There is no better figure to start a story about affordable watches with than Steve Jobs and his watch, both of which followed the Think Different approach. Because in the world of the celebrity watch—where a Rolex Submariner worth thousands and thousands of dollars can seem austere—there is no better counterprogramming than a super-affordable timepiece. Billionaire CEOs like Jobs are actually no stranger to practical cheap watches. And the rest of the figures on this list all come at affordable pieces for seemingly different reasons. Tyler, the Creator squeezes joy out of confounding people, John Mayer is an equal opportunity collector, and Barack Obama’s watch might convince the public he is a guy anyone could grab a beer, and then maybe go shopping, with. Also this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger wore an affordable piece in so many movies it’s now known as “The Arnie” and Dave Chapelle flush with Netflix money still wears the most popular watch on earth.
Steve Jobs’s Seiko Quartz 6431-6030
Bill Gates, who used to wear a $10 Casio, recently upgraded…to a model from the brand worth $40. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is known to wear a slightly more expensive $275 Fossil smartwatch. Titans of industry signaling their pragmatism by wearing plastic watches available at mall kiosks is nothing new. But Steve Jobs’s approach seems slightly different. Jobs was a famous aesthete, obsessed with stripping everything down to its simplest parts. A pair of New Balances, faded Levi’s, and a black turtleneck fine-tuned with designer Issey Miyake was his uniform of choice. The watch he wore in the early part of his life subscribed to this same principles of simplicity. The Seiko is without any frills: it’s a black round design with a white dial and Arabic numerals. That’s it.
Despite the simplicity, the watch has left an outsized imprint because of its former owner. Heritage Auctions sold Job’s watch in 2016 and bidders drove the price all the way up to $42,500. In 2017, Seiko reissued the watch in limited numbers. It is hard to find something similar in Seiko’s current catalog, but this $12 Casio should scratch the itch.
Barack Obama’s Jorg Gray JG6500
In 2008, during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the host tried to ensnare Michelle Obama in a controversy over what he imagined was a super-pricey wardrobe. “I want to ask you about your wardrobe,” he prodded. “I’m guessing about $60 grand? $60, 70 thousand for that outfit?” But Obama had something better up the sleeves of her yellow cardigan: “J. Crew,” she said. “Ladies, we know J. Crew. You can get some good stuff online!” The moment cemented Obama as an everywoman—she went to the mall, and shopped online, and maybe even sorted from low-to-high price just like us—and showed how dramatically style and clothing could shift public perception. Michelle’s husband Barack hit the same notes with his watch: a Jorg Gray that retailed for $250. (A commemorative version with an engraving on the back costs $395 today.) In 2010, the Financial Times described it as the “epitome of recessionista chic,” a subtle show of solidarity with the rest of the ailing country. Better yet: the watch was a birthday gift from the President’s Secret Service detail in 2007. Obama wore the watch throughout his presidency, and it packed a lot inside its $250 package: the black-dial watch came with a date and chronograph function. Of course, it didn’t last forever: after his presidency, Obama upgraded to a $15,200 Rolex Cellini that he wears in his official portrait.
John Mayer’s Casio Twin Graph
Part of John Mayer’s vast watch collection is guided by his childhood obsessions. In his second “Talking Watches” video with Hodinkee, Mayer said he got a gold Rolex Daytona simply because it was the one that he thought of as the You’ve-Made-It watch when he was younger. The Casio Twin Graph similarly plays on Mayer’s heartstrings like a world-class harpist. “I used to have this watch in middle school and would stare at it to pass the time in class,” he wrote in an Instagram caption. “Did you know that before Instagram we just stared at stuff? I used to play a game called ‘Close your eyes and guess when it’s been a minute.’ Those were the days.” Mayer originally posted this a couple of years ago, but he’s since added an even-rarer vintage white Twin Graph that he wore in a recent episode of his IGTV show “Current Mood.”
The Twin Graph is an outrageous watch, with a very crowded digital dial that looks like it can do much more than provide a stopwatch, alarm, date, and show the time in both analog and digital ways. What looks like a radar for sniffing out your quickly encroaching enemies is actually just a seconds hand! Tracking down a vintage version of the Twin Graph’s like Mayer’s may not be affordable, exactly—but you can get one that will be vintage one day for only $20.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Seiko H558-5000
In the ‘80s, Schwarzenegger wore this watch in no fewer than four movies: Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, Twins, and The Running Man. It is a massive watch made for a massive man—and it was so associated with the future governor of California it became known as the Arnie. The H558-5000 is a typical diver design with a serious lifting regimen: the clear dots, lines, and triangles stand in for hour markers, but everything on this Seiko is a little pudgier. There’s also a digital display at the top that shows the day and date. Along with Sylvester Stallone and his chunky Panerais, Schwarzenegger helped usher in the era of big watches when he was the biggest action star in the world in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He eventually collaborated with Audemars Piguet on one of these sturdy pieces, but his collection really started with this Seiko. At one point, Seiko stopped making this model, but like its namesake, It will be back. The watch was reissued last year and costs $525.
Tyler, the Creator’s Casio MQ24-9B
Tyler, the Creator seems to have made a career while zagging while everyone else is zigging. His cheapo watch embodies his entire spirit, the fucking-walking-paradox as he announced himself to the world on his first hit single “Yonkers.” There is no watch cheaper on this list than the $12 Casio Tyler has worn loyally throughout the years. (It’s almost identical to the watch the Pope wears.) Maybe the super-simple watch is Tyler’s way of saying he is holier-than-thou, or maybe he wants us to understand he’s stylish enough to wear a prize-bin watch and still look cooler than nearly every other celebrity spending many multiples of that.
Dave Chapelle’s Apple Watch
No list of affordable celebrity watches would be complete without Apple’s contribution to the world. While this column spends a lot of time covering the flashy Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet watches worn on red carpets, the most popular timepiece in the world remains the Apple Watch. In fact, the Apple Watch alone reportedly outsells the entire Swiss watch industry! Still, it’s surprising to see it on Chapelle’s wrist: the comedian could buy 150,000 Apple Watches with his Netflix deal alone. And yet the affordable Apple Watch remains the wristwear of choice for celebrities like Chapelle, Samuel L. Jackson, and Succession’s Brian Cox. Many collectors today treat watches as jewelry, or examples of artistry and craftsmanship. You won’t get any of the romance from the Apple Watch, but it will track your steps or display the time with, like, a Mickey Mouse dial.