If you put on a watch every day then it’s worth investing in a timepiece that you really love, given the cost per wear. That doesn’t mean you need to splurge a four-figure sum though. More than half on this list come in at less than £150.
Styles range from pared back and understated – you’ll notice minimal-looking wristwear is big in Watchland – to something slightly more blingy or bold. These are majority specialist watch brands that put an emphasis on design and function. Some, like Rotary, have a long history, while others (Cluse, Olivia Burton and Larsson & Jennings, we’re looking at you) are brands that have made a big impact since launching in the last five years.
As well as the look of the watches, we’ve mentioned the movement (the set up that powers the hands around the face) where relevant. All here are battery powered and use quartz movement, known for being super-accurate and low maintenance (compared with more fiddly mechanical movements). Swiss and Japanese quartz mechanisms are widely considered the superior systems, but all these on the list will keep you punctual.
1. Cluse La Roche: £140, Harvey Nichols
Amsterdam-based Cluse may have only been running since 2014 but the watchmaker has become a firm favourite with bloggers and Instagram influencers. We can see why: the pieces are minimalist-looking – its mantra is “simple is not about being plain” – yet have out-of-the-ordinary touches and interchangeable straps in Insta-worthy hues. Plus, most models are under £80. If you have slightly more to spend, the La Roche caught our eye, with a large 38mm marble dial. Each one is different thanks to the qualities of the natural stone. The rose gold finish glams it up but the grey leather strap keeps things sufficiently muted and cool.
2. Olivia Burton Women’s Enchanted Garden: £85, John Lewis
Olivia Burton’s pretty floral watches are eye-catching amid the sea of more minimalist dial designs (indeed, there are plenty of those in its collection, too). The nature-inspired patterns are part of the British brand’s Enchanted Garden collection. Here, soft purple hues are off-set by the dark 38mm face and slim navy strap. It has gold-plated casing and there are versions in lighter colours if that works better for you.
3. Fossil Jacqueline Three-Hand Date Leather Watch: £105, Fossil
The reliable US maker has a huge range of women’s watches but our favourites are those with the quality leather straps. The Jacqueline comes in 14 different colours and styles, ranging from a pearly dial with a pretty, pale pink strap to this more unusual green. You can also interchange it with any of Fossil’s 14mm straps. The rose gold tone and numerals keeps things simple, but we like the little interesting touches, such as the distinctive red second hand. The Jacqueline can take a very brief dunk but don’t wear it in the bath or swimming.
4. Larsson & Jennings Norse Gold-Plated Watch: £255, Net-a-Porter
Looking for something elegant you can wear with everything? Try Larsson & Jennings. Its Swedish and British roots come together in a minimalist but classic-looking package. The rectangular Norse is made from gold-plated stainless steel, there are versions with a leather strap, but we like this new all-gold version. It works with the superior Swiss quartz movement.
5. Rotary Petite Stone Set Bracelet Watch: £199, Rotary Watches
This watch feels as much like jewellery as it does a timepiece, thanks to the sparkly Austrian crystals set around the 25mm dial and the slim stainless steel bracelet. It works with Japanese quartz movement and, like many watches from the Swiss maker, is waterproof (you can swim in this one) and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
6. Daniel Wellington Classic Glasgow: £149, Daniel Wellington
After a classic-looking watch with a twist? Try Daniel Wellington’s timepieces. The Swedish founder was inspired by a meeting with a British traveller (can you guess his name?) who wore a watch with a stripy Nato strap, the tough nylon bands issued by the MOD. You get a clean-looking, minimalist dial – choose from slimline rose gold or silver casing – contrasting with the textured strap, which comes in five different colour combos including this navy and white. If Nato colours don’t work, then all the straps are interchangeable and there are six sleek black or brown leather options to choose from.
7. Marc Jacobs Riley Watch: £167, Watch Shop
Marc Jacobs makes some seriously covetable watches and the brand’s perhaps best known for its bracelet-style offerings. The Riley is one of our favourite, the dial’s smaller than some of the range (27.5mm), but you get four large numbers and a chunky three-link bracelet. We like the rose gold-tone one, but it also comes in silver. This one is water resistant to 50 metres.
8. Uniform Wares M40 Chronograph Watch: £450, Uniform Wares
Another relatively young brand in the watch world, Uniform Wares was started in 2009 by two British product designers who couldn’t find a minimalist-looking watch that they could wear every day, sort of like a “uniform”. The result is sleek-looking watches that we are lusting after in the office. If you like a big dial, the 40mm chronograph watch is a favourite. It’s the little details that make these stand out: the studied lack of branding and the textured leather strap. It’s water resistant – swimming in shallow water is in, scuba diving is out – and uses Swiss-made quartz movement, a fact reflected in the price.
9. Mondaine Evo Petite: £132.05, Amazon
Based on the design of a Swiss railway clock, Mondaine’s Evo watches are instantly recognisable. On a clean white dial with black hour and second markers and a leather strap, this manages to be both bold and understated at the same time. We’d go for the striking red option, but you can also get a black strap and dials in various sizes. This is the “petite” version with the 26mm casing.
10. Skagen Freja: £104, Watch Shop
Danish brand Skagen makes pared-back, simple watches that are tougher than they look. The slimline Freja, with 12 and 6 as the only two numbers on the dial, is a case in point. We like this one with a rose gold tone strap and a silver dial, but it also comes in other shades. If you like something more delicate, it also comes in the “refined” version, with a smaller face and thinner strap.
11. Aark Collective Classic Tortoise: £115, Time By Me
From two numbers to no numbers, we love this watch with a tortoiseshell rim by Aussie brand Aark. The designs are shamelessly minimalist – no branding here – but also super-striking. The casing is chunkier than some on the list and the black Italian leather strap makes it a bold bit of wristwear. It uses Japanese quartz movement and also comes with a black dial.
12. Picto Rosendahl Small Black Silver Watch: £120, Trouva
Okay, so we have a bit of a thing for Danish design. Picto was produced for the Rosendahl Design Group in 1984 and it’s become something of a classic (there’s one on display in New York’s MoMa, no less). Tell the hour from the steel dot on the rotating dial, while the minutes are shown with a more usual hand. You soon get used to telling the time this way. The strap’s made of leather and it comes in a number of different colour options.
The Verdict: Women’s watches
For a quality watch that will win you style and cool points, we like Cluse’s La Roche (and if you want to spend less, the majority of its designs will give you change for £100). For a striking design-led piece, try Melbournites Aark or Danish brand Picto. Want to buy a British-designed number? Try Uniform Wares.
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