21 Great Watches for Less Than $400
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Watches and cars have gone hand in hand since the days of Mario Andretti and Jo Siffert—hence their status as great gifts for car lovers. However, even the most discerning horologist knows there's no need to spend a bundle on a nice watch. Just like you can get a good deal on a fine timepiece, you can also spend far too much on a piece of junk. And if you're giving a watch as a gift, you definitely don't want to overspend.
The world of horology can be intimidating. Not unlike the world of cars, there are dozens of types of watches for every style and purpose, and no shortage of specialties and niches. There are heritage brands, cheap knockoffs, promising upstarts, and everything in between. There are different types of movements (the bits inside that make it tick), strap styles, case materials, bezel types—and a dictionary full of jargon to go along with it all. If you don't know what you're looking for, shopping for a watch can be overwhelming.
That's why we've compiled a list of some of the best affordable watches you can give as a gift—or even pick up for yourself to add to, or begin, your collection. These choices range from stylish to practical to fun, and most incorporate more than one of those traits. And all will earn a nod of respect from watch snobs.
Like the automakers that hail from the land of the rising sun, Japan's Citizen has developed a reputation for solid, reliable, and easily serviced timepieces. The Promaster Dive is without a doubt one of the most robust divers you can get at its price point. It's ISO-certified, which makes it a high-functionality professional diver, and Citizen's patented Eco-Drive movement is solar powered and can keep ticking up to six months without sunlight.
5 Sports SRPD55K1
No respectable list of affordable watches would be complete without at least one offering from Seiko. The Japanese maker has a stellar reputation, and their watches have been everywhere from the bottom of the ocean, to the military, to the big screen. The SPRD had big shoes to fill in replacing the widely loved SKX, but it comes through with nice brushed and polished surfaces, a Hardlex mineral crystal, and Seiko's newer 4R36 automatic movement.
Yema is a French watchmaker with a history in racing. They made the first French watch to make it into space and the Rallygraf was famously worn by none other than Mario Andretti. The new Rallygraf is powered by Seiko's VK64 hybrid meca-quartz movement, and its retro styling punches way higher than its price tag would have you believe.
Marlin Automatic 40mm
The Marlin comes from a time when everyone knew a Timex could "take a licking and keep on ticking." So watch fans were taken aback when Timex rereleased its Marlin in 2017 with a mechanical movement. But the successful collaboration with men's fashion icon Todd Snyder breathed new life into the classic brand name, and as a result, this dynamo is still stylish—and still very affordable! You just have to wind it, which we think only adds to its mid-century-modern appeal.
If the original G-Shock is rugged, then the Mudmaster is a nuclear fallout bunker for your wrist. It uses a system of gaskets that supposedly keeps mud and dust out of the watch. It also comes jam-packed with features including Bluetooth connectivity, a thermometer, a compass, a calendar, and much more.
Vintage A159WGEA-1VT Gold
For those who harbor nostalgia for the Eighties, Casio still offers many of its popular offerings from the past. The A159WGEA-1VT has all the basic features you want from a watch and is packaged in a mega-cool gold-tone case. You might have seen Matthew McConaughey rock this throwback watch in the 2017 movie Gold. Alright, alright, alright.
Way back in 1983, Swatch launched one of its first collections of stylish plastic watches. One of the most coveted pieces from that early collection was the Jellyfish, with its clear plastic case displaying its colorful quartz movement. The Clearly Gent is a descendent of that watch, and it's still painfully cool.
Another classic from Casio, the World Time (or "Royale" as it's often known) is nearly as impressive today as it was when it was initially released. It features a built-in stopwatch, timer, and 5-point daily alarm. Most impressively, you can cycle through any time zone worldwide with one of its many side buttons.
There are few names more closely linked with rugged reliability than the original G-Shock. The G-Shock took years of R&D before it was finally released in 1987. This original model has gone mostly unchanged since its release, save for a plethora of color updates.
Digital quartz watches have seen something of a resurgence in popularity. Armitron is not typically a brand that garners a huge following, but the rerelease of their Griffy harkens back to the heyday of Seventies-era LED designs. It features a relatively svelte case at 35mm wide, and is available in a ton of colors, though the two-tone steel and gold is clearly the coolest.
Designed by the German-based company Braun, whom you may know for their men's shavers, the BN0032 embodies the company's philosophy of functional minimalist design. It features a 40mm matte stainless steel case, quartz movement, and date window at the six o'clock position.
Black General Purpose Quartz 34mm
Marathon has supplied watches to the armed forces of a number of nations for much of its history. Today they are the sole supplier of watches to the United States Armed Forces. Needless to say, these are serious timepieces. The General Purpose is one of Marathon's entry-level items, but if it's good enough for armed combat, it'll surely handle whatever you throw at it during daily use.
