The Best Summer Watches

The Best Summer Watches

| 04.25.24

It’s April, folks — and you know what that means: summer is right around the corner. BBQs, lounge chairs, ocean breezes, daiquiris, etc. 

And watches. Why watches? Well, you need to know what time it is, don’t you? How will you make that poolside appointment to do nothing all day? (Or, more importantly, that dinner reservation?) But beyond its more relaxed dress code and leisure scenes, the summertime mercury rise causes many of us to swap out our more serious, leather strap-clad dress watches for horological fare more sporty, fun, and colorful.

Are you obliged to wear a different watch during the summer than you are during the winter? Heck, no! But can it be fun? Absolutely. Besides having an opportunity to break out a dive watch, summertime weather and attitudes provides an excellent reason to spring for brighter, more vivid colors — and even white. Got a white ceramic watch, like a pilot’s model from I.W.C, or an all-white G-Shock or Swatch? Watches like these are practically tailor-made for beach BBQ season.

But that doesn’t mean you have to go completely casual. Indeed, luxury sports watches with integrated bracelets are adept at both summertime leisure as well as more formal business scenarios. And simple, time-only pieces as well as military-inspired field watches make for excellent summer wristwear. Really, it’s leather straps that cause discomfort during the summer by virtue of their construction — swap them out for steel bracelets, NATO straps, or perlons, and you can transform all but the most delicate dress piece into the perfect summer watch.

What follows is a selection of some excellent summer watches — divers, sure, but also pilot’s watches, field watches, and more elegant options. Who knows: You might find something you never considered particularly “summery” before that suddenly takes on the aspect of a perfect, t-shirt-friendly companion. 

Seiko Diver 'Skinny Willard' ($2,750)

Seiko Diver 'Skinny Willard' - IN THE SHOP

A successor to the beloved 62MAS and cousin to the ‘Captain Willard’ automatic Seiko divers of the 1970s, the Ref. 6105-8000 features a more wearable 41mm C-shaped case — but still boasts those two watches’ much-appreciated features: namely, automatic winding, a highly legible dial, a useful dive timing bezel, and robust stainless steel construction. No wonder so many G.I.s and frogmen wore Seiko dive watches just like this one during the Vietnam War — they were precisely the tools needed to survive life in the field. 

Tudor Black Bay 41 ($2,850)

Tudor Black Bay 41 - IN THE SHOP

Tudor’s Black Bay collection, while inspired by historical models from the brand’s back catalog, is a modern masterpiece — whether you’re looking for an everyday watch, a capable diver, or a hard-wearing chronograph, it can deliver the goods. This model, a Black Bay 41, is perfect for summertime fun. Dressy enough to accompany you out to a nice dinner while perfectly capable of a dip in the pool, its stainless steel case and bracelet can easily be washed clean of water and sweat. Available in multiple sizes, this silver 41mm version is excellent for larger wrists.

Sinn 756 Chronograph ($3,500)

Sinn 756 Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

Leave it to the good folks at German brand Sinn to conceptualize a tough-as-nails chronograph that you can beat up like a dive watch without so much as a second thought. Housed in a 40mm stainless steel case with a matching bracelet, its “tegimented” coating imparts a matte-like appearance and ensures heightened resistance to nicks and scratches. Meanwhile, an automatic Valjoux 7750 movement powers a useful chronograph on a tactical-looking dial. 

Cartier Panthère ($4,650)

Cartier Panthère - IN THE SHOP

Maybe you don’t think of a 27mm stainless steel Cartier dress watch as a casual, sun-drenched option — but that’s exactly the beauty of this particular model: A Panthère reference WSPN0007, its stainless steel construction and matching bracelet renders it much more wearable during hot summer days, but its handsome ‘Roman’ dial and blued-steel ‘sword’ handset mean its still perfectly appropriate for more formal environments. 

Norqain Independence Wild ONE ($4,950)

Norqain Independence Wild ON - IN THE SHOP

We invite you to look around for a similarly constructed watch for similar money — but we don’t think you’re gonna find one. The Norqain Independence Wild ONE is a 42mm forged carbon adventure watch with a case consisting of 25 distinct components, including a rubber shock absorber and a titanium movement cage. Its openworked dial, meanwhile, reveals the impressive, automatic Norqain NN21 movement beating within, while a turquoise blue rubber strap reflects accents in the mid-case and dial.  

DOXA Sub 300T Professional 'Aqua-Lung' ($5,950)

DOXA Sub 300T Professional 'Aqua-Lung' - IN THE SHOP

Nothing quite says “summer” like a vintage diver — and nothing quite really says summer like a vintage Doxa! This Sub 300T Professional ‘Aqua-Lung’ from the 1970s, with its signature orange dial, no-decompression bezel, and beads-of-rice bracelet, would certainly check enough boxes, but this particular model’s sale via Jacques Cousteau's US Diver's brand makes it that much cooler. Strap this guy on for a week by the water and never look back.

Breitling Chronomat Automatic 36 'South Sea' ($7,500)

Breitling Chronomat Automatic 36 'South Sea' - IN THE SHOP

Searching for that famous "rainbow" look that seems to be everywhere in watches these days? This cool Chronomat Automatic 36 'South Sea' will give it to you. While its gem-set bezel is busy catching strangers' eyes, the chronometer-certified, automatic movement within will be busy keeping excellent time, and the bullet-style bracelet providing hours of comfort during the hot dog days of summer. (Plus, at 36mm, it's a perfect watch to share with your partner.)

Panerai Luminor 1950 Pangaea Limited Edition ($9,500)

 Panerai Luminor 1950 Pangaea Limited Edition - IN THE SHOP

While much of Panerai's contemporary output doesn't belong anywhere near the water, this Luminor 1950 Pangaea Limited Edition from the 2010s is most definitely made to plumb the depths. In addition to standard timekeeping functionality, it also boasts an analog depth gauge around the dial periphery, making it an appealing, dual-purpose tool for the serious diver. (Thankfully, at 47mm in diameter, it's crafted from titanium!)

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Ceramic Chronograph GMT ($18,700)

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Ceramic Chronograph GMT - IN THE SHOP

While the prevailing wisdom is that white is the ideal, sun-reflecting summer shade, this black ceramic Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Ceramic Chronograph GMT is simply too cool to relegate solely to cold-weather wear. With its record-breaking design and useful combination of both chronograph and GMT functionality, it's an excellent summertime travel watch — light as a feather, and cool as can be. 

Patek Philippe Aquanaut ($57,900)

Patek Philippe Aquanaut - IN THE SHOP

What began its life as a special anniversary version of Gérald Genta's prized Nautilus subsequently morphed into its own collection, called "Aquanaut." This example, with its signature, embossed dial design in anthracite grey, is an ideal everyday companion for when the mercury rises. Paired to a rubber strap and housed in an easy-wearing 38mm case, it's become a classic model for good reason.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ($68,850) 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

The dark blue Grand Tapisserie dial of this handsome Royal Oak Chronograph already speaks of summer, but there's so much more to love about this contemporary take on yet another of Genta's famous designs: Its in-house, automatic movement, its octagonal chronograph pushers, its white gold indices and rhodium-toned subdials, all of which contribute to the making of a timepiece that is much more than the simple sum of its parts.