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The Best Affordable Integrated-Bracelet Sports Watches

March 20, 2024

From the PRX to the Tudor Royal, there's no shortage of attainable '70s-inspired sports watches on the market. Here are some worth considering.

Very few watches have generated as much hype as the Royal Oak and Nautilus in the last few years. Since Audemars Piguet introduced the Royal Oak in 1972, countless brands have released copycats and imitations, with the Nautilus arguably being the most famous example. The sustained success and unobtainable status of these two models have led to high demand for alternatives in the '70s sports watch style. Given the sheer quantity of options to choose from, navigating this market can be confusing. Here are some of the best offerings that scratch the integrated sports watch itch without creating generational debt.

$340: Citizen Tsuyosa

Following high demand for the JDM model, Citizen introduced the Tsuyosa to the U.S. market in 2023. Since then, the model has become even more of a hit. For a watch priced at less than $500 (and usually much less on gray market sites), the Tsuyosa certainly packs a punch. How can Citizen keep the price so low? To start with, the model houses the Caliber 8210, a cheap automatic movement made by Miyota (a subsidiary of Citizen Watch Co.). The bracelet and stamped clasp also leave much to be desired, though this can be expected for a watch of this price.

The biggest critique of the Tsuyosa is that the design is derivative, but given the subject of this article, that could likely be applied to most of the watches on this list. The model sports Rolex-esque indexes and cyclops magnifier above the date window. The 40mm case features a polished bezel and brushed sides. The case is fairly compact at 11.7mm thick, though the bracelet integration makes the watch wear much larger. The crown, esoterically positioned at four o'clock, gives the watch some uniqueness. However, the biggest draw is not the design but the highly competitive price that undercuts most other contenders in the category.

$695: Tissot PRX

The Tissot PRX was one of the most important affordable watch releases in the past decade. The model met the strong demand for affordable '70s sports watches that surged following the rapid rise in Nautilus and Royal Oak prices. Its design follows the solidly established '70s sports watch formula, featuring an integrated bracelet with wide links, a 40mm angular case, and a Clous de Paris dial that is, to put it generously, reminiscent of the Royal Oak. While comparisons to the Royal Oak are inevitable and justified, the model is based on a real Tissot design from the 1970s, giving the design at least some degree of genuine heritage. For the price, the case is fairly well finished.

The PRX's biggest drawback is the Powermatic 80 movement inside; the production is almost completely automated, down to the laser-regulation of the escapement (which consequently cannot be regulated thereafter). Several components of the escapement are made of cheap plastic. Still, the PRX's popularity hasn't suffered for its lackluster mechanics, and the model remains an attractive entry point to Swiss watchmaking. Demand for a smaller version prompted Tissot to release a 35mm PRX in 2023.

$890: YEMA Urban Traveller

The Urban Traveller is a relatively recent release from the French microbrand YEMA. The case has a very wearable 39mm diameter and features the ever-recognizable octagonal, porthole-shaped bezel made popular by the Nautilus. The integrated bracelet is composed of single links and has a butterfly clasp. YEMA has opted for a clean brushed finish throughout with polished bevels for contrast. Perhaps the most unique component of the watch is the dial, which features an intricate honeycomb pattern and refreshingly little text. The simple markings and hands are very much in the vein of the Royal Oak.

For a price nearing $900, the Urban Traveller delivers fairly good technical specs. The in-house YEMA 2000 Caliber provides slightly better performance than the standard grade ETA 2824-2 and Sellita SW200-1, its competitors at the same price-point; the 2000 is regulated in four positions to ±10 seconds/day with a maximum variation of ±25 seconds/day, a minor improvement over the ±12 s/d daily rate and ±30 s/d max variation of the ETA and Sellita.

$1,225: Christopher Ward The Twelve

While a bit late to the '70s sports watch trend, this 2023 release from Christopher Ward is among the leading affordable options in the style. What really sets the watch apart is the brand's attention to detail. The slightly higher price than the PRX and YEMA allows Christopher Ward to deliver superior value in almost every aspect of the watch. Most glaring is the upgraded finishing; the case, bracelet, hands, and markers feature a tasteful mix of sandblasted, polished, and brushed finishes. The single-link bracelet is integrated flawlessly. This is an area that so many watchmakers get wrong. The Twelve's bracelet doesn't cause the dramatic lengthening of the case that makes many watches in the style wear much bigger. The date wheel of every model is even color-matched to the dial, another detail often overlooked by other watchmakers.

