But first, the (way too philosophical) case for wearing a wristwatch,
Q: Why wear a watch when I’ve always got my phone on me?
A: If we start dying the day we are born, then would it not behoove us to appreciate our fleeting existence instead of passing from one distraction to the next? A mobile phone is a stunning achievement in technology, but it does little to further the human experience. They are effective devices for communicating, but they’re also a gateway to addicting, wasteful distractions. But wearing a wristwatch is a constant, visible reminder that your life is not unlimited. Each flick of the second hand is a tangible signal of your eventual demise. We are all dying men, and our perishing only accelerates when we fall oblivious to the inexorable period at the end of our sentence. A wristwatch is a stylish reminder that we are always running out of paper and ink.
So, dead man, here’s 2016’s best looking watches under $200. Maybe one will catch your eye, before it and its eyeball neighbor closes forever.
Already on Amazon for under two bills. Automatic movement that hacks and hand winds. 200 m water resistance. 120 click bezel helps keep track of elapsed time. Classic dive-watch looks. Recently re-designed, and that movement is an improvement over the old option.
Made by the largest manufacturer of mechanical movements in the world (that’d be China’s Sea-Gull). It is an unabashed, some would say totally shameless, “homage” to the much, MUCH more expensive Nomos Tangente. Same Bahaus looks, at a much more accessible price. Rotor isn’t as silent as most automatics, but it does have a sapphire crystal, and overall, the thing delivers. Full review here. UPDATE: Got some bad news from a reader named Harrison. He ordered this thing, and upon arrival all he got was… wait for it… an empty box. Sea-Gull has so far denied refunding him or sending him another watch. I had something similar happen to me once (a box showed up, empty, with no watch in it.) but the company made good, quickly, by sending another watch. It wasn’t Sea-Gull though. Just beware. If something goes sideways, you might have a terrible time trying to get the company to rectify the problem.
Easily one of the most successful watch releases of 2016. Timex took a couple designs from their retro-inspired Waterbury design, and paired it up with straps made from Red Wing boot leather. The end result flew off the shelves, and for a while there, was tough to find. Now back in stock via Todd Snyder (the exclusive US distributor), or, via END clothing, for less, as long as you’re willing to take the over-seas shipping risk. Image above is via the Timex Instagram.
Orient’s flagship dress watches. Or… flagships. Flagfleet? The original is a total classic. Version #2 uses more antique looking elements. Version #3 is modern and minimalist. All are powered by an in-house, automatic movement, and the domed crystals are a brilliant touch. Price and in-stock selection can vary depending on where you’re buying from, but the most popular places to find these seem to be Long Island Watch, Amazon, and direct through Orient’s USA site.
Not the easiest to find (currently sold out via GILT, but keep an eye out at flash sale sites for these things), but you get a lot of hard working watch for the cash. 300m water resistance means it should handle rough swimming with relative ease. Thick case has a very sturdy feel to it. Helium release valve at ten o’clock, while useless to the vast majority of us, helps give it a more sporty and balanced look. Movement hacks and hand winds. Looks terrific on a NATO strap.
It’s back! Reviewed this thing months ago, and then it disappeared from US retailers. Not only is it back, it’s also available with a black dial on a black leather strap. Applied indices, multi-level dial, and sharp hands make it look much more expensive than the asking price. Looks great dressed up. Would also look really sharp on a brown leather strap. Also pictured at the top of the post.
Withings Activite Steel – $149.95 ($169.95)
The sleeker looking option from Withings. Yes, that is in fact an activity tracker. One of the better looking affordable activity trackers on the market. To see how it (or at least it’s kid brother, the “Pop”) measures up against another activity tracker from Timex, head here.
Casual for sure, but the build quality plus the fact that it’s powered by light means it can be a maintenance free go-to for years and years and years to come. Vintage military looks. Even the strap has metal grommets instead of cheap, punched out holes. Simple and intuitive. 42mm case. If you’d prefer something smaller, they make a very similar, non-chrono version which runs around $120.
When some of the more affordable watch makers went off the deep end in terms of strange, almost Transformers/Voltron looking designs, Daniel Wellington launched and doubled down on the dead simple. Not even a date window on these things. Quartz movement of course. 40mm in diameter for the men’s styles. Plenty of bright striped fabric strap options, as well as more subdued leather bands.
That case shape. Oyster-y. Casual, rugged, but designed with serious purpose and based on military designs from the 1970s. No branding on these things. Swiss Rhonda quartz movement, and despite being quartz, there’s a nice, almost mechanical/automatic heft to it. But it’s not weighty either. Something you could easily wear during whatever active activity you prefer. 42mm in diameter, but wears larger thanks to the 47mm lug to lug distance (yet it still doesn’t look or wear like a monster.)
Has made plenty of lists since this brand debuted a couple years back (used to be called Antonie Arnaud, now they’re Armogan), and they get all those mentions for good reason. They 100% nailed the design with this watch. Retro inspired, but doesn’t look like you’re wearing a prop. Speaking of prop, the slim, propeller like hands are gorgeous. As is the font they chose for the dial. Sure, it’s a quartz (Miyota), and yes the domed crystal is just mineral and not sapphire, but the looks are so well done that plenty of us overlook the sorta ho-hum specs. And the build quality really does feel nice and solid. Nothing flimsy, rickety, or noisy. Well made. Looks great. Tells the time and the 12 hour chronograph is a nice bonus. Also available direct through Armogan’s website for $232.
