A reader asked me to recommend a good, tough watch that was also a good value – a real bulletproof bargain. This is the sort of challenge I love. The question actually raises a host of other questions. Is "toughness" measured by shock resistance, pressure resistance, longevity, or some combination of the these? How much do you want to spend? How will you use your watch? After all, commercial divers, coal miners, and astronauts all have tough jobs, but their different environments require different attributes. Your toughness may vary, but here is a selection of different styles in a range of prices to get you started.
If I were buying a watch that would really have to take physical abuse, I would choose a quartz movement because they are highly shock resistant, unaffected by magnetism, and have fewer moving parts to break than a mechanical. With those factors in mind, my first recommendation is the Casio G-Shock. They are cheap, tough as nails, and all the law enforcement and military guys I know swear by them. The GA100L-1A is antimagnetic, rated for 200m water resistance, and has more complications than you can shake a stick at. Among the techno-wizardry packed into that bulbous 55mm plastic case is a world timer, 4 alarms, a 1/1000 second stopwatch, a countdown timer, 12/24 hour formats, and a calendar programmed to the year 2099. Best of all, it is dirt cheap. It lists for $99 but you can grab one for as little as $66 through WalMart.com and beat it like a rented mule.
If you have more conservative tastes or if just need a watch that you can wear in civilized settings too, I'd suggest a Citizen Eco-Drive dive watch. Eco-Drive quartz movements use solar cells to charge their long-life batteries (estimated 10 years). I'm partial to the BN0000-04H that I reviewed here. It has a monocoque 40mm case with no rear opening or seal to fail. It lists for $275 but is easy to find online for about $165. I understand it is issued by the U.K. Royal Navy and I can see why: it's inexpensive, has long service intervals, and can venture all the way to Davy Jones' locker – or at least the first 300m of it.
Divers aren't the only tough mothers around. A good tactical watch will see you though some rough stuff too. The ArmourLite IsoBrite ISO100 Valor packs a Swiss Ronda 715Li quartz movement, 10-year lithium battery, and bright T-100 tritium tubes into its 47mm case. Tritium tubes ensure a steady glow all night, every night, with no need for a light source to charge them. The watch has a sapphire crystal and is rated for 200m. The matte black polycarbonite case keeps it light in your wrist, despite its prodigious size. It sells for $499.
If you want to spend more, Marathon has a good history and are also popular with the military set. Their Search and Rescue Divers Quartz series uses high quality Swiss ETA quartz movements, scratch proof sapphire crystals, and are rated for 300m. The watches run between $560-$1000, depending on size. This Tritium Search and Rescue (TSAR) features tritium tube illumination, a 3 jewel ETA F06 high torque quartz movement, and a classic field watch dial that looks like it is set about mile into that chunky 41mm case. The TSAR lists for $870.
Finally, if you are ready to drop around $2200, Sinn owners swear by the toughness of the UX-series divers. For maximum badassery, get something like the UX EZM 2B Hydro. The case and bezel are Tegimented submarine steel for a surface that is 9x harder than that of untreated 316L stainless steel. The watch has a sapphire crystal with a scratch resistant anti-reflective coating. The movement is a Swiss quartz immersed in an oil filled case. Why? Because the oil makes the case highly pressure resistant and eliminates reflection, fogging, and distortions for easy readability underwater. It also creates an eerily flat effect. Needless to say, you won't be dropping this off at the mall kiosk for a battery change, but at least the battery has a 7-year life! ⬩