A chronograph is an extremely practical watch complication that allows you to time just about anything. Plus, their added subdials help make them look a bit more complex and interesting than a plain time-only watch face. This makes them great watches for everyday wear.
If you’ve been looking at buying a chronograph, you might have noticed that due to their added complexity, they often don’t come cheap. And while there are definitely quite a few reasonably priced entry-level chronographs like the Timex Weekender Chronograph, there aren’t as many great mid-tier options for those of you willing to stretch your budget a bit.
With that said, I’ve spent many hours researching (both for my own personal collection and for this article) and compiling the best chronographs for a budget of $500.
In this review, I’ve tried to include something for everyone. For example, some of my top picks:
The Bulova Lunar Pilot, a watch worn to the moon by a NASA astronaut.
The Orient Neo70s, an affordable, yet awesome panda-dial chrono.
And even a swiss automatic in the Tissot V8.
I’ve also picked out quite a few other options, so you can find the right chronograph for your needs.
With all of that said, here are the 10 Best Chronograph Watches Under $500…
Bulova Lunar Pilot
The Bulova Lunar Pilot is quite possibly one of the most underrated chronographs ever. It’s the model that NASA astronaut Dave Scott wore on the moon during the Apollo 15 space mission, making its history as impressive as the build of the watch itself.
Featuring a highly accurate quartz movement, and a sapphire crystal, the Lunar Pilot is as functional as a tool as it is good looking. It’s a bit larger than many other chronographs on this list, coming in at 45mm in diameter. This is a watch best suited for those with larger wrists, or anyone who prefers their watch to wear on the larger side. It makes a great alternative to the Omega Speedmaster, with its dark black dial, contrasting white hands, and space-visiting history.
Overall, the Bulova Lunar Pilot is a great looking, and well performing chronograph that has an impressive history to back it up.
Check out the Bulova Lunar Pilot on Amazon.
It’s hard to mention chronographs without mentioning panda dials, as they seem to be all the rage with the hip, young, cool kids these days. Well… Maybe it’s just me.
What is a panda dial, you ask? A panda dial is just a chronograph that has a white/cream dial, and darker (usually black) subdials, making it look like a panda. 🐼
The Orient Neo70’s is a panda dial chronograph with a mecha-quartz movement. It’s highly reminiscent of vintage chronographs from the 70’s, as its name would suggest. The cream dial balances the watch between “classy” and “cool” and adds a bit of versatility, for dressing the watch up or down, depending on which watch strap you wear it with. Thanks to its monochromatic color scheme, it looks great on just about any strap you could think of. Leather, canvas, NATO, you name it – this watch does it all, and makes a great one watch collection because of it.
It comes in at 42mm in diameter, which is about an average size for modern wristwatches, so it will wear well on just about any wrist.
I’ve owned the Orient Neo70’s for a while and wrote an in-depth review on this panda dial beauty. Check it out for more details.
Check out the Orient Neo70’s on Amazon.
Tissot V8 Chronograph
The Tissot V8 Chronograph has a swiss automatic movement, which sets it apart from other watches in the sub $500 category, in a major way.
Finding an automatic chronograph is rare, and finding a swiss automatic movement at that? *Tony Soprano’s voice* Forget about it!
The Tissot V8 Chronograph has a sapphire crystal for added scratch resistance, a textured matte black dial that just oozes “bad boy” coolness, and a tachymeter to give it that classic chronograph look. Plus, it comes from Tissot, a highly reputable and well-regarded swiss brand.
Its 100 meters of water resistance will be more than enough for swimming without worrying about water damage, and its black dial makes it pair well with any watch strap, or outfit. Together, this makes the Tissot V8 a very versatile everyday watch.
The watch comes in at 45mm in diameter, and just about 15mm thick, making it sit a bit tall and large on the wrist, but not comically so. All of the interesting design elements, like the chronograph dial, and stretched hour markers are balanced well on the dial, without being overly symmetrical or simple.
All in all, the Tissot V8 Chronograph is a great entry-level chronograph with an impressive swiss automatic movement, which is rare to find at this price point.
Check out the Tissot V8 Chronograph on Amazon.
Citizen Eco-Drive Blue Angels
The Citizen Eco-Drive Blue Angels chronograph is a highly functional, and well-polished watch that keeps extremely accurate time. The Eco-Drive movement is solar-powered and can be charged for days of wear, with just a couple of minutes in the sun.
The watch has an atomic clock, which connects to a radio signal and automatically and accurately adjusts the time daily, so you can always be confident that your watch is always right on time.
Coming in at 43mm in diameter, it leans toward the average-to-large end of watch sizes, but should be suitable for most wrists, and especially those who don’t mind a slightly larger watch. It has a durable stainless steel case, a sapphire crystal for added scratch resistance, and 200 meters of water resistance, making it suitable for swimming or diving without issue.
The Citizen Eco-Drive Blue Angels would make a great one-watch collection for anybody who wants a reliable and accurate watch that can also stand up to the wear and tear of day-to-day use, and other miscellaneous adventures.
