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Watches are some of the most interesting accessories to shop for, occupying a space between fashion, art and engineering. In the past, perspective watch enthusiasts had two choices: spend a small fortune, or buy something cheap and poorly-made. Now, things are changing. Respectable watches can be had for less than $500, allowing almost anyone to treat their wrist to something nice.
A stylish, well-engineered watch was, is and always will be a sophisticated statement. As proof of this, consider the rise of the smartwatch (which we’re all buying, by the way). Many watch connoisseurs feared that smartwatches spelled the end of artful, meticulously made timepieces. The opposite seems to be true. People are still buying watches with an understanding that watches are more than simple time-tellers. As proof, brands such as Timex are releasing (and selling out) throwback watches with mechanical movements and attainable price tags.
What to Know Before Buying a Watch
Picking watches is a full-time hobby for some enthusiasts, but you don’t need to be a horologist to find a great watch. However, there are still some key features that every watch-owner-to-be should consider before making any purchases.
Movement: A watch’s movement refers to the actual functioning of the watch. The three main watch movements are automatic, mechanical and quartz.
Automatic watches essentially “charge” themselves with the movement of the wearer’s wrist, making it the most desirable and reliable movement (used by big brands such as Rolex and Omega). Mechanical watches require hand-winding (usually every couple of days), and have seen a comeback recently for their vintage charm. Quartz, the most common movement today, uses a battery that needs replacing (typically every few years).
Brand: A watch’s brand is a stamp of quality – or lack thereof. The brand really does matter when selecting the best watch, especially when you’re looking for affordable watches. We’ve chosen picks from reliable sources (mostly Swiss and Japanese) to ensure that your new watch lasts as long as possible without any maintenance.
Water-resistance: Even if you don’t plan on showering or swimming with your watch, it’s always a good idea to be protected against water damage (say, rain or getting pushed in a pool). Generally, if a watch has less than 50 meters of water resistance, it’s only reliable against rain and occasional splashes. Over 50 meters of water resistance is safe for swimming, and over 100 meters is diving-ready.
Crystal: The ‘crystal’ on a watch refers to the dial cover. Sapphire (or synthetic sapphire) is nearly scratch-proof and glare-reducing, making it the most desirable watch crystal. Less expensive watches use a mineral crystal (specially treated glass) or an acrylic crystal that’s similar to plastic.
Style: It can be tempting to pick a watch just because it looks cool on its own, but it should also work with your personal style. Be sure to assess your own look and consider how well a watch will upgrade your style.
The Best Men’s Watches Under $500
If you’re looking to invest in a watch that will be appreciated by connoisseurs (and your wallet), read on. We’ve rounded up the ten best watches under $500 (starting at less than $120), plus some brief tips on watch-buying to help guide the way.
1. Seiko Series 5 Automatic
The Seiko 5 is a budget-conscious watch lover’s dream for two reasons: it’s automatic and it’s often priced around $100. For a watch enthusiast, an automatic movement at this price is like having your cake and eating it too. Add good looks and a respected Japanese brand and you get a truly great timepiece. It also comes in a good range of colors and styles so you have some options to choose from. The only slight downside is a hardlex crystal, which lies between mineral and sapphire in terms of scratch-resistance, but that’s easily forgivable at this price.
2. Victorinox I.N.O.X.
Victorinox is best known for their Swiss Army knives, but they’ve also carved out a sizable piece of the watch market in the past few decades. We think this I.N.O.X. is one of Victorinox’s best timepieces as it blends rugged diving and classic, everyday style. The watch features a rubber band and sleek, stainless steel Swiss-made case, allowing you to wear this watch on a fishing trip or a date. But it’s not just a pretty face. The I.N.O.X. is water-resistant up to 200 meters for real diving and uses a sapphire crystal to prevent scratches.
3. Citizen Promaster Eco-Drive
Another great Japanese watch is the Citizen Promaster. Citizen has been a pioneer of the watch industry for over 100 years and currently holds a place in watch lovers’ hearts for their Eco-Drive movement. This movement is solar-powered, and Citizen claims it’ll keep accurate time for up to 10 years. The Promaster model is also incredibly adventure-friendly – despite its elegant looks. It’s rated at 200 meters water-resistance and features a super titanium case for durability.
4. Movado Temo
If you don’t need a rough-and-tumble watch, consider Movado. The Swiss-made, American-designed brand has become well-known for minimal, modern styling and their now-iconic twelve o’clock dot. This Tempo watch is very thin and streamlined, making it a great choice for dressy attire. And, although it shouldn’t be taken swimming, the watch does have a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal to keep it looking sharp.
5. Tissot Le Locle
Futuristic smartwatches might be all the rage, but classic dress watches such as this Tissot Le Locle still have a place in every watch enthusiast’s arsenal. The watch’s name, Le Locle, refers to the Swiss town where Tissot was founded in 1853. Like the name, the watch’s quality is a testament to the brand’s long-running expertise. The watch showcases a timeless look with a stainless steel case, black dial, Roman numerals and a black leather strap. As you’d expect from a classic watch, Le Locle also uses an automatic movement for authenticity.
6. Glycine Combat Sub
Glycine is less well-known than most of the brands on our list, but they’re a very reputable Swiss manufacturer with more than 100 years of experience. As you might guess from this Combat Sub watch, Glycine is best known for rugged military-style watches. This model is one of our favorites with an automatic movement, a sapphire crystal face and 200 meters of water-resistance for serious durability. But in the 21st century, it’s also a fashion statement as well thanks to the pilot strap and rotating PVD bezel.
7. Hamilton Khaki King Series
If you’re looking for an everyday watch that goes with casual outfits as well as office attire, check out this Khaki King Series from Hamilton. It features a classic, no-frills look with a stainless steel case, black dial and brown leather strap, combining for a handsome yet understated effect. It also has a sapphire crystal, ensuring that it’ll stay scratch-free, as well as 50 meters water resistance to protect against splashes and accidental submersion. Plus, an exposed skeleton back scores some clout points.
The Best Women’s Watches Under $500
There are a number of great women’s watches under $500 too, from casual everyday watches for errands or the office, to luxe timepieces for a night out on the town.
1. Tissot Bella Ora Piccola
Simple, silver dial watches are an icon of women’s style, pairing seamlessly with everything from jeans and a tee to dresses. We like this Bella Ora from Tissot because it delivers that timeless look but tweaks it just slightly with an eye-catching oval shape. It’s well-sized for most wrists with a 27-millimeter width and features scratch-resistance thanks to a sapphire crystal face. And at around $150, it’s especially hard to resist.
2. Salvatore Ferragamo Portrait Lady
Salvatore Ferragamo might not be known for their timepieces, but this Portrait Lady watch is well worth taking a look at. It showcases a bold mid-century vibe thanks to the rectangular shape, gold color and white mother of pearl dial. Although it’s quite affordable, the watch actually features some real gold in the form of ion-plating. It’s a great choice for nights out but also makes for a powerful accessory in your office wear wardrobe.
3. Rado Coupole
Another classic ladies’ timepiece (that can be worn with virtually anything in your closet) is this Rado Coupole. The watch boasts an automatic movement for both authenticity and accuracy, plus sapphire crystal to avoid scratches. It’s technically categorized as a dress watch, but the minimal face and no-frills stainless steel bracelet make it much more versatile. And with a 32-millimeter width, it’s not too bulky but feels substantial on your wrist.