“The best chronograph watches under $1,000: The Lorier Gemini, the Unimatic U3 Classic, the Baltic Bicompax 002, the Brew Retrograph Cobalt, the Dan Henry 1937, the Yema Rallygraf Panda, and the Maen Skymaster 38”
The Best Chronograph Watches Under $1,000
- Lorier Gemini ($499)
- Unimatic U3 Classic (Approx. $615)
- Baltic Bicompax 002 ($639)
- Brew Retrograph Cobalt ($350)
- Dan Henry 1937 ($270)
- Yema Rallygraf Panda ($349)
- Maen Skymaster 38 ($1,000)
Within our exciting world, there is a very wide range of different watch complications, which are available to buy for collectors, casual wearers, or anyone else that wants to have a little time instrument on their wrist. Complications range from a simple date to the famous GMT, and all the way to the exquisite perpetual calendars, which will cost you a small fortune. But almost none of them have the same influence and popularity as the iconic chronograph that we know today.
The History Of The Chronograph Watch
But in order to understand how the modern chronograph got to where it is today, we first have to turn back the time a few years. Actually, 205 years, to be precise. And for those of you that are still trying to subtract 205 from 2021, let me spare you the pain, the answer is 1816. It was in 1816 when Louis Moinet created the first pocket watch with a chronograph complication. But it wasn’t just a basic, run-of-the-mill watch. Louis Moinet’s watch featured several registers for measuring the time. On the top left, he placed a 60-minute indicator, on the top right a 60 seconds indicator, and just below the center of the dial, is a 24-hour register. Speaking of which, at the center of the stage is a thin hand indicating the 1/60th of a second. And in order for the chronograph to fulfill its purpose properly, it was equipped with two buttons for stopping, starting, and resetting. According to Louis Moinet, the watch has a power reserve of approximately 30 hours, although this has not been tested, in order to avoid damaging the movement. Fun fact, Louis Mionet’s pocket watch chronograph had a beat rate of 216,000 vibrations per hour or 30 Hz, which means that the watch was able to measure as precise as 1/60th of a second. Compared to the modern mechanical watches that have a beat rate ranging from 18,000 BPH up to 36,000 BPH, this is absolutely amazing!
What To Look For In A Chronograph Watch
So now that you had to endure this history lesson, let’s take a look at what makes a modern chronograph, a chronograph, shall we?
Bascially, a chronograph watch combines standard time-telling with a stopwatch functionality. Usually, chronograph watches are easily identifiable thanks to their busy dials, which feature multiple subdials and scales, to display the different time measurements. Another thing to look out for are the set of protruding pushers, which usually, are placed just above and below of the crown. And while there are certain watches that only use one pusher, we call them Monopushers, most of the watches that feature a chronograph complication will have those 2 distinctive pushers.
Now, you heard about the history and what to look for in a chronograph, but what makes them so intriguing for watch enthusiasts? Well, this is fairly easy to answer. There are 3 main reasons why we enthusiasts love them so much.
1. First, the technical aspect. Let’s face it, being able to push some buttons on your watch feels pretty awesome, doesn’t it? So, what do I mean by that? The sheer thought of a mechanical instrument being able to measure split seconds of time by pushing a button, is absolutely mind-blowing and exciting to me and, I guess, to a lot of other watch lovers too.
2. Second, the cool sporty looks that a chronograph usually brings with it. Just take the Rolex Daytona for example. With its three striking subdials, the iconic, arrow-shaped chronograph central hand, and black ceramic bezel with the Tachymeter scale on it, the watch became an icon within the industry, which to some part, is thanks to its cool and sporty design.
3. Third, the historical significance that the chronograph has. Known as the typical motorsport watch, chronograph watches were seen to be worn on the wrists of countless motorsport legends, such as Paul Newman, which you probably are familiar with. And if you are not, Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona Chronograph became famous when it sold for a mind-blowing $17.8 million, at a 2017 Philipps auction.
As you can see, there are many reasons to get a chronograph watch. And to give you some guidance throughout the jungle, that the watch industry is, I’ve rounded up seven of my favorite timepieces with a chronograph complication on this list of the best chronograph watches that can be bought for $1,000 or less. And as always, I’m trying to include some not-so-well-known brands, so that even the most knowledgeable enthusiast will still get to see something new. But enough with all the talking, let’s get started!