Check out the Citizen Eco-Drive Blue Angels on Amazon.
Seiko Flightmaster SNA411 Chronograph
The Seiko Flightmaster SNA411 is a highly regarded pilot’s watch with features that go above and beyond your average chronograph.
It also has an alarm function, as well as an internally rotating slide rule bezel that allows you to calculate things a pilot would need, such as fuel consumption, flight climb calculations, and more. I’m not sure how helpful that’s actually going to be in your day-to-day, but hey, I really love using this watch for timing pizzas in the oven. While it’s originaly designed for pilots and engineers, its extra functionality is like having a functional mechanical calculator on your wrist.
Coming in at 42mm in diameter, you’d expect it to wear on the large side, but since the bezel and slide-rule elements take up so much space of the dial, the watch actually appears a bit smaller on your wrist.
The Seiko Flightmaster SNA411 is a seriously functional and cool chronograph with a ton of features, from an extremely reputable brand, Seiko, all for a reasonable price.
Check out the Seiko Flightmaster SNA411 on Amazon.
The Seagull 1963 is a recreation of a chronograph originally designed as a Chinese pilot’s watch in 1961. It has a fully mechanical hand-wind ST19 movement that’s highly regarded for its performance to price ratio. It’s also fairly well decorated, and can be marveled at through the Seagull 1963’s see-through display case back, should you opt for that version.
Coming in at 38mm for the standard model, it’s a compact watch with a vintage aesthetic that can fit comfortably on just about any wrist, and add a unique bit of character to any collection.
Read the full Seagull 1963 review here.
Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo
The Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo is based on sporty racing chronographs from the 60’s. Featuring a mecha-quartz hybrid movement that pairs the reliability and accuracy of a quartz watch with the smooth-sweeping second hand of a mechanical, it has the best of both worlds.
At 38mm in diameter, the 1964 is wearable on just about any size wrist, and it also comes packaged with both a beads of rice stainless steel bracelet, and a textured leather strap that’s surprisingly high quality, for such an affordable overall package. It comes in a variety of colors, including a rich sunburst silver with dark sub-dials, for that classic-cool look.
If you want a chronograph that will give you the taste of vintage, without the hassle of tracking down and repairing a true vintage watch, the Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo is a great option.
The Brew Mastergraph Chronograph is a rectangular, vintage-inspired chronograph that simply brings you back in time. Based on sporty chronographs from the 60’s, the Brew has a bunch of design elements: sunburst silver dial, black rounded/rectangular chronograph dials, and white contrasting hands that really make stand out on your wrist.
On the bezel of the Mastergraph you’ll find specific markers that allow you to specify and time how long until the optimal espresso shot is brewed (between 25-35 seconds). Perfect for all of you baristas and hipsters alike.
The Brew measures 41.5mm by 38mm, with a thickness of only 10.5mm. As long as the lug to lug measurement (41.5mm) doesn’t hang over the length of your wrist, it should wear well, and surprisingly thin, for its specifications on paper.
Overall, if you’re looking for something different, or you could use a little help brewing your next cup of espresso, check out the Brew Mastergraph.
The Lorier Gemini is a fully mechanical chronograph with a clean and versatile design, perfect for daily wear. Its domed crystal and design cues give the watch a bit of a vintage flair in a somewhat modern package, thanks to its refined and well-finished case and design.
It runs on a Seagull ST19 mechanical handwound movement that’s well-regarded for its price to value ratio. It’s also highly decorated, so it’s a shame that Lorier decided to cover up this colorful movement with a stainless steel case back. A see through display case back would have been my preference.
It’s only water resistant to 50 meters, so you’ll want to avoid swimming with it on, but you should be able to wash your hands/get caught in the rain wearing it, without any issue. If you’re looking for a more water resistant watch that you can feel comfortable swimming in, you’ll have to check out Lorier’s dive watch, the Neptune, instead.
It comes in a wide variety of color configurations, including a panda dial with a white main dial, and black sub-dial, as well as a few others.
Coming in at 39mm in diameter, the Lorier Gemini is at a perfect sweet-spot in dimensions that will fit well on almost all but the extremely small, and extremely large wrists. And coming in at just over 10mm in thickness, the Gemini will easily fit under a cuff for work days when you need to wear a button down shirt.
The Lorier Gemini seems to have created quite a buzz in the watch community, as they’re often out of stock, and you’ll need to place yourself on the waitlist until the next restock. With a bit of patience, and lucky timing, you can find yourself with an awesome vintage-inspired chronograph that punches way above its price point in terms of overall aesthetic and build quality.
Seiko Prospex Diver’s Chronograph
The Seiko Prospex Diver’s Chronograph is a solar chronograph from Seiko’s professional lineup of watches. Although it’s designed to be a tool watch, through and though, its various hues of blue, textured dial, and interestingly busy dial layout, all come together to give the Prospex a really cool and unique look.
A contrasting black crown and chronograph pushers accent some color variety to the watch that you don’t typically see on watches.
