The 12 Best Tool Watches

Mar 27, 2020

Category: Gear

First and foremost, watches are intended to allow wearers to quickly and easily discern the time. If a watch doesn’t tell the time, simply put, it’s not a watch. But that’s not all they have the potential to do. As most folks know, watches are also widely considered style staples. And some have even more functionality than that built right in.

It’s these multi-functional watches that concern us today. Broadly known as “tool watches,” the category includes any timepiece intended to do something other and/or more than simply telling the time. From those that track multiple timezones to those equipped with rotating dive timer bezels to high-tech fully-featured smart devices, these are the 12 best tool watches you can buy.

What Is A Tool Watch?

More Than Time-Tellers

There are a lot of different watch types out in the world. Thankfully, the phrase “tool watch” does not actually refer to a separate specific kind of timepiece. In fact, it’s a whole lot simpler than that — to the point that you might actually already own one and not know it. You see, “tool watch” is actually a more generic term that describes a watch that does something useful other than simply telling the time. If you’re keeping up, that means any watch that performs a function besides gauging the passing of hours, minutes, and seconds could be considered a tool watch — including dive watches, racing or pilot watches with tachymeter bezels, GMT watches, survival watches, and even modern smartwatches. For reference, the aforementioned list doesn’t even cover half of the different types of tool watches out there.

There is a small problem with this, however. Since there’s not really an official definition, it can be difficult to pin down what, exactly, marks the difference between a tool watch and one that doesn’t qualify. That also means there are different interpretations of the term. For instance, some folks would suggest that a tool watch can’t be overly expensive, as a luxury watch seems inherently unlike functional tools. Similarly, if you’re clever enough, you may realize that a standard time-telling watch with absolutely no extra built-in complications or functions can actually be used for a number of tasks that aren’t related directly to telling the time — like working in conjunction with the sun as an ad-hoc compass. For our purposes, we’re going to keep it simple: if a watch is intended by the manufacturer to do something other than tell the time, it qualifies.

Casio G-SHOCK GW9400-1 Rangeman

By definition, pretty much every single G-SHOCK watch fits under the “tool watch” umbrella. That being said, the Master of G Rangeman you see here is amongst the best. Equipped with the brand’s legendary toughness and shockproofing, this digital quartz watch was designed to survive some of the harshest conditions in the world. It can also detect altitude, barometric pressure, temperature, and has a built-in compass. It can even tell you when sunrise and sunset are, can record time with just the push of a button, and so much more. It’s not the priciest watch around, but it’s got one of the most comprehensive suites of features around.

Type: Survival
Movement: Quartz
Case: Resin & Stainless Steel

Purchase: $181

Leatherman Tread Tempo

Of all the watches on our list, the Leatherman Tread Tempo is undeniably the one that most closely fits the tool designation in the most traditional sense. And that’s not because of the timekeeper itself, but rather the included DLC-coated 17-4 stainless steel link band. That’s because the band is actually a customizable series of links, all featuring alternative built-in functions ranging from hex wrenches to drivers and more. Better still, the rear of the case comes with a removable link tool so you can swap out link modules as you need them, so you can craft the perfect multi-tool watch for whatever job you need. Of course, on top of that, the actual watch is powered by a reliable Swiss quartz movement — good for five years of operation — and boasts 200m waterproofing. For the most literal definition of “tool watch,” go no further.

Type: Multi-Tool
Movement: Quartz
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $312

Suunto 7 Smartwatch

Suunto has been one of the brands spearheading the outdoor smartwatch movement for quite some time. In fact, their catalog of offerings is amongst the best out there. That didn’t change in the least with their latest release, the Suunto 7. If anything, it only became more apparent. Capitalizing and expanding upon what their previous releases already did well, this smartwatch runs on a Google-powered OS, comes with a whopping 70+ built-in sport tracking modes — so you can keep tabs on your progress no matter what athletic activity you prefer — has a full-color touchscreen display with built-in GPS, and can even download offline maps for navigating when you’re not connected to data. If you prefer your tool watches to be more like high-tech fully-loaded toolboxes, the Suunto 7 is definitely worth checking out.

Type: Outdoor Smartwatch
Movement: Wear OS By Google
Case: Glass Fiber-Reinforced Polyamide

Purchase: $499

Luminox ICE-SAR Arctic 1202 Watch

In case you are unfamiliar, Luminox is actually the official watch partner of Iceland’s Search & Rescue squats — AKA ICE-SAR. And the icy waters of the Arctic require some pretty tough equipment, like the Luminox ICE-SAR Arctic 1202 watch you see here. Boasting a stainless steel case and Swiss-made quartz movement, this watch was made to survive some of the harshest conditions in the world. It’s also water-resistant to 200m, has self-illuminated indices and hands that will stay bright in any light for up to 25 years, a bi-directional rotating bezel that does double-duty as a sun compass, and even a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. If this watch is good enough for some of the toughest emergency responders in the world, it can handle whatever you throw at it.

Type: Survival
Movement: Quartz
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $845

Ball Engineer II Watch

At first glance, Ball’s Engineer II watch may look more like a standard timekeeper or dress watch — albeit one with some interesting styling, thanks largely to its tritium dial markers that will stay self-illuminated for over a decade. However, appearances can be deceiving because this watch actually hides its secondary function inside its stainless steel case. You see, while this watch doesn’t have any obvious built-in features — besides, perhaps, its 3 o’clock date window — it does have an anti-magnetic movement housing designed to protect this timekeeper ticking accurately, even when surrounded by an electromagnetic field. And while that might not sound super special, it’s abundantly important to anyone working around these EMFs — like engineers at some of the world’s top manufacturing and scientific firms.

