Discussions in the world of luxury watches are often dominated by timepieces that cost serious money. When we talk about brands like Rolex, Cartier, Omega, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet, we’re talking about models that cost thousands of dollars. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy mechanical watches, there are plenty of options out there that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. These picks bring a bit of fun to the table and can even spark a new passion. After all, collecting mechanical timepieces isn’t a hobby for the happy few; no, it’s a hobby that should be for everyone – and it is! So, let’s take a look at some of the best automatic watches under $500.
Timex M79 Automatic
I’m kicking this list off with the Timex M79 Automatic. Timex have long had a reputation for creating great, affordable timepieces, and the M79 has earned them a lot of fans. The diving watch was inspired by the quartz 1970s Q Timex model, which is still part of the brand’s collection. When Timex announced a mechanical version of the M79, people were really excited.
Simply put, the M79 Automatic is a great piece for under $500. It has a 40-mm stainless steel case and features a classic profile that’s 14.5 mm thick. The watch comes with a characteristic two-tone dive bezel, something we’re used to seeing on GMT watches. Timex offer this model with a blue and black bezel or red and black bezel surrounding a black dial. The third option comes with a fully black bezel and brown dial. Inside the case, Timex uses the automatic Miyota 8205 caliber – a reliable engine. The watch is paired with a stainless steel bracelet. Overall, the Timex M79 has a ton of character and can be yours for $289.
Last year, Citizen released the NJ0150 seemingly out of nowhere, but the model became an instant hit for the Japanese brand. If you don’t have the money for a Tissot PRX Powermatic 80, this is an affordable alternative if you’re looking for an integrated bracelet. The NJ0150 comes with a black, blue, green, or yellow dial, if you want to stand out. This year, Citizen followed up the NJ0150 with a series of new models under the reference number NJ0151.
In essence, the NJ0151 line features the same watches as those from last year, but with different dial colors – three blue hues, to be exact. The first is a turquoise dial that was quickly nicknamed the Tiffany-blue version, the second has a turquoise gradient dial, and the third, a dark blue-grained dial with vintage lume for the hour makers. They unveil hints of classic Rolex models like the Datejust and Oyster Perpetual and have a lot of charm. The 40-mm stainless steel case stands 11.7 mm tall and houses Citizen’s automatic 8210 caliber, which is visible through the sapphire crystal case back. Add the very comfortable bracelet, and this $450 Citizen NJ0151 would be my pick.
Baltic HMS 003
One of the best developments in the watch industry is the growth of smaller independent brands. They have pushed the boundaries in terms of value for money with the use of luxury materials, great movements, and stellar designs. One of the most popular is Baltic Watches. This French brand has become a household name among watch fans all over the world. While most of their creations go for more than $500, the HMS 003 is a welcome exception. This classically-styled timepiece boasts plenty of retro appeal and could be a great contender if you aren’t looking for a sports watch.
The HMS 003 comes with a 36.5-mm stainless steel case that’s 13 mm thick. The dial is available in three configurations: silver with blue accents, salmon with silver accents, and dark blue with gilt accents. Baltic opted for the automatic Miyota caliber 8315. The overall design is inspired by classic watches from the 1940s and could be your next dress watch for around $400. For that amount, you’re getting a watch with a lot of personality that looks great for a variety of different occasions.
Seiko 5 Sports SSK GMT series
Back in 2019, Seiko introduced the new Seiko 5 Sports collection. In the time since, hundreds of new models have been released in the same collection. Although I’ve picked one specific model for this list, I recommend that you go and have a look at the entire collection to find your pick of the bunch. My favorite is the Seiko 5 Sports SSK series that introduces the popular GMT complication to the lineup. The watch takes inspiration from the brand’s famous SKX divers that, although discontinued, are still very popular.
Seiko introduced three versions: the SSK001 comes with a black dial and black and gray GMT bezel, the SSK003 with a blue dial and blue and black GMT bezel, and the SSK005 with an orange dial and black bezel with gold numerals. The watches all feature a 42.5-mm case that’s 13.6 mm thick and comes on a super comfortable bracelet. Thanks to the addition of a GMT hand and 24-hour GMT bezel, you’re able to keep track of an extra time zone. This makes the SSK GMT series the perfect affordable travel watch at $475.
Last on my list is the Orient Mako 40. The Mako moniker dates back to Orient watches from the 1960s and is therefore a trusted name in the collection. With the Mako 40 models, Orient presented a new aesthetic and size that may prove to be very popular. The watch comes in a 39.9-mm case sporting a stainless steel bezel with an engraved diving scale. Considering that the dial design is super functional yet stylish, this is a great looking modern diver with a slight retro twist.
Orient offers the Mako with a black, dark blue, or white dial on a stainless steel bracelet. If you want a bit more color, you can reach for the apricot dial version on a brown leather NATO strap or the lilac dial version, which comes on a gray leather NATO strap. Those last two are quite stylish and offer something exciting. The Mako diver is powered by the automatic Orient Caliber F6722 with a 40-hour power reserve. This contemporary diver is available for less than $400 on both a stainless steel bracelet and leather strap.
So, those are five great automatic watches available for under $500. Obviously, there are a host of other great options that could have been on this list. What’s most important, however, is that you can enjoy mechanical watches without breaking the bank.