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Affordable watches - Value For Money: One Idea, Six Approaches. Part 1.

Affordable watches Value For Money: One Idea, Six Approaches. Part 1.

Do you want a watch that looks good on the outside, or one that performs well on the inside? The answer is clearly both, if possible. But when budget is a consideration (a tight budget, obviously), the choice narrows considerably. WorldTempus unveils some lesser-known gems that tick all the boxes without breaking the bank.

What’s beautiful is rare, and what’s rare is expensive. That might seem to be an over-simplification;  nevertheless, for the majority of watchmakers, it’s true. Beautiful finishes require meticulous handcrafting, and sophisticated movements imply significant investment in R&D. All of this inevitably has an impact on the bottom line.

Thankfully, there are some watch brands that have designed their watches to be affordable from the outset. There are two schools of thought: either you aim for the lowest possible price for a refined aesthetic, a timeless design and a tried-and-tested generic movement; or you produce an authentic manufacture movement for as close as possible to CHF 10,000.

Schwarz Etienne, the small manufacture that punches above its weight

Schwarz Etienne, founded in 1902 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, has done a bit of everything: movement manufacture, anonymous supplier (to Chanel, Dunhill, Mauboussin, Caran d’Ache and Mellerio dits Mellers), hiatus, quartz crisis, buyout, rebirth and now recreation as a manufacture in its own right, under the impetus of Raffaello Radicchi. After arriving in Switzerland in the early 1970s to work on the Gotthard Tunnel, today he is the biggest property owner in the canton of Neuchâtel!

Qualité / prix : unc concept, six approches. Partie 1.

Roma Power Reserve © Schwarz etienne

In 2007 he fell in love with Schwarz Etienne, and bought it. Since then the company has continued to create, invent and design, consistently focusing on premium quality and, as much as possible, movements made entirely in-house – including the hairspring, something very few independent watchmakers are capable of (H. Moser & Cie is one of them).

Qualité / prix : unc concept, six approches. Partie 1.

Roma Small Second © Schwarz Etienne

The movements fall into two categories: the ASE (Automatic Schwarz-Etienne) and its predecessor, the MSE (Manual Schwarz-Etienne), which has a double barrel. Although they are fundamentally the same, in the ASE the second barrel is replaced with a micro-rotor. This is a signature feature of the brand, which is one of the rare watchmakers now producing in-house micro-rotor automatic movements. In fact, this was one of the last big projects initiated by the late lamented Lebeau-Courally in Le Locle. The other micro-rotor watches currently available tend to be in the higher price brackets (e.g. Bulgari, Hermès and Parmigiani). Schwarz Etienne models (in this case, the Roma), begin at around CHF 10,000 (CHF 10,500 in steel), in return for which the buyer receives distinctive design and a quality of execution that is rarely seen at this price level. Even Kari Voutilainen has got in on the act, which is praise indeed! But Schwarz Etienne is not the only watchmaker making an in-house movement with micro-rotor.

Trilobe: one to watch

Imagined in France, designed in Switzerland. This approach has been tried before, but the technical and financial strategy is new. For its launch, Trilobe developed a bold concentric display, executed by one of the doyens of watch movement design: Jean-François Mojon of Chronode. The watch was priced at EUR 7320. “We wanted something extremely innovative and very high quality, for under 10,000 euros. That was one of our starting principles when the brand was launched,” notes Gauthier Massonneau, the brand’s founder.

Qualité / prix : unc concept, six approches. Partie 1.

Les Matinaux © Trilobe

The following year, Trilobe did it again. It developed what was to become its own in-house movement, the X-Centric. This entirely Swiss Made automatic mechanical movement with micro-rotor, comprising 230 components, now drives Les Matinaux, a complete collection featuring a majority of models that cost less than 8,000 euros. The case depth has also been reduced from 13.5 mm to 8.8 mm. The jury of the 20th Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) can’t be faulted for pre-selecting the watch for this year’s competition, in the “Petite Aiguille” category. And that’s quite a feat for a watch that has no hands!

Qualité / prix : unc concept, six approches. Partie 1.

© Trilobe

Raymond Weil, a safe pair of hands

Raymond Weil is a discreet but constant presence. It doesn’t have the hitting power of a Baume & Mercier or a Longines; it can’t rely on the might of a big group, in the way that Frédérique Constant can lean on Citizen. Back in the day, Raymond Weil occupied a booth in Hall 1 of Baselworld. The company founded in 1976, and still in the hands of the same family, is nevertheless an enduring presence in the accessible watchmaking segment, consistently pleasing its customers with offerings priced under 1000 francs. The brand is happy to embrace the advantages of quartz (in the Toccata collection), a technology that still drives the vast majority of watches bought worldwide. But for just a little more (1400 euros), it’s possible to get an automatic Maestro with date and moon phases, on a superb guilloché dial. You can certainly find plenty of watches that are less good, for a lot more money.

Qualité / prix : unc concept, six approches. Partie 1.

Toccata © Raymond Weil


At the time of the Brand’s creation in 1976, Raymond Weil wanted to bring luxury Swiss watchmaking within the reach of a wider public. This visionary approach, always dear to the three generations,...

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Based in traditional Swiss watchmaking country in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Schwarz Etienne has a century of history in watchmaking but chooses to look to the future rather than the past.

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An audacious idea born out of a desire to break from the traditional watchmaking codes. A new way of reading time. Poetry on the wrist, an intimate link to time. Trilobe is all of those things, and...

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