Five best field watches | The rugged wrist accessory

A brief history of field watches

Did you know the modern wristwatch has the innovation of field watches to thank for its popularity? You see, back in the old days when gentlemen would carry a pocket watch, only women would use a wrist watch. In fact, it was like this for many a year.

Even during warfare pocket watches would be used to time regiment charges to follow up artillery bombardments. Ultimately, these weren’t practical in combat and were easily lost or damaged. It was World War 1 when the introduction of the ‘Trench Watch’ came about. This was a transitional design of the pocket watch and wrist watch that combines the best features from both. As a result, the field watch was born.

Fact of the day: The first purpose made field watches were produced for German Kaiser Wilhelm I for his German naval officers in 1880 by Girard-Perregaux.

Why do I like field watches?

I genuinely asked myself this question and 3 reasons came to mind.

  1. Design and Aesthetics. I love the simplicity and functionality of a field watch. They are easy to read and maintain too. Furthermore, they’re a good daily choice, subtle and very usable.
  2. Durability. The two field watches I run as EDC have been dependable for a good few years now. My daily tasks and working conditions aren’t the most testing of environments, but I’m sure they’d be fine for most people too.
  3. History. Basically the field watch is the genesis of the wrist watch and an EDC hall of fame item, if we had an EDC Hall of fame!

Field watches and their design features

There are many watches that could fit the term ‘field watch’. You’ll see chronographs and full steel watches being defined as such. However, I’ve decided to choose the watches for this article based on a set of features I think define the traditional field watch.

  • canvas or leather strap
  • Stainless steel, titanium or PVD-coated casting
  • High contrast black dial
  • glare proof crystal
  • white or lumed numbers
  • lumed hands
  • hacking seconds hand

These features are what I think are essential to any field watch.

Why I chose these Field watches in particular

The following watches I’ve picked are ones that fit a budget and are excellent field watches in their own right, in both design and practicality. I’ve tried to earmark budgets of under $50, $100, $200, $400 and $800. I’ve capped it at this price as realistically I can’t see too many people wanting a field watch of $1k+ for proper EDC use. However, if you do like the design of field watches and want to add something special to a collection there are some nice pieces out there. The Oris Air Racing Edition IV is a great looking example of field watch design. Finally, IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Top Gun Miramar is pretty special, but at $5k it’s one for the serious collector out there.

A Timex Expedition Field watch

Field watches | Timex Expedition Scout 40

Entry level budget field watch

An Everyday carry favourite – the Timex Expedition Scout. When it comes to a budget field watch, this is the go to guy. There’s a lot to like about the Timex, the looks and the price being the 2 main factors. If you’re not too precious about owning a top name or don’t need the highest performing field watch, you can’t go far wrong with the Expedition Scout.

Design

The brass case is a very simple design finished in a satin, gun metal grey which looks great. At 11mm thick it sits well on the wrist. The strap is a khaki green canvas, which is comfortable for most uses. It uses a buckle clasp finished in the same gun metal grey as the case. Expedition logos feature on the clasp and case back.

The black face offers great clarity thanks to white Arabic hour markers. 24-hour time is also available on inner dial. A calendar window features at 3 o’clock. The minute and her hands are lumed and the second hand is a contacting yellow which works really well.

As you’d expect being a Timex, Indiglo features as usual – which is a unique feature for a field watch. The watch uses a quartz movement and is water resistant to 50m (165 ft). Also, the watch is available in 16 different design/colour combos too!

Features

  • Dial window material: Mineral
  • Display Type: Analog
  • Clasp: Buckle
  • Case material: Brass
  • Overall diameter: 40mm
  • Case Thickness: 11mm
  • Band Material: Nylon
  • Length: Men’s Standard
  • Band width: 20mm
  • Band color: Green
  • Dial color: Black
  • Bezel material: Brass
  • Calendar: Date
  • Special features: Seconds-hand, water resistant, back light, Luminous
  • Movement: quartz
  • Water resistant depth: 50m (165 ft)

A Citizen Eco drive field watch

Field watches | Citizen BM8180-03E

Mid level budget field watch

Next level up on our price range is the Citizen BM8180-03E. A great looking watch with more compact dimensions than our other options – ideal for those who like their EDC watches smaller. At 37mm wide and 9.5mm high, this is a very neat package.

