8 Best Watches for College Students in 2021 – for every student’s budget

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Last Updated: 1/7/2021

Best Choice: Orient Ray II
Best Value: Seiko SNK803
Premium Pick: Hamilton Khaki Field

As a college student, you’re running back and forth between classes, forgetting your locker combination, and waking up in strangers’ homes.

Now that the quarantine is over and things are getting back to normal, you need a reliable timepiece to get you through the day.

There’s an option for every budget, and your trusty companion will help you relieve stress, manage your schedule, and give you something interesting to look at during those boring university lectures.

The Best College Student Watches

1. BEST CHOICE – Orient Ray II

The Orient Ray II is considered one of the best-value automatic watches on any list; it’s as versatile as it is durable.

Improving on the prior version and its popularity, this Orient watch has a striking and eye-catching appearance. It’s manufactured by Orient – one of the top names in watchmaking (owned by Seiko) – known for their reliability and Japanese aesthetic.

The Orient Ray II is an automatic watch with all the bells and whistles that any college student could ask for: a sweeping seconds hand, hacking and hand-winding, a day+date window, and 200m water resistance for surviving some epic pool days.

You can wear it on the stock bracelet, throw it on a leather strap, or go military-style with an army-colored nato. It’s the perfect watch for any occasion – from a football game to a wedding, and especially for studying.

For real – I wish I had this watch in college. It’s only about a hundred bucks, and the blue version is even more stunning.

Key Features

  • Automatic movement
  • 200m Water Resistance
  • Hacking and Hand-Winding
  • Eye-Catching Dial design
  • Versatile on many strap options and with many outfits

Model Specs

  • Movement: Automatic Caliber F6922
  • Diameter: 41.5 mm
  • Thickness: 13mm
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Price: $100-$150

2. BEST DRESS WATCH – Orient Bambino

Looking for something a little more classic and recognizable? The Orient Bambino has you covered. Frequently cited as one of the best-value automatic watches you can find, that’s certainly not an exaggeration.

This is the second Orient on our list – and with good reason: they make some of the best affordable watches you can buy.

While other college kids are picking up fashion watches that barely tick, you can stand out with style with a classic Japanese timepiece. With the Bambino, you’ll be dressed up for any party, club, or career fair that college throws at you.

The Bambino can be found for under $150 depending on the model. Check out their full collection – as of 2021 they have over 5 generations (the later versions are just as good, and have new designs and details). For an automatic that’s both versatile and fashionable, the Orient Bambino is hard to beat.

Key Features

  • Automatic movement
  • Leather strap
  • Tons of model variations
  • Classic dress watch aesthetics

Model Specs

  • Movement: Automatic Orient Cal 48743
  • Diameter: 40.5mm
  • Thickness: 12mm
  • Water Resistance: 30m
  • Price: $100-$200

3. PREMIUM PICK – Hamilton Khaki Field

Your first real Swiss automatic watch. The craftsmanship and attention to detail on the Hamilton Khaki is incredible. If you can afford to invest a little more in the timepiece that will get you through university, this is a smart move.

There’s a certain level of pride that comes with owning a real Swiss watch. While your friends are rocking mass market China-made Apple watches and $5 Wal-Mart fashion rip-offs, your college experience is about to get much more elegant and refined.

The Hamilton Khaki is Swiss Made, and is manufactured by an established formerly-American watch brand. It’s a field watch that goes great with tons of different straps for many occasions.

This watch comes in both 38mm and 42mm – and I recommend the smaller size. Four years is not nearly enough time to fully enjoy this watch.

Key Features

  • 80 hour power reserve
  • Versatile with many straps
  • Classic field watch design
  • Reputable Swiss watchmaker with American heritage

Model Specs

  • Movement: Automatic Hamilton H-10 (based on ETA 2824-2)
  • Diameter: 38mm and 42mm
  • Thickness: 11mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $300-$400

4. BUDGET OPTION – Casio F-91W

Classic, classic, classic. If you’re not looking to dip into the student loan fund, a budget option like the Casio F-91W is going to be your best friend. First introduced in 1989, not a year has gone by that the F-91W hasn’t been fashionable.

For about $10 you can rock the same watch that was worn by Osama bin Laden – as well as his nemesis President Obama. Both men understood the value of a classically-styled retro timepiece.

I’m sure I’ve pissed off at least a few people by now, and I don’t mind that.

Convinced? The Casio F-91W is the perfect budget watch that’s always in style. Whether you’re majoring in engineering or Sports Football, other students will be constantly glancing over because there’s something friendly and familiar about you.

Key Features

  • Daily Alarm
  • Backlight
  • 12 / 24 Hour Formats
  • Chronograph (stopwatch)
  • Disposable

Model Specs

  • Material: Resin
  • Thickness: 8 mm
  • Diameter: 30 mm
  • Water Resistance: 100ft
  • Price: under $15

5. BEST VALUE – Seiko SNK809

The Seiko SNK809 is the perfect watch for a university student. Two reasons: first, it’s under $100, which makes it “super affordable” in watch terms. Second, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

When you hold the SNK809 in your hand, you’ll be blown away by the tiny microcosm in your hands – a mechanical masterpiece that’s yours and yours alone.

The Seiko SNK809 is one of the most popular entry-level automatic watches, and with great reason: it’s made by one of the most reputable Japanese watchmakers in the world, and it comes with the quality, reliability, and design style to back it up.