Lorier Gemini ($499)
First up is Lorier and their beloved Gemini model. Lorier first appeared on my radar after I watched a video from “The Urban Gentry”, where TGV spend minutes gushing over one of their watches, I think it was their Neptune model. Lorier (pronounced lor-yé) was founded in New York City and is run by Lorenzo and Lauren Ortega, a couple who is aiming to create vintage-inspired watches with a modern twist. Ever since their first release back in 2018, Lorier earned a lot of respect and love within the watch community.
And the Lorier Gemini had definitely its fair share in the rise of the brand. The Lorier Gemini features a stainless-steel case, which measures 39mm in diameter, 12.6mm in thickness, and 47mm from lug to lug. I’m personally very pleased to see that they managed to keep the case under 40mm, which considering the chronograph movement, isn’t something you should expect. But they did it anyway, and as I said, I’m glad so. Besides its conservative case sizing, the Lorier Gemini also has other distinctive vintage design features, which remind us of the brand’s design philosophy. Take for example the crisp white dial, which features two vintage black sub-dials, and an arrow-shaped chronograph hand, which to be honest, reminds me of the Rolex Daytona. Rounding off the classic look is the 24-click bidirectional bezel, as well as the domed hesalite crystal.
Inside of the brushed case, ticks the hand-wound Seagull ST19 movement, which beats at 21,600 BPH, and provides approximately 40 hours of power reserve.
And there you have it. A mechanical chronograph, delivered on a metal bracelet, a sophisticated design, very pleasant dimensions, mechanical movement, and all that for only $499. Need I say more? I think not.
Specifications: Price: $499, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 11mm, Lug-to-Lug: 45mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Hand-wound mechanical Seagull ST19 movement, Power Reserve: 40 hours, Crystal: Hesalite
Unimatic U3 Classic (Approx. $615)
Coming up next is a watch from Bella Italia. The Unimatic U3 Classic (UC3 for short). Known for creating good-looking, minimalistic timepieces, which also boast some impressive specs, the Italian-brand Unimatic is a rising star within the watch industry.
And the Unimatic U3 Classic chronograph embodies the Unimatic spirit to near perfection. The UC3 is part of the new Unimatic permanent Classic series, a series of 4 watches that, unlike other Unimatic releases, aren’t limited. The Unimatitc U3 Classic features a brushed stainless-steel case, which measures 41.5mm in diameter, 13.7mm in thickness, and 51mm from lug to lug. The straight lugs effortlessly hug the beginning of the black NATO strap, which the watch is delivered on. In a typical Unimatic manner, the decoration of the dial is kept to a bare minimum, it only features simplistically painted hour markers, two sub-dials, which indicate the seconds measured by the chronograph complication, as well as the 24-hour time, and the central chronograph hand, which is kept as understated as possible. Since Unimatic specializes in making diving-capable timepieces, the UC3 features luminescent coatings on all time-telling components, as well as screw-down Chrono pushers, which enable the watch to be water-resistant up to 300 meters.
Powered by the Meca-quartz caliber Seiko VK64, the watch features a special movement, which combines a mechanical movement with a quartz movement. What does that mean you may ask? Well, the mechanical part of the movement ensures the sweeping motion of the central chronograph hand, while the quartz part of the movement takes care of the rest. And I know, we aren’t the biggest fan of quartz watches. But hey, for a watch that will only cost you 525 euros (Approx. $615), has a chronograph complication and a very nice design, Mecaquartz is all we can ask for.
Specifications: Price: EUR 525 (Approx. $615), Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 13.7mm, Lug-to-Lug: 51mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Meca-quartz caliber Seiko VK64 movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Sapphire
Baltic Bicompax 002 ($639)
The seasoned reader of this blog knows by now, that the microbrand Baltic is a recurring theme on my blog. And rightfully so I must add. But no worries, I won’t bother you again with the Baltic Aquascaphe, today I have another model in mind, which I personally find as cool as the Aquascaphe. Let me present to you, the Baltic Bicompax 002.
