“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 $1000-2000 price range as well.”
Best Chronograph Watches Under $2,000
- Unimatic U3 Classic (Approx. $615)
- Baltic Bicompax 002 ($639)
- Maen Skymaster ($1,000)
- Yema Yachtingraf Bronze ($1,699)
- Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver ($1,950)
- Farer Carnegie ($1,955)
- Christopher Ward C65 Chronograph ($1,995)
- Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H ($1,995)
Within our exciting world of timepieces, 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.
Where Did The Chronograph Originate From?
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 When Buying A Chronograph
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 is the set of protruding pushers, which usually, are placed just above and below 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!
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
Maen Skymaster ($1,000)
Next up is the Maen Skymaster 38. And let me tell you this, the Maen Skymaster 38 is a perfect choice for enthusiasts wanting an automatic chronograph but not wanting to pay more than around $1,000 for it. Some of you may be familiar with this watch, as I featured it in one of my last articles, where I’ve made a list of the best chronograph watches for under $1,000. If you are interested in that, click here and enjoy!
The Maen Skymaster 38 features an automatic ETA 2894-2 movement, which
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
Yema Yachtingraf Bronze ($1,699)
Continuing with the Yema Yachtingraf Bronze, which in fact, I recently bought one from Yema directly. The looks and specs of the watch just appealed to me and also the price was good for what the watch has to offer. So short disclaimer, I obviously like the watch but I will try to be as unbiased as possible for you guys. If you want to know more about my opinion of the watch, head over to my detailed hands-on review here.
Yema as a brand was founded back in 1948 by Henry Louis Belmont and ever since then has accumulated a lot of achievements and milestones in the watchmaking business. And of those milestones was the introduction of the first Yema Yachtingraf in 1966, which was specially designed for the sailing world and community. Over time, there have been 6 models of the Yachtingraf that Yema released, and the latest model made it onto this list.
The new Yachtingraf has a bronze case, which measures 40mm in diameter. The height of 16.15mm is definitely noticeable, but around 2mm of the height is taken up by the domed sapphire crystal, so it doesn’t wear like 16mm. The watch is powered by a Seiko NE86 movement, which is a solid choice, but nothing too exciting. I really wanted to see Yema putting in an in-house movement into their new Yachtingraf. That would have been so cool. But you can’t have everything, right?
The watch also features a 12h GMT bezel, which brings in a GMT functionality without the need for a GMT Movement. Smart move Yema. And then, of course, there is the iconic and colorful Regatta Countdown subdial, which is placed quite prominently on the dial (makes sense, since it is after all a Yachtingraf…).
The Yema Yachtingraf Bronze is only produced as a limited edition of just 200 pieces and is now up available for $1,699 on Yema’s website. And if you want one for yourself, I can only recommend you the watch. I wore it a few times by now and it still feels good on my wrist, and luckily wears smaller than it looks on paper.
Specifications: Price: $1,699, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 16.15mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Automatic Seiko NE86 movement, Power Reserve: 45 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver ($1,950)
Coming up next is the Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. Loyal readers of this blog may know that Nivada Grenchen was already a topic in an earlier article, where I talked about affordable alternatives to the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, and that I’ve spoken very highly of them in that article. A brand and a watch that has quite a sentimental value to me, since both my grandparents worked at one of Nivada’s factories, right after they immigrated from Italy to Switzerland. To this day, both my grandparents tell a lot of stories from that time, which as a watch enthusiast, is very interesting to hear. But we are not here today to talk about my family, are we? We are here so that I can tell you a little bit more about the revival of one of Nivada’s greatest chronographs, they’ve ever produced. The Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. A vintage-inspired chronograph, that pays tribute to the Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster, a watch that was in production from the late 50s, until the end of 1970. This watch was loved by vintage collectors and enthusiasts and was the go-to watch for someone looking for an affordable vintage watch. And to the delight of virtually every watch enthusiast out there, Nivada Grenchen decided to bring back this icon of a watch.
Now that you had to endure this history lesson, let’s take a closer look at the specs of the modern version of the watch. The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver features a polished stainless-steel case, which measures 38mm in diameter, 13.75mm in thickness, and 49.5mm from lug to lug. Complementing that vintage-inspired case is the gorgeous black dial, which features cream-colored luminous indexes, a detailed tachymeter scale on the outer rims of the dial, brown-ish subdials at 3- and 9’clock, cream-colored, luminous hour and minute hands, as well as a vibrant orange second hand, which gives the dial a well-needed pop of color. All in all, it has a very thought-through and complete dial design, which looks nearly identical to its 1960s ancestor. Completing the vintage look is a black aluminum bezel insert, as well as a double-domed sapphire crystal.
The watch is powered by the hand-wound Sellita SW510 M BH B movement, which provides around 58 hours of power reserve. Can I just add how cool it is that they went for a hand-wound mechanical movement? It just adds a whole other level to that overall vintage look and feel.
To sum it up, for a price of $1,950, you can get your hands on a revived version of one of the greatest chronograph watches produced in the 1960s, which, not only looks nearly identical to its predecessor but also features a hand-wound mechanical movement, which strengthens its vintage ties even further.
Specifications: Price: $1,950, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 13.75mm, Lug-to-Lug: 49.5mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Hand-wound Sellita SW510 M BH B movement, Power Reserve: 58 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Farer Carnegie ($1,955)
We move on from the Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, a dominantly black colored watch, to the Farer Carnegie, a very colorful chronograph, where the color black is not to be found in any aspect of the watch. Named after David Carnegie, the only UK Olympiad to have won a medal in the 1928 Winter Olympics that were held at the base of the Bernina pass in Switzerland, the Farer Carnegie is designed to pay tribute to the unique architecture of the Swiss Bernina region.