It runs on an eco-drive solar movement that charges in direct lighting, and has a water resistance rating of 200 meters, for swimming or diving safely, making this a functional and durable everyday watch.
It comes in at 43.5mm in diameter, which is just barely leaning to the side of a “large” watch, though it’s not overly so. This is definitely a watch I would avoid if you have extremely slender wrists.
Overall, if you want a solar chronograph that’s as accurate and reliable as it is tough, check out the Seiko Prospex.
Check out the Seiko Prospex Diver’s Chronograph on Amazon.
Baltic is a newer microbrand that makes vintage-inspired watches, including the gorgeous Bicompax chronograph. Coming in at 38mm in diameter, it’s very compact and tastefully sized, making it suitable for any wrist. It’s powered using a mechanical Seagull ST1901 movement, one of the best entry-level to mid range chronographs on the market.
With a wide variety of dial and color configurations to choose from, even including an unusual gold model with black dial, there’s almost certainly one that fits your color palette of choice.
Although the Baltic BiCompax comes in above the $500 budget of this article, I love it so much that I wanted to mention it as an honorable mention, if you’re able to stretch your budget just a bit.
Yema Rallygraph Panda
Yema is yet another microbrand that makes vintage-inspired heritage divers, aviation, and chronograph watches.
The Yema Rallygraph runs on a mechanical quartz Seiko VK64 movement that’s well-regarded in the entry-level chronograph watches.
It also has the “sporty racecar” vibe that looks like it comes straight out of the 60’s; with its angular chronometer sub-dials, doubled domed crystal, and aluminum tachymeter bezel. It has 60-minute chronograph, that functions as a mechanical watch would, but with the reliability and accuracy of a quartz movement.
Check out the Yema Rallygraph if you want to stay on the affordable side of $500 and still have a few bucks leftover for strap changes, all while wearing an unusually quirky and cool chrono.
What is a Chronograph?
A chronograph is a type of watch complication that functions as a stopwatch timer, used to measure an amount of time.
Typically, a chronograph will have various sub-dials (smaller dials within the larger watch dial) that each measure an individual amount of time. One subdial might keep track of seconds, while another keeps track of minutes that have elapsed since using the chronograph function.
They are often activated by various external buttons, or “pushers”, typically seen protruding on the side of watch’s case, next to the crown.
Chronographs have a wide amount of practical applications including timing your laundry, work breaks, how long you’ve spent reading about watches on the internet, etc.
What to Look For When Buying a Chronograph Watch:
Aside from the usual aspects you’d evaluate in any watch, like the build quality, construction, and comfort, there are a few key details you’ll want to evaluate and consider even further when buying a chronograph specifically.
The chronograph pushers are the buttons on the side of the case which allow you to stop and start the chronograph function.
A quality chronograph will often have pushers that are tactile and clicky. You can really feel the chronograph activate when you push the pusher down. However, some cheaper chronographs will have softer, mushier feeling pushers that aren’t as satisfying to press, and are often representative of a worse build quality.
Movement: Quartz vs. Mechanical vs. Mecha-Quartz
Like any watch, you’ll want to consider which chronograph movement is used. Is it fully mechanical, meaning you’ll need to wind it regularly, and possibly get it serviced in a few years, or a quartz watch that needs a battery swap every once in a while? Maybe even a mecha-quartz, a hybrid of both.
Like any movement, you’ll want to consider the accuracy, maintenance required, and expected longevity.
Subdials: BiCompax vs. TriCompax
The subdials are an important part of any chronograph. Not only do they completely change the look and feel of a watch, but they also directly impact how you’ll be using your chronograph.
Some chronographs have two subdials, and are often “BiCompax” chronograph, while others have three, and are called “TriCompax” . Watches with more subdials may have room for more information in each individual subdial, like how many seconds, minutes, or hours have passed since using the stopwatch function of the chronograph.
Some watches with only two subdials might leave out a certain measurement of time. For example, the Dan Henry Gran Turismo 1964 Bicompax has only two subdials, both of which are used for the chronograph. It lacks a running second hand, as the larger main second hand is also used for the chronograph. This is just one sacrifice you have to make when considering bicompax vs tricompax models. And the function of each subdial will vary, even on a bicompax model, from brand to brand, and watch to watch.
Maximum Recorded Time
Analogue and mechanical chronographs often only have a limited capacity for how much time they can record. Typically, they can measure up to 30 or 60 minutes, however, some have the capacity to measure up to 12 hours and beyond. Keep in mind your use case, and find the chronograph that works for you.
The Final Verdict
Chronograph watches are some of the most functional and useful watches on the market, and thus, are some of my favorite for everyday wear.
While it can be difficult to find a solid mechanical or automatic chronograph under $500, it’s not impossible, and hopefully the couple in this list satisfy your needs.
To wrap things up, some chronographs you definitely want to check out are: the Bulova Lunar Pilot for an “Omega Speedmaster” vibe on a budget, the Tissot V8 Chronograph for an affordable swiss automatic, and the Orient Neo70s for that panda dial goodness.
Hope this review was helpful. Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments below.
Last update on 2021-02-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API