Introduced in the 1970s, and mass-marketed by Citizen and their Eco-Drive series, solar powered watches are one of the earliest consumer innovations in renewable energy to hit the worldwide market. Designed either with the watch face built right on top of the solar panel, or with the panel worked neatly elsewhere in the design, a solar timepiece beats its analog counterpart every time.
The hassle of having your watch die on you is especially frustrating when you cannot change the battery yourself, thanks to manufacturer-specific screws prohibiting access to the battery compartment.
Solar powered watches have no such necessities, as the panels charge up the battery meaning no replacements are needed. Some might think that solar power watches means clunky or unattractive designs, but after fifty years of consistent technological improvement and innovation, anyone can find a solar timepiece to suit their aesthetic or functional needs.
Having researched the market, we’ve picked our favorite solar watches to meet your every need.
A smartwatch that exceeds all expectations due to its military-grade functionality, extreme durability and innovative tech. This could well be the best solar powered watch on the market today (it is certainly one of the most popular models), though definitely (and with reason) on the expensive side.
A classy and highly durable watch that takes our pick for best casual wear. Coming from a respectable brand and combining solar power tech, elegance and affordability in an almost seamless manner.
How Do Solar Watches Work?
We’ve all heard of solar panels, but when we picture them we tend to think of the large ones attached to the roofs of houses or arranged in massive field-arrays of hundreds of units, used to generate electricity for the national grid. We don’t tend to think of solar power technology as something which could be fitted inside an object as small as a wristwatch. And yet, in fact, solar powered watches were some of the very first solar powered consumer goods to ever reach the market, and have been around for a lot longer than you are probably aware.
But how do they work? If you’ve ever seen a solar watch, you’ll know that there’s no obvious solar panel, and no need to ever manually charge it. Is it magic? Not quite, but not far off. Basically, between the glass face of a solar watch and its face are two layers of incredibly thin silicon. This silicon is photovoltaic, meaning that (just like the silicon in conventional solar modules) it reacts both chemically and physically in the presence of sunlight. This reaction is called the ‘photovoltaic effect’, and in short converts the power of sunlight into electricity, which is used to charge and keep charged the watch’s battery.
And yet, there’s something quite unique about the solar technology inside these watches. Not only is it powered by sunlight, so too is it powered by any other light source, whether natural or artificial. This is in part due to the fact that so little energy is required to power a watch’s battery. When light photons pass through the first layer of the silicon beneath the glass, they knock electrons from it into the second layer, which already has a surplus of electrons. The process generates electricity when the second layer gets rid of its excess electrons by sending them along a wire into the battery of the watch.
Solar watches never need anything but light to charge, and are built to last an incredibly long time. In theory, their batteries should never need replacing, and provided you don’t break it, you should never need another watch. Many solar watches come with a wide range of additional functionality, other than just timekeeping, including being waterproof, telling the date, in-built alarms, compass, lights, and much more. There are a wide range of solar watches to suit all needs – whether you’re looking for functionality, style, sportswear, or a budget-friendly choice.
Pros and Cons of Solar Watches
Since their introduction to the consumer market in the 1970s, solar watch technology has become increasingly affordable and reliable. Still, it’s always worth taking a quick look at the fundamental pros and cons of any innovative technology, like solar.
- Zero waste. Never having to replace a battery means never having to throw one away when it eventually dies. Reducing your unnecessary waste is not just commendable, but necessary in today’s climate of plastic waste and pollution.
- Accessible. Solar technology is not always this affordable, and can exclude those of us with lighter purses. Thankfully, this is not the case with solar watches. If you’re on a tight budget, you will still doubtlessly be able to find something to suit your style. Of course, if you’ve got the cash to splash, you can find something more decadent, too.
- Reliable. Whilst solar technology still has its faults when used to power homes, businesses, and larger complexes, we’re fairly certain you’ll never experience a charging issue with a solar watch. Some of the products on this list can work for 40 days without light, following one full day’s charge.
- Any light. Unlike most other solar technology, the photovoltaic cells built into solar watches can be charged by any light, whether natural or artificial. This makes them versatile and attractive to the business woman and to the outdoorsman, in equal measure.
