5 Best Chronograph Watches Under $500 That Will Turn Heads

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Nordgreen and contains affiliate links. Learn more.

William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Nov 19, 2020

Looking for a casual watch that doesn’t break the bank?

Start your timers. Here are five of the best chronographs under $500 so you can upgrade your style without spending your whole paycheck.

Best Minimalist Chronograph
  • 42mm, Sapphire crystal
  • Beautiful, open minimalist design
  • Three case colors and three dial colors
  • Get 20% off with code THEADULTMAN
Most Stylish Chronograph
  • 43mm case with scratch-resistant crystal
  • Unusual subdial placement at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock
  • Tons of different case and dial colors and styles
  • Get 20% off with code TAM20
Most Complicated Chronograph
  • Overcomplicated pilot’s watch—very unique looking
  • Fantastic tool watch
  • Citizen EcoDrive movement doesn’t need battery changing
Best Dive Chronograph
  • 200m of water resistance
  • Beautiful and distinctive color options
  • Solar-power movement so you don’t need to change the battery
Best Automatic Chronograph
  • Vintage style
  • Swiss automatic ETA movement
  • A rare chronograph that’s classy enough for formal dress-code

Sooner or later, most watch brands produce a chronograph. It’s almost inescapable.

Complicated, functional, and ornate, chronograph watches are casual staples.

With so many amazing options out there, it’s hard to know which to choose.

Are you looking for a new stellar chronograph watch that’s as stunning as it is affordable? Well, start your timers, because you’re going to see why our favorite chronograph timepieces might just become your favorites, too.

The 5 Best Chronograph Watches for Men Under $300

1. Nordgreen Pioneer

white dial nordgreen pioneer against blue packaging

What We Like

  • The Nordgreen Pioneer is the perfect blend of Scandinavian minimalist design and complicated chronograph style watches.

  • The domed sapphire crystal is scratch proof and warps light in a cool and interesting way.

  • Nordgreen is committed to the future. They tell that story through their design.

  • Stunning depth in the dial.

What We Don’t Like

  • It lacks a few classic hallmarks of the chronograph style like detailed subdials. But then again, Nordgreen is minimalist in nature. We like it because it’s unlike most chronographs.

What Other Reviewers Say

The Pioneer is brand new, so there are only a handful of reviews on it right now (but we did an in-depth review here). Nordgreen as a company has gotten plenty of feedback, though.

Over 275 reviews give Nordgreen an average of 4.7 stars, touting their design, quality, and customer service. Our experience was certainly great and apparently, the public agrees.

The Verdict

It may not have all the bells and whistles of a standard chronograph, but the Pioneer blends beautiful, simple design with a classic, complicated concept.

When we tested the Pioneer for ourselves, we were surprised at how elegant it looks in person. The thoughtfulness of the design really shows when you’re holding it in your hands.

For those who appreciate minimal watch design and are looking to add a piece of history to their collection, the Nordgreen Pioneer is a great way to go.

Exclusive Discount Available
Nordgreen Pioneer
(Get 20% off with code THEADULTMAN)

The Nordgreen Pioneer is an innovative take on the chronograph watch. Built like a classic aviator, but with modern Scandinavian design principles, this timepiece looks natural and elegant—and it pairs well in a casual and smart-casual wardrobe.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

2. Vincero Chrono S

Vincero Chrono S Black SIlver Face Close Up
The Chrono S by Vincero. Use code TAM15 for 15% off.

What We Like

  • Vincero is known for its cold-edged masculine style, and the Chrono S is another extension of that look.

  • This timepiece has a unique setup for its subdials, featuring them at 6, 9, and 12’oclock. We first got our hands on a Chrono S over a year ago and we really liked the silver case and white dial. But if that’s not your style, no problem.

  • Vincero has a huge variety of case and dial colors you can choose from.

What We Don’t Like

  • The band was a bit stiff out of the box and the lume could’ve been stronger.

What Other Reviewers Say

There’s no typo in the following sentence.

Vincero has a 4.8 star average with over 18k reviews.

There are few other watch brands who can say the same.

