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Published May. 5, 2022

Quartz watches have been a mainstay of timekeeping since the late 1970s because they’re extremely accurate, very low maintenance, and affordable. Unlike a mechanical watch, a quartz watch is battery-powered, so instead of constantly winding it, you change the battery every few years. Today, the best quartz watches are solar-powered. 

Solar technology has improved significantly over the years. Instead of only having an unsightly black grid as an option, you’ll find solar panels hidden in ornate dials that even charge under artificial light, so you can find a solar-powered watch that looks great and never quits. In this article, we rolled up our sleeves, scoured the jewelry stores, and tried out some watches to find the best solar watches available.

Methodology

I’m an experienced watch collector who has written multiple articles about the subject. I’ve written extensively about dive watches and aviation watches. On top of that, if you browse the Task & Purpose library, you’ll find several more watch-buying guides covering topics like running watches, survival watches, and even the best tritium watches

To find the best solar-powered watches, we bought and wore a variety of solar watches as well as collected input from other watch owners. We relied on people who buy solar watches not just because they want them, but because they know watches. These are people like “Shane,” the host of the trusted watch review channel Relative Time.  

In our effort to find the best solar watches, we tested watches for their ability to keep time, and we judged appearance and design by comparing them to luxury watches and how they fit on the wrist. We also gave consideration to watches with original designs or unique features if they also satisfied the other criteria. With that said, in this article you’ll find the best watches that use a solar movement, no matter who you are.
Like most of our buyer’s guides, we used a combination of hands-on testing and crowdsourced information to deliver a comprehensive product list. For more information on methodology, check out our editorial guidelines for reviewing the latest and greatest in gear and technology.

Although it’s relatively unknown outside of Japan, the Casio Oceanus is a hidden gem in the world of solar power watches. The Oceanus brings a beautiful styling that’s on par with luxury watch brands, but it costs half the price. Top it off with super-accurate timekeeping, a sapphire crystal, and enough water resistance to take with you during most activities, and you’ve got a watch that will work for nearly everyone. Sure, it’s “just a Casio,” but it’s a Casio like you’ve never seen before.

This is the first time that I’ve looked at a Casio-branded watch and legitimately been in awe of the appearance, due in no small part to the masterful finishing on this watch. Getting steel to a mirror polish is no small feat, and there are watch companies out there that would gladly charge thousands of dollars for this level of finishing, but Casio prices it at only a few hundred bucks. The outstanding materials continue into the guts of the watch, which offers a gorgeous blue sunburst dial that plays with the light while also concealing a solar cell, which is then set off by hands and indices with mirror polished edges, giving them a knifelike appearance.

The watch is also super accurate, not only because of the quartz movement, but because this watch self-corrects, either by syncing to a multi-band atomic clock signal, or to your mobile device’s Bluetooth, allowing the watch to set itself based on GPS time. The app also allows you to see how much battery life the watch has, how often it’s corrected itself, and what time zone it’s set to. Finally, especially for a dressier watch, the Oceanus has fantastic luminescence on the markers that lasts for a long time and is fittingly ice-blue to match the dial color.

In spite of all this amazing detailing, fantastic technology, and brilliant design, the Casio Oceanus will impress nobody, and that’s because it says right there on the dial: “Casio.” Unfortunately, people will fixate on the fact that you bought a watch that costs a few hundred dollars from a brand that will also sell you a $10 F91W, and there’s no getting past that. It’s also a quartz watch, and many watch snobs look down on that, especially at this price point. The stock clasp isn’t great either, with only two points of micro-adjust, meaning that you won’t be able to get the exact fit you want unless you purchase another clasp and figure out how to swap them.

This is a hard watch to complain about, and that’s why the complaints I have boiled down to “people will judge your watch because it says Casio.” This is a great watch, and that’s why it’s on our list as the best overall solar watch of 2022.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Radio- and Bluetooth-synchronized quartz
  • Stated accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month without radio or Bluetooth sync
  • Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire
  • Case material: Stainless steel
PROS

Beautiful styling

Unbelievably accurate timekeeping

Space-age materials

CONS

“Just a quartz watch”

Stock clasp isn’t great

No brand cachet

Shocker, the best value solar watch on a military-focused website is a G-Shock. And, for my next groundbreaking discovery, water makes things wet. The Casio G-Shock is a watch that needs little introduction, being the standard by which all other digital watches are judged. In this case, the famous Casio “Square” G-Shock is also the standard by which all solar digital watches are judged. This watch not only features solar-charged batteries that last 10 months without needing to contact light, but also features radio-calibrated timekeeping, meaning that this is also a very accurate watch. There’s a good reason why the G-Shock is the military solar watch that’s stood the test of time for decades.

