The Best Summer Watches
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The Best Summer Watches

May 13, 2023

"Kick off your high-heeled sneakers — it's party time," exclaimed Steely Dan. Now, I don't know what "high-heeled sneakers" are, but I do know this: summer is upon us. And that most means that it's party time.

Time to forget about the prim and proper(-ness) of office culture. Time to shed that three-piece suit in favor of swim trunks and a singlet. (Not that anyone's worn a three-piece suit since King Charles II was on the throne, but whatever.) Time to forget about fancy watches and wear something care-free and silly.

Mind you, not every summer watch need be care-free and silly: my trusty Submariner is a fabulous summer watch. (As is, frankly, a steel Royal Oak.) But overall, we’d say the theme here is levity and fun. Wear that crazy, limited-edition G-SHOCK in bright purple (or whatever). Wear that microbrand dive watch that you found at WindUp Watch Fair that no one's ever heard of. Wear whatever the hell you want.

Here are 11 watches that we think make for the perfect summer timepiece. You don't have to agree with all our choices, but we think you’ll agree that there's a theme here, and the theme is: have fun!

If you’re looking to do some traveling this summer and you need both a) a way to track a second time zone as well as b) an inexpensive travel watch, then boy, have you come to the right place. The new Q Timex Three Time Zone Chronograph, part of the brand's beloved Q Timex collection, features not only a chronograph, but a 12-hour bezel that can be used to track a second time zone — plus an independently adjustable 12-hour hand. In conjunction with a 24-hour sundial at 12 o’clock, this hand can be used to track a third time zone, making for a supremely useful travel companion. Powered by a quartz movement and water resistant to 50m, it may not carry the same cachet as that of a Rolex GMT-Master II, but at all of $219, we’re not sure it has to, either.

Seiko's relaunch of the Seiko 5 line a few years back met with much enthusiasm, but there were many who simultaneously wished for a smaller version of the 42.5mm Sports sub-collection. This year, Seiko finally obliged us, delivering a 38mm Sports line in several colors. The black-dialed SRPK29 is perhaps the perfect affordable, everyday dive-style watch, with an automatic movement, 100m of water resistance, a matching steel bracelet, bright lume, and a unidirectional dive bezel. Packing the famed day-date display of the Seiko 5 line, this Caliber 4R36-based watch is eminently affordable at just $325. But for summer, may we suggest the more colorful orange, turquoise, or silver versions?

We’d be hard-pressed to find a watch that screams "summer" more than one in which an image of a person lounging on a floaty in a pool with a rubber ducky is actually represented on the dial. Mr Jones Watches makes fun and irreverent watches in London, and none is more appropriate for the hotter months of the year than A Perfectly Useless Afternoon. Measuring 40mm in diameter, it's well sized for both men and women and comes paired to a stainless steel mesh band. But the dial is the real show-stopper, here: Set against a blue "pool" design, a figure lounging on a pool tube is seen from above, with an outstretched leg that indicates the hour as it revolves around the dial. A rubber ducky, meanwhile, floats around indicating the minutes. Pretty brilliant, pretty carefree, and pretty fun!

In time for its 40th anniversary this year, G-SHOCK has released a full-metal version of its classic 5000-series watch in a special look achieved via a "recrystallized" process: Hardened stainless steel is treated with a gold ion plating and DLC for a unique aesthetic that looks like nothing else in the G-SHOCK catalog. With its special Eric Haze-designed 40th anniversary logo on the caseback, this special timepiece is equipped with all the brand's usual timers, stopwatches, calendars, and more — but in a summery twist, it's also solar-powered, water resistant to 200m, and can easily link to your smartphone to access a bevy of additional features.

The "skin diver" category of dive watch was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but had all but disappeared by the 2000s. It described a type of basic, no-frills dive watch with a thin, often sub-40mm case without crown guards and with a distinctive shape that didn't vary much from company to company; paired to fabric or rubber straps, these watches were inexpensive and were often sold in dive shops alongside other SCUBA equipment. This year, Aquastar has revived one of its classic skin divers in the form of the Model 60 Re-Edition. Measuring 37mm in steel, it references the brand's first diver from 1957 and comes equipped with a black dial, a date window, a steel dive bezel, and a La Joux-Perret G100 automatic movement. Available with several different straps, it's the perfect summer watch for someone who wants a serious tool, but doesn't want to break the bank.

