While our smartphones are fully capable of telling time without trouble, they can't deliver aesthetic charm and offhand ease like a watch can. You could make the case that watches are the classic outfit accessory; where function meets jewelry. Nurses, bakers, hikers, bankers, and so many more can benefit daily from having a timepiece on their wrist.
Whether you’re after a classic quartz watch that will pair well with your suit, a flashy contemporary Swiss piece, or an elegant smartwatch for the active lifestyle, the best watches under $500 look great, without breaking the bank.
How We Picked the Best Watches Under $500
To compile this list, we examined numerous watches from many of the top watch manufacturers, looking for watches that look great in lots of different scenarios, while keeping you attuned to the time.
Aesthetics: Everyone's personal tastes vary; we made sure to include watches that fit lots of different aesthetics and personal styles. Rather than trying to find watches that will fit with all styles, we broke down our selections into a few categories. Some buyers might love formal watches that pair well with a suit or dress, others might want a classic nylon banded pilot watch, or a contemporary European watch that puts the emphasis on bright color swatches. They can also mark special occasions, such as the Apollo 15 commemorative watch. Whatever your style, there’s a watch for you.
Build Quality: The quality of your watch is important. We looked for watches from companies that are known to create quality products that will last. For people who love to swim, paddle, surf, or scuba dive, we also included a couple of watches that work underwater.
Special Features: These are often nice additions, which is why we included a smartwatch on this list. Smartwatches can keep tabs on your body, and include such features as health tracking and GPS.
The Best Watches Under $500: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Swatch Big Bold Quartz
Why It Made the Cut: This contemporary quartz watch from Switzerland has a silicone band, is water-resistant, and comes with free battery exchange at Swatch outlets.
— Materials: Aluminum, acrylic, silicone band
— Water Resistance: 3 bars, 30 foot depth
— Weight: 1.4 ounces
— Size: 1.8-inch face
— Flashy, contemporary design
— Good water resistance
— Free battery replacements at Swatch stores
— Traditionalists might find the design jarring
Swatch is one of those brands that delivers a unique take on the classics; they’ve done so since their founding in 1983. The Swatch Big Bold Quartz is a Swiss-made watch that looks like it’s stepped out of the Centre Pompidou. With a contemporary white and translucent design and an acrylic, aluminum, and a silicone band, the clock hands are painted in primary red, blue, and yellow for easy visibility.
However the Swatch has more going for it than striking design. It features decent water-proofing that will keep it safe in up to 30 feet of water. The clasp should last about two years, and is easily replaceable afterwards. Additionally, the Swatch offers free battery replacements for your watch at any of their retail locations.
Swatch watches come in a lot of different styles. We also loved this multicolor-trimmed blue watch from their Big Bold Standard line which looks almost iridescent, and this dignified black watch. The company’s traditional metal watches are also worth a look for anyone looking for something more refined.
Best Budget: Fossil Men’s the Minimalist
Why It Made the Cut: A great classic watch that claims a 165 feet of water resistance that makes it shower and kitchen safe, at a great price.
— Materials: Stainless steel, leather
— Water Resistance: 165 feet
— Weight: 1.72 ounces
— Size: 1.7-inch face
— Classic design
— Affordable price
— Can be engraved at Fossil stores
— Some have quality-control issues with minute hand falling between minutes
Certain watch designs are simply timeless, and this minimalist brown and black quartz watch by Fossil certainly qualifies. The face is made of aluminum, which is held on with a classic leather band.
The watch is waterproof up to 165 feet. This means it’s certainly capable of making it through the shower or the after-dinner dish load, and will even be fine on swims. However, it might not be suitable for deep dives, or protracted ocean use.
All in all, it’s a great looking classic minimalist design that’s accessibly priced. Fossil watches can also be engraved at Fossil shops for those looking for extra customization. Their women’s watch line is also worth a look.
Best Smart: Garmin Vivoactive 4S
Why It Made the Cut: This unisex small-sized watch offers an awesome set of features, such as phone pairing, GPS, pulse monitoring, Spotify, and more.
— Materials: Gorilla glass, stainless steel, silicone strap
— Water Resistance: Water resistant to 5 atmospheres
— Weight: 1.28 ounces
— Size: 1.57-inch face
— Pairs with phones over Bluetooth
— Easily load apps and music onto phone, can be used to pay
— Especially useful for workouts and health stats
— Solid build
— Some UX issues with apps on the small screen
— Charge doesn’t last a whole week
Smartwatches offer some incredible tools. The Garmin Vivoactive 4S is a smartwatch aimed at people on the go. Easily loaded with your favorite apps, the Garmin can replace many features you may have previously only had on a smartphone. Sync your Spotify, payment cards, and even text messaging for the smartwatch. Its fitness tools can be especially useful, monitoring your heart rate and reps, animating workout moves, and delivering all the stats you need, even while you leave your cellphone in the locker.
The Vivoactive is unisex, and its feature set will work just as well for women, men, or gender-neutral people. It is sized on the smaller end of the spectrum however, fitting wrists up to 6.8 inches around. If this sizing isn’t right, Garmin makes lots of smartwatches such as the sports-focused Forerunner. With such a wide range of smartwatches, there’s sure to be something sized right. Here are more of the best smartwatches.
Best for Women: Bulova Women’s Watch
Why It Made the Cut: This self-winding automatic is a sparkling stainless steel watch with rose gold accents, mother of pearl, and five sparkling diamonds.