The Verdict

If you can get behind Vincero’s hard-edged masculine attitude, the Chrono S is a bold and beautiful watch. It’s not quite as sturdy as the Nordgreen Pioneer or the Jack Mason Halyard Sport, but it holds up well to everyday wear.

Exclusive Discount Available
Vincero Chrono S
(Get 20% off with code TAM20)

Despite a few minor feature gripes, in terms of build quality and beauty of design, Vincero's Chrono S is excellent value for money at this price point.

Check Best Price Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

3. Citizen Avion EcoDrive

What We Like

  • The overcomplicated dial has a unique style.

  • The EcoDrive movement doesn’t need a battery change—it runs on solar power.

  • Sapphire coated crystal is scratch resistant, so this is a great tool watch.

What We Don’t Like

  • This was one of the stiffest bands we’ve tried. It took a few weeks for the band to break in enough to make it comfortable.

What Other Reviewers Say

Customers are happy with Citizen. Over 400 reviews with a 4.85 average talk about the quality over and over again. Many people had their expectations beat, and that’s what this brand is all about—going above and beyond.

The Verdict

The Citizen Avion EcoDrive is an iconic chronograph. If you’re looking for something complicated, with a lot to look at, you’ve found your watch. Give the band some time to loosen up and soften a bit. When it does, this might just become your everyday go-to.

Citizen Avion Eco-Drive Chronograph

Decked out with Citizen's classic eco-drive series of movement, this watch never needs its battery changed. Beyond that, it's a workhorse and a great casual tool watch for everyday wear.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

4. Seiko Prospex Diver

What We Like

  • With 200m of water resistance, the Prospex Diver is a true dive watch.

  • Seiko offers a variety of attractive color options.

  • This model runs on a solar-powered movement so you don’t need to change batteries. 

What We Don’t Like

  • Seiko’s catalogue is so massive, it can be tough to find specific watches with your favorite online retailer.

What Other Reviewers Say

The Seiko Prospex Diver is beloved in many enthusiast circles, and on Amazon this model has a perfect five out of five with seven reviews. 

The Verdict

The Seiko Prospex Diver is a classic looking watch in a variety of beautiful colors. The simplicity of the crown and case really let the dial shine.

If you love the look of chronographs but want to add a little color, keep your eye on this Seiko.

Seiko Prospex Diver's 200m Special Edition Chronograph

The Seiko Prospex is a beast of a watch---with 200m of water resistance, it's a true dive watch. With a Seiko solar-quartz engine, you can expect this timepiece to keep ticking for decades.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

5. Tissot Carson Chronograph

What We Like

  • We love the Tissot Carson old-school design.

  • They back all that fashion up with a Swiss automatic ETA movement.

  • Sapphire crystal adds lots of scratch resistance.

What We Don’t Like

  • It’s a personal preference, but the bracelet that comes in our featured model is a little too complicated for our taste. 

What Other Reviewers Say

Tissot has earned a reputation as a true budget Swiss luxury brand. Sound like an oxymoron? Not when you consider the brand’s Swiss ETA automatic movements and high quality materials like sapphire glass. 

The Verdict

There aren’t many automatic Swiss chronographs on the market under $1000, let alone under $500. The Tissot Carson is an excellent entry point into the world of fine watch collecting. 


What Are Chronograph Watches?

model wearing nordgreen pioneer white dial against blue checkered shirt

To break it down as simply as possible, a chronograph is a timepiece that uses subdials to measure more than just the hour and minute.

Chronographs will either have two or three subdials, depending on which complications the watchmaker chooses to include.

best chronograph watches for men

The style came from the original aviation watches used by pilots to measure distance traveled and judge their fuel consumption.

When Americans saw their beloved Charles Lindbergh flying across the states with this complicated timepiece, these watches became overwhelmingly popular.

They’ve never gone out of style, but over time have become less for function and more fashion-forward.

While there’s a ton of variation in chronograph styles, there are a few key features that are distinctive to all chronographs:

1. The Sub-Dials

White dial pioneer against blue packaging

If it doesn’t have subdials, it’s not a chronograph. Beyond their timekeeping functionality, these add visual depth to the watch and can be as complicated or simple as the designer chooses.

2. A Way to Adjust the Subdials

Most chronographs have two pushers at two and four o’clock which can start and reset your timer. The timer is measured by subdials, though there’s no set standard for what these dials should read.

