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Field watches is where it's at

published Jun 22, 2018 12:55   by admin ( last modified Jun 23, 2018 01:06 )


I recently pondered if it would be time to wear a watch again…

In practice the adventurers, aviators, divers and soldiers that rendered credibility to certain watches and designs have now all but migrated to digital watches and computers. But analog watches tend to look better on your wrist.

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A Seiko military watch (Attribution) Author: Brandon Cripps

When it comes to analog watches, there is basically two styles:

  • Dress/impress watches. Watches made to be aestethically pleasing and/or containing advanced functionality of a mostly useless nature. Although this may sound like a bit of a letdown, all analog watches fall into this group really, it's just that some pretend not to.
  • And for the second group: Watches once made for professional use. These are watches that once were the best you could have to help you in your work, whether you were a diver, an aviator, astronaut, adventurer or car racer. Today, you can get a watch model that used to fulfill one of these roles, or something that is inspired by such watches.

Strictly speaking, there is one group of analog watches that stay relevant from e.g. a prepper perspective: Mechanical watches that can withstand strong electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) such as caused by nuclear explosions. Interestingly, many of the more advanced dress-to-impress watches fall into the EMP tolerant category. It might be that even electronic watches would escape at east some EMPs; it's hard to find good info on the Internet.

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A Luminox field watch

I started browsing through the offerings online and in stores. Soon it became to clear to me what I wanted from an analog wristwatch:

Quickly readable

Quickly readable — A readable watch face, that is a watch face that gives you the time with the least amount of attention needed to know the time. This means:

  • Readable in darkness — Glow in the dark markings or glow in the dark watch face
  • Arabic numerals — The markings should be numbers, otherwise I could just use a compass and the sun, thank you very much (slightly exaggerated)!
  • Uncluttered — No extra decorations such  as:
    • No outer ring with diver's markings
    • No complications (complications are extra dials)
    • No date indicator, I can get that from my phone more reliably


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A very readable Laco "1925" (Attribution) Author: Daniel Zimmermann

Other requirements

Some other things crept in to make the watch practical for me.

  • A watch body made out of titanium
  • A battery operated quartz movement, preferrably solar so I do not need to change batteries
    • Mechanical watches on the other hand get mechanical problems and hence need maintenance
  • I'm not going to spend a fortune, the threshold being around $250
  • As I learnt more, and realized that analog is all for show, I actually softened a bit on the design side. The watch I finally purchased is perfectly readable, but a bit in a 1940s retro style. There is a picture of it near the end of this post.

Field watches, aviator watches and diving watches

It turned out that there is genre of watches that ticks most of the above criteria: Field watches. Field watches belong to a category of watches for people who need to get the time quickly and reliably under field conditions. In this category you can also find diver's watches which have a rotating bezel for keeping tabs on oxygen supply and aviators' watches which have an outer ring for, for, I'm not actually sure what that ring is for (update: It is a slide rule!)


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A Luminox watch with a rotating bezel traditionally used for diving


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A Luminox watch with three complications (extra dials) and date. The stopwatch dials could come in handy for racing.
That is if you did not know that digital watches exist, or if you just want to pay hommage to old time racing

Field watches on the other hand are more targeted to infantry men, who as a rule do not need to calculate oxygen remaining or a flight path so these watches tend to be no-nonsense. Many watches at least in the aviation and field genres tend to be retro-styled, and hark back design-wise to a time where analog watches made sense for professionals in these, ehrm, fields.

Diving watches tend to focus on minutes elapsed, which dictates a lot of the design of the watch, including a rotating bezel and very clear marking of minutes. One good thing with diving watches is that they work well in darkness, and that they take pains in communicating during such conditions that the watch is still working and in distingushing the hour and minutes hands even when overlapping. Still, diving watches are being replaced by computers. The more finely marked red part of a diving watch's bezel is for ascent to the surface, although computers can now do these calculations safer and with better precision.

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Speaking about emphasizing minutes, this Oris Regulateur der Meistertaucher has nothing but a minute hand on the big dial, no hour or seconds hands; you have to look at the small dials for those

Aviator's/Pilot's/Astronaut's watches cater for the other extreme, being up in the atmosphere or even above it. At lower speeds the minutes are emphasized, at jet speeds time zones become important and for astronauts there is a logarithmic bezel on e.g. the Omega Speedmaster professional. The bezel may be used as a slide rule for doing calculations on e.g. fuel consumption.

These guys, Bremont, know how to make gorgeous looking pilot inspired watches:

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This one is called "P-51", no doubt named after the  US WWII fighter plane

Ironically, aviators still seem to use and appreciate analog watches, While infantry men and divers now rely on digital computers on their wrists, many aviators already have a big honking computer in the form of a glass cockpit in front of them. So having a feeble such on the wrist may not add much.

