What is a Sports Watch?

If you’re looking for a watch to play sports with, you might’ve heard the term ‘sports watch’ being thrown around.

The categories and types of different watches can often be vague. So, what exactly is a sports watch?

Sports Watch Definition

A sports watch is defined as a highly functional, durable and usually water-resistant watch. A sports watch should be easily legible, somewhat shockproof and very resistant to scratches and physical contact.


These aren’t set in stone, and a sports watch doesn’t need to have all of these to be considered a sports watch, but these are the major features of any sports watch.

You should consider which are the most important criteria to you based on the activities you’re going to be needing your watch for and evaluate watches accordingly. 

1. Functionality

This usually includes complications like a stopwatch and timer for running or other physical activity. This is more often found in digital sports watches like G-Shocks, though some mechanical watches called chronographs also have a stopwatch function.

Some watches like dive watches typically have an outer rotating bezel that can be used as a timer and is highly functional. Dive bezels are often used by divers to time how long until they run out of oxygen in their tank.

2. Legibility

The watch should be very easy to read, even in low-light situations. Some watches have ‘lume’ applied, which is essentially a glow in the dark paint. Other watches, notably digital watches, might have an LCD illuminating feature that lights up the entire screen of the dial.

LCD Illumination on the Casio World Time
Lume shot on the Seiko SKX009

The watch should also be very large and bold for added legibility.

3. Water Resistance

Sports watches typically, but not always, have a water resistance of 200m. This is generally the accepted depth-rating of a proper ‘dive watch’ suitable for actual diving, and of course swimming or getting caught in the rain would be fine, too. 

Screw-down crown. In the instance of a watch with a metal case, such as stainless steel, the watch will often feature a screw-down crown. The crown of the watch (the little ‘knob’ you turn to set the time) actually screws onto the threads of the case.

This helps make the watch more water resistant, as well as prevent the crown from breaking off in the case of a drop or physical contact. 

4. Double-Safety Clasp

Again, this is not always the case, as some digital watches like G-Shocks tend to have a resin band that has no clasp at all, and instead uses a highly durable buckle system. A double safety clasp is typically seen on metal watches, such as a stainless steel dive watch.

The clasp is the ‘buckle’ at the bottom of the metal watch bracelet that keeps it secure around your wrist. A double-safety clasp involves not one, but two locking mechanisms that keep the watch extra secure on your wrist, ensuring it doesn’t accidentally fall off.

5. Durability

Durability in a watch comes in all forms, such as a resin case of a G-Shock, or a tough stainless steel case of a Rolex or Seiko. Crystals (the glass on the watch) also come in varying levels of durability, sapphire crystals being the most durable. 

6. Shock Resistance

You want a movement that is shock resistant and can withstand being bumped around, dropped, etc. Quartz movements are most typically seen as the most shock resistant, though there are definitely mechanical movements, such as the workhorse Seiko 7S26 movement that can surely take a beating.

For a less active sport like fishing, mechanical watches may be more appropriate. That’s not to say that you can’t at all play an active sport with a mechanical watch, just that you should think twice before doing so. 

Does a Sports Watch Need to be Digital?

No. A sports watch absolutely doesn’t need to be digital. Let’s use the example of 3 Rolex sports watches that are both automatic and mechanical.

Examples of Mechanical Sports Watches

1. Rolex Submariner

Arguably the most popular and one of the most influential sports watches of all time. It’s traditionally a dive watch, with its 200m water resistance, sapphire crystal, screw down crown, stainless steel case and bracelet that can take a beating and a highly legible dial. It also has a highly functional dive bezel. 

2. Rolex Explorer 

The Rolex Explorer was traditionally invented for, well, exploring. It was made for cave divers and spelunkers, thus the HIGHLY legible dial with very bright lume. This makes it very readable, even in the dark. Much like the Submariner, it has a sapphire crystal, highly durable stainless steel case and bracelet and depending on which model you get, some explorers have a bidirectional outer bezel, meaning you can turn it either direction. 

3. Rolex Oyster Perpetual

Don’t let the minimalist and slightly dressy charm fool you, this watch can take a serious beating. It’s as much of a tool watch as the previously mentioned watches. With its durable oyster stainless steel case and bracelet, sapphire crystal and who would guess this pretty watch would have a 200m water resistance? Sports watches aren’t all 40mm+ monsters.

Digital vs. Mechanical Sports Watches

Digital sports watches have the benefit of being digital, thus usually more legible, and usually have a robust quartz movement. Digital watches are often much cheaper than their mechanical counterpart.

Mechanical sports watches have of course the charm of being a mechanical watch, but that doesn’t mean they’re not durable. Sure, not all movements are built the same, but even mechanical movements like the affordable Seiko 7S26 is known for being able to take a beating and keep on ticking. 

Does a Sports Watch Need to be Made of Stainless Steel?

A sports watch doesn’t need to be made of stainless steel, though they traditionally are, in the case of mechanical watches. Digital sports watches are often made of a resin material, like in the case of a G-Shock. 

What About Precious Metals?

Rose gold and white gold are typically used in dress watches, as they cost more, and even one scratch can be costly. by removing some of the material on the watch. But some high-end luxury watch brands have broken the mold and have made sports watches with precious metals.

Probably the most iconic example of this is the Patek Philippe Nautilus which is as sporty of a watch as they get – and comes in solid rose gold. Rolex has also been using lots of white gold in some of their high-end sports watches. They actually have two different models of their Yachtmaster, one made of Rose Gold and one White Gold. They only have a water resistance of 100m but are both very sporty watches. 

What is the Best Watch for Sports?

The best sports watch really depends on which activity you’re doing. 

Diving? Clearly, you want a dive watch. Though just because a watch is labeled a ‘dive watch’, doesn’t mean that diving is all its good for. You can certainly wear a dive watch while running, for example.

I made an article of some of the best dive watches, check it out here.

Running? A watch with a timer and stopwatch, preferably a digital watch, is much more preferable.

Best Cheap Sports Watch 

In my opinion, the best cheap sports watch is a digital watch that’s easily legible, has features like timers and stopwatches, and is so light and comfortable.

Casio F-91W

You also want one that’s so cheap, you wouldn’t really mind if you were to end up damaging it by accident. 

My choice is the Casio F-91W-1, but of course, there are many digital sports watches that fit the bill. I just love the extreme simplicity and affordability of the F-91W.

Sure, it’s not the most beautiful, but It does exactly what you need it to do, keeps good time. It’s extremely light and comfortable and is so cheap, you wouldn’t think twice before hopping into a pool with it on, even if it only has a 30m water resistance.

The Wrap Up

A sports watch is a watch that fits a certain criteria of durability, legibility and functionality to be used during physical activity.

While modern sports watches tend to be categorized as digital watches like G-Shocks, there are more traditional sports watches. Rolex’s classic line of watches, like the Submariner, Explorer and Oyster Perpetual are just some of many examples of mechanical sports watches.

Even more modern variations like a Rose Gold Patek Philippe Nautilus can also be considered a sports watch. 

It’s important to know what you’re trying to use your sports watch for, then pick the criteria that best fits your purposes accordingly.

Have a favorite sports watch? Let me know in the comments down below!

– Anthony

7 thoughts on “What is a Sports Watch?”

    • I don’t necessarily think it has to be digital, in this day and age, with the amount of robust and functional non digital watches. But if you said they need to be quartz, I could certainly understand that as a consideration, from a perspective of toughness and robustness. Cheers!


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