How Far Can $1,500 Take You? Comparing Price Point Options from Switzerland, Germany, and Japan
There’s a lot of debate in the watch world about what the best bang per buck at certain price points is. A lot of this is subjective, of course, based entirely on personal taste and what you’re looking to get out of a watch. However, there are certain objective features of a watch that can make it better value than another, comparably priced model. Today, we’re going to take a look at three models from three different countries of origin to see how far your (roughly) $1,500 can take you in the major watch producing countries in the world.
The three watches we’re going to take a look at all fall in the around about $1,500 price point. I decided to go with that range because it’s the point at which you really start to get into some higher level watchmaking, without having to break the bank in the process.
First, from Germany, we have the NOMOS Club Campus 38, which comes in at a retail price of $1,650 and can be purchased direct through NOMOS. Next up, from Japan, we have the Seiko Presage SARW047, priced at $1,328 through Seiya Japan (where it’s currently on sale). Finally, for the Swiss, we have the Longines Heritage 1832, priced new from Longines at $1,850.
To get a sense of what the brands are offering at this price point, we’re going to look at three categories: movement, materials/finishing, and brand heritage. While I could include aesthetics, like I said, that’s mostly subjective, so I’ll leave that one up to you.
Powering the NOMOS Club Campus 38 is the in-house NOMOS Alpha caliber. This hand assembled and hand crafted manual winding movement features 17 jewels and an up to 43 hour power reserve. It’s beautifully, but conservatively finished, with Glashutte waves on the traditional ¾ plate and circular brushing on the wheels. A tried and tested movement, it has been featured in at least one model from nearly every NOMOS model family since their inception. While not stated, many owners report a +/- 1 to 2 second per day accuracy.
The Seiko SARW047 is powered by the equally in-house Seiko caliber 6R27, a variation on the workhorse Seiko caliber 6R15 that powers the legendary SARB family, among others. The 6R27 is that same base movement, but with the addition of a power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock, and a date subdial (rather than window) at 6 o’clock. Seiko claims an accuracy rating of +25 to -15 seconds per day, and a power reserve of 45+ hours.
Finally, powering the Longines 1832, we have the Longines Caliber 619/888, which in actuality is a modified ETA 2892/A2. This 21 jewel automatic winding movement features a power reserve of roughly 42 hours, and with a potential accuracy of anywhere from +/- 5 seconds per day to +/- 20 seconds per day.
On sheer specifications alone, not counting the added functionality in the Seiko caliber, the Alpha from NOMOS offers a bit more in the way of raw function and accuracy, but it lacks the kind of everyday practicality that only automatic winding can bestow. For that reason, point goes to Seiko.
Materials and Finishing:
I’ll be frank – the only even remotely remarkable thing about the NOMOS Club Campus 38 when it comes to its materials and finishing is the fact that, by virtue of the Alpha movement, it’s incredibly slender. NOMOS measures the watch at 8.5mm in thickness, which is less than the Seiko and Longines both. Like I said, though, this is solely the result of the Alpha movement not needing to accommodate a date function or automatic winding rotor. Beyond this, the case is fully polished and, while this polishing is incredibly evenly executed and done to a superb standard, offers little in the way of interest. Then again, that’s the Bauhaus way, isn’t it?
The SARW047 is fitted in a 40.5mm stainless steel case and mounted on a steel bracelet with push-button deployant clasp. In terms of case finishing, there isn’t inherently anything to write home about here either. The lugs are beautifully downturned, in the same kind of way you’d see on everything from the SARB to some of the most stunning models from Grand Seiko, and feature the same kinds of beveled edges. However, the real star of the show is the dial.
The dial on the SARW047 is enamel, and when you’re talking about Seiko, enamel is a big deal. I won’t spend too long going on about it, but suffice it to say that for all of the enamel dials that Seiko produce (and there are a few, though not as many as you might expect), there is one, singular craftsman in charge of them – Mitsuru Yokosawa. He is, in fact, the only craftsman in all of Japan capable of producing enameled watch dials, given the complexity of the technique. It’s not just impressive on an artisanal level, but also on a value level. Hand painted dials don’t come cheap, after all.
The Longines 1832 is 40mm in case diameter, steel in construction, and features a range of different finishes, all executed with sharp, dramatic transitions rather than the smooth ones found on the Seiko. The lugs are bulky, and the bezel is thick, which frankly makes the whole thing feel a bit beefier than I might like (see the Longines Flagship Heritage for a well executed, vintage style case that still has presence). I do love the creamy, beige dial, and the strap has always been one of my favorite looks, but beyond that, the watch simply doesn’t offer much in the way of interesting finishing or material usage. It’s classic in nearly every way except the case size, but the question becomes – is that enough?
With this category, the winner is Seiko by a landslide strictly because of the enamel dial. To get a comparable option from Switzerland, you’d be looking at something in the $8-10k price bracket, and Germany even higher (if at all in any manner of affordability).
When it comes to brand heritage, I’ll be straight up – it’s a tie between Seiko and Longines. NOMOS, for however much impressive progress they’ve made since their introduction in the 1990s, simply lacks enough of a past as a brand to have heritage. However, both Longines and Seiko have made significant contributions to horology over the years, between Seiko’s invention of the quartz movement and Longines having at one time been considered on the same level as Rolex and Omega. There’s simply too much to try and explain it cohesively in a paragraph or two.
So, on a numbers level, Seiko is the winner when it comes to value between the three models shown. However, the one thing that needs to be reinforced is that they’re all around $1,500. The NOMOS, at $1,650 or so, offers a ton when you consider its role as one of the only truly in house German watches below the few thousand dollar mark. The Seiko, at $1,300 and change, is undoubtedly the one with the most to offer at the lowest price, and the Longines, at approaching $1,900, is absolutely relying on brand recognition to justify its pricing.
There are some magnificent independents from the Swiss world that offer much more than the Longines for the same money, but they still suffer in many ways from the same failings, as well as the lack of heritage that brings NOMOS down so much (that is, assuming heritage actually matters to you).
So what’s the moral of the story then? Well, if you’re willing to expand your horological horizons to a new country, you’d be amazed just how much more you can (typically) get for your money, whether that’s $1,500 or $150. Don’t believe me? Check out my review of the Seiko 5 SNKL43, a $135 watch, and tell me you don’t find yourself a bit intrigued why the same money can only buy you a Swatch from Switzerland. I’ll wait…