We can thank the US Military for helping to develop a lot of things we use today — the GPS system, aviator sunglasses, duct tape, cargo pants, even microwaves.
And… the wristwatch?
US troops did, in fact, help popularize the wristwatch in the early part of the 20th century. It really got rolling during WWI, when trench warfare tactics and modern weaponry changed the face of battle. Soldiers needed to constantly be aware of the time for missions and maneuvers, but couldn’t put everything on pause and divert their attention to pulling out a pocket watch, flipping up the cover, then stowing it again during a seige. If you’re fighting in the trenches and trying to stay alive, you’re probably also trying to rid yourself of fiddly things as much as possible.
Some of these soldiers in Europe looked for help from a metalsmith to attach strap lugs to their pocket watches. Others modified the old watches themselves, so that they could be strapped to a wrist.
This obviously kept the watch far more accessible than if it had been stowed in a pocket or bag, and allowed a solider to quickly glance down to check elapsed time or running time during crucial moments (or maybe just count down the hours until he could expect a hot meal and a good night’s sleep). When these soldiers came home, they found that they preferred the wrist watch to a pocket watch, and set a trend others followed.
Many well-known watch companies have produced, and still produce, military-grade watches: Omega, Panerai, Rolex, CWC, Tudor, IWC, Casio and even Seiko. Other brands have occasionally just gone in for the aesthetic, like Audemars Piguet with their Royal Oak 14790ST (love it or hate it, at least it’s interesting to look at!). Some are simple field watches, but dive watches, chronographs and oversized pilot’s watches all have their roots in the timepieces that were developed to meet the needs of various militaries.
Pictured (and listed) below are some of our own military-inspired watches that we think you’ll like. Shop the whole category here; otherwise, scroll down to see our picks.
Pilots have always needed to keep close track of the time, and before digital controls and autopilot, you’d be relying on your watch for navigation and maneuvering as you flew above the battle zone. Pilot’s watches are usually on the large side by today’s standards — 42 to 48mm — with dials that can be read easily at a glance, even when the cockpit is vibrating or shaking. Some pilots also still wear wristwatch chronographs as failsafes, in case the cockpit instruments are damaged during flight. Also of note: pilot’s watches were originally designed with oversized crowns so their mechanical movements could be wound while wearing gloves. Since this is rarely a concern nowadays, the big-crown feature is much less common, but brands like IWC, Laco and Zenith still make modern big-crown pilot’s watches powered by mechanical movements.
Among the simpler military-inspired designs, the humble field watch is a general-purpose timepiece for all conditions. These are typically 40mm or smaller, relatively lightweight, and are free of extra features or complications like a chronograph or day/date window to keep things as stripped-down as possible. However, some feature rotating bezels to help with navigation like our Navi Land watch.
Historical fact: Timex produced a watch for a contract bid with the US Marine Corps in the early 1980s. Though the contract was never fully put into action — the military ultimately went with a different watch supplier — that project developed into the 36mm resin MK1 we have today, which is almost exactly the same as that original prototype.
For special-operations troops and certain divisions of various naval armies, a watch that’s robust and highly water-resistant has always been a must. While a true dive watch meets very exacting international standards for water resistance, dial legibility and other factors, most needs can be met with a 100m/10atm water resistance rating, a unidirectional rotating bezel and a high-contrast dial with glowing hour markers.