The maxim that you get what you pay for is a beguiling conceit. In one stroke it denigrates inexpensive items as naturally inferior while extolling the belief that expensive goods are inherently of a higher quality. 

But we know this is not always the case. Sometimes there is no genuine luxury contender (see smartphones). Sometimes a simpler, less overengineered option can be better (Henry hoover versus a Dyson, or, for that matter, any human-powered vacuum over a robot one). And sometimes scrappy smaller brands compete by offering surprisingly high-caliber products while undercutting respected global players. This, fortunately, has been happening in the watch world for some time now—yes, even with proper automatic movements.

Below is a selection of semi-affordable watches, all fully automatic, and all for less than $1,000 (and one for less than $100). All laudably punch well above their weight. And all should serve you well, from diving to fine dining, for decades to come.

What Is a Fully Automatic, Self-Winding Watch?

Proper automatic movements, you say? What are those? Good question. An automatic watch, confusingly also known as a “self-winding” watch, is a mechanical watch where the natural motion of the wearer—you—moving their arm about (picking up a coffee, waving hello, or just walking around) provides all the energy needed to wind the mainspring (this is the watch’s power source, a spiral torsion spring, but think of it like your phone’s battery). This means if you wear the watch regularly you never have to wind. It just keeps going. How long it keeps going after you stop wearing it is called the power reserve (similar to when your phone is left on standby). Hand-wound watches can’t do this, you have to remember to wind them at regular intervals. We explain more about types of watches at the end of this article.

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