A seemingly perpetual high-style for a low-price favorite. Modern and minimalist, without being too modern and minimalist. Big fan of how they ditched the traditional date window at 3 o’clock, and instead transmit the day and date via sub-dials at six and twelve. Available in a couple different strap & dial combos, but it’s hard to beat the lean and mean looking silver dial on a black strap. 40mm case size. Nice and slim. Full review here.
One of Timex’s more sturdy feeling models. Second time zone indicator, chronograph, indiglo, and that true-blue dial looks terrific up against the surprisingly supple brown leather band. 43mm in diameter but doesn’t wear too big or clunky. Would look great with shorts and a polo, as well as dark jeans, well made boots, and a warm sweater come fall. Other dial/strap color combos available. Oddly priced pretty high, at $165, direct through Timex. So, look on Amazon or elsewhere.
These were David Wellington in style long before David Wellington came along. Simple. Clean. The band is super flimsy, but the watch itself feels decent enough for the price. Just 37mm in diameter, so best for guys looking for something with a (very) classic size, or, happen to have smaller wrists. They used to put the undeniably cool, tuning fork logo at 12 o’clock on these, but a few years back they switched that out for a basic looking “BULOVA” badge.
Small package at just 36mm in diameter. Small price. Legendary watch. Aviation inspired. Powered by a tough, inexpensive, Seiko 5 automatic movement. This is the kind of watch you’d see on many a wrist in a zombie apocalypse movie (as long as, y’know, the characters aren’t swimming through rivers… water resistance is just 30m). Exhibition caseback. Available in multiple color/strap combos.
Seems like this model is one of Citizen’s longest running designs. And for good reason. Its titanium case is lightweight, but the beefy size keeps it from looking or feeling flimsy. Sure, the dial has a LOT going on, but large, sword style hands make it easy to read. Getting used to the complicated quartz movement will take some time, but once you get the hang of it, you realize this watch can do a few tricks most others can’t. Full review here.
Timex Fairfield Grey Strap – $55.96 ($69.95)
A dead-simple, clean, unisex style that can be worn with just about anything. Started showing up in Timex promo materials (and in images on their website…) yet was tough to find for the longest time. Seems like Kohl’s of all places is the place to nab one of these on a discount? 20mm lugs means you can mix and match plenty of after market straps with ease, while the 41mm brass, silver-tone case should look just fine on most wrists.
Full honesty: Some guys are gonna hate the looks of this watch. It leans heavily towards the jewelry end. The case itself isn’t matte or brushed, but instead cleanly polished. And the links have some shine to them too. Now, that said, it feels extremely well made for the mid $100s price. The movement hacks and hand winds. The silver, textured dial is something else in person. And the blue hands are pretty damn handsome. Skeleton caseback gives you a view of the movement. Onion style crown is easy to grip and pops into each position with a decisive click. No wiggle or wobble. Looks like something from decades past. In a good way. Might be worth trying to put on a leather strap? Maybe?
Almost certainly the best bang-for-the-buck watch on the market today. For $41 you get 200m of water resistance, a stainless steel case and rotating bezel that feels much more expensive, and classic looks that at a glance look like this thing cost a heck of a lot more than a quick trip to the ATM. Even the stock rubber strap that it comes on is decent (soft-ish, not rigid plastic). Throw an aftermarket strap on there to boost its already good looks to the next level.
A well designed, retro-inspired chronograph look from a dependable brand. Similar to the Armogan Spirit of St. Louis, but smaller and cheaper. Font & layout looks like it’d be quite at home on the dash of Jay Gatsby’s yellow convertible. 38mm case wears a little larger. Closer to 40mm. Maybe it’s those chronograph pushers on the side. Also available in a black on black scheme.
Secret Agent looks on a cubical worker’s budget. Good feel and solid, 200m water resistance too. Nice stainless steel band and case. Automatic movement. Exhibition case back. 40mm case dial. Also looks great on a rubber/silicone or leather strap. (Yes, leather, even though it’s a diver. Why not?) Amazon description currently says it’s Made in the USA? Um… pretty sure it’s not.
Kenneth Cole? Really? Hear me out. While Mr. Cole doesn’t have the greatest rep around these parts, this watch has 185 reviews on Amazon, and it’s currently sitting at 4.5/5 stars. Not bad for our ever hyper-critical world. And in-person, it doesn’t disappoint. Looks like something that could have appeared at a World’s Fair during the roaring 20s. No date window on this thing, which some will hate, while others will appreciate the increased symmetry. Beautiful font. A really nice looking dress chrono. But beware. Some reviews have reported duds. So make sure you order from somewhere with an easy and customer friendly return policy. Also know that the leather strap is far from the best. It’s real glossy. Many (if not most) will want to find a replacement.
NOTE: As is always the case, get to know the return and warranty policy of the seller you’re purchasing from. Unless you’re buying direct from the brand, or a pricey authorized retailer, warranty details almost certainly won’t match up with the original guarantee. But, plenty of us have had a ton of luck with the likes of Amazon, Jomashop, etc… and that’s why those are linked to above, if the price is far better when compared to buying direct through the maker. Know of a watch that costs less than $200 and should have made the list? Feel free to send those tips in to: email@example.com