Inspired by watches from the 1940s, the Baltic Bicompax 002 features a stainless-steel case, which measures 38mm in diameter, 12mm in thickness, and 47mm from lug to lug. Now, for those of you wondering why they named this watch “Bicompax”, let me enlighten you. By the way, I didn’t know either before doing some research on it, so don’t worry. The term “Bicompax” refers to chronographs with two registers, which was the typical design of 1940s chronographs. In the case of the Baltic Bicompax 002, the left counter displays the permanent second, and the right-hand side displays a 30-minute counter. Other than the two subdials, the silverish, art-deco-inspired dial, also features printed Arabic numerals, a circular brushed chapter ring, as well as black Feuille hands.
The chronograph is powered by the hand-wound Seagull ST1901 movement, which can be marveled at through the open case back, that you can have for just 25 euros extra. Little advice from me, the 25 euros are definitely worth it, especially if you enjoy the beauty of a mechanical movement.
As you may have guessed from the way I wrote this part of the article, I really like the Baltic Bicompax. I like the art-deco-inspired design, I like the case proportions, and most of all, I like that they went for a hand-wound movement, which, on top, can be admired through the open caseback. All in all, hat off to Baltic!
Specifications: Price: $639, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Hand-wound Seagull ST1901 movement, Power Reserve: 40 hours, Crystal: Hesalite
Brew Retrograph Cobalt ($350)
Continuing with a very special watch, from a very special brand, that many of you maybe never even heard of. And if you do, I apologize for my assumption. Anyway, I’m talking about the watch company Brew, and in particular, their Retrograph Cobalt. Some of you may remember, I did feature another version of the Brew Retrograph in one of my first articles ever on this site. And for those of you that don’t, here is a little introduction to Brew.
Brew was founded in New York City, by a guy named Jonathan Ferrer. The inspiration behind their watches comes from coffee. Yes, you heard that right, coffee. The Brew watch collection is inspired by the design of industrial coffee machines and is made to celebrate the enjoyable coffee experiences that we have during the day. I think it helps to know that Jonathan Ferrer is a huge coffee fan, which explains this obsession. Fun fact, the dial of the Retrograph features specific markers that specify when the optimal espresso shot has been extracted. The time for this ranges from 25 to 35 seconds – depending on the barista and the machine. For those wondering, those markers can be seen between the 5- and 7 o’clock hour indexes.
Speaking of the dial, the Brew Retrograph Cobalt has a rich cobalt blue, sunburst dial, which features two chronograph subdials, baton-style hands, as well as a rather large date window down at 6 o’clock. Hugging that dial is a 38mm, rectangular stainless-steel case, which has rounded-off edges, as well as a brushed surface.
Like the Unimatic U3 Classic and the upcoming Dan Henry 1937, the Brew Retrograph Cobalt also features a hybrid Meca-quartz movement. I won’t go into detail about what that is, since we covered that in the previous paragraph. But even though the watch doesn’t have a mechanical movement, for its $350 price tag, it still offers great value.
Specifications: Price: $350, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 10.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 41.5mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Hybrid Meca-quartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Sapphire
Dan Henry 1937 ($270)
Next up is the Dan Henry 1937 chronograph. Founded by Dan Henry, a legendary watch collector, who over the span of the last 30 years, collected over 1500 vintage watches, with some of them being among the most iconic and sought-after timepieces of the last century. When I said he is legendary, I meant it. He and his same-named brand, specializes in creating highly attractive, vintage-inspired timepieces, which, thanks to their price tag, are available to a very broad range of watch enthusiasts and collectors. Fun fact, all of the watches you can buy on their website, are actually inspired by one of Dan Henry’s priced vintage timepieces.
The Dan Henry 1937 features a Seiko VK64 Mecaquartz movement. For those of you that don’t know what a Mecaquartz movement is, basically it’s a quartz chronograph movement, which features a sweeping chronograph hand. So it’s like a hybrid car, but instead of relying on a combination of electricity and fuel, the watch offers a combination of both quartz and a mechanical movement. The movement is housed in a 316L stainless steel case, which measures 38mm in diameter, 12.7mm in thickness, and 46.1mm from lug to lug. Quartz movement and modest case proportions aside, the real star of the watch is without any doubt its dial. Stylized to pay tribute to the era of Art Deco, the silver dial of the 1937 chronograph features a bi-compax styled composition, with the Chrono sub-registers horizontally opposed at three and nine o’clock, as well as a detailed Tachymeter scale on the outer parts of the dial. The overall design of the 1937 chronograph takes a lot of inspiration from two of the most iconic watches from that era. The Vacheron Constantin Ref. 4072 and the Patek Philippe Ref. 130. And for those of you that are familiar with those two watches, you know that 1937 delivers on the design side.