- Time adjustment. This is the case for most watches, but it’s still worth mentioning. Solar watches do need the odd time re-adjustment every few months, just to keep them precise. (However, if you invested in an atomic solar watch, you’d never have to worry about this!)
- Functionality over design. Whilst with conventional watches there are so many makers around the world that we’re spoiled for choice, the same is not yet true for solar watches. As such, whilst there is a great variety of styles to choose from, it may still be the case that your particular taste is not represented by what’s on offer.
Best Solar Watches Reviewed
We’ve shown you the best in each category, but what about the rest? Following is a detailed look at what the market has to offer in the way of different kinds of functional, casual and sporty solar watches.
Seiko Men’s SNE032 Two-Tone Stainless Steel Solar Watch
- Brand: Seiko
- Round watch featuring logoed white dial with stick indices
- Quartz movement with analog display
- Water resistant to 30 m (99 ft): In general
For our top pick for casual wear comes a stylish stainless steel with gold enamel. All models are imported from Seiko headquarters in Japan.
Presenting itself as a round watch featuring a white dial with stick indices, luminous hands, and a day/date window at 3 o’clock. It is encased in 37 mm stainless steel case with a Hardlex dial window quartz movement with an analog display. Aside from flashiness, technical qualities include a water resistance of up to 30m (99 ft), though it does not make it suitable for swimming.
This watch is powered by all types of light, no battery change is required. The solar cells offer high performance electricity generation coupled with energy-efficient movement generated power with a long reserve. This casual dress watch is made up of a brushed and polished two-tone, stainless steel case and bracelet that is both snappy and elegant at an exceedingly affordable price.
- All parts imported from Japan
- Stainless steel, quartz and Hardlex dial make for a both fashionable and durable build
- Shelf life of 10 years (advertised)
- Water resistance of up to 99 ft
- Moderately priced
- Day/date has been deemed confusing or prone to malfunction by some customers
- Better intended for small to medium wrist sizes
Casio Men’s GW7900B Solar Atomic G-Shock Watch
- Brand: Casio
- Color: Black/Black
- Solar-powered sport watch featuring atomic time keeping
- Japanese quartz movement with digital display
- Water resistant to 200 m (660 ft)
Another entry from a globally recognized brand, this model from Casio is a solar powered sport watch that owes its to name its precise atomic time keeping. Featuring adjustable world time in 48 cities in 31 different time zones and an EL back-light all encased in highly durable resin.
Additional useful features include a 1/100-second stopwatch, daily alarm with snooze mode, 12 and 24 hour formats a tide/moon graph and day/date/month calendars. The resilience of its build is not limited to its encasing and adjustable bracelet but also a 50 mm resin case with mineral dial window with Japanese quartz movement and a highly intuitive digital display. The bracelet itself is made of a durable resin band with a versatile buckle closure.
The Atomic G-Shock Watch is water resistant up to a whopping 200 m (660 ft) making it suitable for professional marine activity and high-octane surface water sports (water skiing, surfing, kite-surfing, windsurfing, jet skiing and more) but unfortunately not scuba diving.
- Ultra-precise atomic time keeping
- Features adjustable world time of 48 cities and 31 time zones
- Litany of extra features (tide/moon graph, stopwatch, alarm with snooze mode)
- Highly durable build
- Water-resistant up to 660 ft
- Battery life may be lower than advertised
- May not recharge as fast solely on solar power
Casio G-Shock Unisex Solar Watch
- Brand: Casio
- Color: Multi
- Made in the USA or Imported
- Solar Rechargeable Battery
- Full Auto LED Light with Afterglow
- Black IP Stainless Steel & Resin Composite Band
- 200M Water Resistant
As we’ve seen with our previous entry, Casio watches under the G-Shock umbrella are considered by many to be some of the most durable and reliable watches especially for sporting activities. Our top sporty wear choice reflects not only this aspect but could be considered very adequate also for its price convenience and versatility (though geared more towards men, it is advertised as a unisex watch).
