Mechanical watches can be expensive, we’re as aware of that as anyone. Tourbillons for 50k, perpetual calendars for 70k, it’s all a bit much sometimes. Anything with a rotor seems to have a substantial price tag attached. But what about if you don’t want to break the bank? Are you stuck with cheap quartz and nothing else? No, you are not.
There are plenty of solid, automatic timepieces out there under the £500 mark, offering more value than you might have thought possible from a mechanical watch. Rather than hunt down as many as possible to prove our point however, we’ve kept the selection small and varied to prove that, no matter what your taste or how small your budget, there’s a decent watch that you’ll love.
Here then are the five best automatic watches for under £500.
Unimatic Modello Quattro U4-A
If the Italians made vintage field watches, they’d look something like this. A military take on Unimatic’s ever-versatile Modello Uno, the Quattro offers a more stripped-back, rugged 40mm case and a utilitarian look designed to conquer anything you care to throw at it. It’s a tough piece of metal and comes equipped with the reliably accessible Seiko NH35A automatic movement.
Case/dial: 40mm diameter, stainless steel, 300m water resistance | Movement: Calibre Seiko NH35A, automatic | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 41h | Functions: Hours, minutes, hacking seconds | Strap: Olive nato | Price: $518.50 USD (approx. £383), more details at Unimatic.
Paulin Neo C
Cards on the table, I love this watch enough that I bought one. The blue dial with pink numerals, yellow indexes and an orange hand is pop art incarnate, fun, colourful and unpretentious. The retro vibes are hammered home with an enlarged hesalite box-crystal and the 38mm steel case is perfect for a slimmer wrist. There are a few strap choices you could go with; I opted for blue suede and I don’t regret it one bit.
Case/dial: 38mm diameter, stainless steel, 50m water resistance | Movement: Calibre Seiko NH35A, automatic, 24 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 41h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Leather | Price: £395, more details at Paulin.
Seiko Presage Cocktail Time Mojito
Given most automatic watches in the sub-500 category boast Seiko movements, the Japanese watchmaker themselves were always going to feature, especially given just how handsome their latest Presage is. The entry-level dress watch boasts a lovely mojito green dial with gold indexes, inspired by drinks glasses and vintage bottles. It’s equipped with the 4R35 automatic movement with a 41-hour power reserve, but you don’t really need that. It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.
Case/dial: 38.5mm diameter, stainless steel, 50m water resistance | Movement: Calibre Seiko 4R35, automatic, 23 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 41h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Calfskin leather | Price: £400, more details at Seiko.
Enoksen ‘Fly’ E03/F
Vintage pilots watches are coming in thick and fast at the moment, with re-issues and revivals aplenty. This accessible version of a classic Flieger isn’t just priced well; thanks to the bronze case (a rarity at this price range) it’ll look the part of an aged aviator in no time. Powered by (of course) a Seiko movement, the 39mm Fly is a solid weight of watch for the money. If that weren’t enough, it’s also water resistant to 200m.
Case/dial: 42mm diameter (including crown), bronze, 200m water resistance | Movement: Calibre Seiko NH35A, automatic, 24 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 41h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds | Strap: Blue tropic-style and tan suede leather | Price: £360, more details at Enoksen.
Timex Navi XL Automatic
A blacked-out diving watch with all the bells and whistles for under £500 seems a big ask. Under £300 seems impossible. But here we are, with the 41mm Navi XL. Well done Timex, well done. Not only does this watch boast the requisite rotating diving bezel and plenty of lume, but its novel hour hand makes reading the latter half of the day charmingly easy. It’s only water resistant to 100m, less than most divers would want, but at this price, who’s complaining?
Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel, 100m water resistance | Movement: Miyota, automatic, 21 jewels | Power reserve: 40h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Leather | Price: £229, more details at Timex.