Overall, Dan Henry delivered once again. For a price of just $270, you get a classic design, nice proportions, and a cool background story.
Specifications: Price: $270, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12.7mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46.1mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Seiko VK64 Mecaquartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Mineral with sapphire coating
Yema Rallygraf Panda ($349)
Continuing with a little bit of good old French flair. Yema. Specifically the Yema Rallygraf Panda. Previously covered in my Affordable Alternatives To The Rolex Daytona article, this racing-inspired chronograph makes a comeback on this blog. And what a comeback that is.
Taking its design inspiration from the past days of glorious motor racing, the Yema Rallygraf features a carefully polished 316L stainless steel case, which measures 39mm in diameter, 13mm in thickness, and 46mm from lug to lug. Like the previously listed Lorier Gemini, the Yema Rallygraf has the same modest case size, which strengthens its overall vintage appeal. Speaking of which, the vintage design aspects can be seen all over the watch, but especially within the dial. Take for example the two subdials at 3- and 9 o’clock, both of them are designed to look like vintage car dashboards. Or the two checkered flags just above 6 o’clock, which pay tribute the iconic Grand Prix races. And if the dial wasn’t enough to prove its vintage inspiration, the black aluminum tachymeter bezel, as well as the two vintage-looking chronograph pushers should do the trick.
Powered by a Seiko VK64 Mechanical-Quartz movement, the Yema Rallygraf Panda, unfortunately, hasn’t much to offer from a mechanical standpoint, but it sure does prove its value with the design and overall finishing. And once again, for a price of $349, you can’t really expect a mechanical chronograph movement.
Specifications: Price: $349, Case Size: 39mm, Thickness: 13mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Seiko VK64 Mecaquartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Mineral
Maen Skymaster 38 ($1,000)
And now, finally, a watch that, again, prides itself with a sophisticated mechanical movement. The Maen Skymaster 38. And let me tell you this, it’s a hard job to find mechanical chronograph watches under $1,000, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that only 3 out of the 7 watches on this list feature a fully mechanical movement. And while a Mecaquartz movement offers a lot of value, especially when we look at the $200 to $500 range, I, as a watch enthusiast, have to admit that a watch with a mechanical movement is just a little bit more appealing to me.
And the Maen Skymaster 38 is a perfect example of a mechanical watch. Featuring an automatic ETA 2894-2 movement, the watch provides around 42 hours of power reserve and has an accuracy ranging from +/- 20 seconds per day to +/-5 seconds per day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the exact accuracy rating of the Maen Skymaster 38, but I assume that it is somewhere in the middle of the previously mentioned spectrum. The reliable movement is housed inside of a polished stainless-steel case, which measures 38mm in diameter, 12.9mm in thickness, and 47.3mm from lug to lug.
The beautiful off-white dial features 3 black radial subdials, a vintage-styled rehaut (A rehaut is the inner bezel ring of a watch that surrounds the dial), applied indexes, as well as a small seconds counter on the outer part of the dial. Hugging that creamy white dial is a vintage-inspired, narrow, black bezel, which features a 12-hour GMT scale on it.
For a price of around $1,000, you will get an automatic chronograph, which has an awesome design and great proportions. What’s not to like?
Specifications: Price: $1,000, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12.9mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47.3mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Automatic ETA 2894-2 movement, Power Reserve: 42 hours, Crystal: Hesalite
As you can see, you don’t have to spend over $20,000 for a Rolex Daytona to have a real chronograph watch on your wrist. There are some pretty sweet alternatives in the $500-1000 price range as well. And even if some of them are only partially mechanical, I still think that every single one of them is worth your money. Oh, and by the way, if you are interested in other watches under $1,000, I made a complete list of the best automatic watches under $1,000. Would appreciate it if you could check it out.