Featuring a completely solar Lithium Metal rechargeable battery that is included. Additional features include a powerful full-auto LED light with afterglow and super precise multi-band atomic timekeeping that included the respective time zones of the US, UK, Germany, Japan, China and more. The extremely durable build is made of a black IP stainless steel and resin composite band that offers a water resistance of 200 m (660 ft), meaning practically any sporting activity based on water or land can be done (read the user manual for any limitations).
The dial window is a hardy mineral composition while the dial movement is reliable Japanese quartz. The display is both analog and digital. In relation to the charge, the specs boast that just 8 minutes of direct sunlight (8 hours of artificial light) are enough to power this watch for a full day. Just continuously wear outside and don’t hide it in a drawer for too long and it will always be charged.
- Extremely durable and high-tech composition
- Very high charging efficiency
- Plenty of extra features
- High-tech reliable battery included
- Very good price considering the many features and positives
- Though advertised as a unisex watch it may look bulky on small wrists
- Digital display may be hard to read
Seiko Women’s Two-Tone Stainless Steel Watch
- Brand: Seiko
- Date display
- Overcharge prevention function
- Three-fold clasp with push button release
- Operating for approx. 6 months
- Water resistant to 100 m (330 ft)
Another more casual entry from Seiko. This is a round solar powered watch with elegant a gold tone top ring and a milky white dial that showcased both a date window and gold tone hands/indices. The build features a 25 mm stainless steel case with a Hardlex dial window and Japanese quartz movement with a classic analog display.
The band is made of a highly resistant, brushed and polished two-tone stainless steel band that features a deploying push-button clasp with buckle. Water resistant up to 100 m (330 ft) making it suitable for swimming and even snorkeling but it may malfunction at lower and persistent depths, for example if one goes scuba diving.
This model brings refinement and energy efficiency together due to its long power reserve (can operate for 6 months on a single full charge). 15-30 minutes of sunlight and movement a day can charge it fully. The timing accuracy is also a main feature with a precision of only ±15 seconds per month lost.
- Refined elegant look at an affordable price
- High-quality and water resistant build
- High accuracy and charging
- Bracket sizing of the bracelet is limited
- Small display
Garmin Instinct Tactical Smartwatch
- Brand: Garmin
- Color: Black
- Vastly extended battery life through solar charging
- Built-in 3-axis compass
- Military standard 810
- Power manager
- Dual-position format
From Garmin comes the top of the line for modern solar powered watches, so much so that this watch is built to US 810 military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance. A higher price tag warrants its position as our best premium choice but this is more of a long term investment than a simple time reader. This is simply more than a watch.
This is a beast of a smartwatch incorporating incredibly high-tech such as its built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter, multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) and dedicated tactical features such as the Jumpmaster mode (meaning you can calculate high-altitude release points according to military guidelines), way point projection, dual-position GPS format and pre-loaded tactical activity profiles for surfing, swimming, running, biking, hiking, rowing, strength and more.
Designed for commando missions, this watch enables you to switch between daytime view and nighttime view with a screen designed to be read by night vision goggles or go dark with stealth mode to disable wireless communication and data sharing.
The integrated Pulse Ox system can help monitor your health, heart rate and physical accomplishments during the course of any activity, no matter how high-octane (this is not a medical device and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or monitoring of any medical condition).
All these features and options are highly modifiable and adjustable you can always check on how these settings and sensors impact the Garmin Instict’s battery life, so you can make battery-extending changes on the move. Its solar charge is incredibly effective, with around 10 minutes of sunlight guaranteeing a full charge.
- Top of the line smartwatch intended for military use
- Extremely durable and intended even for extreme activities (from skydiving to swimming)
- Wireless Bluetooth and GPS connectivity
- Unrivaled extra features
- Highly effective solar charging and elevated lifespan
- Can be complicated to use for smartwatch novices
Timex Men’s Expedition Solar Powered Watch
- Brand: Timex
- Expedition Solar technology draws power from any light source
- Water resistance rating of 50 meters or more
- Gray dial with full Arabic numerals; date window at 3 o’clock
Our last pick is an understated and classy solar watch that has excellent solar charging capabilities especially with indoor lights (charged by any light it offers at least a four-month power reserve). An elegant build that seamlessly integrates style and functionality with its adjustable brown stitched 20mm leather strap fits and smooth gray dial with full Arabic numerals and a gunmetal gray 40mm brass case with mineral crystal and luminous hands.
