Top 10 affordable chronograph watches 2021

Affordable chronograph watches have long been based primarily on the ETA Valjoux 7750 calibre. Notable exceptions included a Russian column-wheel chronograph and a similar Chinese version, both of which were based on Swiss movements by Venus. Today, the Seagull ST19 is progressively changing the landscape of entry-level chronographs: its low price makes it possible for brands to assemble column-wheel chronographs for prices starting at about €350, much lower than the entry-level price for chronographs with the Valjoux 7750. However it is not a simple process, because supplies of the ST 19 series can vary considerably in quality. The brands that I have spoken to say that all these movements have to be carefully inspected, with batches showing smaller or greater proportions of defective products. The problems generally involve the ratchet on the mainspring barrel, and lubrification, which may be absent, or excessive, or in the wrong places. So, in particular for these models, it is important to purchase from a trusted brand with a good online presence, documented guarantee and comprehensively-specified after-sales service. And it’s always reassuring to be able to count on a local watch repairer.

Seagull 1963 chronograph

The Seagull 1963 is a reproduction of the watch with the project 304 movement developed from 1961, made for the Chinese air force. That column-wheel chronographh calibre was based on the Swiss-made Venus calibre 175. So today’s Seagull ST19 movement, though entirely Chinese-made, is based on a Swiss forerunner. It is hand-wound, with 42 hours power reserve, and it runs at 3 Hertz, 21,600 vph. The Seagull 1963 now available on the Seagull website has the features of the military original, with an acrylic watchglass and a Nato canvas strap. The Chinese characters at bottom centre of the dial mean “Made in China” while “19 zuan” means 19 jewels. The 38 mm width is that of its vintage predecessor. Thickness 14 mm, water resistance 3 atm. The display caseback reveals the movement, with its attractive array of gold-coloured wheels, steel bridges and levers, rubies and blued screws. Overall, it is a very attractive piece and considering the price of €239, it gives many people the chance of owning a column-wheel chronograph for a relatively low outlay. For an extra €10 you can order the watch with a sapphire watchglass. The only doubts for this piece concern reliability and quality. The canvas strap is very basic but it can easily replaced by an 18mm leather strap or milanaise bracelet. The ST19 movement itself is notoriously variable in batch quality but on their website, Seagull say that their watches undergo a 3-stage quality control proces in China before being tested again by their watchmaker at their European plant in Antwerp, Belgium. The watches are sold with a 2-year guarantee. Judging from user reviews, it looks like about 2-3% of watches present problems. Read more on the Seagull website. Price €239.

Seagull 1963 chronograph front

Seagull 1963 chronograph

Seagull 1963 chronograph caseback

Strela LTR40CYM Leonov

Strela descends from a Russian factory making chronographs with the 3017 calibre, based on the Swiss Venus 150/152. That factory was originally known as 1st Moscow Watch Factory and renamed to Poljot after 1964. Strela itself was a brand name (meaning “arrow”) used by Poljot. Later, those iconic chronographs were sold to the public with the brand names Poljot, Strela and Sekonda. This modern piece, a Leonov tribute, is dedicated to the cosmonaut who made the first space walk in history, wearing a watch of this type. Today, the Strela brand is a revival, based in Munich, Germany. Russian-born engineer Juri Levenberg bought the rights to use the name in 2006. The LTR40CYM Leonov is powered by the Chinese-made Seagull ST1901, a hand-wound column-wheel movement providing 37-40 hours power reserve. Read more on the Strela website. Price €435.71 inclusive of tax, plus shipping.

Strela LTR40CYM Leonov

Strela LTR40CYM Leonov column wheel chronograph caseback

Hoffman Racing 40 Mechanical

This chronograph by New York-based brand Hoffman uses the Seagull ST1901/TY2901 movement, which is hand-wound with a 37-hour power reserve, running at 3 Hertz (21,600 vph) and it is sold with a one-year guarantee. The 40 mm case has a 50 metre water resistance, and a sapphire crystal watchglass. The dial is beautifully simple and highly legible, with a tachymeter scale on the bezel. Pre-order price $599 (approx €515), regular price $825 (approx €734), watch ships from 30 November 2021. Limited edition of 350 pieces – there are another two versions with black-white panda and reverse panda colour schemes. Read more on the Hoffman website.

Hoffman Octane Mechanical chronnograph

Hoffman Octane Mechanical chronograph

Archimede OutDoor Chronograph

In their OutDoor Chronograph, Archimede have removed everything superfluous from the dial to maximize legibility. It provides all the functions offered by the Valjoux 7750 movement, with minutes and hour counters above and below, running seconds at 9 o’clock, and date nicely camouflaged at 3 o’clock. The pushers are rectangular and blend with the crown guard. The screw-down crown contributes to the excellent 200-metre water resistance. The case is 41 mm in diameter, 13.8 mm thick, in scratch-resistant hardened steel with a solid caseback. Read more on the Archimede website. From €1,480 inclusive of tax.

Archimede OutDoor chronograph

Hamilton Khaki Field Auto Chrono H71706830

A military-inspired watch by Hamilton, with a 44mm case in micro-sandblasted steel, a screw-down crown, solid caseback, 100 metres water resistance and a bund strap. It is 14.15 mm thick. The watch is powered by the Hamilton H-21 movement, which is a self-winding ETA Valjoux 7750, modified for about 60 hours power reserve. Its clarity and toughness, along with a sapphire watchglass that is not domed and so less subject to damage, make it a great sports watch. Read more on the Hamilton website. €1,645.

