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The 17 best watches to buy as gift that aren’t Rolexes

These models are high-quality, beautiful and, most important, available for purchase with no waiting list

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic

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Buying a watch as a gift is difficult in the best of times. What will suit your loved one’s tastes? Which are the best quality?

Making everything more complicated is the fact that these days, there are long waiting lists for many of top timepieces. A wave of enthusiasm for haute horology (and rampant speculation on the secondary market that we hope is cooling) has left many store shelves empty. Many favored models are absolutely impossible to get. Still, wonderful watches are still available.

Also read: Is it finally time you got yourself a blingy gold watch?

Rudy Albers, the president of multi-brand watch retailer Wempe USA, says when a client comes in to shop for someone else, he advises them to think about the watch’s use. “We ask them what this person is intending to do with a watch? Sports activities, casual stuff, formal events?”“Certain gifts are always home runs. I think of especially Cartier, which has classic designs in all sorts of sizes,” Albers adds. “This season the Santos is a darling for men and for women alike.” Also, “If you want to get your significant other, or someone in your family, a great watch that will always be appreciated: get a Tudor.”

Here are 17 tasteful timepieces you can find today online or in shops, as selected by Chris Rovzar, Bloomberg Pursuits editor, and Andy Hoffman, a Geneva-based Bloomberg reporter who covers the Swiss watch industry.

IWC Pilots Watch Chronograph 41

Price: $7,600 

Good for: Someone who wants a dressy watch with such useful functions as the chronograph timer and the day of the week and date. 

People constantly ask me which watch they should buy. After they’ve gone to an emporium such as Wempe or Bucherer or Watches of Switzerland, and tried a bunch of the options I suggest, the brand they end up walking out with more than any other is IWC. You will always get compliments on a grown-up IWC like this—a chronograph from the house’s signature series of pilot’s watches. — Chris Rovzar 

Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 in White Gold

Price: $36,800

Good for: Those who need a dress watch for work that’s offbeat enough to draw notice; anyone who cares about the holy trinity of watchmakers (Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin). 

A classique launched first in 1921 with a diagonal dial for easy reading while driving, it has been revived in various forms since 2009. — Andy Hoffman

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

Price: $11,000

Good for: Watch enthusiasts who love a bit of history, plus fans of the Rolex Daytona and other, largely unavailable sports watches on bracelet.

Zenith is a small Swiss watchmaker on a tear. Sales are soaring and waitlists are developing for some models (including this one in some markets, but it’s still much easier to get than a Daytona). Not only does the brand make the vaunted, incredibly accurate El Primero movement (which beats at the heart of this watch and many from other maisons), but it has a wonderfully storied past, too. — C.R.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph

Price: $10,440

Good for: Amateur or professional pilots who want to honor aviation history; anyone who wants a pop of color on the wrist.

The Navitimer was one of the innovations that changed watchmaking forever and was the de facto pilots watch for decades. Quoting the Breitling website here: “In 1952, Willy Breitling developed a wrist-worn chronograph with a circular slide rule that would allow pilots to perform all necessary flight calculations.”

The pistachio dial on a classic chronograph at a manageable 41 mm makes this a standout. — A.H.

Frederique Constant Worldtimer

Price: $4,495

Good for: Those who need to be mindful of colleagues who live in different regions; buyers who want a lot of watch for a good price.

The Worldtimer is one of my favorite watch complications, especially since I travel for work and manage a team that’s spread from Dubai to Los Angeles. I am terrible at keeping track of when everyone is at their desk, and it’s annoying to constantly tap through my phone to the world clock function. Frederique Constant is a solid Swiss horologer that makes complicated movements at very reasonable price points. This will probably be the next watch I buy. — C.R.

Tudor Black Bay Pro

Price: $4,000

Good for: An active person who wants a very solid-looking watch, with excellent reliability, at a moderate size (39 mm) and moderate price.

Tudor is a sister brand to Rolex, and tends to sell similar watches (with similar quality) at about half the price. The self-winding Black Bay Pro is Tudor's take on the Rolex Explorer II of old. I recommend you get it on the new micro-adjustable bracelet. — A.H. 

Baume & Mercier Hampton 10666

Price: $4,350

Good for: Someone who travels regularly for work and wants a dressy, somewhat subdued watch that goes well with a suit. 

I tried this on at Watches and Wonders in Geneva this year, and immediately I thought: “This has most of what I want in a watch.” It’s got an attractive rectangular case with textured slate dial and subdued black alligator strap. It’s a dual-time watch, which is extremely helpful when traveling, so you can keep track of the time where you are and the time at home. The date display is big and clear (call me flaky, but I have grown to hate wearing a watch that doesn’t remind me of the date) and it’s automatic with 42-hour power reserve, which means no winding. —C.R.

Cartier Tank Must Solarbeat

Price: $2,790

Good for:  Those who want the ultimate in classic dress watches, with a fresh twist.