Though seemingly more suitable for a casual or urban sitting, this watch is suitable for any adventure (it has Expedition in the name), the classic analog design of this watch is ruggedly made thanks its durable and natural leather strap, strong resin case, tactical top ring and easy to read dial.
It has a decent water resistance of 50m (165 ft) which makes it suitable for short periods of recreational swimming, but not diving or snorkeling. This is a slick piece at an incredibly affordable price when considering its quality materials and aesthetic value.
- Pleasing understated design
- Functional and highly reliable
- Highly affordable price (lowest on our list)
- Made for medium to larger wrists (consult bracelet size as with any watch)
- Poor light performance in the dark of its hands/indices
Solar Watches Buyers Guide
What are the most important considerations you should make when shopping for a solar powered watch?
With around fifty years of technological innovation in the world of solar power and solar powered watches, it’s no longer so true that the more expensive the product, the better it is. Sometimes you’ll end up paying more for brand than for quality, or for functionality you simply don’t need. The se days you can find an endless range of solar watches from cheap, to affordable, to expensive, and within each price range, ones to suit your needs – whether aesthetic or practical.
You may not be a diver, or even a swimmer, but water resistance is still a necessity in most watches. You don’t want to have to take your watch off every time you go to wash your hands, or find your watch suddenly ruined if you accidentally leave it on in the shower, or spill a glass of water on it. Then, of course, if you are an avid swimmer, or diver, you’re going to need a watch that’s more than just splash resistant. Look for those which are resistant up to 100 metres or more.
A solar watch can hold a range of functions – everything from date keeping, alarms, and luminous arms, to in-built thermometers, barometers, etc., and full-blown shock resistance. At the very least, even if you’re not an adrenaline junkie or the outdoorsy type, you’re going to want to decide on whether you want analog or digital display, the option to set alarms, or a date/calendar section on your watch. And if you are the outdoors type, then deciding on what you want from your watch in terms of elemental protection, durability, water resistance, and additional functions, is extremely important. Do so before you start your search.
Once you’ve asked yourselves all of the above, remember that a watch is more than just a functional timepiece. It is a timepiece you wear as part of your outfit, as jewelry, as a statement of who you are and what you do, and it is a timepiece you’re likely to rarely be seen without. As such, don’t just settle for a solar watch because it meets your standards of functionality, water resistance, and your budget, make sure it also feels and looks right for you.
With all products reviewed and factors, as a more fashionable than utilitarian item the choice of a watch is more of a subjective choice. Some prefer stylish pieces, others opt for improved functionality. We’re going for our premium choice, the Garmin Instict Tactical Smartwatch as it is literally the best of the best when it comes to solar watches at the moment (also ranked on popularity and sales). Its high price should not dissuade solar watch enthusiasts and its durability, high-tech features and additional functionalities are too many to ignore.
Check out our updated Pinterest board with the best solar watches:
No! That’s exactly the pull of these types of watches. They are designed with Lithium Ion batteries which can be constantly and quickly recharged (and which efficiently store sunpower) over and over again. Most solar watches can operate for four months or longer on just one full-charge.
No, in fact solar watches charge under absolutely any light.
Whilst a regular analog or digital solar watch requires manual time setting, and semi-regular resetting, an atomic watch measures and sets time via a radio signal received from the atomic clock in Colorado, USA, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In other words, an atomic watch will never need fiddled with or the time reset, whilst a regular solar watch will.
During Spring and Summer months, you’ve little to worry about, but when it comes to Autumn and Winter, things are a little different. Whilst, as we’ve said, solar watches charge under any light, not just sunlight, it’s more the types of clothes we tend to wear in the colder months which can affect a solar watch’s effectiveness. Long sleeves and heavier materials tend to block out light, so do be conscious to expose your watch to the light during these months, whenever possible.
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