There are the rare chronographs that don’t feature two-button pushers, and we’ve featured one in our list if you love the subdial look but you want to keep the crown simple.

3. More Features than Just Telling the Time of Day

Bjorn Hendal varberg stacked on flytande

Do you know what all those subdials and pushers are for?

Whether the subdials just measure seconds and minutes, or seconds, minutes, and hours, your chronograph should do more than simply tell the time of day.

Not all chronographs can act as stopwatches, though. Some swap out second-reading subdials to record the day of the week. There are hundreds of different complications watchmakers add to their chronographs. Just make sure you’re getting the style you like with the function you need.

3 Things to Consider When Buying a Chronograph Watch

four chronographs in a row

Size

Chronograph watches tend to be larger. It’s rare to find a chronograph watch these days under 40mm.

These timepieces need to fit complicated movements and still stay readable. If watchmakers tried to squeeze all that information on a 38 or 36mm dial, you wouldn’t be able to read a thing. Some watches are so complicated, they’re still hard to read even with an oversized dial.

If you’re not sure what size watch you prefer, take a look at your wrist size. If you have average-sized wrists, 38-42mm is your sweet-spot. You can venture into 44mm territory no problem, but the watch will look noticeably large on your wrist—sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

If you’ve got a smaller wrist, 36-40mm is the way to go, and for that reason, you should double-check to see that your chronograph comes in a 40mm case size.

How Complicated Do You Want It?

nordgreen pioneer black dial stacked under white dial

I’m a big fan of the complicated and busy styles of some chronographs. But recently, I’ve come across some minimalist designs that have changed the way I think about the style.

With the thousands of brands out there, you can have it any way you want.

Functionality

If you need to use your watch for a specific function, that should make a huge difference in the type you go for. Back in the day, pilots needed to use their chronos to calculate their fuel consumption. If their watch was bogus their lives were at risk.

Maybe you’re not putting your life on the line, but if you need a precise chronograph, make sure you go with a trusted brand.

Similarly, picking a watch with outrageous detail might not be the best fashion choice, while picking a minimalist masterpiece might not have all the markings you need from a functionality standpoint.

Tips for Wearing Chronograph Watches

A Casual Stunner

Chronographs are casual watches. They’re often too complicated for formal wear, and you’re better off sticking with something simple, sleek, and shiny.

They’re best used as standout pieces in a casual wardrobe. I love to pair a chrono with a denim or leather jacket, jeans, and boots. Any sort of look where you’re going more rugged—the chrono will look great.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Belgian Collector (@belgiancollector) on

Small Wrists?

Do you have small wrists?

Chronographs are hard to find under 40mm. There’s just too much going on under the hood to gracefully fit everything in a smaller dial.

That being said, you can still get away wearing a 42mm watch, but that should be the largest you go. Even then, the watch will look oversized, but there are a time and place for oversized watches.

Is It Time Yet?

A chronograph won’t help you run faster, but it’ll definitely give you style points. Especially if you pick up one of our top recommendations.

If you don’t already have one, a chrono is one of the best ways to nail the smart casual style. They’re ornate and elegant, but ultimately have the masculine profile of a sports timepiece.

With this list, you’re sure to find a look that fits your wardrobe. Heck, you may even find a couple.

Unlock timeless elegance in your casual look with a great chronograph watch.

FAQs

What is the difference between cheap and expensive watches?

A few dead giveaways are the origin of the movement and the quality of the crystal. Look for sapphire or sapphire coated glass, and a movement made in Japan or Switzerland. Watches with sapphire crystals and Swiss or Japanese movements aren’t necessarily expensive, but they’re typically more reliable.

Is it worth it to buy an expensive watch?

If you have discretionary spending money, an expensive watch is a satisfying purchase. Men don’t typically wear much jewelry other than their timepiece. Your watch communicates a lot about your taste and sophistication, and because they last for decades and you can wear the same watch day after day, they’re worth the money.

Which is better: Seiko or Tissot?

It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want precision and performance, we recommend Seiko. If you want more old-school European style, or you want to dip your toes into the world of Swiss movements, Tissot has more dressy options.