Nothing quite says summer like a colorful dial, and this cool chronograph from microbrand favorite Autodromo has it in spades. Available in six colorways, the Group B Rallysport Chronograph looks most summery in the T16 iteration: with bright blue, orange, red, white, and black accents set against a white dial, it's eye-catching, to be sure, but also a thoughtfully designed timepiece that could easily stay on one's wrist all-year-round. Making use of the Group B's integrated-bracelet design, it's constructed of titanium and stainless steel to achieve the perfect on-wrist weight and is powered by the Swiss-made Sellita SW 510 M B automatic movement. Taking cues from 1980s automotive culture, this fun and funky chronograph is unlike anything else on the market. Pair it with your favorite sports car with the top down for maximum effect.

With their military origins, utilitarian design remit, and handsome looks, field watches are perhaps the ultimate everyday "tool watch."

A reissue of a beloved model from the 1960s, the Zodiac Sea-Chron is an excellent option for summer wear given its versatile design and 200m of water resistance. Though large at 24mm x 16.5mm tall, it features a triple-register chronograph paired with a rotating dive bezel as well as an inner tachymeter scale. Available in both "reverse panda" and a super handsome, dark blue colorway with black subdials, it's powered by the Swiss Sellita 510 B automatic movement and comes paired to a stainless steel 5-link bracelet. Incredibly good looking and supremely useful, this is the type of chronograph you can beat the hell out of, get wet, and take racing, boating, hiking, or whatever your preferred summertime activity may be.

This is your chance to snag a summer watch that will, quite frankly, do perfectly well during any other season: The Carrera Date 36mm from TAG Heuer is a date-equipped automatic in steel with a matching bracelet available in several colorways, but we personally think the blue version is just the ticket. Housed in a comfortable 36mm case, it features 18K rose gold-plated hands and indices, plus a smooth bezel for dressier looks — but the sunray dial has a 1/5th-seconds track inscribed along the rehaut for precise timekeeping. Powered by the brand's Calibre 7 automatic movement, this is precisely the type of versatile timekeeper that can lead a person down the greater horological rabbit hole.

Introduced this year, Tudor's new Black Bay 54 was a surprising — but welcome! — addition to its vintage-inspired Black Bay line. Measuring a perfect 37mm in diameter in stainless steel, the BB 54 takes inspiration from the Tudor Submariner ref. 7922, which debuted in (you guessed it) 1954. With its small crown, rivet-style bracelet, and "gilt" printing, it does indeed look vintage, but Tudor has updated the design with the "snowflake" handset of later, 1960s/1970s-era Subs. Water resistant to 200m and available on a rubber or fabric strap in addition to the bracelet, the BB 54 is not only a perfect summer watch, but a great value from a brand that's moving to exclusive use of in-house movements — and one that has access to the history and savoir faire of its big brother brand, Rolex.

Launched in 2022, the Oris ProPilot X Calibre 400 is a modern take on the pilot's watch that doesn't draw on vintage tropes. Rather, it features a unique "serpentine" bracelet, a special bezel reminiscent of a jet engine turbine, a clasp inspired by a plane seatbelt, and titanium construction that renders it lightweight and enjoyable to wear. (And, it's powered by the brand's own in-house Calibre 400 movement, of course.) In 2023, the brand's hero product was a surprising take on this already notable release: a special Kermit-themed edition in bright green with a unique date wheel featuring the muppet's face on the first of each month. Subtle enough to please more traditionalist watch collectors but irreverent enough to bring a smile to those collectors’ faces, the Kermit Edition is most definitely an excellent choice for summer.

Yeah, we get it — not exactly you’re "affordable summer beater." However, Rolex's new precious-metal Day-Date 36 is most certainly a summer watch. I mean, how else do you classify a timepiece in which the day and date displays have been replaced with keywords and emojis? This, in other words, is a watch you wear when you barely care about the time, and when you certainly don't care about what the day or date are. Housed in a 36mm case in 18K yellow, white or Everose gold, the Day-Date 36 features champlevé enamel dial with a striking, colorful "jigsaw" motif; hour markers formed from baguette-cut sapphires in six different colors; a date wheel displaying one of seven inspirational keywords; and a date window displaying one of 31 emojis. Come to think of it, this may be the summer watch, full stop!

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