What’s the perfect watch? The one you’re wearing. And which one is that? The one you can afford.
It’s simple reasoning, but bears repeating in the watch world, where we are so often obsessed with the most pristine, gold-laden, house-costing timepieces. Yes, watches can be luxury goods, and those luxury goods are beautiful. But a watch can also just be the thing you wear on your wrist that tells the time and costs, well, not as much as a house. And — quote us on this — that affordable watch can still be amazing.
Affordable watches have the power to turn more people into watch nerds than haute horlogerie. Any one of these sub-$500 watches is going to make you feel good when you buy it, and feel even better when you use it. Because they’re not cheap or chintzy. They do what you need, for less, and shouldn’t you be saving to send your kid to college, anyway?
Affordable Watch Brands
Some of the best watchmaking companies on the planet make affordable watches. Their timepieces are well-made, and come with cool features, lots of interesting history and plenty of dashing, interesting and unique style choices.
Among our list of the best affordable watches, you’ll find repeated brands. That’s because a handful of brands make a bunch of the best affordable watches. But if you prefer a wider net, let us kindly suggest starting with one of these fine manufacturers:
The Best Affordable Watches Under $500
There are a confusing number of Bambino generations, with different functions, styles, and dial colorways. (Seriously.) Which means you’re spoiled for choice to find that one perfect mechanical dress watch for under $500—or maybe you can buy one for every suit you own.
Movement: Orient F6724 automatic
Orient — owned by Seiko since 20019 — decided to upgrade its Mako diver in the American market, and asked online watch communities for feedback. The brand came away with requests for a sapphire crystal and a solid-end-link bracelet. Particularly in its white-and-black dial, the new watch is a beauty.
Movement: Orient F6922 automatic
Ever since surviving a Gear Patrol-induced stress test (read: being dropped off a balcony), we’ve always had a profound respect for this tough little brand, which often sells its watches with ugly plastic shrouds for extra protection. These are watches for the blue-blooded, outdoor-working everyman, and the A-2T, with its lightweight titanium case, hardy nylon band, luminous dial and unstoppable quartz movement, is the perfect watch for camping or yard work.
Movement: Japan-made quartz
What makes a G-Shock so damn indestructible? There’s lots of high tech design involved, but the “resin” (plastic) case does a lot of the work. The new GM6900 includes this, plus an outer steel shell that doesn’t necessarily make it more robust, but does make the classic design feel fresh and interesting. It’s also still packed with the brand’s typical suite of features, of course.
Movement: Casio 3230 module
Realizing that consumers wanted a mechanical movement for far less than what was already on offer, Swatch automated the creation of its Sistem51, which uses just 51 parts. And when the watches that contained these movements launched in 2013, they were a revelation in affordability. Today, Swatch offers the Sistem51 in all sorts of versions, from the funky (Originals) to the dressy (Ironies).
Movement: Sistem51 automatic
While the old Seiko 5 certainly deserves a place on this list, we couldn’t very well ignore the much newer Sports models, which were released in 2019. These feature day-date displays; unidirectional rotating bezels, the automatic Seiko cal. 4R36 movement with optional manual winding and a 41-hour power reserve, 100m of water resistance and a Hardlex crystal. Their proportions have also been upped to 42.5mm, so if you love the idea of an affordable automatic Seiko but want something larger than the old 5s, look no further.
Movement: Seiko 4R36 automatic
The M79 brings a classic look and marries it to a modern automatic movement and 40mm case. The style, recalls bicolored GMT bezels, but here it just offers the sporty look, a retro flare — and it does it for way less than you’d spend for the style otherwise. Other features include a basic automatic movement and one of our favorite touches: that awesome bracelet.
Movement: Miyota 8215 automatic
Crispin Jones, the founder of Mr Jones Watches, graduated from the Royal College of Arts in London and spent time building interactive sculptures before founding his watch company. His watches, including The Last Laugh, are meant to provoke thought as well as tell the time; this one, for instance, is a memento mori (a reminder of death). (Time is displayed in the skull’s teeth.)
Movement: ST1 721 automatic
Dan Henry is an unapologetic homagist: he makes watches that are inspired by, and sometimes directly mimic, the greats. This is divisive work, but among affordable watch geeks, he’s mostly beloved, because he does what the greats have done for much, much less. The 1972 Chrono Alarm is an obvious homage to the first ever black PVD watch, the Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph 1. Henry’s version uses a Miyota quartz movement, but the beautiful design is all still there.
Movement: Miyota OS80 quartz
Tianjin watch factory was a powerhouse during China’s industrial revolution, pumping out a number of watches, including the nation’s first mechanical chronograph, the ST19, made for its pilots. Today, the factory is known as Seagull, and it makes the Seagull Chronograph, an homage to that original watch. It’s one of the most affordable mechanical chronographs out there, with a great vintage look and feel.
Movement: Seagull ST19 hand-wound chronograph
The most classic Luminox watch made for the Navy SEALs still looks badass. It’s been resurrected in a form keeping close to the original, and it’s just about our favorite watch from the brand. Tough and legible with a tritium illumination and the brand’s own carbon material for its housing, what’s best about it is that it comes in under $400.
Movement: Miyota 8215 automatic; Sellita SW200 automatic
The Seiko SARB065 “Cocktail Time” was reminiscent of the Seiko 5, but just a little bit dressier: its movement is slightly upgraded, and then there’s the brilliant sunburst dial, with just the right amount of flash. However, Seiko has since built upon the popular model by placing it in its Presage family and bolstering the collection with more colors and variations.
Movement: 4R35 automati
The Paris-based brand Le Forban Sécurité Mer, which burst onto the scene in 2020, revives the name and spirit of a company that made dive watches for the French navy starting in the late 1960s. The modern brand’s first model, a refined dive watch that recalls the designs of that era, has a perfectly sized 38.4mm case, a sapphire crystal and a Miyota automatic movement.
Movement: Miyota 8215 automatic
Yema, a French company with plenty of history has seen a resurgence thanks to its reissued Superman dive watch. While we love the automatic version, a quartz model is thinner, more accurate — and half the price. Choose from a few dial variations, and you won’t regret it.
Movement: Ronda 515 FE quartz
Hamilton offers a range of variations on this classic field watch with different dial and even case colors. The original, however, remains a dead ringer for several field watches worn by the U.S. military during Vietnam and afterward. No, it’s not mil-spec — but it is a Swiss-made watch with a killer American look.
Movement: ETA 2801-2 hand-wound
This young brand has impressed us with its the quality and value it offers for the price. For under $500 (just), you get a 39mm super-compressor dive watch-style, a reasonable 100m of water resistance and a solid Japanese movement. With a steel bracelet that’s a lot of watch that you can happily wear every day.
Movement: Miyota 9015 automatic