The Best Chronograph Watches for Any Budget in 2020

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The chronograph is kind of like the multi-tool of the watch world. They’re especially appealing to EDCers because they add plenty of extra functionality to your wrist. Essentially a chronograph is a combination of a stopwatch and a display watch, letting you time events, read the time, and do much more. Not only do chronographs have a unique aesthetic, but they’re also functional tool watches that can come in handy throughout the day. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know before picking your first chrono and share our favorite recommendations for any budget.

A Brief History of the Chronograph

While chronographs date back to the early 1800s, the ones we commonly think of came to the forefront of horology in the mid-1900s. They were popular with aviators because they could make complex speed and distance calculations while precisely recording the time. Chronographs became popular in the US space program (more often than not, test pilots who became astronauts wore a chronograph) and throughout automotive racing events. While they were mostly worn on the wrists of professionals as a tool watch, chronographs are popular today for their functionality and rich heritage amongst watch enthusiasts.

Standout Features of a Chronograph Watch

  • Stopwatch Timing Feature: At the heart of every chronograph is a stopwatch. At first, you may not think it’s necessary to have one, but the more you wear it, the more you’ll find yourself using it. Whether you’re timing your workout or counting the time that dinner’s been in the oven, the applications are endless. The chronograph feature is easy to use thanks to the signature “pushers” on the side of the case.
  • Pushers to start/stop time: On either side of the crown, you’ll find a button called a “pusher.” On most chronographs, the top pusher starts and stops time, while the bottom pusher resets the time. With a push of the bottom button, all of the subdials snap back to zero.
  • Calculation Bezel: Around the outside of the bezel, there’s often a scale of numbers that can be used to calculate various speeds, intervals, and distances. The tachymeter is most common. It’s used for calculating speed. If you know an object is traveling along a given distance (think a mile-long lap around a track) start the chronograph timer when the object is moving. When the object completes the lap, stop the chronograph and the seconds hand will point to the speed on the bezel.

Now that you’ve got the basics of chronograph watches down, check out our favorite recommendations for watch newbies and seasoned collectors alike.

Best Affordable Chronograph Watches

Timex Weekender Chronograph

Timex is known for their wide range of affordable watches. For just under $60 you can get your hands on this classic blue and silver watch. The quartz-powered chronograph movement has three subdials: one for seconds, one for minutes elapsed, and one for 1/20 seconds elapsed. The 40mm case is right in the sweet spot for most people, so it will suit a wide range of wrists. The Arabic numerals on the dial are easy to read and the watch features a date display at the 4 o’clock position. The Weekender is an excellent and handsome entry into the world of chronographs without breaking the bank.

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Citizen AT0200-05E Chronograph

Citizen’s military-inspired AT0200-05E is a rugged stainless steel chronograph that’s well-suited to everyday wear. The Japanese quartz movement inside is powered by Citizen’s Eco-Drive solar charging technology. By leaving the watch on a windowsill (indoor light works too) for a few minutes a day, the watch will charge itself up. The two of the three subdials on the chromo measure hours, and minutes, while 6 o’clock seconds subdial is always ticking. The large red hand measures seconds when the chronograph feature is in use, which is especially legible against the black and white face. The AT0200-05E features 100M of water resistance and comes on a rugged olive green camo band. 

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Timex Flyback Chronograph

Timex’s Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back Chronograph features a unique complication that’s not commonly seen on watches in this price range. The “Fly-Back” feature allows you to record lap times with the use of two independent seconds hands and some fancy programming inside the quartz movement. Instead of the standard circular subdials, the Fly-Back has two semi-circular displays (one for hours, one for minutes) where the minutes display “flies” back to zero once they reach the end of the 10 minute scale. It’s a cool feature that’s best described by a video. The black and tan coloration and perforated leather strap result in a subtle vintage look that will pair great with a variety of gear. 