The rectangular Cartier Tank might be the most recognizable luxury watch in the world: It’s distinctive, eternal and comes from an historic jeweler that helped invent the men’s wristwatch for casual wear. This version of the model is solar powered, with photovoltaic cells integrated behind the classic Roman numerals. —AH

Bulgari Octo Finnissimo in Titanium

Price: $15,400

Good for: The person who wants a unique watch that’s secretly nicer than the one worn by the boss; fans of titanium, the hot case metal of the moment.

For years, Roman jeweler Bulgari has been honing its skills in the world of haute horology, making increasingly impressive watches that are ever more complicated. The Octo Finnissimo line looks like nothing else that’s out there, and its watches have also repeatedly broken the record for thinness. (What a dream.) I’ve worn many, and they are incredibly light and fit wonderfully on the wrist—and under a cuff. —C.R.

Norqain Freedom 60 GMT

Price: $3,890

Good for: An innovative watch collector who wants something offbeat and new (but with vintage flair) to add to the collection; also, travelers who need to keep track of a second time zone.

If you don't want the Tudor GMT everyone else has at a similar price point, this relatively young Swiss brand offers an alternative with essentially the same “in-house” movement. Norqain now counts industry legend Jean-Claude Biver as an adviser to its board. — A.H. 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Tribute Duoface Calendar

Price: $14,500

Good for: A world traveler who wants a dress watch that’s restrained in both size and flashiness; someone who enjoys the retro feel of manually winding it every day.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s signature rectangular Reverso watches were originally created in 1931 so polo players could flip them over to protect the glass watch face from errant swinging mallets. They will never go out of style, and Albers says Wempe has models in a wide array of colors ready to sell. The art deco design is immediately recognizable to watch aficionados, and in the years since its equine-based origin, the brand has added various second watch faces and complications to the reverse of the watch; when you flip it, you see another dial. This one has a day, date and month indicator on one side and a useful second time zone on the reverse. — C.R.

Omega Speedmaster ’57

Price: $8,600 

Good for: Anyone who wants to start a collection with one of the most iconic watches in history; someone who will think it’s cool to manually wind this little mechanical wonder.

This is a wonderful first watch for someone, as it’s one of the most famous on the planet (and off). Having been worn on all six lunar missions, a Speedmaster has a heritage that can’t be topped. With the “broad arrow” hands of the original Speedmaster that debuted in 1957 before the brand made it to the moon, and an easy-to-wear size of 40.5 mm, this watch is good enough for George Clooney, so it’s good enough for your loved one. —AH

Hermès H08

Price: $7,450 

Good for: The kind of person who wants a watch that looks equally good at work and at the gym.

The French luxury house Hermès is certainly best famed for its scarves and bags, but in the past two decades it’s been making tremendous strides in the world of serious watchmaking. In 2021, its sales broke into the list of the top 20 Swiss watchmakers, thanks in large part to this model, which debuted that year.

The textured, square case with rounded edges and distinctive numerals make it stand out from anything else you’ll see on the trading floor—and it’s impressive that the self-winding movement is made in-house. (The link goes to a limited edition available only in the US, which was made in honor of the new Madison Avenue Hermès flagship outlet, because I like the way it looks; you can view other models here.) — C.R.

Baltic BiCompax 002

Price: €540 ($568)

Good for: Anyone who wants a unique-looking watch at a very good price point. 

Hard to beat this classically styled chronograph dress watch for the price. The Paris-based brand brings its own style to classic watch design, and keeps things very affordable with a Chinese-made manual Seagull movement. — A.H.

Bremont Fury Blue

Price: £5,995 ($7,316) 

Good for: Someone British. 

Before WWI and WWII, Great Britain used to be the home of some of the world’s most important watchmaking—but until recently there wasn’t very much of it going on there. That changed when Giles and Nick English, a pair of brothers obsessed with aviation, classic cars and great watches, started Bremont in 2002 with the goal of bringing horology back to British shores. In 2021 they opened the Wing, a substantial factory and design site near Henley. And in 2022 they began selling watches with their own in-house movements, including this blue Bremont Fury pilot’s watch, which has a self-winding movement and 65-hour power reserve. —C.R. 

H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Centre Seconds

Price: $15,300

Good for: Fans of color.

Moser & Cie. is an independent Swiss watchmaker best known for its quality watchmaking, its brightly-hued fume dials and such decidedly un-Swiss stunts as making a watch out of Swiss cheese. Many of its watches have waiting lists, but this one—which practically leaps off the wrist—can be bought today. — C.R.

Oris Divers Sixty-Five

Price: $2,400

Good for: Someone who likes the look of a diver’s watch with a prominent, handsome bezel.

Oris is an independent Swiss watchmaker with a serious focus on sustainability. I like this automatic diver’s watch with a vintage-inspired caramel ombre dial and the case and bracelet in two-tone bronze. It feels old school while still looking fresh. — C.R.

Also read: Why Aurel Bacs believes India will be a top fine watch consumer

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