Are Automatic Watches Durable?
We are looking at some of the most durable watches that can handle real-world abuse. In our Part One, we listed the most durable quartz watches. Today in Part Two, we are talking about the most rugged automatic watches.
As I said in part one, in my opinion, automatic watches cannot handle high-velocity abuse. By this I mean hours on a reciprocating saw or tiller or (the biggest watch killer) chopping wood. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some unbelievably tough ones out there. If you need a really rugged watch for backpacking, surfing, going on adventures, or you’re in construction but aren’t always the one swinging the big hammer, then the next few watches will be for you.
I wear an automatic watch almost every day of the week. I change the oil on my van, build stuff, climb in and out of the attic, knock them around, play sports, etc. My warning about automatic watches doesn’t mean they can’t handle some abuse; they are perfect for the daily grind. If you are trying to decide between a rugged quartz watch or a rugged automatic watch, this is the main factor to consider: do you experience hard, repetitive shocks or constant vibrations on a daily basis? If the answer is yes, then go quartz, if not, then check out these below.
One more side note here. I sometimes wear my watch on my dominant hand, a little uncommon, but also makes me think twice about what wristwatch I am strapping on. Depending on if you wear your watch on your dominant or non-dominant hand, this can be a factor to consider when thinking about how much abuse you are going to inflict on your watch.
Our Picks For The Most Durable Automatic Watches – Tested and Reviewed!
Orient Mako XL
Orient Triton / Orient Neptune
Steinhart Ocean One Titanium
Citizen Promaster Diver Auto
Deep Blue Daynight T-100
SWCUSA Bunker Field Watch
Aquatico Super Charger
Seiko Prospex “Street Series” SBDY061
Traska Freediver First Generation
What Makes An Automatic Watch Durable?
For the most part, the majority of automatic watches all use the same 3 or 4 movements or ones with slight customizations based on the brand of watch. Citizen, Seiko, and ETA supply watch movements to the better part of the whole watch world. Only when you start getting into $3K-$5K do you start to find in-house movements. Like anything, there are a few exceptions here and there, but for the most part if you buy an automatic watch under $1,500, one of the big three or a big three clone is going to power it.
Why am I bringing this up? Because it levels the playing field when we talk about ruggedness and durability. If the watches from different manufacturers are both using the same Seiko NH35 inside, what is going to separate them when it comes to which is the more durable watch? For example, a Spinnaker Fluess, Deep Blue MIL-T1000, and a Aquatico SeaStar all use the exact same movement, so which of those will be better suited to taking abuse? That’s where I want to focus with the automatic watches on this list.
When I looked at my watch collection and decided to pull out the ones which have proved to be the most durable watches I own, I decided to keep it to just 13 watches. If you read my Quartz guide, you know I went over and the same was about to happen here with the automatics. The following are the most durable automatics I have in my collection.
The Seiko Turtle, as it’s called by Seikohalocis the world over, falls into the mid-lower end of the Seiko line of dive watches. Purpose-built for serious diving and underwater adventures, the Turtle has all the boxes checked for a rugged watch. Since it’s a “real” dive watch, meaning it is ISO certified, you know the watch is going to be robust.
What sets the Turtle above other divers for ruggedness is it’s case shape, hence where it gets the nickname Turtle. The large stainless steel case looks like a turtle. Seiko refers to these cases as a “Cushion Case” and it was designed to protect the movement and bezel when the watch is knocked into something from the side. The screw-down crown at 4 o’clock is also protected by built-in crown guards.
Of all my dive watches, I wear the Turtle often and it’s one of my main watches for doing things like working around the house, DIY building, etc. It’s only beat out by an old SEIKO SKX that I modded with a new movement and sapphire.
The Seiko SRP777 is a traditional dive watch, so you get a smooth rotating bezel, screw-down crown, great Seiko lume, and of course, some history. The SRP777 is an updated version of their popular 6306 & 6309 dive watches from the 1970s and 1980s.