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Casio MTP4500D-1AV Slide Rule Bezel Aviator

Chronograph watches were commonly used by pilots to calculate air speed, time of arrival, and elapsed time. They were able to carry out these complex calculations with help from their timepieces, and the Casio MTP4500D can do just that. With the addition of an internal slide rule bezel you can calculate things like percentages, miles per hour to kilometers per hour, Fahrenheit to Celsius, and more. Of course, the Casio acts as a standard stopwatch too. Orange hands give the black and white face a pop of color for legibility. For displaying so much information, the watch maintains a relatively clean and classic look thanks to the mix of brushed and stainless steel throughout. 

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Seiko SNN079P2 Chronograph

It’s hard to mention affordable watches without including at least one Seiko in the bunch. Seiko is known for punching way above their weight on quality, especially given the affordable nature of many of their watches. The SNN079P2 is a military-inspired chronograph with two subdials: one for seconds and one for minutes. The left side of the dial features a multi-date display which breaks up the otherwise black face. The tachymeter scale sits under the crystal making it especially easy to see exactly where the second hand is pointing to. This watch is simple, less cluttered than other offerings, and comes in just under $130. 

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Best Mid-Range Chronograph Watches Under $500

Dan Henry 1963 Chronograph

Dan Henry is not the most talked about brand out there, but it easily could be. All of the designs of Dan Henry watches draw inspiration from his massive collection of vintage watches that span nearly every decade and style of timepiece. Dan Henry’s mission is to make affordable watches that look and feel like those several times more expensive. The premium materials found in the 316L grade stainless steel case, double domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal, and intricate double layer dial are usually absent in watches around the $250 price range. The vintage look, quality build, and impressive features result in an excellent watch for those who want the vintage appeal without having to worry about an old watch.


Gavox Squadron Acier

The Gavox Squadron is a 50s-inspired chronograph designed to meet the needs of the Belgian Air Force pilots. This limited edition watch is packed full of features that separate it from the rest. The robust surgical steel case measures in at 41mm, which is a nice size for almost any wrist. Inside the watch, you’ll find a reliable Swiss Ronda quartz movement. The Squadron Acier has 300 feet of water resistance, which is impressive for a chronograph. At just around $400, you get all the classic military chronograph styling in a watch that was built to hold up to actual military use. 


Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph

Although Omega’s Speedmaster gets all of the credit for being the definitive “Moonwatch,” Bulova deserves a mention as well. While Omega was the official NASA-issued watch for wear in space, Bulova’s watch was astronaut Dave Scott’s personal watch that he did indeed wear on his moonwalk. This contemporary reimagining of their Lunar Pilot Chronograph features a quartz-powered movement and very similar design to the original watch. The large 44mm case comes in stainless steel, with or without a jet black coating. The chronograph pushers on the side are a unique design, they’re more like levers than the traditional button style commonly seen on other watches. If you don’t want to drop Omega dough on a watch, but still want something that’s got the rich history, consider the Bulova Lunar Pilot. 

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Grail-Worthy Chronograph Watches

Sinn 356

The 356 from Sinn is a pilot style chronograph, built to the highest standards in Germany. The 356 features an automatic winding movement that’s protected by the shock-resistant and anti-magnetic case. The chronograph feature records seconds, minutes, and hours elapsed. The white numeric indices stand out against the matte black face of the dial, and is especially easy to read thank to the syringe-style hands. If you’re looking for an overbuilt watch that’s packed with technology, then consider Sinn.


Omega Speedmaster Professional

The Omega Speedmaster is one of the most recognizable and popular chronographs out there, and for good reason. The Speedmaster is also known as the “Moonwatch” as it was worn on the first American space walk in 1965, and on the surface of the moon in 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission. The Speedmaster is still in production today, and it’s barely been changed over the years. A 42mm case, reliable mechanical chronograph movement, supreme legibility, and iconic aesthetic add up to an incredibly solid timepiece. To qualify the watch for manned space missions, NASA subjected it to a gamut of rigorous testing including shock, altitude, humidity, acceleration, pressure, and more. If it’s good enough for NASA to send into outer space, it should be able to hold up to your EDC. 

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Do you wear a chronograph watch in your EDC? Tell us about your favorite in the comments below.

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