The G-Shock is known as the unbreakable watch, and that’s for good reason. This thing can take punishment like no other, and when you factor in the relatively low cost, the value proposition is immense for those who are rough on their gear. Furthering that is the main reason why this watch is on this list, which is that unless you’re in the habit of living in unlit subterranean tunnels for 10 months at a time, you won’t have to replace the batteries anytime soon. Combined with the radio-adjusted timekeeping, excellent electro-luminescent backlight, and aforementioned legendary durability, there’s a good reason why the Casio G-Shock is oftentimes the first (and last) watch that a servicemember gets.

The downside of the G-Shock is that it’s immediately recognizable as a G-Shock, and G-Shock watches are ugly. It’s a black resin watch that’s completely utilitarian in appearance, so it’s not winning any beauty contest. For a watch to wear in cammies or in the field, it’s a great choice, but wearing this on the weekend is going to, scientifically speaking, look goofy. Finally, while the watch is known for being extremely durable, that doesn’t extend to the crystal that covers the display, and that scratches very easily, being made of little more than standard mineral glass.

This is a fantastic watch that everyone can afford, especially given the features that it offers. It’s not the best-looking watch, but for people who wear watches for form, rather than function, it’s likely one of the best choices on the market. This watch punches well above its weight, so its inclusion as our budget pick was a foregone conclusion.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Radio-synchronized quartz
  • Stated accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month without radio sync
  • Crystal: Mineral glass
  • Case material: Resin
PROS

Durable beyond belief

Military-approved

Affordable for everyone

CONS

Unstylish

Doesn’t dress up well

Scratches easily

Editor’s Choice

This is the most accurate watch ever created. That’s not an exaggeration. The Citizen Caliber 0100 (pronounced zero-one-zero-zero) is a monumental achievement in the science of timekeeping, and now you can own one for yourself. That is, provided that you can pony up the considerable cash. This is a watch that’s understated in its beauty and achievement. It’s a watch that will impress nobody but yourself, and you’ll wear it with pride, knowing what you’ve got.

To the untrained eye, it looks like a standard three-hand quartz Citizen watch, like you could buy at any department store. However, this watch features advanced circuitry that checks the watch’s hands for accuracy and compensates for temperature differences that would affect crystal expansion. It has motors that eliminate the second hand microscopically bouncing when it ticks into place, circuits that stop the hands for a split second in the case of impact, and then resume at the correct time. It also has a quartz crystal that vibrates at millions of vibrations per second, the highest in history.

The features don’t stop internally, either. The case is made out of mirror-polished titanium, notoriously hard to achieve. The second-hand curves downward, for easier reading. The hour markers are polished on the sides and brushed on the top for easier reading in daylight. Every single detail is designed from the ground up to be the most attentive, precise, and truly groundbreaking watch ever, but in a supremely understated package. It’s a classic watch that’s designed to look like any other, not to impress or flex, and there’s a certain beauty in that.

Most people who spend $4,000 or more on a watch want it to look the part, and to most people, this doesn’t. It’s not overly flashy in the slightest, lacking gold, jewels, or a brand name that connotes luxury, and to many, that’s a detriment. This is a nerd watch, meant for someone who read every word of my previous paragraph twice with one hand. You’re not going to get discounts from retailers either, considering that you have to purchase this directly from Citizen, and again, you’ll be spending Omega money on a quartz watch from a Japanese company that’s associated with inexpensive watches for the everyman.

In terms of physical complaints, I suppose the lug width being 19mm rather than a more standard even number like 18 or 20 is a problem, but if you have the money for this watch, you’ve got the money to have a leatherworker make you a veg-tanned, hand-stitched snake leather strap, or whatever it is that strikes your fancy.

If you’re reading this, and you’ve got the money to own a piece of horological history, do so. It’s amazing, and on the one occasion that I saw one in person, I was captivated with the knowledge that I was watching the thing that every solar watch aspired to be: almost perfectly accurate.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Quartz
  • Stated accuracy: +/- 1 second per year
  • Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire
  • Case material: Titanium
PROS

The apex of timekeeping

Beautifully appointed

Stylish in every situation

CONS

Expensive beyond belief for a solar watch

People may still perceive it as “just a quartz watch”

Only available from Citizen directly

You searched for the best solar-powered GPS watch. You knew you were going to get a Garmin. Here we are. The Garmin Tactix 7 Pro is what people think of when they think “Garmin watch” — a large, fully-featured, and not cheap GPS-capable watch that does pretty much everything that a standard watch could do, combined with a smartwatch, combined with various military specific tasks. My colleague Scott Murdock wrote about the Garmin Tactix 7 when it came out, and for good reason: This is the current pinnacle of Garmin’s catalog, and if you want a GPS watch, look no further.

