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Feature: 3 Watch Collection For Less Than A Rolex Submariner

A time-only, non-date Rolex Submariner in steel will cost you, today, £5,450. You don’t need me to tell you that this is a sizeable amount of money—enough to start wondering if it’s worth getting several cheaper watches instead. Is it possible to get a varied, three-watch collection of high-quality watches for the budget? Well, we’ve certainly had a go; here it is, a three-watch collection for less than the price of an entry level Submariner.

Ball Engineer Master II Diver DM1020A

As the Submariner is a dive watch, it feels right to start off with a dive watch, and something a little bit interesting as well. Granted, this watch isn’t powered by an in-house movement, and the depth rating isn’t going to break any records, but the Ball Engineer Master II Diver does have a nifty little trick up its sleeve. To understand it better, first a trip back in time.

Glowing paint has long since been a staple of the dive watch, an aid to reading the dial in the darkest depths of the sea, but before the advent of sunlight-rechargeable SuperLuminova, something a bit more extreme was used: a radioactive material called radium.

Problem was that the people who worked with the radium-laced paint found themselves suffering a gruesome fate. Despite this, it took several decades for the laws against paints using radium to change, and when they did, the radium was simply swapped out for another radioactive material, tritium.

Difference is that the radioactive decay of tritium is less penetrative than radium. As a result, tritium was used safely until well into the turn of the millennium, when Luminova and then SuperLuminova became more commonplace, sourcing energy from the sun rather than a decaying isotope.

But tritium didn’t completely disappear, because although the paint is no longer allowed in its bare form, it can still be accommodated in small glass vials, like we see here on the Ball’s dial. The hands and dial markers are dressed with these tubes; the bezel, which can be turned either way using the locking secondary crown, is absolutely covered in them. Each number is made up of a mosaic of small glass cylinders, every marker on the 15-minute scale another vial of glowing radioactive material.

But what, you ask, is the point when we have SuperLuminova now? The difference is longevity. From a decent charge, SuperLuminova might last five or so hours, brightness fading to nothing over that time. Tritium however, will last for decades. That alone is reason enough for the Ball to be worth consideration—the £1,600 price tag is another.

Frederique Constant Slimline FC-306G4S6B3

Every collection needs a dress watch, and as nice as it would be to furnish this particular arrangement with something from Jaeger-LeCoultre or Patek Philippe, that wouldn’t so much break the budget as it would nuke it from orbit. Something more reasonable then: a Frederique Constant Slimline.

This isn’t the manufacturer movement version—you’ll have to pay another 50% for one of those—but for £1,800 it offers a surprisingly solid dress watch experience. For a start, being called the Slimline, it offers a reasonably slender profile at a fraction over 8mm, less than a millimetre more than Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra Thin Date.

The Slimline owes its trim figure to the Sellita SW300-based movement, which carries only 0.3mm extra over the Master Ultra Thin’s calibre 899/1, and some clever sculpting of the case back helps to reduce visual weight even further. A shallow taper from the centre to the pinched edges tricks the eye into thinking the watch is thinner than it is—a trick also used by the Master Ultra Thin.

What isn’t really expected with the Slimline are the details that help it stand up to closer scrutiny. It’s the little things, like the cap over the hand stack, or the ring around the date window. The hour markers are applied to, rather than painted on, the curved dial—which itself has a hint of sunburst. The bracelet even—an often overlooked element for watches typically worn on leather—is suitably thin without feeling flimsy, fitted with a hidden double deployant clasp that would put even Patek Philippe to shame.

Junghans Meister Telemeter Chronoscope 027/3381.44

This next watch kills two birds with one stone, fielding both the vintage-inspired and sports chronograph categories simultaneously: the Junghans Meister Telemeter. For £2,000, you’re getting a bi-compax, 40mm chronograph with a Dubois Depraz-moduled ETA 2892, but that only tells half the story, or rather two-thirds, because the Junghans actually manages to clip another bird with that stone as well.

The Ball and the Frederique Constant, as is traditional, are both made in Switzerland, but the Junghans—as the name suggests—hails from Germany. Germany is of course the home of master watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, and although the Junghans is a far cry from those end-game pieces, it’s at least a well-rounded way to complete this mini collection.

The design clearly inherits a lot of historic cues in its arrangement, and for the price, manages to present them in a well-proportioned and effective manner. There are many sins when it comes to perfecting the balance of a chronograph dial, none of which the Junghans seems to commit.

The sub-dials, for example, are neither too small, or too big, or too close together. The dial is not too sparse, or too cluttered, or too heavily weighted to the centre. The hands are not too long or too short, too thin or too fat, and the luminous paint has a hue that’s neither too faux-aged or too crisp-white. Golidlocks would be very happy with the Meister Telemeter.

But it’s not all about the things that aren’t wrong, because the design adds some extras that lift it from merely acceptable to actually rather appealing. The radial texture on the silver dial, for example, or the dish to the sub-dials, mirroring the curve of the dial itself. Seen side on, and the domed crystal becomes apparent, too, a detail that’s had some real thought.

You see, modern sapphire crystals have never quite been able to achieve the same curve or distortion that traditional acrylic can, and so Junghans has simply gone with the acrylic. That simple detail really captures the essence of what this watch is about.

So there’s the Rolex Submariner … or there’s these three. If you were thinking of cracking open your wallet to the tune of £5,500, perhaps you’ll at least wonder what else could be. A dive watch, a dress watch and a sports chronograph, all for the same total price. Tempting, perhaps, but tempting enough? That’s for you to decide.

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