Seiko is a titan of the watchmaking world. The Japanese brand has been around since 1881, invented the quartz wristwatch in 1969, and stands alongside Rolex as the only fully vertically integrated watch company—meaning that every step of design and production is done in-house. Unlike its Swiss counterpart, Seiko offers high quality watches in every price range. From straightforward $130 quartz watches, to the luxurious Grand Seiko Spring Drive, which is widely considered the most accurate watch in the world.
Most of Seiko’s sub-$500 watches run on a quartz movement, but there are plenty of automatic options. Since everything is done in house and the scale of production is massive, the brand can afford to sell high quality automatic movements for relatively low prices. Servicing automatic watches often requires replacement parts and skilled technicians, just like car engines. Since Seiko is so big and popular, you can find parts very easily. That means that Seiko automatic watches aren’t only affordable to buy, but affordable to own for the long term.
Within the affordable price range, Seiko has something for everyone. The Prospex line offers function dive and field watches, along with chronographs and GMTs. Then there is the Presage line of dress watches that look like there are a couple of zeros missing from the end of the price tag. For our money, the most functional and stylish range is the Seiko 5 line of dive and field watches. All of them come with automatic movements, and can handle mountain climbing, reef diving, or the stresses of every-day life.
Sadly, most heritage American watch brands closed down or got purchased by foreign corporations towards the end of the twentieth century. Timex remains the last heritage American watchmaker standing. Affordability has always been at the heart of this Connecticut-based brand. After changing hands and pivoting from the Waterbury Watch Co. to Timex in 1941, producing simple and reliable watches for the masses became the company’s focus. Timex was known for understated gentlemen’s watches in the ‘60s and ‘70s, digital watches in the ‘80s, and sports watches in the ‘90s. A complete brand overhaul took place in 2008 that saw Timex break into the stylish watch market, where it has been a major player for the past decade.
An early innovator of digital watches, it was a collaboration with the Ironman triathlon race that pretty much invented the sports watch category in 1986. The proprietary Indiglo system, which is a button activated backlight for the watch face, is one of the most underrated watch features we’ve seen. Since 2010, it has been the Marlin and Q lines that put Timex on the menswear map. Plus, its collaborations with MH-favorite menswear brands J.Crew and Todd Snyder brought back vintage, All-American style that carried over into the entire Timex identity.
Simply put, you won’t find a bigger and better looking selection of mechanical and automatic watches for under $500. Its quartz tciers are even more staggering, with a constant stream of new designs coming out each season. The leap Timex made from strictly utilitarian watches to heat-seeking tickers is probably the most impressive part about the brand. If our style editors had to choose just one watch to sum up Timex right now, it would be the M79. It is a classic dive watch that comes in a range of colors in automatic or quartz movements.
Read more: Best Timex Watches
Japan is home to another watch giant named Citizen. With a focus on entry-to-mid level matches, affordability is achieved through scale. Founded in 1918 as a collaboration between Swiss and Japanese watch makers in Yokohama, Japan, Citizen has over a century of experience. We love that Citizen has always focused on pushing the limits of technology to make watches affordable and useful to the masses. For example, some of Citizen’s most remarkable chronographs feature inset digital screens that extend the watch’s capabilities beyond anything a mechanical movement can do.
Probably the most well-known technology by Citizen is the solar powered Eco-Drive movement. In our experience, good quartz watches are more accurate than automatic watches because a constant vibration by the quartz crystal keeps a steady beat, as long as the power supply lasts. For a long time, that power came from batteries. That meant that, as the battery died, your watch started to slow down and lose accuracy. These tiny batteries are not cheap, so that was a hidden expense in owning quartz watches. Eco-Drive solved this problem by utilizing any light source, not just the sun, to create a solar charge and eliminating the need for batteries.
The aptly named Classic line from Citizen is just that, a timeless look that will never go out of style. You can wear this watch every day, with everything in your closet and it just works. A quartz movement allows for a super thin profile that feels light on your wrist and won’t get caught in shirt sleeves.
Read more: Best Citizen Watches
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Casio is an enormous electronics manufacturer that makes everything from mobile phones to music gadgets. With all of that variety, one specialty that stands out is affordable watches. Being an electronics company, Casio focuses on digital timepieces. There are some solid quartz powered analog watches available, but the digital interface allows the Japanese tech company to really show off what it can do. You can make the argument that Casio first popularized the smartwatch back in the ‘80s. Back then, having a clock, calendar, alarm clock, calculator, and stopwatch that lit up on your wrist was a novelty. It culminated in the 1989 release of the F-91W, which is still the essential retro digital watch today.