Hamilton Khaki FIeld Auto Chrono h71706830

Hamilton Khaki FIeld Auto Chrono h71706830

Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H

The Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H is a classic design, powered by a hand-wound movement by ETA developed specially for Hamilton, the H-51 (a cam-type chronograph based on the ETA 7753, but not displaying chronograph hours or date). It has a power reserve of 60 hours and it runs at 28,800 vph (4 Hertz). I like the dial design, with a complete seconds scale, and each second subdivided into four, which is logical considering the 4 Hertz balance frequency. There is a tachymeter scale, and Hamilton have decided against a date window even though this function is provided by the movement. The case, in polished steel with a 10 bar (100 metre, sports watch performance) water resistance, looks quite boxy, but it is basically similar to its vintage source of inspiration, the 1969 Intra-Matic, and it is in fact 14.35 mm thick – one would have imagined that eliminating the rotor would have saved a couple of millimetres. The watch has a solid caseback, which is historically accurate even though the H-61 hand-wound calibre is attractive with its engraving. But all in all, a very nice vintage chronograph, complete with beige luminescent paint on indices and hands. You can choose between different dial colour combinations, and between leather strap or milanaise bracelet. From €1,895, free shipping, 2 week period of free returns. Read more on the Hamilton website.

Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph H h38429730

 

Farer Segrave Monopusher Chronograph

Equipped with a Swiss-made Sellita SW510 Elaboré grade movement, automatic, 62 hours power reserve, the Farer Segrave Monopusher Chronograph has a lot of interesting features. The single pusher simplifies operation. The dial is laid out for maximum clarity, with a smaller running seconds dial, a large chronograph minutes dial, and orange, green and blue highights. You can choose from a variety of straps, which include orange, green and navy, in addition to tan, black and others. So you can give the watch your a personalized and coordinated look. There is a telemeter scale on the bezel rehaut. The case is comfortably sized at 40.5 mm width, machined from a single block of stainless steel, water resistance 10 atm (100 metres). With a box sapphire watchglass, the thickness is 14.7 mm. The caseband is distinctive with a harlequin texture. The watch comes with a 5-year guarantee. Read more on the Farer website. £1,750, €2,050.

Farer Monopusher Chronograph

Farer Monopusher Chronograph caseback

Mido Multifort Patrimony Chronograph M040.427.36.042.00

Mido’s Patrimony Chronograph has IWC Portugieser looks at a fraction of the price. It is based on the brand’s 1937 Multichrono model, and it is very smart in its rose gold PVD finish that contrasts with the deep blue sunburst dial, snailed subdials, printed white dial markings that include a tachymeter scale and a fractional seconds scale subdivided into quarter-seconds, unfortunately interrupted by the words “Swiss made” at 6 o’clock. The case is 42 mm in diameter and 15.2 mm thick, with a display caseback revealing the self-winding Mido Calibre 60, ETA A05.H31, in turn based on the classic cam chronograph movement ETA 7753. Power reserve 60 hours. Read more on the Mido website. €1,950, free shipping, free returns.

Mido Multifort Patrimony Chronograph M040.427.36.042.00_0

Mido Multifort Patrimony Chronograph M040.427.36.042.00_0 caseback

Stowa Verus GMT Chronograph

Winner of the 2021 Reddot design prize, Stowa’s Verus GMT Chronograph has a pilot’s dial with a chronograph minutes subdial that also incorporates the traditional triangular device in the 12 o’clock position. There is no running seconds subdial, which in practical terms isn’t really necessary, and the 24-hour scale for the GMT hand is discreetly engraved on the bezel. A date window is subtly positioned at 6 o’clock. The matt-finish steel case is 41 mm in diameter, 13.7 mm in thickness, with the Valjoux 7754 calibre inside. Read more on the Stowa website. €2,400 inclusive of tax.

Stowa Verus GMT Chronograph

Longines Master Collection Chronograph L2.859.4.92.0

At first sight, the Longines Master Collection Chronograph L2.859.4.92.0 is simply a classic chronograph, with smart looks and a non-sports performance (water resistance is the standard 30 metres, resistant to sweat, rain and splashes only). But in actual fact it has a lot of positive features, starting from the L688 movement. This was developed by ETA specifically for Longines, and its chronograph functions are controlled by a column wheel, which increases timekeeping precision and makes pusher operation lighter. It can be viewed through the sapphire caseback, though of course the rotor enables only half of the mechanics to be seen at any one moment. Power reserve 54 hours. The dial is well designed, with a fractional sections scale on the bezel rehaut. This is a fairly large watch at 44 mm diameter and 14.4 mm thick. Read more on the Longines website. €2,830.

Longines Master Collection Chronograph L2.859.4.92.0

Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph L2.830.4.93.0

This watch evokes the classic racing chronograph, and it is based on a 1943 Longines model. The case is moderately sized at 40 mm, thickness 13.6 mm, solid caseback, water resistance 30 metres, and the attractively simple dial features blue highlights in the hands and tachymeter scale. It is powered by the L.895 calibre by ETA, based on ETA A31.L21, with 37 jewels, running at 4 Hertz, power reserve 54 hours. The A31.L21 is the A31.L01 (ETA 2892) base movement with a chronograph module. Read more on the Longines website. €2,930.

Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph

Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph

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