As 21st century technology hurtles maniacally forward like a thousand Elon Musks on steroids, why on earth would any modern man worth his salt want to wear a humble watch on his wrist? After all, the basic task of telling the time is about the simplest of a zillion things the average phone can do. Yet, in the face of this all too smart and present threat, the global watch market is worth £41billion and growing, while about half of us still wear one.
The answer is largely down to fashion and making a big fat statement, especially for many men who might not be inclined towards showering their bodies in jewellery. A blinging Rolex is as much of a declaration of your undisputed brilliance as a pair of Nike x Supreme sneakers, with the added bonus that it’s actually appropriate to wear it in places like the boardroom or a funeral parlour.
Wearing a watch might also be a sign of your impeccable behaviour. Researchers at the University of Glasgow found that watch wearers are more conscientious and arrive earlier for appointments. And sometimes a phone simply can’t cut it. Ever tried deep-sea diving or merely bombing your mate at the local pool while grasping your phone? Nah-ah. Yet, there’s many a watch that can survive that.
Boys also love boys’ toys, finding immense – and unfathomable to some – satisfaction in the intricately crafted micro-engineering of a traditional timepiece. Some fanboys adore watches so much, they have flooded the webisphere with outpourings of joy and grief over the latest Audemars Piguet masterpiece or travesty. No doubt we’ll be getting some folks’ cogs and hairsprings rubbed up all the wrong way with our ‘heretical’ selection here.
A note for the complete horological rookies among you when stumbling across the terms ‘automatic’ and ‘quartz’. These describe the movement – basically the engine – of a watch. Quartz movements are modern, battery-powered, highly accurate and need little maintenance. Automatic movements are mechanical and self-winding, and made up of hundreds of precise, minuscule parts. They are pricier because of the hours of craftsmanship that go into making them. Aficionados love them because of their heritage and artistry – some watches even have transparent cases so you can peer in lovingly at all that cleverness oscillating away. Watch out (if you’ll pardon the pun) for those ‘impressive’ water resistance stats too. If it says 50m, forget your Navy Seal ambitions as you’ll just about be able to go swimming with it. And you really need 100m for snorkelling and 200m for proper scuba diving.
We’ve conducted a painstaking search (no really, these aren’t the first things we came across on Google) of the planet’s watchmakers to find the most handsome, ingenious and, above all, well-made beauties that £200 or less can snag.
That big headline up there might say ‘men’s’ watches, but we also think there are many here that would suit any gender. So, shove your phone back in your pocket, it’s time to strap on something special.
Best for: battery-phobes
Let’s not nudge your style envelope too far just yet – but let’s not play it too safe either. Citizen has been making proper quality watches for more than a century, and this military-style number is a minor hero. Punchy deep-tangerine numerals… mmmm. Smoky black stainless steel case… grrrr.
It’s water resistant to 100m so you can do anything but dive deep for shipwrecks, and it’s also the only solar-powered piece on this list, meaning it just runs on and on, no battery required. You are not Mr Boring when you wear this boy – you are Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs and you mean business.
Buy now £149.00, H.Samuel
Briston Clubmaster Classic
Best for: cocktails by, and in, the pool
French brand Briston calls its look ‘sporty chic’. We say add to that a dash of smouldering Alain Delon sparking up a Gauloises by the pool. Just look at it, oozing louche Mediterranean fun times, although it will be just as relaxed at the chic bistro come the evening.
The matt tortoiseshell acetate casing is delectable, while the Nato (watch-speak for tough, soft nylon) strap is supremely easy-going on the wrist. When you do tip yourself into the water, this can go along too with its 100m water resistance, and the oversized numbers will help you tell the time after your seventh Negroni.
Buy now £170.00, Wolf & Badger
Mr Jones Watches A Perfectly Useless Morning
Best for: taking time as it comes
Whether time is your tyrant or you waft through the world oblivious to the hours, Mr Jones is either your antidote or your amplifier. The brainchild of Crispin Jones, these beautiful whimsies are made right here in London. Since everyone checks the time with their phone these days, Mr Jones is like a liberation front for watches, freeing them to be more playful.
Kristof Devos, the Belgian illustrator who designed this one, says: “Lying in the grass and looking at the birds in the sky is one of my favourite pastimes. I really wanted to put this feeling into a watch.” You want to know how the hell to tell the time with this? The twee twunks mark the hours, the little leafy is the hour hand and da big birdy tells you the minutes – all rather accurately in fact.