There’s a reason why first lieutenants and staff non-commissioned officers buy Garmin watches. While it’s partially to flex on the junior enlisted and try to look cool, it’s also because they’re legitimately the best solar GPS watches to have. These watches aren’t just some of the best running watches that do contactless payments, fitness tracking, and step counting — they’re also essential military tools that can do things like route planning, relative positioning, altimeter use, ballistics calculations, and more. They’re also rugged, with the new models featuring titanium metal parts, nylon fiber cases, and sapphire crystals, meaning that you can take these almost anywhere you’d take a G-Shock. Finally, with the improvements in solar technology, the Garmin Tactix 7 offers you over a month and a half of constant power, depending on how long you leave the GPS on, temperature, and how strong the sun is.

The downside to this watch is that Garmin watches, especially their upper-end military ones, aren’t exactly small. This means that small men and women will look ridiculous with one on, and even larger individuals will look like they’re wearing a GPS-capable dinner plate. At 51mm wide and 14.5mm thick, these watches are frankly ridiculous. Adding to this user unfriendliness, the straps are proprietary, meaning that you’ll have to purchase them from Garmin, and they’re mostly going to be rubber straps unless you want to pay hundreds of dollars for the nylon straps. This is bad for me because my Garmin and every other rubber-strap watch has given me a nasty rash from trapped moisture. Finally, for anyone tech-unsavvy, the Garmin watches represent a massive learning curve, and even for tech natives like myself, I have to read the manual carefully to harness all the features.

For those who want a tactical wrist-mounted digital companion, the Garmin is the end-all-be-all to have. It’s big, the straps suck, and it’s complicated, but all that comes with a smorgasbord of capabilities that make it optimal for the professional user.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Quartz with GPS synchronization
  • Stated accuracy: GPS time
  • Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire
  • Case material: Fiber-reinforced polymer with titanium bezel and case back
PROS

THE military-standard GPS watch

Does everything you need, and then some

Perfectly suited to daily life, or life in the field

CONS

Very large

Proprietary straps

Steeper learning curve

Best Digital-Analog

Put on your cammie paint, get out your bad Austrian accents, and get to de choppa because this is one of the coolest action-movie watches you’ve never heard of. The Seiko SNJ025 is a reissue of the classic H558 watch worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Commando and Predator, and that was because it was a legit military watch, worn by the real-life men that his characters were supposed to be. The original was taken to the top of Mount Everest and to the bottom of the sea, proving that it was a ridiculously durable watch. In 2019, Seiko re-released this watch with some notable improvements like solar power, which made it one of the best solar movement dive watches, a cinematic cool factor notwithstanding.

The Seiko SNJ025, known to watch aficionados as the “Arnie” after its cinematic host, is a solar dive watch that features a dual-time display. For easy countdowns, time telling, and electronic display illumination, it features a digital display, and for diving, it features analog hands for dive timing, passive illumination, and meeting ISO certification requirements. This is aided by Seiko’s great luminescence, known as Lumibrite, and the unique appearance of the watch’s outer shroud that protects it from impacts. Finally, despite this watch being very wide, it has a short lug-to-lug length, meaning that you don’t have to be Arnold-sized to wear this watch properly. And, if you prefer other colors, the watch comes in a red and blue “Pepsi” bezel, or with modernized styling in OD green or Flat Dark Earth.

The big issue with this watch is that despite its relative wearability, it’s not a small watch in any dimension. This makes it one of the best solar watches for men, or at least large or average men, but for smaller men and most women, it looks comical on the wrist. Another issue is that this watch costs as much as several watches that feature things like sapphire crystals, while this only features mineral glass, under the name “Hardlex.” While sapphire swaps exist, and I’ve put one on mine, that’s extra cost and extra time, and mineral glass at this price point is quickly overstaying its welcome. Finally, Seiko has an issue with quality control in terms of alignment, and the bezel doesn’t always meet the markers, even at the 12 o’clock position, which is frustrating. Make sure you take advantage of return policies if the watch doesn’t meet your standards.