Arguably the most popular digital watch brand in the world is the Casio sub-brand, G-Shock. First introduced as a sports watch line in 1983, the rugged and water resistant timekeepers became fashionable in the ‘90s with wild color schemes. In the ‘00s, G-Shock took off as part of the streetwear movement and has remained a fashion icon ever since. Some of the more durable and tech-heavy models can get pricey, but most G-Shock watches come in at under $400. The retro models are mostly under $100.
Most modern G-Shock designs are big, impressive, and flashy. However, the older designs from the early days of the sub-brand are sleeker and easier to style for every-day wear. Our style editors prefer the DW5600E-1V model, because it looks like the early ‘90s designs that first put G-Shock on the map. It has all the bells and whistles in a compact and durable package.
Read more: Best Casio Watches
Founded in Dallas, Texas by Shabeena and Amir Meghani in 2009, Breda makes ultra stylish watches and jewelry at relatively affordable prices. Simplicity is the key to the brand’s success. Where most watch brands focus on round faces, Breda focuses on square and rectangular faces. Rather than dividing designs into male and female categories, everything is unisex.
Everything is designed and manufactured in Dallas except for the Japanese movements, which keeps prices low by minimizing supply chain costs. The minimalist designs aren’t just fashionable, they are easier to manufacture, which also keeps prices low. Most Breda watches cost less than $200, while looking like they cost ten times as much. Strong materials like stainless steel are used and the construction is reliable so these elegant-looking watches are super durable.
While technically unisex, the Virgil is one of our favorite watches available from any micro watch brand. There is clear influence from the Cartier Tank, but with a modernist, almost industrial edge to it. That’s because the case and metal band are almost the same width so it looks more like a nice bracelet that has a clock on it than a traditional watch. Our editors found that the Virgil looks wonderful with a suit, but plays well with casual looks like a t-shirt and jeans or hoodie and joggers.
Orient was a small, independent Japanese watch company founded in 1950. It was little known to the rest of the world until it was purchased by the Epson corporation—yes, the printer company—in 2009. By throwing the resources of a massive international corporation behind it, Orient was able to scale up production of classic and affordable watches without jacking up the price. In less than ten years, the Japanese watch makers made a respectable name for themselves within a crowded market. Unlike the other affordable Japanese watch labels, Orient retains a small brand charm. Wearing one, you get the feel that it is still made by a little local watchmaker that few people have heard of.
Where Orient really shines: Automatic watches with heritage designs at unbelievably low prices. By sourcing movements from Seiko and crafting everything else in-house in small batches, Orient can afford to offer style and performance that far outstrips the price tag. There are only a handful of designs available, with almost all of them influenced by early twentieth century Swiss watches. However, this only serves to enhance the small brand charm of Orient.
The Bambino II is the quintessential Orient watch. Roman numeral indices, slim pointed hands, and the simple face with just the brand coat of arms printed on it, are all beautifully vintage inspired. An automatic movement, stainless steel case, and faux croc leather band make this a perfect dress watch. Our style editors love it as an office watch, and it makes the perfect gift for a guy who is just getting into watches, or probably should be.
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America used to be home to quite a few well respected watch brands. Bulova was founded in Queens, New York in 1875, and the old headquarters can still be found opposite Laguardia Airport. As one of the most popular watch brands in America from the ‘40s through the ‘70s, it was worn by the likes of Frank Sinatra and President Kennedy. After falling on hard times, the brand was purchased by Citizen in 2008, although it still operates as a standalone watchmaker. Bulova bounced back under the Citizen umbrella, and is now one of the best affordable watch brands in the world.
Bulova blends heritage and futuristic watch design like no other company. With a rich archive of styles to pull from—like some of the earliest dive watches, WWII era square face watches, and a chronograph that went to the moon—there are new reissues coming out every year. At the same time, modernist designs make up a bulk of the brand’s substantial catalog. Elements like exposed movements, octagonal cases, and complex inset dials make Bulova watches look very contemporary.
As ornately detailed as Bulova can get, some of the best watches available are the simplest. The Surveyor draws inspiration from some of the most popular Swiss watch designs that have established a timeless gentleman’s watch look. Dash indices and narrow hands sit on a clean blue background, with a date window at 3 o’clock and a day window at 12 o’clock. This is an all-purpose watch that will last for decades, sold at an amazing price.
With roots in extreme sports, Nixon has always offered a counterculture alternative to traditional watch brands. That isn’t to say that Nixon watches aren’t stylish, but rather bold and statement making. Most of the case sizes are 40 mm and bigger, with flashy colors, fun art, and unique textures. The California-based company has landed some unique collaborations over the years, including artist Hannah Eddy, the Tupc estate, and the Rolling Stones. Above all, Nixon has kept every watch affordable for everyone.