Buy now £175.00, Mr Jones Watches
Aragon Divemaster 42 Skeleton NH70
Best for: divers with attitude
You don’t care for frivolity. You want hardcore functional beauty and you demand bang for your buck and then some. You need something designed in Florida by Aragon CEO, Wing Liang, who is incredibly passionate when it comes to making affordable luxury watches. And this weighty monolith is a banger. It’s automatic – mechanical, packed with sexy craftsmanship – and this time it’s a skeleton version, meaning you can see the innards whizzing away.
At 200m water resistant, it will accompany you as deep under the ocean as you’ll ever go. And when the lights go out, ultra-bright Superluminova glows like, erm, a supernova from its dial. Aragon seems to have a semi-permanent sale on and we haven’t found a better bargain than this. Go get it now, badass!
Buy now £140.00, Aragon Watch
Best for: mysterious minimalists
If your idea of fun is cool, enigmatic minimalism – we know who you are, you slinky hipster – look no further. German-designed, Hong Kong-based brand Ziiiro knows how to twiddle your dial. The Mercury pares back time to a slick, gradual flow of eye-popping colour. Look, no hands! It’s actually incredibly simple to tell the time on these. The tip of the fat swirl indicates the hours, while the outer one is for the minutes –on the model pictured it’s 10 past 10.
This is excellently put together, too, with a Japanese Miyota quartz movement, stainless steel case and fine mesh strap which is the most comfortable of those on test. And if you ever are stuck at the bar on the 189th floor of Captain Mysteron Tower waiting for you date, this is a cracking conversation starter.
Buy now £157.01, Amazon
Best for: up all-nighters
When you really want to tell the time in the dark without faffing about pressing buttons and whatnot, you need the nuclear option. More exactly, teeny-tiny glass vials of tritium, a, er, radioactive isotope. Worry ye not, it’s only ever-so-mildly dangerous if you strangely decide to eat it. Come the dark cloak of night, the dial on this glows brilliantly sharp and won’t fade like other illumination. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a tritium watch for under £200, so luckily this one is on sale right now.
With 100m water-resistance and a Swiss movement, this military watch (note we didn’t say ‘military-style’, as it’s a proper forces-quality beast) is generally top-notch. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself under the duvet staring at the lights, enacting your own devilishly fantastical blacks ops operation.
Buy now £200.00, Nite Watches
DIY Watch Club Mosel watchmaking kit
Best for: budding horologists
Look at that delicate vintage dress watch! What a gorgeous deep-blue sunray dial! Guess what? We’ve just made one of these. What a brilliant, nifty idea. DIY Watch Club provides you with all the components, a lovely little toolkit and idiot-proof videos so you can build your own watch. It took us two hours to complete, all of it a doddle apart from the pesky, minuscule second hand. That was a right nerve-jangling ****er to fix in place, but we did it and came out the other side all the smugger for it.
It’s basically a simple lesson in putting together the main elements of a watch, but it introduces you to the funky art of ‘modding’, where you can swap in dials, hands and so on to make your own highly individual pieces. Fancy it or know a budding enthusiast? You’ll get massive originality points if you give this as a present.
Buy now £193.00, Diy Watch Club
Best for: going back to the future
You’re like a robot from 1984! Well, actually 1976 when venerable US brand Bulova, a long-time trailblazer in the horology world, brought out its first digital watch. This ever-so-slightly updated reissue is no less eye-popping than the original, and will whisk you back to those heady days when everybody was letting it all hang out to Donna Summer on the dance floor and dreaming of hopping on the first Concorde flights.
It’s a retro-tastic looker, all black ion-plated stainless steel and a silky rubber strap. The watch doesn’t do much beyond from tell the time in buzzing red LED, but that’s not the point – ‘I believe in miracles,’ sang Hot Chocolate back then, and this is a sexy reminder of those carefree times. Supersonic.
Buy now £199.00, Bulova
Projects Watches Vault
Best for: Code-breakers
Click… tick… have you cracked it, you numbskull? The Vault, designed by author, screenwriter, actor and teacher Daniel Will-Harris, looks as baffling as an Italian Job safe, but it’s easy to decipher once you’ve got over your discombobulation. Ingeniously imagined to look like the dials on an olden days safe, each disc turns and you read the numbers off at three o’clock – the hours on the outside, seconds in the middle and minutes in between.
It’s another very affordable watch that turns telling the time into fun (or fury, depending on your disposition). This is just one of many ‘wearable works of art’ by US brand Projects Watches, which makes timepieces designed by creators for creators. One for the Alan Turing in your life…
Buy now £134.00, Amazon
Best for: a timeless reboot
If you’ve ever roamed the sublime landscapes of Scotland, you might have chanced upon Knoydart, a spectacular peninsula. The name is no mistake, as St Andrews-based Kartel takes its inspiration from the natural wonders of the country. We reckon they’ve nailed it with this elegant, 21st century take on tradition.
