In this article, we’re going to focus on the watches that don’t seem. We’re going to concentrate on the best timepieces that all cost less than $500.
For under $500, you’re not going to end up with an heirloom collector’s piece. Instead, you can get an attractive style-driven watch at an attainable price. It will look good and tell time well, perhaps even more accurately than a Rolex. And, you can wear it with confidence because you won’t need to keep it in a safe or take out an insurance policy on it.
We will highlight what makes for a great watch under $500 and share our top 3 picks in three price categories: $0 – $150, $150 – $300 and 300 – $500. Finally, we’ll finish with a comprehensive list of our fifty favorite watches under $500. Each timepiece will be one you can trust on your wrist, that isn’t overpriced, and are sure to meet the aesthetic appeal of any discerning gentleman.
Characteristics of Great Watches Under $500
At this price point, a great watch is defined by style and value for the money. Since $500 is still a consequential amount of money, our focus will be on classic watches will look good today, tomorrow and even ten years from now.
It’s not an easy task to curate a solid under-$500 list because the watch market is so heavily saturated at this price point. Unfortunately, with most of these cheap watches, you get what you pay for. Shoddy craftsmanship, inferior materials and a timepiece that will likely begin looking old before it ever gets old. All of the timepieces on our list are quartz run or mechanical watches with a strong history of customer satisfaction. Some of them are from globally recognized brands like Timex and Citizen, whereas others have recently proven themselves in the investor-driven world of Kickstarter. Even the youngest watch brands just out of their campaign have amassed a following due to their ingenuity, the quality of their materials and the craftsmanship.
In the $300-500 category, the “entry-level luxury” watch market begins, and this stretches all the way to $3000. This is the infamous sub-$3000 watch category, most of which should be sold for less than the price of many of the timepieces listed below. For the most part, watches priced between $500 and $3000 are poorly constructed, underwhelming, and heavily dependent on fluffy branding. In short, they are a waste of money.
Now, certainly, there are a few exceptions to every rule. A very small contingent of brands, namely watchmakers like Sinn, Frederique Constant, and NOMOS, actually produce some exceptional timepieces. If you can afford a watch between $1,000 and $3,000, we urge you to consider one of those brands. However, if you have a tighter budget, keep reading.
Where to Buy Watches Under $500
Without a doubt, the answer is online. Jewelry and watch stores simply don’t serve this market, and department stores are typically staffed with employees who can open cases but know nothing about watches. Websites like Amazon will have a wide array of timepieces, as will gray market dealers like Gemnation. The best bet for something unique, however, are to seek out timepieces doing well on Kickstarter. Websites like Kickstarter have amassed a reputation for turning out some of the most unique and forward-thinking watches to hit the market.
Kickstarter and Campaign Watches
In the last 5 years, many of the new, exciting sub-$500 watch brands have emerged via Kickstarter and other campaign-based websites. Never before have entrepreneurs had such an easy time starting a watch brand. Today, a simple search of Kickstarter.com will net you dozens of results in the men’s watch category. Each brand is attempting to raise capital based on the promise of a product, usually a prototype, with a heavy discount for pre-production buyers. Unfortunately, there are many CONs to buying watches on Kickstarter. Financially, tiny margins and low prices at the beginning make it hard for watchmakers to build sustainable businesses. The watches are often rushed through production, leading to questionable quality control. You’ll have to wait to receive a watch that you mostly likely can’t return.
In general, we don’t recommend buying watches this way, but here are the keys DOs and DON’Ts of shopping for watches on Kickstarter and investment websites:
- DO look for watches that have received significant traction and are selling well
- DO research and corroborate the claim of top Kickstarter watches by reading third-party articles and reviews before buying
- DO research the seller to see what their history is on the site and their background (do they have any experience making watches?)
- DON’T invest in watches that have not actually been built
- DON’T come in at the ground level as a first investor unless it’s money you’re willing to lose
- DON’T invest more than $250 on a Kickstarter watch; if you have more to spend, buy a timepiece that already has a great reputation or a successful former Kickstarter watch
How to Buy a Watch Under $500
As we said earlier, with so many sub-$500 watch choices on the market, it would be nearly impossible to sort through all the available options. If you take that challenge upon yourself, here are some guidelines to consider:
DOs and DON’Ts of Watches Under $500
- DO focus on style over the movement
- DON’T buy gold plated watches as they will lose their color quickly
- DO look for quartz watches
- DON’T buy a watch from a luxury brand like Rolex for $500. It’s a fake
- DO jump on mass-produced movements like Ronda and ETA
- DON’T buy used watches in this price category
- DO stick with brands that have been around long enough to establish a reputation (give the new brands time to prove their value)
- DON’T buy from a retailer that has a seller on sale for far less money than anyone else; this is a sign it’s damaged or possibly stolen
- DON’T buy watches with stones, gems or other gaudy embellishments; they will make the watch look cheaper, not more expensive
Our Top 3 Under $150 ($)
Timex Red Wing Waterbury
A vintage inspired style, Timex is a household watch brand that is well regarded for their reliability. The Red Wing Waterbury is one of our favorite styles produced by Timex and is perfect for those in need of a chronograph that is still appropriate for many office environments. The Waterbury name pays homage to the birthplace of this iconic American watch company. Click here to buy a Times Red Wing Waterbury.
