One of the key standout pieces in a man’s wardrobe is his choice of a wristwatch. Since it’s one of the few pieces of jewelry that most men feel comfortable wearing — beyond a wedding or class ring — it’s also one of the few ways that they can truly express themselves. Is he serious or playful? A modernist or a classicist? Adventuresome or calculating? Given that, there are thousands of watch categories available, ranging from variations on the internal works themselves to functional history to designer whim to sometimes quite costly materials themselves. Like most accessories, we think it’s best to develop a watch wardrobe, having one or two that are great for everyday wear, some for special occasions, and others for sport or workouts.
Here we’ve developed a guide to some of our all-time favorites, across a wide range of styles and price points. Some of the options are quite costly, but the good news is there are often perfectly acceptable quality versions further down the price range if you don’t feel like forgoing your mortgage to buy a watch. Use this guide as a reference to assemble your own timepiece collection. These best watches for men also make perfect gifts for special occasions.
Before there were smartwatches, there were tactical watches. Built with military precision in mind, these are foundational tools for the modern survivalist. Whether your preparing for a day hike or the Apocalypse, a good tactical watch should be like a Swiss Army knife, offering multiple applications. Its (usual) bulky, rugged good looks are best paired with garb like thick woolen sweaters, chambray shirts, black tees, and dark denim; camouflage patterns are optional.
Bear Grylls Survival LAND 3782 Series
One doesn’t become an OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: basically a knight) without working hard for Queen and country; and Bear Grylls — former Special Air Services trooper, survivalist, adventurer, and TV star — is one of the toughest humans out there. This Grylls-inspired Luminox features a compass, a ruler embossed on the strap, and a tough-as-nails yet lightweight Carbonox case.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Automatic Watch
Audemars Piguet debuted its Royal Oak collection in 1972, one of the first brands to make a true luxury watch in chunky steel with a large case, rather than a smaller gold model. This watch may see you more trying to figure out how to survive the fundraising gala than navigating your way through the wilderness, but it’s nice to know it could handle either with ease.
Read more: Best Tactical Watches for Men
Also inspired by military styling, field watches were developed after World War II, so often have a bit of retro inspiration. They usually have a straightforward focus on timekeeping and often feature a fabric strap. These are a perfect complement to modern casual office attire, worn with chinos, a polo, and a modern knit blazer.
IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Spitfire Watch
This classic, casual watch could just become your one-and-only. Originally produced for the British Royal Air Force, its classic, retro styling goes with just about anything in a man’s wardrobe, and the automatic movement means the watch keeps running for 72 hours even if you do take it off for a few days.
Hamilton Khaki Field Silicone Strap Watch
It’s said that Hamilton developed one of the first field watches, making it easier to check the time (compared to using a pocket watch) whilst scrambling between trenches and foxholes. This modern version features a silicon strap with a fabric-look texture, and a PVD-coated stainless steel case.
Gucci Silver GG2570 Watch
For a classic 1970s Italian designer reference, this Gucci field watch features the brand’s signature red and green striped band, with a rounded stainless steel case.
Read more: Best Field Watches for Men
While smartwatches have their roots in timepieces designed to track heartbeats, steps, or routes, once smartphones landed in our hands, Dick Tracy-inspired imaginations stepped in and suddenly all the data we used to have in our desktop PCs is now housed on our wrists. Manufacturers have made a concerted effort to blend technology with elegance, so you can find a smartwatch to go with just about everything from a tuxedo to board shorts.
Apple Watch Series 6
Apple keeps innovating the smartwatch category, offering this version that can exist independently of an iPhone, connecting to your cellular service on its own. It even allows you to monitor your blood oxygen level and take an ECG. Customize it with other Apple Watch bands and you’ll have plenty of options to style your watch.
SUUNTO 7 Smartwatch
Working on the Wear OS by Google platform, this smartwatch offers brains, brawn, and beauty. This combination of an elegant graphite strap and copper case looks as great with a suit as it does a swimsuit. It comes preloaded with a value pack of apps, including Adidas running, Strava Summit, Land for hiking, and several from UnderArmour.
Fossil Gen 5E
Fossil is one of the household watch brands you can trust and this Fossil smartwatch is no exception. The Gen 5E has all the essentials you need such as a fitness tracker, built-in speakers, and multiday battery modes, among others. You can also utilize the smartwatch’s contact-free payment through Google Pay. This is the watch that will definitely make your everyday life a little more convenient.
Digital watches are the sort of Ur-smartwatch. Developed back in the 1970s, they have a kind of midcentury modern charm akin to bean bag chairs, shag carpeting, and lava lamps. They’re also easily available across many price points, from practically disposable plastic models to refined contemporary designs. Given the shared design roots, digital watches are your go-to partner for streetwear, perfect for tracksuits or leisure suits.
Hamilton American Classic PSR Digital Quartz Watch
Hamilton debuted the Pulsar watch in 1970, celebrating a kind of astronaut-chic inspired by the first moon landing the year before. It’s simple, polished style features a classic red LED display with a clean stainless steel case and bracelet.
Casio G-Shock Rangeman Multi-Band 6 Atomic Timekeeping Watch
Looking for a Casio watch? The G-Shock has become practically a cultural phenomenon unto itself, renowned for its durability, as well as its chunky, elaborate design. The Rangeman (just one of many, many iterations) strays into both tactical and dive watch territory, featuring a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and atomic timekeeping; all while being suitable for light scuba diving.
Heading back to military roots, aviator watches were originally developed to have faces that were easy to read, so a pilot would never have to remove his hands from the wheel. Some even had extra-long straps so that they could be wrapped around the outside of a flight jacket’s sleeve.
Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic Blue Dial Watch
With its sky blue face and white topstitched blue leather band, this watch toes the line between a fancy dress and a casual watch. It’s a bit chunky for the most formal ensembles, but looks great with tweedy looks, as well as dressed-up denim.
Stuhrling Original Aviator Quartz Black Dial Watch
More in line with the retro styling expected of a classic aviator, this one features luminous hands, and tachymeter markings on the face perimeter.
Whether you fancy yourself an amateur Jacques Cousteau (or even a pro), a good dive watch is not only essential for heading into the briny depths, they also tend to have great styling and lots of features that may also come in handy topside. Again, they tend to be on the chunky side, and are often rendered in oceanic shades of blue; perfect to pair with your favorite jeans, crisp white sailing togs, or a great swimsuit.
Ulysse Nardin Diver Automatic Chronograph
Ulysses Nardin carried a heavy heritage. Besides being named for the Greek adventurer, his father was also one of the leading watchmakers of his time. We think this contemporary style from the company that bears his name would do all of them proud.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Limited Edition Automatic Watch
Encased in bronze like a vintage diving helmet, this watch comes with a silicon strap for actual deep-sea (to 300 meters) use, or a deep blue leather version for everyday wear.
Nove Trident Swiss Made Ultra Slim Dive Watch
Although a slimmer version, the Trident still features some serious diver styling, including lever stoppers with teeth for adjusting the outer dial.
Auto racing has its own brand of romance, steeped in the smell of burning fuel, breakneck speed, and the thrill of victory. Whether you’re into racing down the freeway in your souped-up sports car, or just like to change your own oil, racing watches can help bring some of that excitement into your day. Best worn more casually, dressier models look great with a quarter-zip sweater and dress trousers.
TAG Heuer Monaco Steve McQueen Special Edition Men’s Watch
Steve McQueen is a men’s style icon on many fronts, but perhaps came to be identified with racing because he truly embraced the sport, particularly with his 1971 movie LeMans. The squared-off style has a retro 1970s appeal, while the blue and orange stripes and Gulf logo place it squarely in the pole position.
Shinola Silver & Black ‘The Canfield Sport’ 40 mm Watch
We expect nothing less than perfection from Motor City-based Shinola. This sleek version of the brand’s classic Canfield watch is reminiscent of the speed gauges on many Detroit muscle cars.
Boss Hugo Boss Champion Chronograph Leather Strap Watch
This classic timepiece contrasts a sumptuous blue face with a rose gold case, making it perfect for everyday wear, even with a suit, while the perforated leather band (which makes us think about luxurious leather seat covers) provides a sporty edge.
There is something to be said about a watch that is being purchased, not just for you, but for your son, your grandson, and maybe beyond. Yes, some of these prices are equivalent to a down payment on a house, but if you can handle it, realize that a well-made watch from a reputable company (such as Cartier or Rolex) may increase in value almost exponentially. These watches are truly investments in time itself.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time 18kt Rose Gold Automatic Watch
The 18 karat rose gold case is refined and elegant, especially when paired with the brown face and brown leather band. Originally launched in 1932, the Calatrava was inspired by the Bauhaus design movement.
Rolex Deepsea D-Blue Dial Automatic Men’s Stainless Steel Oyster Watch
Practically synonymous with luxurious watches and good taste, the Rolex name is internationally renowned for straightforward, masculine design and quality that lasts for generations. The Oyster watch is the very epitome of the brand’s heritage.
Automatic watches have been making a comeback lately, a sort of ultimate statement in sustainability. Several of the other categories we’ve discussed have included them. Rather than having to wind a watch or rely on batteries, automatic watches “wind” themselves just from your body’s movement. In fact, if you tend to wear several different watches, you may even want to purchase a watch winding case, which will keep your automatic moving even when you’re not wearing it so it’s ready at a moment’s notice. They are available in many styles, so you can probably find one for just about all of your wardrobe needs, but right now we say they are best paired with sustainably grown, ecologically friendly clothes.
Junghans Meister Kalendar Automatic Moon Phase Grey Dial
The restrained combination of black and brown has a kind of sporty elegance, featuring a day, date, and moon phase dial all in an easy-to-read package.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Self-Winding Watch
Easily crossing boundaries in this story from automatics to luxury to dress watches, this dark blue watch (the strap is Mississippi alligator) with a pink gold case is the very essence of elegance. It’s also set with 117 round-cut diamonds, and is part of a collection of contemporary interpretations of watches from Vacheron Constantin’s 70-year history. Think of it as in investment in your own family’s heritage.
Like the automatic, several of the other watches we’ve discussed in this piece feature quartz movements. Treasured for their accuracy, they work by sending an electrical current (from a battery) through a crystal; the resultant vibrations keep the movement going. Again, they are available in many, many styles, but here are a few or our favorites that we couldn’t resist including.
Gucci Silver & Green Grip Watch
There’s an old architecture maxim that says “the best space is wasted space,” and that may be expressed mostly succinctly in this insouciant watch from Gucci. We love the almost game-like approach to time-telling; though the design is inspired by skateboarding.
Nixon 51-30 Chrono Watch
Whether you choose this black and optic yellow combo, or go for the all gold or gunmetal finish, there is nothing shy or retiring about this quartz chronograph (somehow appropriate for a brand called Nixon?). The name reflects its extra-large 51 millimeter size, and its 30 ATM waterproof rating. It’s chunky, so leans toward the casual, but we think it’s dressy enough for most occasions.