The Farer Carnegie features a brushed stainless-steel case, which measures 41mm in diameter, 13.5mm in thickness, and 44mm from lug to lug. Thanks to its very short lug to lug distance, this watch will wear considerably smaller than it looks on paper, which, for a chronograph that takes its inspiration from past eras and wants to bring in a vintage feeling, is quite a good thing. On top of that case sits the dark blue, ceramic bezel, which features an engraved tachymeter scale. Being hugged by that glossy bezel is the matte teal dial, which features three different, dark blue sub-dials, luminous polished steel batten hour markers, dauphine styled hour and minute hands, as well as a bright red, central chronograph hand. Topping it all off, is a box-cased sapphire crystal, ensuring maximal scratch resistance.
Inside of the case beats the automatic, Swiss-made Sellita SW510 BH Elaboré movement, which was customized to feature a skeleton framework and a bespoke high-end bridge with an engraved Farer monogram pattern.
If you are looking for a colorful and mechanically powered chronograph from a microbrand, and don’t want to spend more than $2,000, this is the watch for you.
Specifications: Price: $1,955, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 13.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 44mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Automatic, Swiss-made Sellita SW510 BH Elaboré movement, Power Reserve: 58 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Christopher Ward C65 Chronograph ($1,995)
Coming up next is another 60s inspired chronograph watch from a microbrand. The Christopher Ward C65 Chronograph. Known for being the world’s first online-only watch brand, Christopher Ward was founded by three friends, Mike France, Peter Ellis, and Chris Ward back in 2005. The idea of making their own watches, came to them, while they were enjoying a gentle boat trip down the river Thames. And as they all were fascinated by horology and everything that surrounds it, the decision was made that they want to start a watch business. And after more than a year, on June 2nd, 2005, they launched their brand out of a converted chicken shed on a farm in Berkshire, England. And ever since then, they rode on a wave of success, now even creating their very own movements and continuing to provide awesome watches for rather affordable prices.
And their C65 Chronograph is a perfect example of that philosophy. Inspired by the classic regatta watches of the 1960s, this watch features a dial like no other watch on this list. The deep blue dial features a bi-color 30-minute sub-dial, that is activated with the start of the chronograph stopwatch function, a 60-seconds sub-dial, applied and polished hour markers, a white tachymeter scale at the edge of the dial, as well as a vibrant orange central chronograph hand, that is activated by the push of one of the screw-down pushers on the side of the case. Thanks to those screw-down pushers, the C65 Chronograph is water-resistant up to 150 meters, which, once again, points to its heritage as a yachting and sailing watch. Hugging that handsome dial is a blue, unidirectional bezel that is made from aluminum, and which is sitting on top of the 41mm stainless steel case.
The watch is powered by the automatic Sellita SW510 BHa movement, which has an accuracy of +/- 20 seconds a day and provides 48 hours of power reserve. Those of you that paid particular attention to the movements of the last 3 watches on this list (this one included), you may have noticed that they all use the same Sellita SW510 base for their movements, which, in the $1,500 to $2,000 price range of microbrand chronograph watches, seems to be go-to movement.
So, for $1,995, you will get yourself a 60s inspired yachting-chronograph, that offers a reliable movement, a cool dial design, and, on top of it all, comes from one of the most well-established microbrands out there.
Specifications: Price: $1,955, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 15mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47.1mm, Lug Width: 22mm, Water Resistance: 150m, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW510 BHa movement, Power Reserve: 48 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H ($1,995)
Here comes our last contender of today, the Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H. Most of you out there will be familiar with the ordinary Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph, which I featured in some of my older articles. But while the automatic version of the Intra-Matic Chronograph would have been on this list a year ago, its updated price makes it ineligible for this list. But not to worry, Hamilton supplied us with a great mechanical chronograph that shares some of the same 1960s DNA with its automatic sibling.
But let’s dive a little bit more into the details of this awesome watch, shall we? The Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H features a beautifully polished stainless-steel case, which measures 40mm in diameter, 14.35mm in thickness, and 49mm from lug to lug. If you compare this to the automatic version of the Intra-Matic Chronograph (40×14.75×49.2mm), you will see little to no difference when it comes to size. It’s a different game tho when it comes to the look and feel. Because just having the same name doesn’t mean that Hamilton just copy-pasted the exact same design onto the mechanical version. And honestly, I’m glad they didn’t. This makes the decision between those two not only about price and movement but also about the look and feel.
The Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H is available in two different versions. First, a “Panda” version, meaning that it features a vintage-inspired, creamy white dial and two black sub-dials. And second, we have the “reversed panda” version, which, as most of you know, just means that the dial is black and the sub-dials were colored in the same creamy white color we saw on the previous model. And if you compare both models to the automatic version, the difference in design is immediately visible. With the new mechanical versions, Hamilton decided to get rid of the different colored tachymeter scale on the edge of the dial, as well as not including a date window at 6 o’clock. And you know what? I really like the new design. To be completely honest, I like it way better than the original design of the automatic version. What do you think? Let me know in the comments down below.
The Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H is powered by the manual-winding H-51 movement, which was built in-house by Hamilton and provides around 60-hours of power reserve.
All in all, I think Hamilton did a great job with this mechanical chronograph. I really like how they designed it, the movement they used, and in particular, that they set the price just below $2,000.
Specifications: Price: $1,995, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 14.35mm, Lug-to-Lug: 49mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Manual-winding H-51 movement, Power Reserve: 60 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
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 $1000-2000 price range as well. Oh, and by the way, if you are interested in chronograph watches under $1,000, head over to this link and enjoy!