The case on the Turtle measures 45mm, but it in no way wears like it. It’s a low profile watch and uses the same bezel from the SKX, so it seems like a much smaller watch on the wrist. The Turtle is one of the first watches I recommend when someone asks for a good dive watch, the other is the Orient Mako if their budget is a little lower.
Other Seiko Options:
I own both the Samurai and Tuna, you can’t go wrong with either!
Orient Mako XL
At first glance the Mako XL may not seem like it should be on a “most durable watch” list, but after three years of owning it, the watch has proved to be a beast. On paper it’s nothing to write home about and it doesn’t even have a hacking movement, but there is just something special when you put it on your wrist. Be warned, it’s a bigger watch at 44mm, but the layout and design makes it a manageable size even for a 6” wrist or so.
I originally picked this up because they are just so cheap on Amazon and eBay sometimes. Thinking that I would just check it out, it has become one of my all time favorites. It really has a Submariner look to it, but the date pusher and different dial marking ensure there is no confusion.
The lume is terrible, but that’s just a bit of a pet peeve for me? It feels great on the wrist, is relatively light for its size, and the biggest plus here is its height. It’s a pretty thin dive watch and will slide under the cuff of a shirt easily.
So, why do I say it’s a durable watch? Easy, I have worn it as a beater for a few years and it has stood up to being dunked in oil, freezing temps, knocked into door jams, and even survived a 20-foot flight across the room onto hardwood when the springbar failed. In this case, I can’t fault the spring bar entirely as I slightly bent it on a strap change. This leads into one more bummer: it does not have solid end links, but for $65 what can you really expect?
While we are talking about straps, the bracelet it comes with has traditional pins, but it is above average compared to most and is very comfy when it’s all sized up. I can wholeheartedly recommend it because it has survived in the real world unscathed.
Orient Triton / Orient Neptune
I reviewed the Orient Triton in great detail here, so I will just highlight some of the reasons this guy is such a rugged watch. The Triton is built with an oversized case that is designed to protect the movement. After owning this watch for almost three years, I can attest to its hard-use abilities. I do not baby it and you can often find it on my watch working around the house, throwing axes, and during other jarring movements. It has held up well, seems to keep even better time than when new, and takes all the bumps and scratches in style.
With all the recent Seiko Marine master releases, the Triton seems even more of a good deal than just a few months ago. In addition to the Triton, Orient released a non-power meter version with the same movement and with sapphire crystal. I recently grabbed one from a Amazon Deal of the Day. It’s solid and robust. If you don’t like the power meter, then pick up a Orient Neptune.
Other Orient Options:
A must have upgrade to the stock bracelet, the Strapcode / MilTat Super-O Bracelet
I own both the above Orient divers and love them both. The Kamasu is much more refined in looks but the Kano feels more at home in a hard use situation. The Kamasu is very similar to the Orient Mako USA II which I reviewed here.
I own three Orient Defenders, both on a bracelet and nato. I don’t think you can beat them for the money if you want a field style watch!
Traska Freediver II
One of my favorite all time watches, the Freediver is a stunner. Frankly, I don’t think there is a better dive watch under $500. A sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, beefy case design, awesome bracelet with a scratch resistant coating and a double clasp….it has everything you need for your next all day adventure.
Again, the same-old, microbrand Seiko NH35 is inside, so nothing special, but as I have repeated already, it’s a super-solid and reliable movement. For durability, I think the coating Traska uses on its bracelet really makes a difference here. I have a first generation steel bezel version that is about four years old and it looks fantastic for all the abuse it receives.
I think the Traska II is a perfect blend of good looks and ruggedness. I was looking at this watch on my wrist recently and marveling at how awesome it is. Then it struck me why it’s so great! It’s like an old Mercedes or BMW, designed with purpose and over-built. The whole watch just feels solid, even the bracelet and clasp. If you need something good looking and durable, I would try one of these.