Design

The body comprises of a polished stainless steel case and back. Green canvas strap and buckle fastening system, note the strap is 18mm here. Metal eyelets are on hand to help reinforce the strap too.

The black dial is very readable with white hour markers on the inside and small second markers on the outer dial. Lumed hand feature and a nice contrasting red seconds hand is used here too.

A white contrasting day and date window is featured too, which is much nicer than the Timex’s date only window. The Citizen is also water resistant to 100m

Movement

Another standout feature for choosing the Citizen is its Eco-Drive. What you get is a Japanese quartz movement powered by solar technology. A decent upgrade from the standard battery quartz movements.

Features

  • Dial window material: Mineral
  • Display Type: Analog
  • Clasp: Buckle
  • Case material: Stainless Steel
  • Overall diameter: 37mm
  • Case Thickness: 9.5mm
  • Band Material: Canvas
  • Length: Men’s Standard
  • Band width: 18mm
  • Color: Green
  • Dial color: Black
  • Bezel material: Stainless Steel
  • Calendar: Day & date
  • Special features: Eco-Drive, Luminous
  • Movement: Japanese quartz
  • Water resistant depth: 100m

Seiko Kinetic field watches

Field watches | Seiko SMY141P1

Mid level budget field watch

I could have probably dedicated a full article on 5 seiko field watches, such is choice on offer! Seiko must sell an awful lot of this type of watch judging by the amount of field watch designs they offer. It’s not surprising either, as they do these types of watch very well. The watch of choice recommended to most people is the SNK805 Seiko 5 which is a great little watch. It’s a very popular watch, but since I’ve included the Timex as an obvious choice, I thought I’d use something different. I was think of including the Seiko SNE095P2, but this was to similar in spec and price to the Citizen. So, I’ve gone for the SMY141P1 – which is more expensive, but is a great watch.

Design

The case is very similar in shape and style to the Timex (no bad thing) but this time it’s stainless steel with a satin finish. The strap is nylon, similar style again to the Timex, but better quality. The eyelets are reinforced with leather and it closes with a buckle clasp.

The face on this watch is dark green colour with a slight metallic sheen to it – so this may not be to everyone’s taste. One great feature are the mounted markers which sit up off the main face and cast a subtle shadow onto the dial. The lumed hands are much broader than the timex and work great. A day and date features here too.

Movement

The Seiko is powered by their Kinetic quartz movement – learn more about that here. This is on show thanks to a clear back locking cover. The keen eyed amongst you will have observed a button above the crown. This gives you a read out of how much power is available in the watch. Fully charged it should last around 6 months. It’s also water resistant to 100m.

Features

  • Dial window material: Hardlex
  • Display Type: Analog
  • Clasp: Buckle
  • Case material: Stainless Steel
  • Overall diameter: 41mm
  • Case Thickness: 11mm
  • Band Material: Nylon
  • Length: Men’s Standard
  • Band width: 20mm
  • Color: Green
  • Dial color: Green
  • Bezel material: Fixed Stainless Steel
  • Calendar: Day & date
  • Special features: Kinetic movement, Luminous
  • Movement: Quartz
  • Water resistant depth: 100m

Hamilton field watches

Field watches | Hamilton H70555533

Higher level budget field watch

Now to introduce a bonafide maker of combat tested field watches – Hamilton. During the WW2 Hamilton stopped making watches for general consumers and dedicated their efforts to the forces. During this time they made 1 million pieces. So you could say they know a thing or two about field watches and the H70555533 is testament to that. Hamilton was bought out by the Swatch Group in the 1970’s, sitting alongside Tissot, Omega and Longines – so they’re in good company.

