’m scuba diving or breaching and forcing entry into a building. The Dark Pro has taken everything I’ve thrown at it and come up smiling.
As far as versatility it is a 300-meter dive watch with a 24-hour GMT hand, drilled lug holes for easy strap changes, a fully indexed, unidirectional count-up bezel with bright long lasting lume, and a color-matched date wheel at 4:30. The date wheel is there when I need it, and all but disappears when I don’t. The crazy bright lume is great in inclement situations, plus lume just downright makes me happy.
The case comes in at 43.5 mm, but with a 20mm lug width 12 mm thickness, and 42 mm bezel, it wears sleeker than its specs might initially suggest.
It’s a watch that doesn’t draw a lot of undue attention depending on where I’m traveling, but at the same time makes me smile every time I look at it. Mine is a co-branded watch with Triple Aught Design and comes in at $795.
Halios Seaforth IV
Justin Couture, “The Wristorian” Freelance blogger fascinated by the historical context surrounding vintage tool watches. @the_wristorian
Being a vintage guy at heart, I am ever on the lookout for a watch that combines old-school design language with modern capability. Enter the Halios Seaforth IV ($775), the newest iteration of what could now be called a horological cult classic. With Goldilocks dimensions and a clear focus on legibility, the Seaforth IV effortlessly exudes the sort of skindiver vibes that will make you want to inexplicably take up spearfishing. Factor in the brilliant Bahama Yellow dial and the titanium case option and you’ve got the apex predator of modern microbrand divers. Pro-tip for the WOE crowd, for added utilitarianism the Seaforth can be made into a destro configuration by request.
Nick Ferrell, Founder DC Vintage Watches
Vintage Seiko is rich in history, and none more than the venerable Seiko SKX, worn on the wrist of many military and intelligence officers I've worked with - both previously employed with the government, and now as customers - the world over. The SKX line has long been a "gateway drug" for watch collectors just starting down the slippery slope towards obsession, as it was for me. One of my first Seiko's, I wore the 1999 Seiko SKX007 (on the right) throughout a two-year tour in the White House Situation Room, and it served me well. And this is a two-for-one - a savvy hunter can find both the SKX and the steel-grey dial 1960s Seiko 7625-8233 dress watch, absurdly large for the era, in good nick for under $1k. A fantastic two-watch collection, perhaps?
Scurfa Diver One D1-500
Benjamin Lowry, Writer, US Coast Guard veteran, former commercial diver, and curator of @submersiblewrist.
With my background in commercial diving, I was always going to be a fan of Scurfa Watches, a brand owned and operated by Paul Scurfield, a North Sea commercial saturation diver. Beyond our occupational connection, the watches themselves represent class-leading value for the busy diving tool watch category, pairing impressive specifications with the legitimacy that comes with having been developed and tested in the owner’s salty workplace. The Diver One D1-500 is the brand’s centerpiece, offering 500 meters of water resistance, excellent lume, an automatic helium escape valve (which, in this very rare case, makes sense), a domed sapphire crystal, and a Swiss quartz caliber from Ronda, all housed within a surprisingly restrained 40mm wide by 47.7mm long case.
While I’m nowhere near as cool as Paul, I have worn the Diver One extensively in recreational and commercial diving scenarios, including at least one near-death experience. Priced around $200, which is insane, the Scurfa Diver One is a great way to live the #useyourtools ethos we subscribe to around here without breaking the bank.
Owner of Soturi, - Marine veteran-owned handmade watch straps inspired by military heritage.
When I came across the Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) it instantly hooked me. As an avid enthusiast of military watches, the T-R’s slab-sided case, matte finish, and lighter weight are everything you want in a field/dive watch. Simple, yet significant. Add-on T-R’s intriguing history with U.S. Special Operations (the TR-900 model) and you have yourself a winning combination that’s hard to compete with. Bonus - its integrated lug/pin holes make for easy swapping of your favorite watch straps.
W.O.E., former CIA Case Officer turned watch influencer
The 42mm “Arabic Seiko'' ref SNKP21J1 (aka the Seik-W.O.E. aka the W.O.E. hype watch) is popular in the W.O.E. community. In part this is because it is a cool and unique piece at an affordable price point and received consistent coverage on W.O.E., but just as importantly because of the meaning it has for our community. Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years. I have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that period in my life. A lot of veterans and NatSec identify with this connection. ($130-$200)
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A couple more that I highly suggest are the Stirling Brunt or Durrant, and one of my favorites: Sangin Atlas with the GMT bezel (my go-to for traveling across time zones). Otherwise great list! Many of which are on my wishlist.
I’d vote SBS or the standard RN quartz over the model Jason Heaton picked, but I’ll agree the CWC models are some of the best available under $1000.
Rowing Blazers? There are much better Seiko options under 1k, like the SPB317 and SPB143 (and their similar models).
What are you thoughts on Luminox? I have a Pacific Diver and love it – alothougg I do wish it was automatic like some of my other, finer watches.
If i can suggest, the guys at Echo/Neutra here in Italy really do a great job for that sub-1000 price range.
Particularly talking about the Averau range.
Also Richard in UK, the Studio underd0g guy, really nice and playful chronos.
Fantastic list, the other one I would add is Elliot Brown, some really special timepieces for under $1,000