While many watches can cost in the thousands, it is quite possible to find a good, reliable watch for under $500. This selection includes watches both mechanical and quartz, although the main focus will be on mechanical watches. You can also find watches that are Swiss, Chinese, German, and more. This guide is not meant to include all possible options, but rather give a general overview of what to expect in watches within this price range. While the price for these watches are at new prices, it’s possible to find higher quality watches at this price if bought used. Also note, prices may vary depending on your location.
Hamilton is a Swiss brand that started out as an American company until they were bought out by the Swatch group. One of their most popular watches is the Hamilton Khaki Field. This watch is available in several styles and can range from $375-$500 depending on the specific model and place of purchase. There is also a quartz version of this model available for significantly less. The Khaki Field has a more casual look and is a good daily wear watch; the sapphire glass being more resistant to scratches that might occur through normal use. It also uses the popular ETA 2824 movement.
Tissot has several watches which are well known. Some highly popular models are the pr100, Le Locle, and Visodate. All of which have ‘dressier’ appearance. These are able to be found for around $400. Similar to the Hamilton Khaki Field, these also utilize different variations of the ETA 2824 movement as well as a sapphire glass front.
Victorinox offers a few automatic Airboss models at the $500 mark. These include inner numbers showing military time and a screw in back with sapphire glass. The Alliance is a less expensive mechanical model at under $400. Theis also use the popular ETA 2824 movement (unlike the Airboss) and has sapphire glass.
While not known for their accuracy compared to other mechanical watches, Russian watches are usually much cheaper and a good price for what you get. A popular brand is Vostok which is in the diver style. They have an interesting history and their Amphibian series uses ingenuitive engineering for their water resistance rating. You can generally find these watches under $100, including shipping, from Russia. They are automatic and you can choose to get one with or without a date complication. Also, these watches are incredibly easy to customize and you can buy aftermarket bezels and dials to change the look to better suit your taste. Replacement parts are also cheap so repair isn’t a problem. Whole movements can even be bought for around $50. Cases are stainless steel and the front crystal used is lucite which actually bends when under pressure, a positive feature which gives it the water resistance depth rating of 200m. While there are newer, more expensive models under the name Vostok Europe they are most known for their older ones. Poljot is a similar, slightly more expensive, Russian brand.
There are several notable German brands with watches for under $500. Both Zeppelin and Junkers are owned by the same parent company, Pointtec, and have mechanical watches in that price range, as well as some quarts chronographs. They have similar styles, with Zeppelin leaning more towards a 1940’s look. The Junkers 606 and Zeppelin 7060 are good examples of this. They use the same movements and both have hesalite crystal, the only difference is the look. The movement in these watches is the Miyota 9100, a 28,800 bph movement with power indicator which is unusual with watches at this price range.
Junghans has some quartz watches available but all their mechanical watches are over $500. The Max Bill is one of their popular models and available in quartz as well. This model goes for a minimalistic look and offer versions with and without a date feature.
Seagull is a major brand that produces some very inexpensive mechanical watches. The 1963 is a chronograph produced by them and for around ~$350. This is half the price of the majority of inexpensive chronographs you can find. For less than $200 you can pick up their 172s which includes sapphire glass and a power reserve along with it being an open heart watch. While the quality control is not very strict, it is very hard to find watches with these complications at this price.
Another notable Chinese brand is Stuhrling. They produce many mechanical watches under $200 and some can be bought for less than $100. Stuhrling also produces quite a number of skeleton watches in the same price range. They have a wide variety of models and variations at very affordable costs, most of them using a krysterna crystal front. Although, similar to Seagull, you won’t find great quality. On the extreme end, these watches can be minutes off per day.
Even with Chinese watches there are knockoffs. A well known brand is Parnis that copies several Seagull watches. The Parnis E388 is a copy of the Seagull 172s for a little over $100. It should be noted however, that Parnis suffers from worse quality.
Not only a popular Japanese brand, but also one of the most well known watch companies, is Seiko. They have endless choices of mechanical watches under $500. An extremely popular model is Seiko 5. Seiko 5’s includes diver, dress, and sport watches. Some are even priced under $100. The Seiko SKX781 is aptly named for it’s orange dial. The “5” in Seiko 5 stand for 5 things all of these watches have. They have to have these attributes: shock proof, water resistant, date, day, and be automatic. The Seiko Eco Drive is a popular quartz movement. It’s powered by solar energy and never needs batteries.
Orient is a well known and liked Japanese brand. I’d say their most popular is the Orient Bambino, an automatic dress watch for less than $150. The watch comes with a mineral crystal front and is water resistant to 30 meters. At a higher price range, there is the Orient Star. This offers a slightly improved movement, a power reserve, and water resistance of 50m for under $400 while having a dressy appearance. Orient also offers watches in the sub $100 price range.
Casio offers a number of quartz watches are a very low price. The Casio Databank can do math and has an alarm as well as tell time for ~$20. The G Shock is well known for their durability and large, unique shape. These watches are great for sports and activities that require a sturdier watch.
Timex is an American brand offering many quartz models, one of which is the Expedition. It has an analog face with and an inner circle of numbers showing military time. There is a chronograph version of the Expedition for under $50. Both of these have mineral glass on the front.