This is the best analog-digital solar watch on the market, simply for the fact that it’s got real cinematic history, while still being attainable and practical for the outdoorsy person. It’s not small, and you have to accept some of the quirks of a Seiko watch, but being able to say, “I’ve got the watch that Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in Predator” is a pretty cool feeling, and I love my personal Arnie.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Quartz
  • Stated accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month
  • Crystal: Seiko Hardlex
  • Case material: Steel with plastic shroud
PROS

A cool watch with cinematic and professional heritage

Dive-certified

Large but wearable

CONS

Very large

Mineral crystal

Seiko jank

If you read my field watches article and felt like there weren’t enough quartz or solar options on the list, this one’s for you. From the brand that arguably leads the charge in solar watch development comes a field watch that just works, and will keep working for a long time, thanks to the solar-powered battery. For someone who wants a watch that’s more classic and stylish than a G-Shock, but that is also capable of hard working conditions, this is the best choice, for a good price. In addition, due to its small size, it means that it’s also one of the best solar watches for women and smaller men.

The Citizen 180 is a great example of how you don’t have to spend a lot on a watch to get accurate timekeeping, good luminescence, and virtually limitless battery life. For less than $200, you’re getting a classic-styled watch with a day-date complication that will fit almost anyone, anywhere. You can even dress it up with a leather strap for wear on the weekends, owing to its relatively simple design that pairs well with nearly everything. The watch is 37mm in diameter, meaning that this watch will fit kids, people of slight build, and those who want a watch with a timeless (pun intended) design.

Unfortunately, being a low-end Citizen watch, this isn’t going to be winning any design awards, being rather plain in appearance. If you want a statement piece, this isn’t it. The stock strap is also uncomfortable, and I found it mildly scratchy on the wrist, which is a fixable problem, but something to consider if you’re planning on buying this. Finally, due to its status as a lower-end quartz watch, the second hand won’t always hit the markers, due to alignment issues.

This is a classic, unassuming utility watch that works for everyone. It’s not pretty, it’s not luxurious, and it’s not flashy, but it’s also not expensive, ostentatious, or a watch that can only be worn in one setting. It fits every capability that a field watch needs, and then some.

Product Specs
  • Timekeeping: Quartz
  • Stated accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month
  • Crystal: Mineral crystal
  • Case material: Steel
PROS

Accurate field timekeeping

Classic dimensions

Affordable

CONS

Unremarkable

Uncomfortable strap

Misses second markers

Our verdict on solar watches

Solar watches are an easy choice for people who want a set-and-forget watch, or a watch that does a lot for less than corresponding automatic watches. All of the watches today have this in common, despite thousands of dollars in price difference, showing that even a small subset of the watch world can be very diverse. The Oceanus is proof-positive that a Casio watch can be beautiful, stylish, and practical. The G-Shock is the budget watch pick of the world over for a good reason, and for the person who wants to own the best of the best, the Caliber 0100 can be yours, for a price.

Key features of solar watches

The largest major feature of a solar watch that sets it apart from all other watches is the solar panel or solar collector. This is usually disguised behind a translucent dial that allows light to filter through and charge the battery. Oftentimes, in direct sunlight, these dial textures will have a purplish hue, or there will be visible solar cells, and this is simply a byproduct of having a solar panel below the surface.

Solar watch pricing

Solar watches span the full gamut of affordability and can cost as much as any luxury Swiss automatic, depending on factors outside the solar charging system itself. At the low end, solar watches will cost slightly more than their simple quartz counterparts, but past roughly $200, the price increases with the addition of things like solid steel bracelets, sapphire crystals, and titanium. Only at the extreme high end, like with the Citizen Caliber 0100, will you find watches that are more expensive because of the solar movement within.

FAQs about solar watches

You’ve got questions. Task and Purpose has answers.

Q: Are solar watches better than automatic watches?

A: Depends on what you consider better. Most are going to be more accurate than automatic watches, simply by virtue of being based around quartz movements. However, many people prefer the novelty of accurate timekeeping through use of springs and gears, so it really is personal preference.

Q: How long do solar watches last?

A: The batteries in solar watches are warranted to hold power for 10 years. However, users have observed that solar watches that are regularly exposed to light retain 80 percent of their battery storage capacity even 40 years after installation.

Q: Can you replace a battery in a solar watch?

A: Yes, but make sure that your watch is taken to a watchmaker who is familiar with that particular brand’s batteries and other requirements. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to find authorized service centers.

Q: Is a solar watch quartz?

A: Yes, what exactly do you think the solar panel is charging?

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