Lately I have had quite a few people ask me for advice on watches below the 500$ mark. I would tell most to save your money and divert it to staples in the jacket and shoe department as those would do more for your wardrobe, but none the less here are my recommendations, in 5 parts over the next week.
Watches are fairly simple to evaluate, after deciding on style (rule of thumb, the bigger and more complicated the more casual, either way keep it simple, stupid) look to movement, manufacturing, materials and weight
Movement: Anything that isn’t automatic is more or less a waist of money, but if you need a watch, don’t pay over 100$ or so for quarts movement. Its essentially a computer chip keeping time. So is your iPhone, and it does it better.
Look for something automatic/ self winding. There are a few Seiko’s and cheaper automatics that don’t have the ability to hand wind, this is only an inconvenience if your not wearing a watch consistently, or rotating watches constantly.
Most watches in this price bracket, if not all, are going to have some sort of ETA movement, there are several out there with good reputations for longevity and accuracy, make sure you google before you buy.
Also know what the power reserve is for the movement, the longer the better as it will reduce the amount of times you have to hand wind your watch, and reduce wear on the crown.
Manufacturing: Where is it made? This is a more complicated question than it seems. Its not uncommon to have a company get their movement from one country, parts from another, and assemble in still a third. In this price range movements should come from japan, sweden or germany, and assembly in any of these and America. Some swear buy it but china and russia are still to much of a gamble for me.
Materials: Beyond just the jewels in the movement (17 at a bare minimum) what is the face, case, and bracelet made of? The first one to look for is the face, as a beautiful watch with a mineral crystal, plastic composite, or vintage glass face can be easily ruined by scratches. Sapphiric crystal is the best out there, the really good stuff can stand up to a knife. If your looking for a military watch this is a must, and also look into the cut of the crystal to find something that reduces glare. The case is going to be largely up to your preference, silver or gold for versatility, a smooth or shiny finish for formality, and a brushed or subdued finish for casual and wear resistance.
Weight: this is easy, the watch should have the right feel in your hand, if its a slim dress watch it should still feel solid, and if it is a more robust casual watch the rotation of the movement should be noticeable and smooth, and the weight equivalent to the size. Dont be fooled into buying a watch solely on heft, many cheaper manufactures add weight in the case for this effect. The key word here is proportion. Bracelets are also a personal thing, im not a fan of heavy metal bracelets because of their tendency to loosen over time and scratch. Quality leather ones can be had from 90$ at Jurgens to 110-190$ at Corvus, and will age beautifully. If your in the military, are especially active or just like the look the, NATO watchband is versatile and secure, probably the only worthwhile endeavor of its namesake. More from a military perspective later
A note on style: in my opinion simpler is better, take complications (additions to the display, such as date, day, moon-phase, ext) you use, and leave all the extra to the masses. Keep in mind watches are possibly the worst thing to by solely on “trend”. A good watch can last you a lifetime, don’t let it be one of regret because you bought a massive neon orange dive watch with depth alarms to commemorate learning the doggie paddle. Size is important here more than anything else, even if your buying online try a few on in person to get a feel for what case size works for your wrist, and the shirts and jackets you usually wear.