Solar-powered watches have come a long way since the 1970s. We take a look at how the technology developed and give you some stylish suggestions should you want to invest.

Batteries not included

Batteries weren’t included with these little chaps and they aren’t in solar watches either

We tend to mentally divide watches into two categories – battery-powered and mechanical. However, to paraphrase political sorts, there is a third way: solar power.

The first solar-powered watch wasn’t made by any of the big name brands but by a man called Roger Riehl, who invented the Sychnronar in the early 1960s and finally launched it in 1968.

An advert for the Sychronar watch

An advert for the Synchronar watch

It was primitive in design and had solar panels on the top with a sideview LED display and retailed for around $1,700 at the time, complete with a lifetime guarantee. Watches were not Riehl’s primary line of business. He was a self-taught engineer who has designed, among other things, an electronic scale for measuring liquor for Hobart Manufacturing Company, a US company that manufacturers commercial equipment for the food industry.

It would take another eight years for Citizen to launch its light-powered analog quartz watch, which contained the forerunner to today’s Eco-Drive technology. While Seiko followed a year later, in 1977, with its watch containing a self-charge battery that used light from any source. As part of its ‘clean-energy’ philosophy, Seiko has re-introduced its Seiko Solar technology to the UK with high performance, some calibres only needing two minutes of sunlight for a one day charge – a welcome change to the tedious charging of other tech!

In the most general terms, solar-powered watches contain a solar panel that is situated behind the crystal and absorbs sunlight and artificial light. The dial is either part of the solar panel or sits on a layer above it.

How a solar-powered watch works

How a solar-powered watch works

The panel then converts the light into electrical energy, which is used to power the watch. Some energy will also be stored in a rechargeable cell so the watch can power itself when it is dark or clothing covers the watch.

One of the main reasons for the development of solar technology was environmental.

Button cells, by which watch batteries are also known, were made from something called mercuric oxide, which was toxic. Some cells still contain mercury or cadmium, which are also toxic, although in early 2013, the European Parliament Environment Committee voted for a ban on the import and export of any button cells and batteries containing mercury to be imposed from 2020 onwards.

Solar power is environmentally friendly. It is also a great selling point because it means that other than a service every couple of years, the watch won’t need any attention at all, making it convenient and cost-effective.

Originally solar-powered watches were an exercise in substance over style. However, these days technology has moved on so much that solar technology can be incorporated into a watch without the aesthetics of it having to be sacrificed.

If you’re now tempted to get some light-powered tech on your wrist, here’s our top five brands who offer just that and in a rather fab designs to boot.

Seiko Solar Ladies Bracelet watch

Seiko Solar Ladies Bracelet watch

This is the classy way to do solar technology. It looks like a classic dress watch and works with whatever outfit you throw at it. It has style longevity to match its battery life. If you want to take a closer look see our review.

Buy it now 

Junghans Force Mega Solar watch

Junghans solar powered watch

For something more futuristic, this Junghans looks very cool and sleek. It conceals its solar technology well.

Buy it now 

Citizen Sunrise Eco-Drive watch

Citizen EcoDrive watch

Finally Citizen has started putting its Eco-Drive technology in watches women actually want to wear, as evidence in this gorgeous Sunrise. It also has diamonds too, if that’s your thing.

Buy it now 

Casio G-Shock G-Classic watch

Casio G-Shock watch

You can’t go wrong with a standard issue G-Shock. This iconic design is very sporty but certainly makes a statement on the wrist.

Buy it now 

Tissot T-Touch Lady Solar

Tissot T-touch watch

The grey mother-of-pearl dial really makes this Tissot stand out from the crowd. It also has a host of technical features, such as weather forecasting, altimeter and a compass. Useful and stylish – what more do you want?

Buy it now 

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