California surf and skate culture has been at the heart of Nixon since the beginning. Where luxury watch brands hire professional athletes and movie stars as brand reps, Nixon sponsors surf competitions and professional skateboarders. There is also a whole range of digital sports watches catered to action sports, rather than running and swimming. Which includes features like tide monitors and high impact resistance. On the flip side, Nixon caters to the connection between streetwear and skate culture by making ritzy looking watches with a classic vibe.
As unique and bold as Nixon can get, the brand’s most essential watch is also the simplest. Aptly titled Time Teller, this bare bones 40mm quartz watch comes in 19 different color combinations. All of them feature a solid colored case and band with a solid color face. If you still can’t find a color that you like, there is also a customization option. Like everything else Nixon does, the Time Teller is fun, affordable, and always stylish.
Founded in 1984, Fossil is one of the biggest watch companies in America. From the beginning, the company set out to sell affordable and stylish timepieces by utilizing Asian mass production facilities. Now, the company is truly global, with design facilities in Switzerland, headquarters in Texas, and production in China. While Fossil has grown to sell a wide range of clothing and accessories, watches are still the brand’s primary focus. We love that Fossil’s designs are always casual and fun while still being respectable enough for the office or formal occasions. With plenty of options under the $200 mark, this is a perfect start point for getting into watches.
Most Fossil watches are quartz powered, with a modern look, minimalist features and easy readability. There are some vintage inspired dive and square face options, as well as a few automatic movements. Smartwatches are the newest territory which Fossil has broken into. Most of them connect to Google or iOS phones and come with all the usual smartwatch features. There is a Wellness line that can monitor your vitals and a hybrid model that has analog hands with a digital screen behind it.
Few affordable watches offer the kind of vintage swagger that comes with the Carraway line from Fossil. It may be an outlier among Fossil’s modern aesthetic, but it is the best option for style longevity. Our fashion editors love it for dressing up or adding a classy little detail to casual outfits. This is a watch that you can wear every day and nine out of ten will think that you paid a lot more for it than you did, which is always fun.
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A relative newcomer to the watch world, MVMT burst onto the scene in 2013 by creating a direct-to-consumer model of modern looking, super affordable watches. Success came fast, and by 2016 the brand had reportedly sold over 600,000 watches. Simple designs and affordable prices have been the secret to success for MVMT. Millennial and Gen Z men seeking a simpler solution to the old school watch market have always been the target audience, leading to a very unique brand aesthetic and marketing approach. These aren’t your grandfather’s watches, and that’s the point.
Always taking the counter point, MVMT was minimalist when watches were getting complicated. At a time when men were going for watch cases around 40 mm, the Los Angeles based watchmaker was averaging 44 mm and up. Providing an alternative in a watch world that loved to follow the crowd has worked well for MVMT. Today, the brand’s range has expanded to accommodate a wide range of preferences in sizes and functionalities. Yet, minimalism and affordability are still the foundation of everything MVMT does.
The Cali Diver is one of MVMT’s newest additions, and probably the most stylish watch it has ever made. There are obvious nods to OG dive watches and GMT watches, but the brand’s unique identity is strongly represented. Signature details like open hands, a monotone face, and the brand logo at 12 o’clock make it instantly recognizable as an MVMT. Yet there is a retro charm to this watch that makes it less modernist, as the brand has always embodied, and more timeless. If you’re looking for an MVMT to wear every day for a long time, we recommend this one.
How We Selected the Best Affordable Watch Brands
Brad Lanphear is a style professional and watch enthusiast with over a decade of experience testing watches. For this story, we considered high quality watch brands that primarily sold watches under $500. In addition to his own experience testing countless watches, Lanphear consulted with our Deputy Commerce Editor Christian Gollayan and Fashion Director Ted Stafford, who have both tried and reviewed all of the watch brands on this list. We also scanned Reddit sections like r/watches for unbiased watch brand recommendations.
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Contributing Commerce Style Writer
Brad is a contributing style commerce editor. After a decade working for menswear brands including J.Crew and Ralph Lauren, Brad switched from selling fashion to writing about it. His words have appeared in Huckberry, Heddels, and The Manual.
Deputy Editor, Commerce
Christian Gollayan oversees e-commerce content for Men’s Health and Women’s Health. Previously, he was the Associate Managing Editor at TheManual.com. Christian’s work has also been featured in Food & Wine, InStyle, the New York Post, and Tatler Asia.