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The Infamous 18th/21st Birthday Present Watch Decision for Under £6K


So your mother/father has said to you fleetingly "I think we'll buy you a watch for your birthday, you need a proper watch" and you're now sat here thinking what the hell do i do now. Lets assume you've previously never been a horologist and you are now thinking how much does "A Rolex cost" because that's the only brand you've ever heard of so assume it is the only reputable brand out there. Well do not worry here at the Young Horologist we know your middle class struggle and are here to help! Then for those of you who are horologists and are obviously struggling with the decision due to the sheer amount of choice out there on the market, this article will also help. I have had 5 people just this year asking me for advice on what to choose, including one of our very own editors. As an 18/21 year old, especially in Europe, this might be the biggest and most expenisve decision of your life so far (the choice of first car is usually decided by your parents without your input, which usually makes things a whole lot easier). So the first question I here every time is "how much can i get a Rolex for?" Followed by "What can i get for 'X' amount?" Do not worry my non-horological-ly enthused friend, this article will answer every question you have. Also do not worry my horological-ly enthused friend this article will also help you out ten fold.

What are your options?

So assuming your parents have given you the choice, they have given you a budget and this is what you are struggling with most. You google watches for X price and you get a cacophony of answers and brands and the question becomes even less clear. Well here are some suggestions.... this may take a while. For the purpose of this article i shall only consider all brand new prices of current models.

£1,000-£3,000 budget (NEW)

This can be a difficult category to be in. Mainly down to the fact you have to wade through the shite on offer to find genuinely well made horological pieces. Most the difficulty comes from the fact brands like Hamilton are worth more than Seiko 5 and Sieko Prospex, which is utterly criminal taking into account everything from quality to style, but maybe that is just my opinion. In this bracket, brand new, you are looking at Tag Heuer Aquaracer and Heritage, Omega Sea master, Omega Speedmaster, most Tudor models and options for women also, including Cartier and some rolex models.

Tag Heuer

With models ranging from time only (non-chronograph) quartz models (Battery powered movements opposed to mechanical movements) to chronometer certified (within a certain threshold of accuracy) and chronograph models. Brand new time only Tags will cost around £1,200 with the Chronograph models being closer to £3k. The Hertiage range is also a very good start. Introduced for the collectors initially, they remade famous vintage models in vintage sizes and styles with the iconic Heuer logo on the dial. (The brand was originally called Heuer untill it was purchased by Tag Group in 1985 to become Tag Heuer) The time only Carera model is exceptionally good value at around £2,500 for a chronometer certified movement, 39mm case and a very 1950s dial layout, sub second register at 6 o clock, with an 80s colour scheme. This was the watch i recommended my parents buy my younger brother when he turned 18 and, previously not being a watch guy, he was very pleased and has triggered his interest in watches.

(My Tag Heuer Aqua Racer en route to work)

Omega Seamaster and speedmaster

Brand new, in this price range there is no better option than an Omega Speedmaster Professional. A piece recommended by collectors of all calibers as an undeniable icon, a watch unchanged in design since the piece was used as the first watch on the moon. Collectors with £10 million collections will always have a speedy in their collection. At £3,000-3,200 this is probably the best value in the swiss watch industry to date, in my opinion. A luxury beater watch perfect for the active 18-30 year old as the only watch they'll need. Big nights out at uni, Graduations, job interviews, around the office. its perfect. In terms of the Sea-Master a brand new time only sea master Planet Ocean will set you back anywhere from £2,500-£3,000. 300 meter dive watch in steel, its a beater watch that will still be very versatile and will seamlessly transition from beach to office/ class room/ lecture hall/ fancy restaurant.

(Omega speedmaster top and Seamaster beneath)


The sister brand of the Rolex powerhouse monopolises this segment of the market, offering very high quality swiss timepieces at very un-Rolex-like affordable prices. With a brand new Tudor Black Bay costing about £2,300 its very hard to argue with. This may be slight bias as i am hopefully acquiring one this year, but with the newer models even consisting of in-house movements, Tudor offers exceptional value for money, or Bang for Buck, at this price point. For those of you with a more vintage eye the exceptional new 36mm Black Bay is a great choice for around £2000.Tudor also offer models such as the North Flag, for around £2,500, which also houses an in house Tudor movement and subsequently great value for money.