Traska recently released the Freediver III, however it’s not the same watch and it’s really a departure from the original rather than an evolution. It’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t feel as robust as the first two generations.
Steinhart Ocean One Titanium
The Steinhart makes the list for several reasons, but most of all you can’t beat the titanium case and bracelet! I absolutely love this watch and it’s one of my top five most worn watches. I think one reason it gets so much wrist time is because the titanium doesn’t look overly flashy. The brushed gray really looks sharp, but it doesn’t scream “look at me” like many sports watches do. The other reason is that it has that traditional dive watch case similar to a Rolex Submariner. However, it’s so different and unique you can’t even call it an homage. Extra points for that!
The bracelet is excellent with easy screw link adjustments as well as five micro adjust holes on the clasp so you can really get a good fit with it. Plus, being titanium, you hardly know you’re wearing it. The bracelet also has a fold over clasp with a locking tab. It can be a little tough to lift the tab with short nails, but the bracelet feels very secure and I have never had a screw link back out.
Inside the watch is a SW300 élaboré Premium movement which runs like a charm. Again, shy on the power reserve compared to a Seiko, but if it’s your main watch or you don’t mind having to set and wind it more often, then it won’t bother you.
The sapphire has double AR coating, a beautiful ceramic bezel, and, of course, a screw-down crown and caseback which helps bring the water resistance to 500 Meters. Some say that titanium has a little more chance at picking up fine scratches, but I haven’t found this to be true with the Steinhart. It has held up very well after two years of actual wear and tear.
I could have added so many Seiko watches to this list, but not all the Seiko watches I own can stand up to camping and DIY chores. The SNZF sure can! What you have here is your basic, cheap, Seiko automatic watch with a push/pull crown and non-hacking movement. What the watch lacks in refinements it makes up for in the amount of abuse it handles for the small amount of money it costs.
It has a traditional field watch style which looks awesome. The brushed case is solid and wears bumps and scratches well. Really, here’s a watch that if you do eventually kill it, you won’t mind buying another. The watch has a Hardlex crystal that, in my experience, is very scratch resistant. I know others don’t always have the same experience, but I have been very abusive with my watch and the crystal is still perfect. I even smashed it on a rock face while hiking in Linville Gorge.
I only can imagine if Seiko made this with a screw-down crown and hacking movement….you’d never have to buy a Hamilton Khaki again!
For the record, my watch in the picture was sent to Nathan at Four Forty Four PM for a movement swap. He was able to swap the movement to a Seiko NH35 with is identical to a 4R36 movement, just named different to identify that it was sold as a movement only.
Other Automatic Field Watch Options:
I actually started writing this list over three months ago and I just can never seem to finish it. Maybe that’s good because three months ago I would not have included the Swordfish on the list. In fact, when I first got the Swordfish last year I didn’t like it. I opened it and was pretty disappointed. But, I think sometimes I put too much stock in initial impressions and need to give some of these guys a chance. And that’s exactly what has happened here.
When I first got it, I wore it for a few days and then put it in my draw for several weeks. Then one day I decided to wear it and give it a second chance….and I’m glad I did! It’s almost one of my favorites. While it’s not a go-to watch for me, I really do wear it often and usually when I need to do some work.
First off, the titanium makes it so light you really forget you’re wearing it. The bracelet is excellent….once you file down the sharp edges of the logo on the clasp. But, all in all, it’s a beautiful watch and after giving it some wrist time I can absolutely recommend it.
But why is it on the most durable list? Well, the proof is in the pudding I guess. I have worn this watch while taking junk to the dump, cleaning the yard, cutting down trees, assembling furniture and while on vacation. It has seen a lot of wear, been hit hard several times, and still looks almost brand new. Titanium sometimes has a tendency to really scuff, but the finishing here is well done, it hides scratches well, and doesn’t seem susceptible to the tiny marks and dings like some others I have worn.