This solid titanium timepiece also has a retro feel taking us back to the classic military watches. A beast of a watch, this is the perfect companion to those who need a watch that can keep up with them whether it’s chopping wood at the cabin, coaching your kid’s little league game or checking to see when it’s time to clock out at work. Click here to get the Bertucci A2-T.
Seiko 5 Sea Urchin
With an appearance similar to the classic Submariner, this timepiece from Seiko uses their in-house automatic movement with the time, day, and even the date. Solid steel construction guarantees it can take a beating and keep on beating. In fact, even the links are solid steel which is hard to find in any timepiece at this price point. If you’re in need of a watch that works as hard as you do, this is likely the one for you. Click here to get the Seiko 5 Sea Urchin.
Our Top 3 $150-300 ($$)
Helgray GMT II
With its dual time zone capability, Helgray was one of the most successful watch brands to come out of Kickstarter. The GMT, like all of their watches, uses a Ronda quartz movement and doesn’t cut corners with quality. Helgray uses a stainless steel (grade 316L) case covered by a sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. The hands are diamond-cut and are luminescent. Another military-inspired watch, this expedition watch is one of our favorites because it passes the cuff test and is just formal enough to work at the office. Click here to get the Helgray GMT II watch.
Rossling & Co Rogart
At 40mm and with a sister watch that’s just 36mm, this ultra-thin timepiece is perfect for men with smaller wrists. With its light tweed strap, NOMOS-style dial, and small stature, this is one timepiece that will turn heads. It works well with anything from denim to business casual or even a suit if you switch it onto a black or brown strap. Click here to get the Rossling & Co Rogart watch.
This WWII style pilot’s watch is slightly more modern with a 42mm case powered by the Citizen Miyota 821A automatic movement. It maintains its roots with no date window but improves night readability with SuperLuminova coatings. Click here to get the Laco 1925 watch.
Our Top 3 $300-500 ($$$)
Tianjin Seagull 1963
Chinese watches often get a bad rap, but Seagull is the exception. Their timepieces are renowned for their quality movements. This particular watch is a modern reconstruction of the Chinese Airforce chronograph from 1963. It was, at the time, considered a masterpiece and is still coveted as a collector’s piece. This new version is petite at just 38mm and features an exhibition caseback that showcases the Seagull No. ST19 mechanical movement in all its glory. This really is one watch every gentleman should consider for their collection, regardless of its low price point. Click here to get the Tianjin Seagull 1963 watch.
Brathwait Automatic Minimalist
One thing we appreciate about Brathwait is that unlike many of their competitors (Shinola), they pull back the curtains and advertise the exact costs of manufacturing their watches. Sure, we’re not big fans of throwing around words like “luxury” for a watch that costs less than $500, but all in all, if you’re looking for a very simple timepiece that’s well built and stylish, this might be a good pick for you. This is Brathwait’s first introduction to automatic movements, but they use the Miyota Cal. 9015 which means you have little to worry about. Click here to see the exact cost breakdown of the Brathwait Automatic Minimalist watch and get your own.
Tissot has enjoyed an illustrious history as one of the most acclaimed second-tier Swiss watchmakers. The Visodate is one of our top picks for those wanting a classic and refined timepiece that is boardroom appropriate. Available in a range of styles, you can easily find one that works well trekking with friends through Europe or for an evening at the opera in New York. The automatic movement is likely one of the highest quality movements you’ll find in this price category which makes this watch one of our top picks. Click here to buy the Tissot Visodate watch.
Top 50 Watches Under $500
There are so many timepieces in this price range available from sellers online and offline. If you’re spending your hard-earned money make sure it’s on a watch you recognize. All too often do we hear stories of people who bought a watch from a street vendor solely on appearance and it stopped working or physically fell apart in short time. In fact, sometimes it happens before the buyer even gets home.
If it seems too good to be true, it likely is. We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the best watches under $500. What timepieces would you add to the list?