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In the sub-$500 range, there are typically two types of collectors: The affordable watch lover (who probably spends a lot of time on F71 and owns 50 Seikos), and the new watch enthusiast, trying to make a decision on their first “real” watch.
Spending big money on a new watch can be an intimidating thing for the uninitiated. It’s tough to make a commitment if you’re not quite sure you’re going to get your money’s worth. And when you’re first getting started, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a simple watch. To make matters worse, there are literally hundreds of thousands of models to choose from.
In my own personal journey, I spent a lot of money on cheap watches before figuring out what really got me excited. Looking back now, I’m embarrassed at some of the watches I spent money on. It took me awhile to appreciate the details that come along with the higher priced models and learn about the brands that were making the really notable pieces.
Since this is a tool watch blog, I won’t get into the many great dress watch options in this price range (like the Tissot Visodate or the Seiko SARB033), so if you’re tastes lean more formal than practical this might not be the list for you.
It should also be noted that the Japanese dominate this price range, there is just no way around it. The watches produced by Seiko, Casio, Citizen and Orient are by far the best values in terms of quality and price. With that said, I tried to avoid completely filling this list with Japanese watches.
My Top 5
I will preface this list by saying that there are so many great tool watches available in this price range. Also, these types of lists are totally subjective. What I did try to do though was find five tool-watches that met the following criteria:
- Under $500 (obviously)
- From a well-known brand
- Respected by hobbyists and enthusiasts
- Timeless styling
- Water resistant (to at least 100m)
- Useful, durable and practical
For a dynamic look at the enthusiast communities top 25 watches under $500, you can also check out WatchPatrol Discover, it’s updated daily and based on the volume of sales listings for a particular model.
Hamilton Khaki Field
Seems like this one is on everyone’s list, but I have to agree. Hamilton is a very popular brand amongst enthusiasts for their combination of American heritage and great value. For my money, the Khaki Field line provides some of the best Swiss automatics with classic military styling.
In fact, you get the same Swiss movement (ETA 2824-2) in the Khaki Field as you do in the Tudor Ranger, for a quarter of the price. On top of that, you get a field watch from a company that outfitted American troops in WW2.
It’s not flashy, but it’s classic and understated in all the right ways. For a more detailed look, check out my review of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical 38mm.
When it comes to the Seiko Turtle I sort of feel like a broken record. But there is a reason that this is one of Seiko’s best-selling dive watch models since 1976, it’s really that good.
In this same price range you’ve also got the SKX0007/009, which is an excellent choice to be certain. I just feel that the Turtle is worth the extra $50 – $100 or so, providing a much better movement (winding and hackable) and a more visually interesting dial.
An ISO-certified watch from a historic brand with iconic styling for around $250.00 – what more can you ask for?
Citizen Promaster Diver
The Citizen Promaster doesn’t get enough love from the enthusiast community. Everybody is infatuated with Seiko’s line of affordable divers, yet Citizen has continually put out solid value-priced divers for decades. As the “other Japanese watch company”, it’s about time Citizen got some recognition.
Although not as iconic as the offerings from Seiko, the Promaster Diver is a classically styled dive-watch that has it’s own unique look and is built like a tank.
And it’s powered by Citizen’s solar-powered Eco-Drive movement, not quite an automatic but a respectable engine for a tool-watch nonetheless.
Casio G-Shock Rangeman
Of all of the digital watches in Casio’s “Master of G” series, the “Rangeman” might be the best combination of features, value, and looks. The “Mudman” is a bit cheaper (but lacks the altimeter) and the “Riseman” is a great choice, but lacks the compass feature of it’s older and wiser sibling.
So what makes the Casio Rangeman so great? Complete ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) functionality, mud resistant, shock resistance, solar powered, atomic sync, and world-time are just a fraction of the useful features this watch offers. It might be the ultimate outdoor exploration watch.
With that said, it is a digital watch, and a quite large one at that, so it probably won’t wear as well in the office (unless your office is a National Park). And it lacks GPS features – if you need that you might take a look at higher priced offerings from Suunto like the Traverse.
See also: Top 5: Best Outdoor Watches for Hiking and Backpacking
If you just need a great looking three-handed watch that can survive being run over by a bull-dozer, look no further than the Victorinox INOX.
Being crushed by tons of steel isn’t the only thing this watch can handle. For Victorinox’s 130th anniversary, they devised over 130 different stress tests to subject the INOX to. These tests included everything from surviving a 10 meter fall on concrete, being frozen in a block of ice, and being tumbled in a washing-machine for 2 hours. Needless to say, the INOX passed each test with flying colors.
There is also a “Pro Diver” version if you need a unidirectional timing bezel.
For those looking for a watch as tough as a G-shock that looks more like a Patek Philippe Nautilus, take a closer look at the INOX.
Under $500 Honorable Mentions
As mentioned before, there are so many great watches in this price range. Take a look at the table below for a few more great tool watches under $500 that regularly end up on everybody’s favorites list.
Agree, disagree? What are your favorite tool watches under $500? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Accidently found this site whilst looking for seiko watches, and unbelievably you reviewed the same watch i was interested in.Must say i’m very impressed with your site and now sits amongst my very few favorites…sincerely thankyou.
This is a great list and I appreciate the love shown to Citizen! I have the Eco-Zilla titanium, which is pretty rare these days, and it’s my favorite in my entire collection!
I would have thought to have seen an Invicta on this list. Also, Reactor makes some super tough and solid watches for great prices, with some awesome features. My favorite is the black Trident with yellow dial. Check them out.
I just can’t with Invicta. I get that they are cheap and decent (for the price), they just don’t do anything for me. Never heard of Reactor, I’ll have to give them a look.
Also, yeah Citizen is way underrated. Seiko gets all the love in the Japanese segment, but Citizen watches are fantastic too. I had a Night Hawk for awhile that I loved, it was just a bit large for me.
On the affordable end, I cannot see how you neglected to mention (yes, I guess I can since it is a homage) the Tisell Marine Diver. At $225 it is practially a give away w/a high beat Miyota 9015 and is extremely well constructed. Also, I like your choice in the honorable mention of the Alpinist. It is too damn good looking to be a tool watch especially w/its OEM bracelet (I am one of the few who like the original leather strap too). Also, don’t forget its 6R15 movement which I would take over the 4R’s anytime.