Best of 2022: Value Propositions

The best value absolutely and nominally.

We’ve gone through the year’s best watches from independent watchmakers and establishment brands, as well as the most notable complications. Nearly all of the watches on those lists, however, are pricey. So now we round up the best affordable watches of the year, namely those under US$5,000. Put another way, these are the best value proposition of 2022, both in nominal and relative terms.

As has become the norm, Tudor is shoo-in when it comes to value propositions. A streamlined version of its deep-sea dive watch, the Pelagos 39 is compact, lightweight, and minimalist. The case is 39 mm and all titanium, while the dial does away with the date but includes a line of red text in a nod to vintaged dive watches. 

While much about the watch has been simplified, the details of the Pelagos 39 are fancier than usual. Both the dial and bezel insert are radially brushed – a matte metallic finish for the dial and brushed ceramic for the bezel – giving the Pelagos 39 a more reflective finish than its peers.

When it comes to dress watches, the Longines Master Collection “190th Anniversary” is amongst the best, particularly at its US$2,000-ish price.

It features a dial that appears to be highly elaborate with Breguet hour numerals that appear to be hand engraved. Naturally the dial is made by machine, but it is done convincingly enough that has a strikingly appealing aesthetic. Thanks to the dial, the watch certainly punches above its price segment.

And like many Longines watches, it is equipped with an upgraded ETA movement, here it’s the cal. L888.5 with a power reserve of 72 hours.  

With the time-and-date PRX having been a hit, Tissot unsurprisingly unveiled the PRX Chronograph. Very much catering to the fad for integrated-bracelet sports watches, the PRX Chronograph is stylishly affordable. In absolute terms it remains one of the most accessible automatic chronographs on the market with a price tag of just under US$2,000.

Though substantially pricier than the base-model PRX, the chronograph justifies its price with an upgraded Valjoux cal. A05 H31 movement that has a longer power reserve of 60 hours. And the dial also features details that give it the feel of a more expensive watch, like applied hour markers, recessed sub-dials, and a contrast-finish minute scale on the periphery. 

And now for something at the extreme of affordability when it comes to mechanical watches. The Seiko 5 Sport GMT costs under US$500, but it is an automatic watch with a second time zone and date. 

But its price inevitability comes with compromises, namely the fact that it is not a true GMT watch. That’s because it has a 24-hour hand that is independently adjustable in one-hour steps, rather than the local-time hour hand that’s independent as is the case in a bona fide GMT watch. The consequence of that is a slightly more tedious process of setting the time when crossing time zones.

But the Seiko 5 GMT is easily one of the compelling dual-time watches below US$500, though admittedly it has little competition in its price category, perhaps reflecting the challenge of putting together a dual-time watch for that little money.

Seiko’s most-affordable GMT. Image – Seiko

And the honourable mention goes to one of the year’s most high-profile watches, the Omega x Swatch Bioceramic MoonSwatch. Essentially a plastic version of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, the MoonSwatch is affordable – it costs just US$260 – but it is not exactly a value proposition because it feels very much like a two-hundred dollar watch. 

The Moonwatch (left) and MoonSwatch. Image – Swatch

You get what you pay for, and it is very true with the tangible qualities of the MoonSwatch. But it does possess an iconic design borrowed from Omega as well as appealing candy colours, and a price that puts it within easy reach for almost everyone, including young watch enthusiasts. That explains why the MoonSwatch resulted in long queues outside stores, making it a marketing coup that helped revive an ailing Swatch.

The demand for the MoonSwatch so exceeded supply, at least in the initial stages, that Swatch had trouble keeping up, resulting in big premiums to retail on the secondary market. The frenzy has since cooled down, but in some ways the MoonSwatch captures the zeitgeist of 2022 with the hype surrounding it, as well as the rapid rise and fall in its secondary-market value.


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Best of 2022: Compelling Complications

Evolutionary complexity.

Most brands, especially the establishment names, stuck to the evolutionary rather than revolutionary in 2022, which also held true for the latest complications for the year. Nearly all of the year’s most notable complications were derived from past concepts.

But the result can still be impressive, as demonstrated by the Ulysse Nardin Freak S. The latest version of a watch that was revolutionary when it was introduced in 2001, the Freak S embodies the ideas that made the original Freak a milestone, including the unorthodox movement construction and the liberal use of intricately-shaped silicon components.

But above all it boasts a far more complex regulator that takes the form of twin oscillators connected by a differential. As outlined in our in-depth review, the twin-balance setup was mostly found on classical (and expensive) chronometers from the likes of Greubel Forsey and Philippe Dufour, making the Freak S an outlier with its hyper-modern design. And at US$137,000, it is also more affordable than similar complications from other makers.

Standing in stark contrast to the aggressively contemporary styling of the Freak S is the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse. Typical of Cartier with its Roman numerals and ruby cabochon in the crown, the Masse Mystérieuse is inspired by the mystery clocks made by the jeweller in the first half of the 20th century.

