Within the watch collector world, there is a fabled individual who is often spoken of in whispered tones. Sometimes, they are spoken of with reverence; sometimes, they are spoken of with fear. Others refuse to believe that such an individual actually exists. Who is this enigmatic figure? It’s none other than the owner of the one-watch collection.
But how could anyone be satisfied with just one watch? How does one even begin to decide? After all, a one-watch collection is literally only one watch! Therefore, it must be versatile and dynamic. It needs to be a go-anywhere, do-anything timepiece – a piece that pairs as comfortably with a polo shirt on the weekends as it does with a finely tailored dinner jacket. Naturally, some dress code conventions will need to be broken, but isn’t that part of the fun?
That is to say: This single timepiece needs to be a watch that one could wear every day, yet be more inspiring than a simple everyday watch. With that, we give you five watches that can be worn every day or every night, at five very different price points.
1. The Perfect Everyday Watch Under $1,000
The Seiko Spirit
Despite all of its historical influence and innovation, Seiko has been something of a polarizing company in the watch-enthusiast world. Some see the brand as a bastion of value in an overinflated luxury watch market, while others regard Seiko as cheap, mass market, or disposable. Undoubtedly, the latter reputation is in no small part due to Seiko’s role in the quartz crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. However, as of late, enthusiasm for the Japanese powerhouse has been growing dramatically, and that makes the brand a perfect budget-friendly pick for our one-watch collection.
One of the models seeing the most rapid increase in popularity (and price) is the Seiko Spirit SARB033. Originally made exclusively for the Japanese domestic market (JDM), the SARB series made its way to the US via resellers, developing a cult-like status. After being discontinued in 2018, the SARB033 began to jump up from its original $200 price point. Known to some as the “Baby Grand Seiko” due to the use of an undecorated 6r15 movement (a caliber Grand Seiko also uses), the SARB033 is among the most elegant Seiko watches in recent memory. Whether worn on a bracelet or strap, the watch could easily stand in for the likes of the Rolex Datejust but at a fraction of the price. This makes the timepiece a perfect everyday watch.
2. The Perfect Everyday Watch Under $5,000
The Omega Seamaster Professional 300M
Truth be told, this entire list of everyday watches could just be Omega Seamasters from over the decades. Since the creation of the line in the late 1940s, there have been countless references and variations with the Omega Seamaster name, some bearing little to no aesthetic relationship to one another. In all likelihood, no single individual could say for certain exactly how many versions of the Seamaster have existed. Also, my colleague Donato has recommended the Omega Aqua Terra for his one-watch collection under $5,000.
However, one thing that we can be certain of is that when Pierce Brosnan took on the role of James Bond in 1995, the watch he paired his fine Brioni wardrobe with was not a Rolex Submariner – it was an Omega Seamaster Professional. The Seamaster Professional’s distinctive set of hands, dial textures (which have evolved throughout the years), and unmistakable helium escape valve have undergone several redesigns and improvements since the quartz variation used in GoldenEye. The result of this evolution is a watch that has become a true icon all its own, making it a perfect one-watch collection: the Omega Seamaster Professional 300M.
3. The Perfect Everyday Watch Under $10,000
The Cartier Santos Dumont
Many different factors lead to a watch brand or specific timepiece being desirable and making it a perfect one-watch collection. Chief among those are quality, design, and history. As if being one of the most illustrious and storied jewelry companies in the world wasn’t enough, Cartier also has a fascinating history of making fine timepieces. While their most famous line is probably the Tank, the most groundbreaking is arguably the Cartier Santos.
First designed by Louis Cartier for his friend, the aviator and socialite Alberto Santos Dumont, the watch bearing Santos’ name would go to become the first men’s watch developed specifically for the wrist and the world’s first pilot’s watch. While it has undergone many updates and changes throughout the years, the design language has largely remained the same. Given its dashing good looks and integrated bracelet styling, it’s a wonder that the Santos isn’t as expensive or impossible to acquire as other luxury steel sports watches. It is elegant, slim, and brilliantly simple and never looks amiss regardless of the environment or wardrobe one finds themselves in. Best of all, it also happens to be a watch that you can actually walk into a store and purchase… for now. The whole line is full of perfect everyday watches if you want a decently priced timepiece with a lot of history. So, if you’re looking to spend under $10,000, I would definitely consider the Cartier Santos Dumont.
4. The Perfect Everyday Watch Under $15,000
The Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610
Traditionally, a dress watch is a simple, elegant timepiece: time-only, two hands with no date complication, and slim enough to fit under a dress shirt cuff. In light of that, the idea of a diving watch being something one could dress up seems somewhat absurd. Sometimes, however, breaking the rules is far more interesting. If any watch is capable of that, it’s the Rolex Submariner. If you have your doubts, just ask James Bond. 007 would probably wear his Rolex Submariner every day.
There have been nearly three dozen different references of the Rolex Submariner since its initial release in 1954, and prices for the rarest among them can easily reach into the six-figure range. While many purists favor no-date references, such as the 5513 or 14060, the Rolex Submariner ref. 16610 remains among the most “affordable.” If you’re lucky, you might even find a listing under $10,000, but for around $15,000, you can get one with its box and papers. This reference also represents a fascinating time in Rolex design. Details like the aluminum bezel and drilled lugs remain – trappings of the diver’s tool watch history – but white gold luminous indices signal the high-luxury status symbol the Sub would later become. With its classic black dial and 39-mm case size (yes, 39 mm), this Sub can truly pair with any outfit in any situation, making it a perfect one-watch collection. There is perhaps no other diving watch that actually works with a tuxedo, except perhaps…
5. The Perfect Everyday Watch for $100,000: Our Luxury Pick
The F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu
Let’s bump our budget up for this last one and see what we can get for $100,000. F.P. Journe has long been a highly regarded independent watch manufacturer based in Geneva, Switzerland. Since the company’s founding in 1999, F.P. Journe has won multiple awards, not the least of which being the prestigious Aiguille d’Or from the Fondation du Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (three times!). Although Journe has created some of the most magnificent and complicated timepieces of the modern era, one of their most intensely sought-after and desired watches remains the Chronometre Bleu.
With its inimitable blue dial, solid rose gold movement, and dark gray tantalum case, the Chronometre Bleu is undoubtedly one of the most striking time-only watches money can buy. Make no mistake: Unless you have a seriously good relationship with F.P. Journe, acquiring one will take a lot of money. Despite the retail price being in the mid-$20,000 range, prices on the secondary market can easily reach six figures. It is an absurd amount of money for such a simple timepiece, but oh, what a timepiece it is. Its subtlety, elegance, and awe-inspiring dial make it possibly the ultimate everyday watch – that is, a watch that can be worn anytime, day or night, enhancing any outfit it might accompany. Long story short: It’s THE perfect one-watch collection. And hey, if money is truly no object and nothing else will satisfy, then why not?