Inside is your standard, microbrand Seiko NH36 movement, a definite known quantity that lasts a long time. Titanium watches always make everyone’s most durable list, but that’s because most of these fools don’t wear them and just think all titanium is super strong. While titanium is strong, not all titanium watches are created equal.
The difference between a wristwatch and a durable wristwatch has to do with the details of construction, sturdiness of the case, lugs, pins, clasp, and, of course, the crystal. This is why I added the Zelos, because in the real world it has stood up well to everything. I even caught it on the lip of a shopping cart when putting a 12 pack of beer on the belt at the supermarket….a certain death for many watches, but the Zelos shrugged it off as nothing happened
Pic From @funkywatchcollection
Citizen Promaster Diver Auto
I’m adding the automatic version of the Promaster to the list because of two main reasons. First, because they used a sturdy case, similar to the quartz version. And second, the automatic movement Citizen uses here has proved to stand the test of time. It’s not a fancy movement, but it definitely can handle being tossed around and dropped.
Think of these Promasters as the next Seiko SKX. They don’t offer hacking, but the watch has everything else we could want….great lume, water resistance, screw-down crown and caseback, as well as that toolwatch look.
For less than $300 you are picking up a legit dive watch with a dependable movement in a solid case that looks good….you couldn’t ask for more.
Other Citizen Options:
Deep Blue Daynight T-100
It’s kind of hard to recommend so many durable watches that all share the same movement from Seiko, but this watch has it also. The Daynight T-100 on the inside is nothing special, but it’s the robust stainless steel case with tritium tubes for lume that make this watch stand out. Here again, the bracelet is absolute junk, so spare yourself the aggravation and just buy the watch on a factory strap.
I really bought this guy because I thought it could be a poor man’s version of a Marathon TSAR. However, while it’s not exactly that, it does have the makings to be a beast. The watch is heavy, chunky, and fun to wear. At 16 mm in height you will know it’s on your wrist and it’s a good thing it can stand up to taking hits and bumps, given that it’s so tall. The dial is set deep under the sapphire crystal and it gives the watch a cool depth.
The screw-down crown is big with good purchase and has decent protection from the crown guards. The brushed case has a nice rugged look to it and the knurling on the bezel makes it easy to turn even with gloves on.
Overall it’s a basic, solid, metal diver with a Seiko movement, but what sets it apart are the tritium tubes on the dial. If you’re not familiar with titanium, it’s a gas that has a slight nuclear charge to it and the ability to glow for 25 years. So, no matter what, the dial is illuminated and has superb visibility.
For me, it proved to be a very durable automatic wristwatch, more so because of the case design than anything else I think. It’s a great choice for backcountry adventures or out on the boat.
I think this watch makes all my lists….because it’s awesome! What’s not to like about a titanium field watch with a Swiss movement and screw-down crown? Nothing, that’s what! The Bunker fills a much needed void in the watch world, that little spot between a Hamilton Khaki and watches over $1,500. There’s a no man’s land in the mid-tier. Everyone loves the Hamilton Khaki, but there are a few short falls. And if you want to stay well under $1K you don’t have a lot of options….until now.
With a nicely finished titanium case, double AR coated sapphire, lume for days, and a simple yet rugged looking dial….it’s a watch built for adventure. Plus, being titanium, you can really forget you are wearing it. I have knocked this guy around quite a bit and it looks just as good as the day I opened it. Here is another occurrence where the watch movement really improved in accuracy and power reserve after a good month of wear.
The Bunker has an SW200 inside which makes it a nice upgrade over many other field watches at this price point. My one nitpick is that it has a short lug throw (the distance from the spring bar holes to the case) so you have to choose your straps wisely or it can be a really tight fit. I love wearing the Bunker on a nato or silicone and it offers all day comfort because of the weight. SWCUSA says they are releasing a matching titanium bracelet soon and I can’t wait!
Vaer A5 Auto
I am including the automatic version of the Vaer for a few reasons, but mostly, as with the quartz, any company that clearly tells you to use their watch to go swimming, etc. is worthy of a mention.