It’s clean and crisp, just like the air up there, and is imposing without being stupidly enormous. The gunmetal case adds that extra dash of manly intent, while grown-up boys will love the chronograph stopwatch dials.
This one comes with a Royal Tartan strap, but Kartel also offers an in-store or online bespoke experience – whisky included, obvs – where you can build your own watch from no less than 900 options. Sláinte!
Buy now £195.00, Kartel
Tokyoflash Japan Quasar
Best for: a retro space-age time twister
Hold on tight, we’re going warp speed! However, this is far from highly illogical. The Quasar and all of Tokyoflash’s out-there watches make utter sense once you’ve easily mastered their unique ways of presenting time. Still lost in space? It’s simples.
The one pictured here says 04.39 – ‘0’ is top left, ‘4’ is top right, with ‘3’ and ‘9’ below, all hidden in a sexy, old-school futuristic LCD pattern. You can also view the numbers without the pattern for quicker reading, and this isn’t just a novelty – there are date, alarm and stopwatch functions too.
We also love the two-tone steel strap, which hugs the wrist almost unnoticeably. Stuck for a great gift idea or something to get the conversation going? Set Quasars to stun!
Buy now £133.00, Tokyoflash Japan
Best for: rough and tumble
There’s a good reason you see them in every other watch store window you wander past. Besides brimming with features usually found in timepieces twice the price, G-shock is the Terminator of watches. You might not survive the apocalypse, but this will come out ticking. It’s 200m water-resistant, tells the time in all the world’s major cities and has a decent stopwatch.
It also has a highly satisfying little trick up its sleeve: if the digital display is obscured, press a couple of buttons and the hands will gracefully glide out of the way. What seduced us most, however, was when we unboxed it and discovered how much sexier it is IRL. That combo of polished carbon-hued steel and deep rose dial is rather more come-hither than we expected. Well, we all have a thing for an action hero, don’t we.
Buy now £199.00, G-shock
Avi-8 Carey Dual Time Gutersloh
Best for: high fliers
Most brands will have a pilot watch or 20 in their collection, but Avi-8 has taken the concept far higher by telling a story with each piece. Its watches pay homage not only to iconic aircraft but also to the heroes who flew them and the clever minds that created them. This one salutes Battle of Britain ace Frank Carey and the Hawker Hurricane he ran sorties in night after night.
This chunky piece has the unmistakable aesthetic of a cockpit instrument set, with the two subdials showing the time in another city and a 24-hour clock, while reliable Japanese quartz ensures you’ll touch down on time. And Avi-8 has also gone that extra mile by collaborating with both Help for Heroes and Royal British Legion to raise funds for veterans. After all, it was alliances that won the war.
Buy now £165.00, Avi-8
Garmin Vívomove 3S
Best for: hybrid watch fans
We couldn’t ignore the charge of the smartwatches and this is our pick of the pack. All the other choices here take you away from the always-on, connected world, whereas this plugs you right in – although we like the fact that it functions as a traditional watch until you want to access its roster of handy features.
Just flick your wrist or double-tap the dial and it comes to life, and its capabilities are formidable. Heart-rate monitor, health and fitness tracking, phone notifications, ‘body battery’ energy and hydration tracking… you name it, this does it, all accessed in detail via the Garmin Connect app.
We are obsessed with the advanced sleep monitoring function – who knew that’s the time of night when REM slumber kicks in. A minor downside of a smartwatch is having to charge the battery regularly, but for this price the Vívomove is a very clever thing indeed.
Buy now £199.99, Garmin
Timex x Finisterre Tide
Best for: seafarers
Time and tide do indeed wait for no one. Just try sailing your yacht to Alderney, surfing a monster wave at Nazaré or simply strolling with your poodle to Holy Island (look ’em up, you’ll see). That’s unless you have this little marvel, in which case, neither will catch you out.
British surf and clothing brand Finisterre has collaborated with that bastion of quality and affordability, Timex, on this fabulously creative piece.
It’s water-resistant to 200m, has a strap made from reclaimed ocean plastic, glowing Superluminova hands and a handy magnifying glass over the date. However, it’s coup de horlogerie is replacing the second hand with a ‘tide’ hand – just set it to your local tide times and see which way the sea is heading at a glance. Hurry though, because this watch might not wait for you, as only 400 have been made.
Buy now £195.00, Finisterre