5 of the best Racing Watches for every budget
James Elliott12 July 2021 | 8 min read
Of the many types of watches, there’s something a bit special about a racing watch. Armed with the ability to calculate speed and distance, a specially designed racing watch gives the wearer the ability to track more than just time.
Whilst they’re undoubtedly super functional, racing watches also just look great on the wrist and work exceptionally well in formal situations, thanks to their intricate and specialist designs.
As racing watches have become more and more popular, the good news is that there’s a whole host of different models available to cater for any budget. In this article, we’ll pull out our five favourite racing watches. We’ll include watches that cover all aspects of budget, as well as comparing them on their designs, features and spec.
Start your engines, and let’s go!
What Defines a Racing Watch?
As civilization moved into the 20th century, people across the globe began racing ‘horseless carriages’ for competition. Horseless carriages quickly turned into fully-fledged motor vehicles, and soon the motorsport scene was born.
As racing got more and more popular, there was an increasing need to accurately time those races to determine the overall winner and let the drivers know how fast they were going.
Several well-known watch brands were instantly on the scene, including Rolex, TAG Heuer and Omega. As everyone grappled to make the best racing watch on the market, everyone started to realise racing watches needed to incorporate three key components:
- High-contrast dial. A racing watch has to be easy to ready when travelling at fast speeds. Because of this, the dial needs to be high contrast, and it’s why you see many racing watches combine brightly coloured white/blue/red hands with a plain black dial.
- Chronograph. A racing watch needs to first act as a stopwatch, and for that, a chronograph is a must. Specifically, that chronograph needs to measure seconds with an extended hand that circles the chapter ring so that it can work alongside the final key feature…
- Tachymeter. A tachymeter scale works hand-in-hand with the chronograph to provide a mechanism to calculate speed/distance when you know the correct calculations to use.
So now you know the three features needed for a great racing watch, let’s jump in to look at some of our favourites across a range of fabulous brands!
5 Great Racing Watches
So now you know the three features needed for a great racing watch, let’s jump in to look at some of our favourites across a range of great brands!
What makes it a great racing watch? – A classy black/red/white design make it a very sporty watch, with all the racing features needed, for those on a limited budget.
We start with a watch that ticks all the boxes of a racing watch from a well known and trusted budget brand in Seiko.
At 40mm, the Seiko SSB031 is an excellent size for all wrists. From a construction point of view, the watch combines a good quality stainless steel bracelet and case that feel great on the wrist and makes the watch easy to wear.
The black dial is paired with a combination of white and red markings, which make the watch super easy to read and create a really nice sporty look and feel. The tachymeter around the dial is easy to read, especially when used with the bright red second’s hand, which drives the second’s portion of the chronograph.
The movement inside the watch is Quartz powered, so you know it’s super accurate and will last a while, thanks to the battery power. Outside of the purely racing specs, you also get a date window in the bottom right, 100m of water resistance and a hardlex crystal to keep the watch from scratches.
Price-wise, the Seiko SSB031 can be picked up for around $185. If you’re looking for a good quality racing watch from a respected brand, this piece from Seiko really is a no brainer, especially for those on a limited budget.
What makes it a great racing watch? – All the features a racing watch needs, all wrapped up inside a classy and simple package.
Bulova is a brand known for creating smart and trendy watches, and their Lunor Pilot date model is no exception. At 45mm, it’s a fairly sizable watch but is made to seem smaller thanks to the thickness of just 13.5mm and the interchangeable leather and nylon slimline straps.
The watch itself goes for a simple black and white finish with the tachymeter incorporated into the dial itself to further add to the overall slick design. Of course, you have all the features here to operate as a racing watch, with the chronograph delivering great time tracking functionality.
All of this fine work on the dial is protected by a premium sapphire crystal whilst being powered by Bulova’s high-performance UHF quartz movement. While this won’t appeal to fans who want an automatic movement, it’s worth remembering the accuracy Quartz delivers, which is vital for keeping perfect racing time.
With the step-up in movement quality, design specs, and build quality, the Bulova 96B251’s price point increases to around $450. This is still a great price for a classy racing watch that will look as good in the sports car as it will match with a suit on a formal occasion – a strong recommendation from us!
