Skeleton and open watch hearts are popular for their gaze into the intricate craftsmanship that goes into watchmaking. The true mark of a quality watch maker has always been the assembly of the mechanics that runs the timepiece, and today we are going to look at some of the best affordable pieces that you can get for under $500.
The Bulova 96A120 is an exquisitely designed watch. The overall theme of this watch give it an old-fashioned look. The indexes are roman numerals which, like the watch hands and sub-dials, are finished in a polished rose gold. The brown alligator embossed strap and brown dial accentuate the antique look. The stainless steel case sports a combination of polished and brushed finishes. The crown at 3 o’clock is reminiscent of the crowns that watchmakers in the distant past used to display their workmanship with the Bulova logo carefully place on the top. The dual aperture open heart and exhibition caseback are there to display the all-important BVA series movement which is a 21 jewel self-winding movement. The BVA series movement is made to provide years of reliable timekeeping to its users.
This timepiece is quite a lot for the eyes at first but once you get used to all the action on the dial it becomes a pleasure to look at. This Chinese made watch has a long history and makes every effort to show you as much as it can through a mostly clear dial. The movement is their own Sea-Gull 21 jewel automatic movement with a 36 hour power reserve. It has a hacking second feature and beats at 21 600 bph. The polished antique crown is a clear stand out feature for me and works well with the round polished case to put together a classic Chinese look. There is a genuine black leather band that completes the exceptional dress up potential of this piece which is impressive at this price point.
In the Orient Esteem you will find an elegant dress watch that you would naturally expect to come in at a slightly higher price. Orient are renowned for their dress watches and with the Esteem you are getting a daily wearer with your run-of-the-mill Orient 46A40 automatic movement which is not necessarily top of the range but will keep your timepiece moving along just fine and helps keep the price down. We catch a glimpse of the movement through the open heart just to the bottom left of the dial. The case has a standard 41mm polished stainless steel but the dial looks quite sizable because the bezel isn’t too thick. The brushed dauphine hands and fairly long indexes combine unobtrusively with the black dial to keep the face from looking too busy. I feel like most appreciators of time such as myself might not enjoy the glossy leather strap but not to worry, at 22mm in width you can find another leather strap easily enough and throw it on.
As can be expected with Seiko this is a high quality piece even though it comes it at a lower price than the upper tier Seiko watches. The workhorse in this timepiece is a Seiko mechanical movement so there is nothing to be concerned over in terms of quality and it sports a 55 hour power reserve and beats at 36,000 bph. The case is a perfectly round shaped polished stainless steel with an unspectacular domed screw crown at 3 o’clock. There is a multi-layered silver dial with a textured middle and black Roman numerals, which appears to be a common thread for the pieces on this list, for indexes. The dark blue watch hands look particularly striking on the silver background and the second hand has a half moon on the end. I am not sure if the brown genuine leather strap suits this piece so well but it is a part that grew on me as I got to know this watch a bit better.
The Tissot Tradition is not burdened with over decoration and features on this list as an entry level, classic dress watch. The case is rose gold and at 40mm can easily be worn as a day watch or a piece to be worn for more formal occasions. The crown is decidedly small and the indexes on the white, subtly textured dial match the case. There is a singular Roman numeral for the 12 o’clock index and the rest are thin lines. Just below 12 o’clock is the tourbillon displayed through an open heart aperture. The brown leather strap has a butterfly clasp and completes the dress potential of this piece. My favourite part of this piece is, quite arbitrarily, the exhibition caseback. It really has an especially sophisticated design style that is appealing to look at.
Taking its cap as the sports representative on the list is the Seiko 5 Retro. It isn’t necessarily a classic piece but the silver bracelet and orange accents are most certainly retro. The piece is bulky and would suit bigger wrists best at 44mm in diameter and a clearly weighty feel. The protruding bezel has numbers 1 to 15 on it and then an incremental increase of 5’s from there. The protruding bezel and slanted Tonneau style of the case give the watch a popping effect. There is a hacking second hand that is controlled by the surprisingly small crown and is perhaps intended to be used with the numbers on the bezel. The open heart is at 9 o’clock and stands out quite clearly with the orange circle around it. The Seiko 4R38 24 jewel movement operates at 21,600 bph and has a 41 hour power reserve. This is a thick piece and won’t suit everybody but is undoubtedly good value for money.
The Dessau is a vintage dress watch with an especially thin case design. The dial has sub-second markers and even numbers counting upward in 2’s all along the chapter ring. The dial does seem a bit busy with text and large Arabic numerals taking up a bit of space. The leaf watch hands are silver with black in the middle. The second sub-dial is overlapped by the open heart and they are nestled between the 4 and 8 o’clock. The case is polished stainless steel and has a standard genuine calfskin strap attached to its protruding lugs. The self-winding Miyota movement is the 82S5 calibre workhorse and will keep this piece ticking for years to come. My only gripe with the Junkers watchmakers here is that the logo underneath the Junkers name at 12 o’clock takes up space unnecessarily.
The Symphony gives us a spectacular view of the proud craftsmanship it takes to keep their timepieces ticking. The dual balance wheels stand out with style on this complete skeleton dial. The skeleton dial and the silver faceplate are displayed through a Krysterna crystal, which is unique to Stuhrling and has been developed in partnership with the eyewear industry. The silver faceplate has black Roman numerals and just above it two blue screws keeping it tightly fastened. The bezel is coin edged and at 3 o’clock on the case there is a classic crown. At 45mm in diameter and sporting a 24mm alligator embossed band this timepiece is going to need a big wrist for it to be worn comfortably. Stuhrling have their own mechanical movement powering this piece which has managed to keep time to about +10 seconds a day. This piece holds a well-deserved place on this list and competes aesthetically with some of the best watches of the same style.
This piece is a bit difficult for me to look at for long periods of time but the high quality components that you get with this classic Bulova means it is a must on this list. There is a full skeleton dial with blue skeleton watch hands and a second hand that partially blends in with the rest of the watch. The Bulova timepiece has big blue bold roman numerals. Due to space they have used regular lines at 3, 7, 9 and 11 which is obviously due to spatial planning but is a poor decision for me since it looks a bit untidy. The lugs are wider than most timepieces which results in a larger bracelet as well and will exclude smaller wrists from comfortable use. The crown is a polished screw crown and the general combination of brushed and polished finishes gives the piece some nice contrast. This piece is a bit big for my liking but there will be some happy suitors out there.