The result of over eight years of research and development, the Masse Mystérieuse was the final complication devised by Carole Forestier-Kasapi, the former movement chief at Cartier who now holds the same job at TAG Heuer. Reflecting Ms Forestier-Kasapi’s imaginative approach to movement construction and oscillators, the Masse Mystérieuse features a skeletonised automatic movement that is itself the winding rotor. In other words, the movement constantly spins around while the watch is on the wrist. 

The genius of the Masse Mystérieuse lies in the differential gearing that allow the movement to freely rotate around the central axis, while the hour and minute hands on the same axis are stationary and tell the time conventionally. Very few movements incorporate such differential gears due to their complexity, and tellingly, one of the other watches with a comparable mechanism is the Cartier Astroregulator that was also invented by Ms Forestier-Kasapi.

The only downside of the Masse Mystérieuse is its size. Like many of Cartier’s past complications, it is massive at 43.5 mm in diameter and almost 13 mm high. 

More conventional in approach but exceptionally complex, the Grand Seiko Kodo Constant-Force Tourbillon takes a traditional, no-expense-spared pursuit of chronometry. Both of its complications are well established concepts in traditional chronometers, but here they have been refined to a remarkably high standard. The movement boasts a tourbillon with a constant-force mechanism, both rotating on the same axis. Add to that a high level of decoration and the Kodo is easily one of the best complicated watches of 2022.

Beyond its mechanics, the Kodo is notable for not looking like a Grand Seiko at all. Given the brand’s conservative house style, the bold skeletonisation and decidedly modern elements set the Kodo apart from everything the brand has done. While the Kodo is the first and only watch of its kind from Grand Seiko, it certainly sets a promising precedent for things to come.

Also unexpected but in a less extreme fashion is the Patek Philippe ref. 5470P 1/10th of a Second Monopusher Chronograph. While Patek Philippe is certainly famous for chronographs, its past models have been eminently traditional. Instead most of the brand’s innovation and even experimental complications have been implemented in its calendar watches and more recently in a minute repeater.

In contrast, the ref. 5470P packs in a substantial amount of tech – at least by the conservative standards of Patek Philippe – while being a traditional, column-wheel chronograph at heart.

Notably a regular production watch, the ref. 5470P. Image – Patek Philippe

The movement of the ref. 5470P features two key additions to the standard manual-wind chronograph movement. One is the silicon balance assembly running at 36,000 beats per hour, or 5 Hz, making this the brand’s first and only serially-produced high frequency movement. The other is the additional gear train that drives the red, “lightning” seconds hand, which makes one revolution around the dial every second.

Granted, “lightning” seconds chronographs are not novel. However, the various innovations and mechanisms found in the ref. 5470P make it an interesting proposition, particularly in how it points the way to where Patek Philippe is going in terms of technology and complications.

The CH 29-535 PS 1/10 of the ref. 5470P. Image – Patek Philippe

And finally come two watches that deserve an honourable mention. The first is the A. Lange & Sohne Richard Lange Minute Repeater, which is neither innovative nor progressive, but instead an old-school striking watch of extremely high quality. In contrast to the brand’s first minute repeater that was a digital Zeitwerk, the Richard Lange Minute Repeater is conservatively styled with its pocket watch-inspired enamel dial.

Although entirely new and developed specifically for this watch, the L.122.1 movement inside is similarly traditional in layout and details. It does, however, incorporate an invisible but audible innovation: the chiming mechanism has a pause-elimination feature that eliminates the silent period between the hour and minute strikes found in conventional repeating movements.

And the movement was also engineered to be idiot-proof so the crown cannot be pulled out to set the time while the chiming is ongoing, preventing the damage to the movement that occurs when the hands are moved while the repeater is striking. 

Given the brand’s numerous in-house movements with inventive complications, the classical approach taken by the Richard Lange Minute Repeater makes it seem like an oddity to some degree. Having said this, it does hark back to the first decade after the brand was founded, when Lange movements were largely inspired by 19th century German pocket watches. At the same time, the fact that the Richard Lange Minute Repeater manages to improve on the practicality of the minute repeater is an achievement in itself.

And the second honourable mention goes to the Richard Mille RM UP-01 Ferrari, the thinnest mechanical watch ever. At just 1.75 mm tall in its entirety, the RM UP-01 bests the previous record holder by 0.05 mm, a massive distance by the standards of very-thin watches.

It doesn’t get any flatter than this. Image – Richard Mille

To get there, however, the RM UP-01 relies on many of the methods found in its ultra-thin rivals used, but Richard Mille takes it to a more extreme level. To quote from our original story on the watch, the RM UP-01 is “an incremental improvement – or more accurately, an incremental reduction – in thinness thanks to clever engineering that builds on past ideas.”

Like many of its peers, the thinness of the RM UP-01 dictates a variety of compromises, some of which reduce its practicality. Amongst them is the deconstructed winding and setting mechanisms, both of which require a key to engage. Another is the odd oblong case shape that departs from the trademark Richard Mille tonneau form. The CHF1.7 million price tag, however, is very much typical of the brand.


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