I’m going to have divide this into two sections – watch brands that I admire (but cannot afford), and watch brands that are affordable to me, that I personally own (< $3k) that I like.
Watch brands that I admire (but cannot afford)
(1) A Lange & Sohne
absolutely gorgeous design, beautifully decorated, very very exclusive, and very high level of craftsmanship. A Lange’s would be the watch I would get if I was rich.
(2) Glashutte Original
It’s like A Lange except much more affordable.. and yet still expensive enough to be in this section lol. Glashutte Original is basically A Lange lite. While A Lange’s cost $20k+, Glashutte Originals hover around $10k. Still out of reach for me but the same sentiments apply. Beautiful design, awesome craftsmanship, decorating etc
Absolutely a brand I admire for its rich innovative history as it was founded by one of the most influential watchmakers of all time. Breguet somehow slips the radar when people talk about the big 3, but Breguet is right up there with Pateks and A Lange’s in quality and craftsmanship.
(4) Vacheron Constantin
Of the big 3 (Patek, AD, Vacheron), Vacheron is my favourite. Probably cause they look the most dressy of the 3 in general. AD is a bit sporty looking and Patek can go in any category but Vacherons are always elegant and classy looking no matter the model. They are also I believe the least popular out of the big 3, and I always like to support underdogs (note how none of my picks are extremely popular amongst the general public or celebrities, I rarely see any of my top 5 in a Hodinkee celebrity video).
This last one may be the most ‘mainstream’ out of the brands I listed. It’s still expensive, but JLC’s history and innovation cannot be denied. It’s a highly respected brand by both the general public and watch aficionados alike. Can I call them Vacheron lite? lol I do love their classy looking designs and movements.
Note: there is one other brand I have to mention here
For their unmatched dial work and their unique spring drive, I have to mention GS. It’s not the brand I would necessarily go for if I had the money since I find their designs a bit conservative, but have to respect their technology and high quality finishing which is unparalleled (even Patek doesn’t come close to GS’s finishing and dial work).
Watch brands that I personally own and enjoy
(1) Nomos Glasshute
Nomos is probably the most expensive brand out of what I own (I have the Tetra model) but you can still find several under $3k, and I enjoy their minimalist bauhaus design, in house movements and attention to detail. Awesome brand, but they’ve been trending upmarket in recent years.
Love my Junghans, probably my most versatile watch. They are generally around $1k-$3k in price range, and you usually get very beautiful simplistic yet functional pieces. What I love about them is they can be both dressy and casual, and looks good in both situations. The closest competitor is probably Muehle Glashutte but I prefer Junghans designs more.
(3) Frederique Constant
Hands down, FC is the best brand for dress watches under $3k. They’re just so beautiful and elegant and look a lot more expensive than they actually are. Yes I love some of the Baume & Mercier designs and some Hamilton and Raymond Weil models look nice too, but FC turns heads. I paid $1200 for my slimline moon phase and people think it looks like a $5k watch.
Oris is one of those brands that I think doesn’t particularly excel in any style, but does them all fairly well and at affordable prices. You can pick up any Oris watch and be assured its high quality, looks more expensive than it is, and will perform well. It might not turn heads like my FC or Junghans but they are quite versatile.
How many people have heard of this brand? It really kind of flies under the radar, but it’s a solid German brand that makes great aviator style watches and comparable to Sinn and Stowa quality. They’re never go below $1k but they aren’t out of reach either. Those looking for solid pilot style watches should check them out.