The specialized brands — and a couple of general ones

There at least four brands that specialize in affordable field watches, and a couple of general brands that have watches in this category. The four specialized ones I've found are:

Momentum and Bertucci are most commonly of titanium, while Luminox and Timex have few offerings here. There are some more specialized brands here that I found via Ebay such as watches from Swiss army knife brands and a brand called Messerschmitt.

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A Timex field watch

I also found nice-looking affordable field watches from general watch brands such as:

  • Citizen
  • Seiko
  • Alba (Seiko)

Citizen has the very nice Eco drive movement, which seems to last for decades without ever changing the battery.

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A Citizen titanium watch in field watch style (Attribution) Author: Brent C


A Momentum titanium field watch


Aviator's and astronaut's watches

The original astronaut's watch seems to be the Omega speedmaster professional. However the movement of the newly produced watches is not the same as in those that actually went to space.

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An Omega Speedmaster

Aviator's watches have several roots, in France, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany, Italy, the UK and USA. The German variety seems popular and you can find watches in that design style by including the word Flieger ("pilot" in German) in your searches.

A Flieger watch claimed to be from around 1941

Here is a nice series of articles on the history of the pilot watch. It turns out that the original pilot watch brand is Cartier, for Santos-Dumont maybe as early as 1906. It is a rectangular watch with roman numerals. The next step was the brand Zenith already in 1909 setting the look of a pilot watch that we still know today.

One cool thing with some of the pilot watches is that they have a slide rule bezel. Here's how to use a slide rule bezel on an aviator's watch:

Alternatives to Titanium

If you want to avoid nickel, a nifty way of being able to wear any watch, nickel or not, is to use what is called a bund strap. Bund straps were initially made for German pilots to thermally insulate the metal watch from the wrist of the pilot. A bund strap is wider than the watch under the watch body, and then tapers off into a normal strap.

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 Sinn pilot's watch with a matching Jürgens bund strap

Another brand for Bund straps besides Jürgens, is Fluco. If you want a strap that keeps the generous width all the way round, it's called a cuff strap. Beware that the metal parts of straps may well contain nickel though!

Another option is to wear a plastic watch, but make sure it does not actually have a stainless steel back plate. Plastic is sometimes referred to as "resin".

The German Damasko brand makes its own nickel-free steel. Another German brand, Sinn, may also be nickel free.

Reading Sinn's glossary, they point out that nickel may not necessarily be released even from a nickel containing steel based alloy:

The level of nickel release is not determined by the nickel content of a metal, rather by its corrosion resistance. Only through corrosion processes can nickel escape from a steel alloy in the form of ions or complexes. In highly corrosion-resistant steel, the nickel therefore remains stably bonded in the steel even if it has a relatively high nickel content.

What I actually bought

I had done my research quite thoroughly, and here comes the problem when you've done that: You are getting so good at finding what you want that the deal you find is likely to not be around for long… I've learnt this the hard way through years of scoping out and finally deciding on a piece of merchandise. But come on, one hour!

After having looked at many Bertucci watches I finally set my eyes on a Bertucci watch with a crimson red clock face. said they only had one watch left, and so said I pondered for an hour, and then I decided to pull the trigger.

Gone. From the face of the Internet. Could not find it anywhere. I decided to stay around for a week to see if it would get re-stocked anywhere. Nope.

So after a week I decided to go for my second best choice, a classic model with a yellow/khaki clock face. I found a vendor that actually delivered to Sweden: . I pulled the trigger and they charged me, bam! I got the last one, they were now out of it. Except, that three days later they sent me an e-mail that they never had it in the first place!

Was this a sign that I should buy something else or none at all? Eventually I ordered the same watch from Long Island watch:

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And here it is!
It's chunkier, bigger and more contemporary military than I thought, and the watch face is more khaki than yellow in daylight. But overall it looks really nice.
One reason it looks so contemporary military I guess is because the sand color scheme makes it look like a watch for desert-like environments where unfortunately a lot of action has been seen recently.


One thing to look out for is if the minute hand is unaligned with the minute markings. That is, as the seconds hand strikes twelve, the minute hand is right in between two minute markings.  You can see in the picture above that — compensating for the angle of the shot — the minute hand is pretty much aligned with a minute marking on the watch face. Unfortunately the seconds hand is straight down at this point in time.

This means that in practice the precision of the resolution of telling the time is about one minute.

It's easy to fix — you can adjust the precise alignment relationship between the seconds and minute hands with the crown: Just pull out the crown when the seconds hand hits twelve and then carefully turn the crown and make the minute hand align with the desired minutes marking. Then push the crown in to make the watch start to tick again. Now the minute hand will be aligned with a marking as the seconds hand strikes twelve.

Incidentally, getting the alignment correct was a huge boost in confidence in the watch! Such a simple thing to do with a big usability/trust payoff.

Image credits/links