Most people are familiar with the major watch categories. Divers, chronographs, pilot watches – they’re all pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Where things get complicated is when we start talking about dress watches and casual watches. When should you wear a dress watch? What exactly is a casual watch?
Here’s the deal: A casual watch can be almost anything you want it to be. It’s true that a solid gold Audemars Piguet might not make the best companion for hanging out at the bar on a Saturday afternoon, but there’s no reason why you can’t wear one there. In general, though, a casual watch is a no-fuss, everyday timepiece that can be worn without much worry or attention.
Casual watches are typically straightforward in design and attitude. Clean dials, subtle colors, and solid construction over fancy case designs and complications are the name of the game. That’s not to say that they’re simple, or cheap, for that matter, as some of the world’s most popular and expensive watches can be categorized as “casual.”
This can all be quite confusing, because several different types of watches can fall under the casual umbrella. Divers like the Rolex Submariner, pilot’s watches such as the ones from IWC, and even chronographs like the Omega Speedmaster can all be considered casual.
The good news here is that, even though you might not wear a dress watch in a casual situation, you can easily dress down even the fanciest timepiece with a different strap. Watches like the Rolex GMT-Master II or Submariner leave the factory in Geneve on an excellent Oyster bracelet, but it’s absolutely a tool watch accessory and isn’t the most casual in appearance. By changing either of those watches over to a NATO, rubber, or leather strap, the wearer can not only drastically change the appearance of their watch to a much more casual look.
Replacement straps, especially rubber straps, can take a zipped-up or serious-looking watch into a whole new realm of wearability, and it doesn’t have to just be a change made for lazy summer days. Many people have warmed to the idea of using a rubber strap to add a pop of color and a fun attitude to their watches, and the changeover to casual can be almost as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be.
With all of that said, there are still watches in the world that lend themselves best to casual wear. We’ve picked five of our favorites here, but keep in mind that casual is what you want it to be.
No matter which year or generation Submariner you choose, it’s one of the easiest watches to dress down. Granted, its tool watch aesthetic when paired with the Oyster Bracelet are quite casual in their own right, but the Submariner is one of the few Rolex models that works almost as well with a rubber or NATO strap as it does on the factory bracelet.
Pre-ceramic Submariner models can be had with or without drilled lug holes, and with or without a date complication. When the changeover to a ceramic bezel occurred in …, the watch also got was is known as the Super Case. This new design featured heavier lugs and a strong Oyster Case with broad shoulders and a no-nonsense tool watch appeal. Some suggested the move made the Submariner awkward and heavy, but it’s hard to argue with the specs. It’s also hard to deny that the later Submariners look spectacular on a rubber strap or the bracelet. Any Submariner can be worn casually, however, and it makes our list for the best all-around watches today.
Grand Seiko Sport SBGJ237
The SBGJ237 is a relatively new entry to the Grand Seiko lineup, debuting over the summer in 2020. But, it’s got everything a casual watch needs – and then some. The SBGJ237 is, by far, the flashiest watch on this list, but its size, color combinations, and ability to look great on leather or rubber straps make it one of the best casual watch choices. The GMT complication adds a layer of value, as the watch can track three time zones simultaneously. Like many Grand Seiko watches, the SBGJ237 features a solid Hi-Beat movement. The Caliber 9S86 movement brings precision and a long 55-hour power reserve to the table, while offering a pleasing second-hand sweep.
Like ceramic Submariners, the Grand Seiko’s case design gives it an imposing presence on the wrist, but part of what makes it so special is how well it adapts to being worn on a strap – particularly a dark leather or rubber option. The Zaratsu polished case catches plenty of light on its own, so switching out the bracelet for a strap reduces the “bling factor” considerably and makes the SBGJ237 a versatile, do-anything watch.
OMEGA Speedmaster Professional
Yes, a chronograph can be casual, too. The Omega Speedmaster Professional – the original Moonwatch – is a clean, timeless watch with appeal in both formal and casual situations. The dial features a three-register design, but no date window and minimal text. It’s a look that fits just as well with a tuxedo as it does with flip flops. The best part about it is that the Speedmaster is one of the easiest watches to accessorize with a strap.
Omega itself makes a spectacular line of NATO straps that work to transform the Speedmaster into a beach-ready watch with plenty of color. Leather also works well, but no matter the strap or bracelet the Omega Speedmaster Professional is a true everyday watch. Just keep the water resistance in mind. The original Speedmaster can only withstand splashes, such as those from rain or while washing your hands.
IWC Pilot Mark XVII
Pilot’s watches can be hit or miss in the formality department. Some are zipped-up, formal timepieces, but some are rugged and fun. IWC’s timepieces span the entire spectrum, but it’s their most affordable and simplest models that make the best casual watches. This one, the Pilot Mark XVII, is a dead-simple, no-nonsense watch with a versatile design and useful date window.
Perhaps one of the best things about IWC’s straightforward pilot’s watches is that they just work on a variety of straps. This includes NATOs, leather, nylon, and even stainless steel bracelets. All can look great on the IWC, but it retains an elegant but approachable attitude no matter what. The 41mm case also has a water resistance rating of 6 bar, which means the watch can go with you to the beach or pool without complaint.
Panerai Radiomir Black Seal
Panerai’s watches are big and bold, no doubt, but they are undeniably casual. The Radiomir Black Seal’s ability to be a chameleon, working well on a variety of strap choices. This makes it an excellent choice for someone wanting one watch that can do almost anything. The PAM 287 is a big watch, checking in at 45mm, but it’s far from massive or overbearing.
The Black Seal has a unique lug design that allows for easy strap changes. Some of Panerai’s own replacement straps look great, but the Black Seal does well on leather, rubber, and even nylon. Couple that with a 100m water resistance and you’re good to go anywhere, anytime.