As an ultra-affordable automatic, this Seiko 5 is an ideal choice for a college kid looking to be captivated by the smooth sweep of a red-tipped second hand; additionally it comes with a see-through caseback that you can admire during a boring lecture.

Key Features

  • Reliable Automatic
  • See-through caseback
  • Versatile with many straps
  • Day-Date windows

Model Specs

  • Movement: Automatic Caliber 7S26
  • Diameter: 37 mm
  • Thickness: 11mm
  • Water Resistance: 100ft
  • Price: $70-$90

6. THE RUSSIAN KID – Vostok Amphibia

An old-school favorite among many watch lovers is the Vostok Amphibia – a Russian automatic dive watch. In true Russian style, it doesn’t follow the norms set by its Western (or Eastern) neighbors, and reinvents the wheel in a quirky and endearing way.

It was worn in a movie by this famous person – Bill something | credit: Hollywood

The Vostok Amphibia was commissioned by the USSR, you can get a real Russian automatic 200m dive watch for under $100 – not a claim that too many other brands can make. Like a true Russian, you’ll have to scour eBay for the best prices, or pay a premium for the convenience of adding it to your Amazon cart.

The Amphibia is made by the old and respected watchmaker Vostok (Russian for “East”). If you’ve always been somewhat different, or had a strange affinity for Communism, then this watch is yours, comrade. Besides the featured “Scuba Dude” version, this watch comes in many many different and fun varieties.

Key Features

  • Water Resistant to 200m
  • Rugged and Durable
  • Russian design
  • Versatile and Unique

Model Specs

  • Movement: Automatic Caliber 2416B
  • Diameter: 41 mm
  • Thickness: 15 mm
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Price: $40-$80

7. DURABLE AND AFFORDABLE – Casio MDV106-1A

Looking for something a little more robust than a cheap digital watch? I hope you know how to tell time in analog – it’s the latest thing Gen Z can’t do.

The Casio MDV106-1A has a cult following as one of the best budget dive watches you can buy. It’s durable, accurate, and will withstand just about anything you can throw at it while still having three hands, a timing bezel, and a date window.

It’s popular among amateur and professional SCUBA divers as a backup timing instrument, so it has some good pedigree. It also looks pretty neat. As you may know, Casio makes some pretty good watches under $50 besides the G-Shock. This one is an instant classic.

Key Features

  • Water Resistant to 200m
  • Rugged and Durable
  • Easy to read (high contrast)
  • Date Window

Model Specs

  • Movement: Japanese Quartz
  • Diameter: 44mm
  • Thickness: 12mm
  • Price: $40-$50

College Students’ Watch Buying Guide

For most university students, a smartwatch that dies in the middle of the day is all they want for Christmas. Don’t you want to have all your notifications both in your pocket AND on your wrist? <vomiting emoji>

Or maybe you don’t want to be like everyone else.

You want something other than a stupid smartwatch. An analog (and even better an Automatic) watch is a good way to separate yourself from the herd, who’s cry is “Think Different.” But with that, you need to be able to track how long you’ve been studying, how soon the bars close, and how close it is to Friday.

What factors to consider for the college level

For a college student, a watch should be waterproof enough to withstand a pool slide, and also versatile enough to work with many outfits. This would make it compatible (and sexy) with many different strap options.

You also shouldn’t have to replace it every 2 years for the latest model at the Apple store. Your watch should be something that’s durable and will last you all four (or five… you’ll make it) years.

Affordable

As a college kid, you have to make a weekly decision between eating and vodka. You don’t need to complicate things with a multi-thousand dollar watch. Keep it simple, keep it cool. Most of the watches in this list are under $150.

Does that sound like a lot for a watch? It certainly was a lot for me in my college days, so I understand. Ultimately I spent about that much replacing crappy $10 watches over and over. So believe me when I say that $70-$150 is the sweet spot, and to go for it.

Durable

There’s a lot of watches under $200 out there. In fact, it’s one of the most saturated price segments for watches. My goal in this article is to help you separate the wheat from the chaff – to find the diamonds in the rough.

This “chaff” and “the rough” we speak of – those watches will cost a lot and break down within 12 months. The watches on this list, however, will last you all four years. They’re tough and many have been stress-tested by professional SCUBA divers and soldiers.

Versatile

As a college student, your watch should look good in a wide variety of environments – be it a blazer, a t-shirt, or (especially) shirtless.

By the way, the watches in this list will also work well for many years in your first professional job. At that time you’ll probably be looking to upgrade your watch to embrace the beautiful suck of a cubicle life. So much to look forward to!

Many strap options

You’re going to save a lot of money by converting your everyday watch into a dress watch by adding even leather strap, even a cheap one.

The bracelets are easily removable, and you can throw on a military-style nato strap on them to enhance the versatility. Keep that in mind if things ever get stale to give your watch a boost in fashion.

Be Unique

Now is the time in your life to experiment and think free. You and I both know that smartwatches and smartphones don’t do anyone no good. Free your mind from their incessant grasp and root yourself in a timeless engineering marvel.

Try an automatic watch – there’s a reason I love them and they have such a dedicated fanbase.

Best of luck on your college journey. Take lots of risks, make lots of mistakes, and don’t forget to study sometimes.


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