The A5 uses a Miyota 9015, which I am not the biggest fan of, mainly because it’s loud and the power reserve is on the lower end. However, it is a durable movement. How is an automatic movement loud you ask? Depending on the construction of the watch, you can hear the rotor spinning when it moves to wind the watch. This can be very noticeable in some watches and pretty quiet in others. When I first got the A5 it was one of the loudest of all the watches I had. After some real world use and hard testing, it has gotten much quieter. I actually was wearing it when I was doing axe testing and forgot it was on my wrist because it’s so light.
After I realized I was still wearing it I thought I may have broken it because it was noticeably quieter, but even after lots of wood chopping, axe throwing, and pickleball, it runs just as well as brand new. It actually keeps a little better time now than it did when I first strapped it on (as many automatics do). They sometimes need a little break-in period.
It has all the bases covered: stainless steel case, sapphire, screw-down crown and caseback, and it even comes with quick-release straps. If your wrist is on the smaller side, this guy will be for you. It’s officially a 40mm diameter, but with almost no bezel, it looks a little smaller than it is.
Vaer is another Swiss made / American assembled brand, which you can pay a premium for considering some other options out there. However, all in all at $450, your money is well spent. The packaging is exceptional and you really feel like you’re buying into an entire adventure experience. I think these watches will make great gifts because of the backstory of Vaer, the packaging, and, of course, the quality.
Aquatico Super Charger
As I looked through my watches to pick out the most durable, I almost forgot the Super Charger. Not because it couldn’t cut it, but because I had loaned it to my son….out of sight, out of mind. This list wouldn’t be complete without it.
Crafted from a solid chunk of CuSn8 bronze and cut into a square shape, the Super Charger has a look all its own. Being bronze, it will get a few slight dings, but it is actually very scratch resistant. Also, the strength comes from the density of the bronze. It’s harder than iron and very resistant to corrosion. Not all bronze watches are created equal, though, and Aquitco went with a more pure mix.
As for durability, the Super Charger is right up there with the rest. It’s a rugged piece that is constructed very well to stand up to not just hard use, but has a 1,000M water resistance rating, definitely nothing to laugh at.
For the movement, you will find a 24 Jewel, SW200 inside. In my past experiences, the SW200 is able to really handle knocks and bumps and still keep accurate time. Combine the rugged movement with the bulky case and you have a timepiece ready for almost any adventure.
A few things put this watch over the top (besides its reasonable $499 price): the tritium tubes on the dial, the silky smooth screw-down crown, and the heavy-duty Horween leather strap. A flat piece of sapphire with plenty of anti-reflective coating sits on top of the emerald dial.
This one is as unique in looks as it is in toughness.
Seiko Prospex “Street Series” SBDY061
I decided to add this Seiko to the list also. I considered whether or not I needed to add another Seiko to the list, but I have found myself grabbing this watch more often than not for doing chores and work around the house. On a recent weekend where we were taking out stumps, planting shrubs and building a small deck, I looked down at my sawdust covered wrist to see the Seiko “Urban Tuna,” as I call it, and realized that this too was a beast of an automatic watch.
Obviously, we find a Seiko movement inside, but we also get that metal Tuna shroud which really makes this guy able to withstand the knocks and bumps of the real world. Seiko has several colorways in the “Street Series” line, but I found this gray dial one to be my top pick. It comes on a very nice rubber strap, but you can see from my pictures that I have already changed it out.
Most Seiko Tuna watches are quite large, but this one comes in at just under 44mm. However, I find it wears much smaller because of the position of the lugs. My only gripe is that it has 20mm lugs. For such a “do anything” watch, I think 22mm would have been more fitting.
Other Seiko Options:
As you have read through my picks, it is easy to see that it’s not just the movement inside that makes a watch durable. The overall construction and design really comes into play. The weakest point on any watch has to be the spring bars, it really is amazing that such little inexpensive things are holding such high dollar watches on our wrists.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his clients websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.