The design could be characterized as a mix of existing sports watches like the PRX, Nautilus, Zenith Defy, and Czapek Antarctique. The crown guards and softly contoured 12-sided bezel echo the Nautilus without being too derivative. At just under 10mm thick, The Twelve also achieves the thinness associated with elegant sports watches like the Royal Oak. Like the YEMA, the most striking element of the watch is the dial, which is executed with a unique "twin flags" pattern that mimics the brand's logo. Beneath, a workhorse Sellita SW200-1 ticks away.

Christopher Ward has also made the watch available to a wide range of customers. The brand offers several dial colors and recently released a 36mm size (sans date window). If you buy the watch on a rubber strap, you'll pay less than $1000 dollars for it. For a premium, you can even upgrade the case to titanium and the movement to the slightly thinner SW300-1.

$1,260: Nivada Grenchen F77

It was only a few years ago that the French entrepreneur Guillaume Laidet revived Nivada Grenchen. In a short amount of time, the small brand has become one of the leading makers of vintage-inspired watches. Released in the spring of 2023, the F77 is based on a vintage Nivada Grenchen from 1977. While that date means the original design was derivative at the time, today it means the watch has some real heritage that many other new releases lack. Like the original, the model has a vintage-appropriate diameter of 37mm. While the lug-to-lug measurement is only 45mm, the watch does wear a bit bigger than that due to the integrated bracelet. The F77 is also 12.65mm thick. The brushed bezel is octagonal and features visible screws (where have you seen that before?). You also get the standard 100 meters of water resistance.

The most captivating part of the F77 is the dial. The basketweave pattern plays nicely with the light to create a three-dimensional effect. The watch is powered by a Swiss-made Soprod P024 movement, which is essentially identical to the ETA 2824-2. But you would buy this watch for the design, not impressive technical specs. The F77 remains faithful to the original model in all its flaws, giving it some genuine vintage charm that's hard to find from the often soulless, corporate-looking releases from other brands.

$2,295: Frederique Constant Highlife

In the world of Swiss watchmaking, Frederique Constant stands out for offering excellent value for money. The Highlife is an excellent example of the brand's unique positioning. Perhaps the most original design on this list, the Highlife still retains an integrated bracelet but loses a lot of the sharp angularity that defines the style. The finishing is well executed, mixing polishing and satin brushing to highlight different parts of the bracelet and case. Speaking of the case, its soft edges and a round bezel give the watch a more elegant (albeit more conventional) look than its competitors. The watch is also water resistant to 100 meters.

The matte dial features simple applied indexes, a printed 60-minute track, and a globe pattern embossed into the center. Some thought has gone into the date window and the overall effect is clear and balanced without being too derivative thanks to the unique pattern. While at this price point you still get a modified Sellita SW200 caliber, it is COSC certified. The model is also available in several dial and case variations.

$2,300: Maurice Lacroix Aikon Automatic

With its five-link bracelet, Clous de Paris dial, and geometric crown, the Maurice Lacroix Aikon is a clear homage to the Royal Oak. The biggest difference in design is the bezel, which features six "claws" in place of the Royal Oak's iconic exposed screws. Of course, the watch is far from high horology. But when viewed as its own watch rather than a Royal Oak imitation, the Aikon has a lot to offer. The case features a tasteful mix of brushing and finishing; the hands and indexes are executed well; the bracelet is well made and offers a quick-change system; the watch is even rated to 200 meters of water resistance.

The Aikon's biggest drawback is the movement; an elaborated Sellita SW200-1 ticks away inside the case. For $2,200, an off-the-shelf Sellita movement may seem like poor value; however, the watch can be purchased for far more favorable prices on the secondary market. The model is available in 35, 39, and 42mm. All models keep a relatively slim profile of around 11mm. While it's difficult to escape comparisons to the Royal Oak, the Aikon is an undoubtedly well-built watch.

$2,575: Tudor Royal

Like all non-divers from the brand, the Tudor Royal exists in the shadow of the hit Black Bay and Pelagos. Consequently, it's easy to sleep on the model. The Royal offers an accessible entry point into a widely respected brand. Tudor gave the model some much-needed attention when it released two new dial colors for Watches and Wonders 2023. The Royal name dates back to the 1950s, though whatever provenance that might come from this history is mostly negated by the fact the modern iteration (which was first released in 2020) looks nothing like its ancestor. The design is nonetheless distinctive, featuring a recognizable notched bezel and five-link bracelet. The case and bracelet are finished with the now standard mix of satin brushing and polishing.

Notably, the 41mm version displays the date and day in the same configuration as the Rolex Day-Date. The dial also features a tasteful sunray-brushed finish and applied Roman numerals like many Day-Date references. The movement is easily the most lackluster part of the watch; the caliber T603 is based on a Sellita caliber. Still, the Royal's handsome looks and brand recognition provide enough value to make up for this.

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