The chronograph watch was used by the Royal Air Force to measure distance, and by Captain Swigert to time engine burns after he told Houston that Apollo 13 had a problem. It’s a true adventurer’s tool, designed to do more than tell time. Because of all the subdials and complications, building a chrono is often pricey — but not always. We’re rounding up the 10 best chronographs under $500.
The chrono’s multi-sectioned face makes for infinite variation possibilities, and you’ll find a scope of styles here.
Dango CR-01 Chronograph
Dango focuses on modular everyday carry items. The CR-01 is a grown man’s watch, but its transposable build is so unpretentious, even a child can work it. The patented interchangeable lug system allows you to pop the lugs on and off of the case with a flathead screwdriver. It takes a nanosecond to do because there’s no actual unscrewing, just locking and unlocking. You can mix and match the three lug styles and three strap styles. The stainless steel bracelet features a micro adjustment clasp so you can resize without removing links. Function-wise, the subdials are operated with a push of a button and the battery life is 54 months.
Seiko SNA411 Flight Chronograph
Even for a chronograph, the Seiko SNA411 Flight is a busy looking watch. The face is surrounded by a slide-rule, a mechanical analog computer used by engineers before calculators were invented. The several reflective surfaces and domed crystal give the optical illusion that there are even more frenetic sections on the watchface than there already are. The result is a watch that’s part sporty, part scientific, and completely distinct.
Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph
During the 1971 Apollo 15 lunar mission, commander Dave Scott’s Speedmaster broke, so he relied on his personal Bulova instead. Because NASA had a deal with Omega, they kept this under their hat for years. Today, the Lunar Pilot enjoys legend status and historical importance, making it a great conversation piece. This high-functioning chronograph boasts a sapphire crystal and Bulova’s famed high-frequency quartz, a movement more precise than a penalty kick from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Dan Henry 1972 Chrono Alarm
The Dan Henry 1972 Chrono Alarm is inspired by the legendary 1970s motorcycle, the Ducati 750 Imola Desmo. An image of the speed-defining vehicle is even engraved on the back of the case. The reasonable 41mm stainless steel case comes in matte or black PVD (physical vapor deposition) for added durability and an authoritative aesthetic. The sandwich dial’s cut-out indices are just a little playful. Go for this watch if you’re looking for something utilitarian yet fun, that leans hard into the chronograph’s racer roots.
SeaGull 1963 Chronograph
An official reconstruction of the 1963 Chinese Air Force chronograph, this watch features a unique graphic quality, exotic to typical chronographs. The case is a rare 38mm, so guys at any wrist size can rock this sapphire-clad watch. The Seagull ST1901 movement is hand-winding, simple, and has 45 hours of power on a full wind. Overall, the Seagull 1963 is a chronograph with field watch sensibilities, and a sparse and pictorial dial organization that’s eye-catching and peculiar for a chronograph.
Citizen Eco-Drive Chronograph
Workhorse-brand Citizen serves up a cool-guy military-inspired chrono with this watch. It combines a rugged nylon band with a smooth-lined case, and is powered by Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology. This means it converts any source of light into energy for power. It’s also one of the most legible chronographs out there thanks to its large Arabic indices. Go for the green version if you want a robust survivalist look, and go for the blue version for a more modern and nautical look.
Armogan Spirit of St. Louis Chronograph
Armogan combines Swiss watchmaking chops with luxe Belgian design. Leave it to them to fashion a sporty chronograph that’s also a dress watch. The strap, either regular leather or a plush suede, wears in before wearing out since it develops a patina over time. There are several sophisticated color combination themes like “Emerald Green” and the very Belgian “White Chocolate.” Moreover, its fanciful Arabic indices not only contribute to its dressy look, but makes it the most legible watch on the list.
About Vintage 1844 Chronograph
About Vintage artfully infuses the typically energetic chronograph with calm Danish minimalism. The result is a clean-lined sport watch that transforms via strap changes. It can go from Moonwatch-esque adventurer when paired with a textured silicone strap, to ballroom-ready with the sparkly Milanese mesh or Italian leather, to functional and casual with nylon. Its resetting feature allows for successive measurements and its precision lines are designed for spot-on timing. Go for the 1844 if you want a balanced, versatile dial face.
Timex Waterbury Classic Chronograph
The handsome Waterbury Classic is practical and stylish, pushing the fashion-forward limit, without exceeding it. In the tradition of Timex, it flaunts impressive attention to detail, from its traced hands to varying contrast colors in each version. This watch looks initially straight-forward, but you’ll discover a new fine point every time you wear it. It features Timex’s patented extra bright INDIGLO lume, which looks great on the black face version with gold and silver contrasts — formal yet fun and just a tad loud, perfect for a New Year’s Eve type event.
Jack Mason Pursuit Chronograph
This everyday tool watch is a classic pilot through and through. It’s focused on the technical and loaded with features including 100m water resistance, a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and a highly legible Swiss Super-Luminova. The Italian leather strap is also fitted with quick release pins. Jack Mason gets bonus points for its lifetime warranty. Go for this bang-for-buck watch if you want a traditionally masculine aviator chronograph.
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