(Tudor Black bay and the, soon to be mine, Black bay 36)

Cartier and options for women

Unfortunately, as I and Tony Fadell have both said in the past, there is a gap in the market for women's watches. Most brands tend to offer men's pieces in slightly smaller case sizes and/or with quartz movements and advertise them to women. Exceptions do exist and of course Cartier absolutely dominate this market with the exceptionally iconic Tank. For women, the 18th/21st watch is, I'd say, 85% of the time a Cartier Tank or Santos usually with a quartz movement. As i said these two models are extremely iconic, within this price range and come with different dials and straps. But if you are looking for something different, IWC offer Portofino steel models in smaller case size for about £3k. Very elegant pieces that still appear feminine. They also released female specific models last year but being in mostly precious metals they are out of this budget usually. Omega's Constellation range is also a fantastic option for women as the smaller case sizes are extremely elegant and classy as well as very iconic of the 80s classic. In terms of brand new, it may be hard to find a mechanical model but second hand there is a very large market to choose from. Tag Heuer also offer the Cara Deleveigne Special Edition, which is a fairly sporty elegant model priced very competitively at just under £2000. For men, I do feel Cartier is overlooked a lot, especially at this price range. I tried on the new Croisiere, in selfridges on Oxford Street, a couple of weeks ago and was utterly blown away by how exceptional it felt on the wrist and the price tag: £3,000 for a piece with an in house Cartier movement is exceptional.

(Left to right: IWC Portofino, Cartier Croisiere, Omega Costellation and Tag Heuer Cara delevingne edition)

£3,000-£6,000 Budget

This is the point where for many it becomes a choice of "A submariner or....". My good friend and fellow editor here at The Young Horologist had a similar choice in February and chose a discounted Hublot Clasic Fusion chronograph. Yes for £6,000 (His resilience in negotiation is fierce). The standard Rolex 116610, thats the new maxi case with ceramic bezel and date, is going to set you back £5,500-6,000 in most authorized dealers. Is it worth the money? Pretty much yeah, in terms of in house Rolex movement. Also, it will hold its value better than most other brands and models bar Patek Philippe. Will you get large satisfaction? Yes, you'll get noticed and complimented a lot and many will think you're a big shot. Is it better than the old style 16610? Not at all, in my opinion. With a slimmer more classic case, drilled lugs, thinner presence on the wrist and a plastic bezel its just exceptional and actually increasing in value. Furthermore, the Kermit, the green bezel black dial submariner, is that little bit different, rarer and cooler. For essentially the same value on the second hand market as a brand new 116610, its more interesting and a lot more reputable in the eye of a seasoned horologist who could come in the form of your boss or girlfriend's parent. Trust me it happens.

Other Rolex Models

In this price range there are a number of exceptional Rolex models that are perfect all rounder pieces for the 18-30 year old. The Rolex Milgaus is an exceptionally cool time piece coming in three different dials: White dial, black dial and a sort of blue dial with green inner bezel and glow. The modern reincarnation of the extremely famous and collectible 1019, with the lightning bolt hand, this piece is so not Rolex that it is set to be the future classic, in Archie Luxury and my opinion. At about £5,500 brand new in an authorised dealer, its a far more interesting alternative to the 2016 submariner models. 2016 has brought up some great models from the past such as the Air King and Oyster Perpetual 39mm. The Air king at around £5,000 is a very cool reissue of the original Rolex Pilot watch. With a cool Pilot style dial, steel and 40mm its a perfect steel luxury beater for the young man. The oyster perpetual is a similar theme but slightly more dressy and less utilitarian but at around £3,500 it is again a fantastic alternative to the sub whilst still buying the name. The same can be said for the new explorer I. An absolute classic and an all round perfect sports watch at £4,500. The explorer II was ruined in 2012 when they blew the size way too big and now its looks like a toy watch. However, the pre 2012 models are excellent and at around £3,00-3,500. Archie Luxury and i believe it is exceptional Bang for Buck, but in this article i am trying to focus on brand new pieces, just worth mentioning. Probably the best alternative is the GMT master ii. From a long lineage, the GMT is an exceptionally attractive watch with a fairly useful complication of a second timezone. Again, in my opinion, you'd be better off getting a second hand "Pepsi" or "Coke" bezel GMT 16710 for less money and way more fun. But as a brand new Rolex alternative to a Submariner under £6,000 this would be a very good decision. Iver recently, recommended the new GMT Master ii in black to a good friend of mine over a submariner. Safe to say he was extremely satisfied with this decision. Is just a lot more watch for essentially the same money.