— Materials: Stainless steel, rose gold, diamonds, mother-of-pearl face
— Water Resistance: Water resistant to 98 feet
— Weight: 3.53 ounces
— Size: 1.3-inch face
— Five sparkling diamonds on a mother of pearl face and rose gold accents
— Good water resistance
— Self winding
— On the pricier end
— Might be too formal for some situations and people
Sometimes the prerogative is classic, elegant beauty, and nothing says elegance like diamonds, rose gold accents, and mother of pearl. The Bulova Women’s Watch is an automatic self-winding watch made of stainless steel which has been outfitted with precious metals and gems. It features an interlacing design of circles over its mother of pearl face, with a cut-out that opens onto the interior self-winding clockwork within — a nod to the inherent elegance of clockwork, which also shows on the watch face rear.
While this Bulova is undeniably elegant, it also has the build quality required for everyday use. It’s water-resistant to 98 feet, and its stainless steel construction will stand up to constant wear. So there’s no need to feel as though you need to keep this watch in the jewelry drawer only to be brought out for the ball. All in all, it’s a beautiful piece that will look great on any woman who wants a watch that they can dress up.
Best Field: Citizen Eco Drive
Why It Made the Cut: With 330 feet of water resistance, a solar power source that recharges continually, glowing hands, and a strong nylon band that looks as rugged as it is, this is a great watch for the outdoor enthusiast.
— Materials: Stainless steel, nylon strap
— Water Resistance: Water resistant to 330 feet
— Weight: 10.2 ounces
— Size: 1.69-inch face
— Recharges with sunlight
— Great water resistance
— Rugged build
— Some may find the glowing dials annoying
Military-inspired designs are attractive in a watch when the build quality is strong and the Citizen Eco Drive doesn’t disappoint. Pairing a stainless-steel build with a rugged nylon band, the watch uses solar energy to recharge so that you never have to worry about new batteries, even if you find yourself stranded on a Pacific island. In addition, you’ll be all set in the water with this watch’s water resistance up to 330 feet.
All in all, this is a watch that’s up to any challenge you are. Our only gripe with it comes down to personal preference, which might be seen as a positive for some. The watch’s luminous hands may bother some folks who sleep with their watch near their face. Otherwise this is a great military-inspired watch, that’s as rugged as it looks.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Watches Under $500
Before you invest in a new watch, there’s a few things to consider.
Quartz and Automatic
Before you make a purchase, think about whether you want a quartz or automatic watch. Quartz watches use a battery that passes electricity through a quartz crystal to power the watch. Automatic watches, on the other hand, use a rotor that winds the watch as the wearer moves their wrist and limb. Automatic watches generally last longer. Quartz watches may require you to change your watch’s battery, and often include less reliable components that are more prone to fail. While automatic watches often cost more, their increased longevity usually make that higher cost worth it. Still, some battery-powered watches like Swatch offer free battery changes that will keep your watch going.
Smartwatches are ever more common. These watches allow you to upload apps and digital content onto your watch, and operate like wrist mounted smartphones. They often feature excellent health- and sports-focused widgets. Many will let you upload songs and media right onto your wrist, monitor your heart rate, and more. However, they will usually require weekly charging. Consider if a smartwatch could be right for you.
Many of us wear our watches almost everywhere. Because of this, watches tend to play an outsized role in our personal aesthetic. Before you select a watch, consider whether it will work well with your style, and make sure that it will work with your wardrobe. However you present yourself, there’s a watch for you.
We all know that clothing and adornments are not inherently gendered. Most watch brands tend to categorize their watches as “for women” or “for men.” But your style is yours alone. So don’t feel constrained by categories when you’re shopping for the piece that suits you.
Q: Which type of watch is best for daily use?
If you’re looking for a great daily-use watch, consider something that isn’t so expensive that you’ll worry about damaging it, but that will still last you a long time. A quartz watch with solar rechargeable batteries, or a battery that’s readily replaced could be a good pick. An automatic watch might last the longest, but could cost more.
Q: Which watches are most reliable?
Automatic watches will usually last longer than battery powered quartz watches. Their premium mechanical interiors are generally more reliable than battery powered watches.
Q: Should I buy a $500 watch?
You can get a great watch for well under $500. Consult the list above for options for a variety of styles and price points.
Q: How do you know if a watch is good quality?
Usually, brand reputation is the best metric for how high quality a watch will be. That’s why we selected our picks from some of the best brands that make watches under $500.
Q: Can you wear the same watch everyday?
Absolutely! You can wear a watch as much as you want. When buying a watch for everyday use, consider getting a watch that you can easily style with your favorite outfits.
Q: What is the best quality watch for the money?
Swatch makes great watches for an affordable price. The company even changes out your batteries for free when they run out if you bring your watch to the store. Because of this, we think that Swatch is the best quality for the money.
Final Thoughts on the Best Watches Under $500
An elegant timepiece on the wrist, a startling pop of color, a dignified water-resistant piece that’s powered by the sun — the best watches under $500 can be many things. But the unifying factor is always a level of quality that will keep your timepiece running for years while you stay running on time. For a powerful smartwatch that will keep you informed at the gym, the Garmin Vivoactive 4S blends style and features at an affordable price. If you’re looking for a rugged build that stays powered with the sun, then check out the Citizen Eco Drive. The Swatch Big Bold Quartz is our overall favorite, though the brand’s catalog will likely take some browsing, as their selection includes everything from understated minimalism, to contemporary designs that are about as maximalist as you can get.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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