Type: Engineer
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $1,650

Garmin MARQ Commander Smartwatch

If, for whatever reason, the Suunto 7 is a bit too pedestrian a smartwatch for your purposes — perhaps because you’re a hardcore outdoorsman or you just prefer mil-spec gear — then the Garmin MARQ Commander should be more than capable. Not only is it exceptionally tough and light for a fully-featured smartwatch — due in part to its DLC-coated titanium case — but it was actually built to mil-spec standards, is equipped to survive extreme temperatures, and even includes a full suite of onboard features you’re not going to find many other places. For reference, that includes things like standard activity and fitness tracking, a HALO jump mode (for skydiving), and even a killswitch that will wipe everything onboard in a pinch. Most people probably don’t need a tool watch as hardcore and loaded with features as this one. Then again, some do.

Type: Tactical Smartwatch
Movement: Garmin OS
Case: DLC Titanium

Purchase: $1,950

Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Garde-Côtes Watch

One of the more unique picks on our list, the Bell & Ross V2-94 Garde-Côtes chronograph watch features a much less common style of bezel that was designed specifically for medical and first responder applications. Called a pulsometer, the markings are meant to help you track a patient’s heart rate and determine if they’re in good condition or if they require immediate medical attention. Of course, outside of that potentially lifesaving addition, it’s also an absolutely gorgeous and effective timepiece with an automatic chronograph movement, a subtle date window, a steel case with an exhibition back, sapphire crystals on both sides of the case, and SuperLuminova low-light markings for visibility at all times.

Type: Medical
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $4,600

Breitling Superocean Automatic 46 Watch

One of the most classic tool watch categories around, dive watches are staples of style just as much as they are useful seafaring tools. And Breitling’s Superocean Automatic 46 is undoubtedly amongst the best of them. Not only is it a beautiful timepiece, but it features a super-tough black-finished steel case, a glare-proof cambered sapphire crystal, a two-gasket screw-down crown, and a dual timezone automatic mechanical movement. Of course, none of that would mean much if this wristwatch couldn’t handle the ocean. Thankfully, with waterproofing that’s good for depths of up to 2,000 meters, this watch is uniquely suited to SCUBA diving.

Type: Dive
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $4,850

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Watch

At first glance, Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional watch looks like a handsome, albeit fairly standard chronograph. However, if you know the history behind it, there will be no doubt that this is one of the most superb tool watches around. You see, this is the modern descendent and namesake of the very watch NASA chose to send on all six lunar missions (and then some). Worn by spacefaring greats including Neil Armstrong (though he left his on the lunar module when walking on the moon), Buzz Aldrin, Ed White (completed the first American spacewalk), etc, this watch has an abundance of history supporting its claim to a spot on our list. Of course, it’s also remarkably handsome, has a reliable automatic movement onboard, features a tachymeter rotating bezel, and is available in an abundance of different colorways and styles.

Type: Astronaut
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $5,350

TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph Watch

As mentioned, “tool watch” is a pretty flexible term. And we’d argue that even something as seemingly commonplace as a chronograph — which function like stopwatches and/or timers courtesy of sub-dials and pushbutton functionality — qualifies. And if we’re going to pick any one chronograph to represent the lot of them, it makes sense to pick TAG Heuer’s racing-inspired Monaco — the same watch seen on the wrist of film legend Steve McQueen (both on and off-screen). Of course, there are also even more reasons this one deserves a spot. For instance, it was the first-ever square waterproof automatic chronograph in the world. It also has an exhibition back, so you can revel at its revolutionary calibre 11 movement within. And if you, for some reason, don’t like the original colorway, they also make it with a Gulf livery-inspired color scheme.

Type: Racing Chronograph
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $6,150

Rolex GMT-Master II Watch

GMT functions — short for Greenwich Mean Time — on watches are some of the most clever, elegant, and simple additions to any watch. And you can see their brilliance in full swing within the iconic Rolex GMT-Master II right here. You see, while most of this watch functions as a normal timekeeper — including its date window at the 3 o’clock position — it also has a secondary 24-hour hand, along with a rotating 24-hour bezel, that allows the wearer to track a separate secondary timezone at-a-glance. Ideal for folks that frequently travel between two specific timezones, this watch has been a jet-setting staple for years. It also features a proprietary Oystersteel case, a self-winding automatic movement, a signature jubilee 5-link bracelet, a Cerachrom bezel, and so much more.

Type: GMT
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $9,700

IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph

For jet-setting world travelers, the most useful mechanical watch on this list is undoubtedly going to be IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph you see here. And while its chronograph movement and date window are certainly contributing factors to its usefulness, the primary bezel function is the real star of this show. That’s because it’s a rotating worldtimer — meaning it is printed with the names of specific locales (be that cities, countries, islands, etc.) and can be rotated to ensure you can tell the correct time in said locales no matter which timezone you happen to be in at the time. It’s a simple addition, yet it is remarkably useful for anyone who needs to know different timezone hours around the world. Plus it boasts a beautiful combination of stainless steel and leather, has an automatic movement, and is even water-resistant to 6 bar.

Type: Worldtimer
Movement: Automatic
Case: Stainless Steel

Purchase: $11,900

The 40 Best Watches For Any Budget

As far as available watch types out there, this collection is only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever your style preference and/or cash flow, you’re certain to find something for you on our list of the best watches for any budget.

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