(Left to right : 116610, a GMT pepsi bezel, Rolex Kermit and a black dial milgaus, the new Airking, explorer II and the new Oyster Perpetual)

Pieces From Alternative Brands to Rolex

Now here i could obviously go on for days writing about all the other amazing pieces out there in this price range but I am trying my hardest to keep this brief and to the point, so i will give you 3.

Zenith El Primero

Possibly one of the most important movements ever made. Launched in 1969, the El primero was the very first high-beat automatic chronograph ever made and was subsequently used by Rolex in their Daytona models up until the late 2000. So for £6,000 pounds you can have a genuine piece of horological history that looks absolutely flawless thanks to its timeless design. This is a piece that will look great in any situation from super former to in your trackies putting the bins out on a Sunday Morning. And, for what its worth, this would be my pick in this price category.

Panerai Pam 111

Another extremely iconic and recognisable brand with the Pam 111 being their flagship piece. The extremely recognisable case design, reminiscent of the pieces made for the Italian Marina Militare up until the 1970s, furfills the narcissistic desire to have a very noticeable and recognisable watch, like a submariner, whilst also paying appreciation to a brand and model with a strong heritage. Brand new steel models will cost from £4,000 to £5,000 depending on the strap and case size etc so is fairly affordable for a high end brand. Many watch enthusiasts slate Panerai for their use of fairly Standard ETA movements but in my mind for under £6,000 you are essentially buying the iconic style, name and quality and not the Panerai movement which will cost you far more. This, however, is a factor for me thus why i rate the El Primero much higher for a piece in this price category.

IWC Pilot Chronograph

Yet again another exceptionally iconic and recognisable watch (see the trend here) from a brand that i believe epidermises masculine timepieces. The Pilot chronograph is an exceptionally attractive watch with a complication, like the zenith, for a very affordable price of £3,000-4,000 . This, like the panerai, is affordable due to the fact the movement is an ETA Valjoux based movement. However, all enthusiasts will agree that this is still a great, reliable movement that essentially allows IWC to offer an exceptionally well made and iconic piece at an affordable price. This is again a piece that really suits the masculine young active man and will transition effortlessly from Office/Lectures/ formal events to beers with the boys. IWC is a very high end, respectable brand probably more sophisticated and reputable than Zenith or Panerai as of recent years with everyone from John Clease, Bradley Cooper, House of Card's Frank Underwood, Lewis hamilton and Thierry Henry owning IWC's. So if you are looking for an entry level piece into a very reputable luxury brand, the Pilot chronograph is for you.

Conclusion and final thoughts

I am aware i have given you a lot of information here but the aim of this article was to inform those first time enthusiasts of what else is out there and to give the enthusiasts some alternative suggestions. At the end of the day, its a very personal choice and a lot of it comes down to how it feels when you have it on your wrist. So before making any decision make sure you try all options out and choose the watch YOU feel you would enjoy the most, as this will most likely be a watch that you keep forever. A lot of people want a Rolex for their first watch mainly due to the recognisable name but that is very superficial and after a short period of time the novelty will wear off, if you do not actually like the watch it's self. There is so much choice out there, thus why this article is so bloody long, and I hope to have highlighted some of the best options in these two price points.

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