Watches’ ability to retain their value is a wonderful side aspect of this hobby – after all, we work hard for our money. It’s no secret that the timepieces that experience the greatest value retention and appreciation often come from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The only problem is that most of these watches are impossible to acquire for many collectors. While popular Rolex models easily sell for upwards of $10,000, watches from the other two brands often cost many times more than that. Bearing that in mind, I’ve selected three popular watches with good value retention that go for under $10,000. None of my picks are from Rolex, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet, and spoiler alert: One watch on this list even costs less than $1,000.
1. Cartier Santos: A Long Underrated Icon
It’s a mystery to me how this model has gone undervalued for so long. It is no less iconic than the Rolex Submariner or Omega Speedmaster, and watch collectors certainly can’t complain about its value retention. I am, of course, talking about the Cartier Santos. This exceptional timepiece has an extensive history dating back to 1904 – long before the Rolex or Omega icons even saw the light of day. As the story goes, Brazilian inventor and aviator Alberto Santos Dumont found it extremely difficult to read his pocket watch – as was customary to use at the time – while flying. In response, he designed a wristwatch suitable for use in the cockpit together with his friend Luis-Francois Cartier. The pilot needed both hands free to operate his newly-designed, motor-powered aircraft. Cartier built the very first “Santos” and, thus, the world’s first pilot’s watch was born. The timepiece went on to accompany Dumont on all his subsequent aeronautical adventures.
It wasn’t until 1911 that the Santos entered series production and was freely available for purchase by the public. As you’d expect from such an iconic model, the unique design of the Santos has barely changed over the years, but it is still perfectly suited to modern tastes. The current generation’s rectangular case with rounded corners and dial with distinctive Roman numerals come very close to the original watch. Paired with its characteristic metal bracelet, this timepiece is unmistakable. While the looks remain traditional, the technology is state-of-the-art. The 42-hour power reserve may be on the shorter side, but the Santos’ automatic movement can resist magnetic fields of up to 1,200 gauss. Moreover, the sapphire crystal and water resistance to 100 m (328 ft) make this watch ideal for everyday wear.
The Santos also boasts several practical innovations, including the “Quickswitch” bracelet system that allows you to change the bracelet with ease and the “Smartlink” extension system, which enables you to adjust the bracelet’s length sans tools – brilliant! I find the overall character of the Cartier Santos particularly intriguing. It is elegant and filigreed, yet simultaneously a bit industrial and rough. In any case, the industry is fond of the design. Both the small and large models with a date are growing in popularity and performing well on the market. All versions of the Santos have increased in value by several hundred dollars since the start of 2021, from the classic white dial edition to the ultra-modern DLC-coated one. The fan-favorite is definitely the large version with a blue sunburst dial, which is already selling for above its official list price of roughly $8,000. Overall, the Cartier Santos proves that iconic design, innovation, and value retention don’t have to be mutually exclusive but can come together in perfect harmony in a single watch. What more could a watch collector ask for?
2. Seiko Alpinist: No Need to Break the Bank
My second pick is clear proof that a watch doesn’t have to be expensive to retain its value well. Prices for the Seiko Alpinist ref. SARB017 range from around $700 for a used timepiece to some $1,500 for an unworn example. The official list price of the now-discontinued Seiko Alpinist was about $700 at the time of production. While its discontinuation has undoubtedly contributed to the model’s popularity, it isn’t the only thing this watch has going for it. The Alpinist is a consistently successful timepiece from Seiko. It immediately sets itself apart with its unique design and versatile size of 38 mm. The green sunburst dial coordinates beautifully with the golden numerals and indices. From a technical point of view, it boasts a sapphire crystal, date display, 200 m (656 ft) of water resistance, and an automatic Seiko movement with a 50-hour power reserve. The brown leather strap is a perfect fit for this watch, but stainless steel bracelets are also available. The Alpinist’s versatility makes it particularly appealing; it looks great with jeans and a sweater and pairs well with a suit for more formal occasions.
If you’re interested in the Seiko Alpinist, make sure you also check out the ref. SPB199J1. This version features a blue sunburst dial paired with silver numerals and indices. The color combination gives it a much cooler appearance than its green counterpart, ensuring each has its own unique character. Who knows, this version may even outperform the SARB017 in the future. The “Mountain Glacier,” as the SPB199J1 is also known, is limited and, thus, slightly rarer. Prices start around $1,000 for this watch. All in all, every variant of the Seiko Alpinist is an independent, robust, and stable timepiece that you can confidently add to your collection without breaking the bank – you won’t be disappointed.
3. Tudor Prince Date Day: A Day-Date for Less Than $5,000
This next watch not only enjoys high value retention but also offers a comparatively affordable and ingenious alternative to the famous Rolex Day-Date. The Tudor version of the iconic presidential timepiece offers nearly everything that makes the legendary Rolex so popular: a classic 36-mm case, fluted bezel, magnified date display, and the titular complication, a day display. However, in contrast to the Rolex watch, the Tudor Prince Date Day is not made of precious metal but rather stainless steel. It also features a different bracelet. The famous presidential-style bracelet is reserved for the Rolex icon, while the Tudor’s is more reminiscent of the Rolex Datejust’s Jubilee bracelet.
Of course, the most significant difference between these two watches is inside their cases. The Tudor is powered by an ETA caliber, while the Rolex features an in-house movement. That being said, you’ll need a five-figure sum to purchase the Rolex and less than $5,000 to call a vintage or new Tudor your own. How is that possible, you ask? Well, up until recently, the Tudor Date Day was still manufactured in Asia and could either be imported by individual collectors or bought from select domestic dealers. In addition to the ref. 76214, there are also versions with a domed bezel, two-tone models, and watches featuring diamond-studded dials. The Tudor Date Day grew significantly in popularity and value in 2021. Before then, these models were still available for between $2,500 and $2,800. Prices now start around the $3,500 mark and go up to $4,500.
If the Tudor Date Day isn’t unique enough for you, be sure you take a look at the Tudor Royal. This watch offers a day display, date, and fluted bezel but strikes its own path in terms of design. However, it still retains some typical vintage Tudor elements, and its blue dial has won it plenty of admirers. Demand is unlikely to wane anytime soon.