Type B Miyota Automatic
German manufacturer Laco was founded in 1925 and was one of the original suppliers of pilot watches used in World War II. The Type B is a faithful reproduction of those early watches. Its large 42mm case and legible dial are what you'd expect from a pilot's watch, but its party trick is its Miyota automatic movement.
Orient is a Japanese watchmaker that's been producing timepieces since the Fifties. It was acquired by Seiko in 2009. Much of the fanfare around Orient is because of this watch, the Bambino. Watch enthusiasts tend to agree that this is one of the best value propositions out there. For under $200, you get a beautiful piece with a nicely finished case, a sunburst dial, a date window at the three o'clock position, and, most importantly, Orient's own F6722 in-house automatic movement.
SRPB41 Presage Cocktail
Seiko's Presage line is a step up from its entry-level Seiko 5 models. Despite this, SRPB41 can still be had for a reasonable sum. It features Seiko's own 4R35 23 jewel movement, a Hardlex crystal, a date display, and a beautifully designed dial with polished hands and markers.
Arguably the predecessor to the modern smartwatch, Casio's Databank was originally launched back in 1980. What was once considered a nerdy piece of tech has come full circle and is undeniably retro-cool. Its features include a calculator, alarm, second time zone, and chronograph.
When this watch came out in 1979, every third watch sold in America was a Timex. Timex relaunched their iconic Q in 2019 to rave reviews. It features a rotating bezel, a stainless steel bracelet, a battery hatch, and an acrylic crystal.
Q LCA Reissue
Following the success of the reissued Q, Timex opted to reintroduce another classic from their vault, the Q LCA. Like some of the other retro-style digital watches from the likes of Casio and Seiko, the Q LCA relies heavily on Eighties nostalgia.
If you want a watch that does essentially the same thing as your smartphone (probably not as well), then perhaps a smartwatch is what you're after. Apple's Series 8 is among their latest and sits between the base SE and the fully loaded Ultra. The number of things this watch can do is astounding, from taking an instant ECG to alerting emergency services if you're injured. Of course, it connects seamlessly with all of your other Apple products.
The F-91 is the lowest-priced watch on the list and is also one of Casio's most ubiquitous pieces. It's insanely accurate and reliable, highly legible, and easy to wear. It is the mold for all basic digital watches.
The Fitbit Versa 4 is a smartwatch, but it is a fitness tracker first. It can track a huge range of your bodily happenings, including your heart rate, sleep stages, blood oxygen level, and of course, steps and calories. Being that it's a fitness tracker above all, it's particularly well suited for keeping track of your movements, much more so than just carrying your phone around all day.
What are the different types of watch movements?
There are three types of watch movements:
Mechanical: The oldest and most traditional form of wristwatch mechanism. A Mechanical watch movement is driven by a coiled mainspring that is wound by hand, via the turning of the watch's crown. Typically more expensive than quartz watches, mechanical timepieces require winding by hand every couple of days, an indelible part of their classic charm.
Automatic: This type of watch is self-winding. The wearer's arm movement propels a rotor, which winds the watch's mainspring, which in turn powers the timepiece's hands. Generally speaking, automatic watches cost more than quartz watches but less than mechanical watches. For them to continue functioning accurately, they also need routine maintenance, usually every 5–10 years.
Quartz: A precise time measurement is produced when the quartz-crystal oscillator, powered by a battery, vibrates at a very high frequency. In general, quartz timepieces are more accurate and require less upkeep than mechanical and automatic ones, usually just a battery change every couple of years.
What do the water resistance ratings mean?
Water Resistance indicates how well a watch is sealed against the ingress of water. Newly manufactured watches are subject to a leakage test to determine how much water pressure the piece is able to withstand. This does not mean a water-resistant watch was designed for repeated long-term use in such water depths. Aim for 50-meter or 100-meter ratings for daily use.
What is a chronograph?
A chronograph can both tell the time and be used to measure intervals of time. For this reason, they have been historically popular in auto racing as they are handy for timing laps.
Can I change the strap on my watch?
In most cases yes, many watch straps are easily interchanged. It's important to know the lug width of your watch. This is the measurement between the two lugs that the strap sits in between. The most common lug widths sit between 18mm and 22mm. Some watches use unique lug designs that only fit a specially designed strap, and some replacement straps are only available from the manufacturer.
How often does a watch need service?
Like cars, watches are machines that need to be taken care of and maintained. A watch movement can have as many as 200 tiny separate parts, many of them lubricated. As in any motor or engine, over time this lubrication evaporates or is consumed by friction. The watch's accuracy and reliability may suffer if the movement becomes dry and dirty. These are the initial indications that upkeep may be required. Every four to six years, have your mechanical or electronic watch serviced by a professional to ensure that it continues to show the hours, minutes, and seconds accurately.
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