The 10 Best Solar Watches
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in December of 2016. Changing the battery in a watch can be a pretty big pain, especially if you need particular tools or the help of a professional jeweler to do it. With a solar watch, your timepiece will draw all of its power from the Sun or even from ambient light sources. They come in a wide variety of styles for just about any budget level, so you're sure to find something that's right for you. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
June 04, 2019:
Casio's G-Shock Gravity Master snuck into the top spot in this round of evaluations, unseating the very fine Citizen Promaster Navi Series. The change came down to the fact that the Citizen model's slide rule bezel, though historically quite a nice touch, isn't all that useful in modern times, and its presence is distractive enough to make reading the time take a split second longer than it does on the Casio. Casio's Hybrid Wave Ceptor could arguably have taken that top spot, as it's even more legible than the Gravity Master, but ultimately it was difficult to justify the difference in price, making the Gravity Master a smarter buy. Casio did have a little slip in the positioning of their retro 1JF model, as its negative LED readout continues to be an incredibly divisive feature. Sliding in at number eight is a solar quartz offering from Orient, a company that's been making a lot of noise in recent years with their lines of affordable automatic watches, and whose Rolex homage is a great alternative for people without dozens of thousands of dollars to spend.
A Brief History Of The Solar Watch
Photovoltaic cells appeared in the mid-19th century, though they were nowhere near the size or efficiency required of todays solar panels and watches.
It may not be readily apparent when you behold the modern styling of a contemporary solar watch, but we’ve been relying on the power of the sun to help us tell the time for thousands of years. That may seem like a ridiculous claim, especially when you consider the fact that the watch as we know it wasn’t developed until the 15th century. We’re not exactly talking about watches, here, however; we’re talking about sundials.
In its essence, the sundial is the first solar watch, as it used sunlight as a means of telling time. Of course, these devices, which reach back at least as far as 1500 B.C.E., don’t have any gears to speak of, nor can you conveniently wear them on a chain or around your wrist. The other big problem with sundials is that they have a lot of trouble performing at night. Unlike solar watches, they can’t continue to use the sun’s energy after it has set.
As we mentioned above, the watch as we’re more familiar with it came along in the 15th century, and more closely resembled a pocket watch than a wrist watch. The complications inside of a watch — that’s actually what all the little gears and such are called — became smaller and more numerous as craftsmen honed their skills at creating accurate timepieces.
Still, these owners of these early watches relied on the sun to help them keep their timepieces accurate. These old pieces had to be wound to maintain their spring action, and they all drifted away from second-by-second accuracy at different intervals. There was one moment of the day when people could generally agree on the time, however: high noon. When the shadows of people, buildings, and horses all but disappeared under the sun’s position directly above them, folks would all set their watches to 12.
Photovoltaic cells appeared in the mid-19th century, though they were nowhere near the size or efficiency required of todays solar panels and watches. It wasn’t until the 1970s that watch manufacturers began to use small solar arrays to supplement the power of their digital watches. Then, in the 1990s, Citizen introduced its Eco-Drive system, a watch with a solar panel beneath a translucent face. This development is largely responsible for the surge in watches available today that make use of total or partial solar power, and many have evolved to the point that they can create and store battery power from artificially generated light.
Your Wrist Only Gets To Wear One Watch
To be clear, your wrist only gets to wear one watch at a time. There’s nothing stopping you from investing in each and every watch on our list and rotating them as the occasion dictates. There is, however, something stopping you from wearing more than one watch at once, and it’s called common decency. No fashion icon has yet made it acceptable to wear multiple watches, and unless your name is either Tom Ford or Anna Wintour, it isn’t your job to do so.
So, with all the pressure that comes from knowing you can only wear the one watch, which one will you choose? It’s a tough thing to provide advice for, as a watch is such a personal thing, but there are a few things to consider that can tip the scales between your favorites.
No fashion icon has yet made it acceptable to wear multiple watches, and unless your name is either Tom Ford or Anna Wintour, it isn’t your job to do so.
One of the most important considerations is whether you want to go analog or digital. The fashion of the day among aficionados is decidedly analog, with more and more timepieces informed by the vintages of the early 20th century. As the younger generation ages into the field, however, it’s a safe bet to assume that digital watches will have yet another turn at the top of the fashion heap, though they may ultimately lose out to smart watches.
Your watch band is just as likely to draw the eye as the unit’s face, so make sure it’s in line with both your personal style and with the event you’re attending. If you spend a lot of time in the water, and you opt for a solar powered diver's watch, make sure the band is also waterproof. Fortunately, many watch bands are interchangeable, allowing you to customize look and function as you go.
Speaking of events, there’s a matter of manners for you to consider if you prefer an analog style. If you’re going out for a night clubbing with your friends, this probably doesn’t apply, but if your idea of a night out involves black tie attire and champagne, then listen up: watches with numbers are considered rude at high-class parties. A watch with roman numerals, on the other hand, or, better still, a watch with no numbers at all, is ideal for a fancy event. The idea here is that you’re saying to your hosts and to your fellow guests that you respect them enough to complete your outfit with a watch, but that your time is theirs for the evening.
A Primer On Solar Power
Solar power may seem like a mysterious bit of magic, but its mechanics are actually fairly simple. The heart of a solar cell is made up of two slabs of silicon, one of which is commonly covered (doped, in industry parlance) in boron and the other in phosphorus. Between the two slabs is a small amount of empty space known as the depletion zone. Across the depletion zone, electrons scurry to complement the needs of either side, filling in holes where electrons are missing, or jettisoning electrons where there are too many.
That’s because watch companies experiment with different doping materials other than boron and phosphorus, which may render the cell more sensitive.
When solar energy enters the picture, it knocks electrons loose from this electron handshake, and if a conductive wire is present, you can use this breach to draw electrical energy from the activity.
You may notice that some of the watches on our list don’t actually require solar energy to activate this process. They can draw energy from any light source, even something as simple as a desk lamp. That’s because watch companies experiment with different doping materials other than boron and phosphorus, which may render the cell more sensitive.