Out in the Field
This week I want to talk about one of the most desirable style of watches out there, the field watch. Field watches are absolutely synonymous with the outdoors, adventure and practicality. Often designed with function and simplicity in mind, they are tough, legible and best of all, rather inexpensive. Personally, I think there’s room in every collection for a field watch and this week I want to discuss field watches in a little more detail. Maybe by the end of this blog you’ll be adding some to your own collection!
The field watch has long been associated with the military but a little-known fact is that they were actually originally made for women due to their size and ability to be worn on the wrist. Men, who had opted for pocket watches, didn’t actually start wearing them until the 1800’s. Later, they became more popular out of necessity when, during the war, as soldiers would wear them to accurately time artillery blasts on the front lines. Interestingly, the field watch we know today was originally called a trench watch, as it was usually found on the wrist of soldiers fighting in the trenches.
One of the most common field watches for the allied forces was the A-11. A tough wristwatch with a case diameter of between 32-36mm. But the A-11 wasn’t a specific model; rather the standard of which military watches had to meet. For example, these field watches had to be waterproof and dust resistant as well as being able to function in extreme temperatures. Additionally, they required a power reserve of 30-56 hours and be accurate to +/- 30 seconds a day. Even today that’s a decent spec, never mind in the 1940’s.
A-11 Military standard
Upon returning from war, men had become so attached to these useful tools that they would then serve as companions for working, hunting, hiking and basically, tougher tasks. There also didn’t seem much need to go back to traditional ways of time-telling with a pocket-watch, going back to the pocket from a wrist would have seem inconvenient. Additionally, people were starting to push against social norms and the high-brow style of the Victorian era, with many opting for function over form. Manufacturers were quick to spot this and wanted to brand their watches in a way that would make them look rough, rugged and durable. They promoted the idea that if you were a strong man doing tough jobs, you needed a watch to match.
As you can imagine, Rolex was quick to capitalise on this. Hans Wilsdorf was a marketeer ahead of his time and, by working with adventurous and explorers, could market his watches as items that were strongly associated with exploration, adventure and bravery. This branding would follow them into World War 2 where pilots and those with specialist jobs would often buy their own Rolex due to their reliability and accuracy, yet another glowing recommendation for Wilsdorf’s brand.
Additionally, after a rebrand in the 50’s, the Rolex Explorer was born and became infamous for accompanying Sir Edmund Hilary to the top of Everest. And while it was never branded or marketed as a “military watch”, it certainly had the looks and durability to fall into the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ category. Wilsdorf didn’t rest on his laurels either. His sister company Tudor were working hard to create similar watches with cheaper movements which would appeal to the ‘average customer’. Rolex was always a luxury brand and few people could afford one so Tudor filled the gap for those who wanted a good quality watch that still had the Wilsdorf name attached to it. In the 60’s the Tudor Ranger was one of the most popular field watches on the market.
Fast forward 50 years and today you’ll see a whole range of field watches on wrists around the world. Regardless of what people collect, their brand of choice and the movements they prefer, the field watch commands a lot of respect from the watch enthusiasts and watch community. Like anything, they have evolved over time and, as well as improvements in the movements and materials, their design has also been adapted to suit the trends and style of the time; A good example is dial size with some field watch faces going as high as 45mm.
That being said, while they have changed and seen some updates, they sort of haven’t. What I mean to say is, when I say ‘field watch’ you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about because, while brands do offer multiple variants, field watches have stayed quite true to what they are, tools! They all pretty much follow the same template or design brief – Simple, tough, easy to read, comfortable and accurate. You have to admire the simplicity.
One watch that meets these criteria exactly is the Hamilton Khaki field. It is arguably one of the most well known and most loved field watches out there. This is mainly due to its design in the way that, while it looks like a field watch and certainly performs as one should, it’s stainless steel accents and black bezel allow it to be worn with absolutely anything in any situation. If you’re someone who wears a suit then throw on either a stainless steel or leather strap and you’re good to go. If you tend to keep things smart casual then leather works perfectly. But for those times you want to venture out and put the Khaki Field through its paces then strap on a NATO and get going (coincidentally, we actually have a couple of NATOs here… no shame!). The watch looks great with anything and on anything.
But the Hamilton Khaki Field offers more than just looks. It is arguably one of the most useful and functional watches out there with features such as a date window, 24-hour markings placed on the inner dial, 100 metres water resistance, a sapphire case and a clear caseback; so you can see the Hamilton’s H10 automatic movement. The 38mm variant (ref: H70455533) is so comfortable and a perfect size in my opinion but if you do have larger wrists or prefer a larger watch, Hamilton offer it in other sizes such as 40mm (ref H70595593) and 42mm (ref 70555533). Additionally, at around £400, you are certainly getting a lot of watch for your money in my opinion.
Hamilton Khaki Field
Another fantastic piece is the Seiko 5 Automatic Field watch. It is another watch in the line-up to feature a decent water resistance (30 metres), a day and date window as well as looking fantastic on a NATO strap. Unlike the Khaki field you won’t get brushed stainless steel accents but, at less than £100 it’s an absolute bargain of a watch in my opinion. Especially when you remember what these are built for. When you’re roughing it up the side of a mountain, building a garden shed or working on your car, the last thing you want to be worried about is scratching your watch. You need a tough, durable tool that you know can take a knock and the field watch doesn’t mess about
Seiko 5 Automatic Field Watch
Other honourable mentions include the Timex Expedition which has all the elements of a field watch but for a cheaper price than the Seiko (less than £50 in most cases). However, if price isn’t a factor and you’d like to push the boat out then the Rolex Explorer would be my personal choice. I know, we can argue it isn’t a field watch but it’s certainly a ‘tool watch’ and a great one. I’d also recommend checking out the Bremont Broadsword. As on official partner for the MoD, Bremont certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to military watches and the Broadsword doesn’t disappoint. It looks fantastic on a NATO or sailcloth strap, has all the qualities of a field watch and is made for adventure.
You may also want to consider the ‘heavy duty’ field watches which offer a much more tactical look but I believe still fall into the field watch category. Luminox have some good offerings but, they do come across more ‘tactical’ than ‘field’ so if you’re looking for something that goes well with a shirt, it may be a deal-breaker.
Luminox Navy Seal
While there are plenty to choose from and prices certainly vary, I think our love for field watches isn’t necessarily about what movement the watch has or how many features can be crammed in. It’s the simplicity. It’s the idea that no matter what we are doing, we can just get up, throw on a watch and know it’s good to go. We live in a time where many people think that more is better and manufacturers constantly go out of their way to give us more choice, more options and more features. But the trusty field has managed to avoid all that is unnecessary and, for over 50 years, stuck with the basics. It has stayed true to what it is and doesn’t try and be any more than that. What you see is what you get and I think people appreciate that. Field watches are straight arrows and straight arrows are seen as reliable, trustworthy and honest. All excellent qualities to have, not just in the field, but in life! All hail the field watch!
Thanks for your time! See you in the next one!
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Additionally, you can check out our NATO straps at the store. They are available in 20mm & 22mm. Postage within the UK is free as well as all orders over £50.