What makes it a great racing watch? – One of the world’s most popular racing watches, combining style and a high-quality movement from an original racing brand.
You can’t get very far into any racing watch comparison without TAG Heuer’s Formula 1 getting mentioned. Given TAG’s long history in racing, it’s no surprise they have one of the best race watches on the market either.
The particular model featured below (CAZ1014.BA0842) combines an electric blue/orange design combo that’s great for tracking time and creates a fresh and light look and feel. The 43mm piece combines all the factors needed in an excellent racing watch with the tachymeter bezel clear and easy to read.
The watch sticks with a quartz movement here too, whilst combining other more premium features in a sapphire crystal, 200m of water resistance and a fine-brushed stainless steel bracelet.
This is the first watch we’ve featured that fits into the ‘premium Swiss’ bracket, and as such, the starting price is much higher than the Seiko and Bulova we’ve featured previously. Retailing at around $1,600, the Formula 1 is a watch for those on a mid-market to premium budget but is well worth it for one of the best and most loved racing watches on the market.
What makes it a great racing watch? – The Omega Speedmaster is one of the most well-known racing watches in the world and a favourite for those premium watch fans.
While many people may know Omega best for their dive watches, the luxury brand actually has a lot of history in the racing world. The Speedmaster makes our list as it’s one of the most popular and classy racing watches on the market.
By moving onto Omega, we start to see a different level of race watch timekeeping. It’s the first watch in our collection that utilises an automatic movement to deliver speed/distance tracking thanks to the supreme accuracy and reliability of the Omega calibre 1861 movement.
A sleek black and white finish make the watch a classy piece to wear formally as well as for racing (much like the Bulova we saw earlier) with the leather strap comfortable on the wrist.
As expected, there’s a range of premium finishes here, too, with features such as a Hesalite crystal, aluminium detailing and rhodium plating, adding the premium finish to a high-end watch.
As you can imagine, all that luxury comes at a cost. An Omega Speedmaster will set you back around $5,350 brand new, with prices not dropping much for a pre-owned model thanks to the high demand. But, if you can get your hands on a Speedmaster, you won’t just have an amazing racing watch but a truly awesome piece of Swiss engineering.
What makes it a great racing watch? – A watch that combines all the features a racing watch needs (including a great tachymeter) from the best watch brand in the world.
Well, it wouldn’t be a racing watch article without mentioning the Daytona, would it? Most watch categories have a Rolex watch that defines them, and for the race watch world, the Daytona is an absolute classic. In fact, it may just be the most popular and sought after Rolex of them all.
The 40mm Daytona creates the perfect easy-to-read contrast with its black dial and white/silver markings that fit in perfectly with the large steel tachymeter on the bezel. The dial features a number of chronograph dials for tracking time, but of course, the seconds hand works with the tachymeter to allow for speed/distance tracking.
Given it’s a Rolex, you know the Daytona is just packed with premium features. Inside the case, you’ll get a calibre 4130 movement which is highly accurate to +/- 2 seconds for over 72 hours. Outside the case, a sapphire crystal is standard with a screw-down crown contributing to 100m of water resistance.
As with all Rolex models, getting a clear idea of the price is never easy. A list price from Rolex puts the Daytona at $13,150, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever get a model directly from Rolex due to the long wait times. Because of that competition, in reality, you’ll be paying around $30,000 to get your hands on the latest Daytona model.
No matter what way you look at it, it’s a very steep price. But, it’s arguably the most desired and overall the best racing watch on the market and, given it’s a Rolex, the value will hold long into the future. So, it’s hard not to recommend the Daytona as a great racing watch option if you can afford it.
Since motor racing began, having a watch that can help you keep track of speed and distance has been essential for drivers. Luckily in 2021, there’s a whole range of different race watches that combine an easy to ready design with chronograph and tachymeter features.
If you’re in the budget range, check out brands like Seiko, Citizen, Tissot and Bulova, who all do fantastic watches at this price point above the ones we’ve featured today. If you’re looking for something more premium, TAG, Omega and Breitling have various fantastic models to suit different tastes.
We’ve pulled out five of our favourites today, but do shop around as there are hundreds of different models on the market. One thing we guarantee is that you will eventually find the perfect race watch for you!
Cover Image Credit – Man of Many