Design

This is the classiest looking field watch in our group here. It could easily be worn as an evening/dinner watch as well as a functioning work watch. Brushed stainless steel makes up the case with a transparent back lock for you to view the movement. The strap is a lovely chocolate leather calfskin with contrasting white stitching. Hamilton branding can be found on the crown and buckle clasp.

The face consists of a black dial with luminous hands and Arabic numeral hour markers. I love the plume-shaped hands and seconds hand with subtle red tip, really nice little details that make this watch so good. 24 hour markings are on the inside of the dial with seconds markings on the outside. A date window is featured, I’d like a day reading here too, but it’s no deal-breaker.

Movement

The H70555533 uses an automatic movement, specifically an ETA 2824-2. Seen by many as a “workhorse” movement, the 2824-2 is a used by a variety of manufacturers from all over the world. A very decent movement at this price range. Also, it’s water resistant to 100m

Features

  • Dial window material: Anti reflective sapphire
  • Display Type: Analog
  • Clasp: Buckle
  • Case material: Stainless steel
  • Overall diameter: 42mm
  • Case Thickness: 10mm
  • Band Material: Calfskin
  • Length: Men’s Standard
  • Band width: 22mm
  • Color: Brown
  • Dial color: Black
  • Bezel material: Stainless steel
  • Calendar: Date
  • Special features: Automatic, date display, luminous
  • Movement: Automatic self-wind movement
  • Water resistant depth: 100m

Marathon field watches

Field watches | MARATHON WW194003SS

Top level budget field watch

Finally, we come to our last entry – the Marathon General Purpose Mechanical or WW194003SS. Like the Hamilton, combat kudos can be given to the Marathon too. Marathon watches were created on the back of a collaboration between the Wein Brothers, a Canadian watch distributor, and Gallet – one of the oldest Swiss watch brands. It was during the the mid 80’s when the Wein Brothers contracted Gallet to create a hard-as-hell watch to be used by the US and Canadian Armed Forces. This gave birth to the brand the brand as we know it. This is also why you see ‘US GOVERNMENT’ stamped on the watch face.

Design

A combination of top quality parts and materials make this the stand out performer for those who prefer top performance field watches. If you think the WW194003SS has a slightly retro look to it, you’d be right. As it’s inspired by the Marathon GG-W-113 field watch, which was used throughout the 1980s by the US Army.

The case is a solid piece of brushed 316L surgical grade stainless steel with a unique curved, integrated bezel. It’s a a standout design feature of this watch and looks great. The size of the watch may put a few people off with the case measuring 36mm wide, excluding the crown, and 11mm tall.

The black dial features an hour scale with the classic military double rows: large 1-12 and smaller 13-24. The markers from 1-11 are illuminated by a green tritium tube, while the tube at 12:00 glows orange. Tritium tubes are also featured on the hour and minute hands, giving the whole watch brilliant glow power. As mentioned, the dial is signed “MARATHON U.S. GOVERNMENT” with 17 jewels indication. You’ll also see “H3,” and radiation symbols – t he latter two serve as a reminder that the tritium in the tubes is mildly radioactive (25 millicuries, according to the case back).

Movement

Power is provided courtesy of a 17 jewel ETA 2801 movement. The ETA 2801 is renowned for being workhorse of a movement. Designed to be accurate to within 30 seconds a day it often achieves much higher accuracy. It also featuring a power reserve of at least 36 hours. This is a hand-wound movement and winds with a smooth action from a pressure-fit crown.  Water resistance is 100m

Features

  • Dial window material: Sapphire
  • Display Type: Analog
  • Clasp: Buckle
  • Case material: Stainless steel
  • Overall diameter: 39mm
  • Case Thickness: 11mm
  • Band Material: Nylon
  • Length: Men’s Standard
  • Band width: 16mm
  • Color: Black
  • Dial color: Black
  • Bezel material: Stainless steel
  • Calendar: N/A
  • Special features: US Government Specs, automatic movement
  • Movement: Hand wound ETA 2801
  • Water resistant depth: 100m

Field watches | The conclusion

If you’re looking to add a field watch to you collection or need a new EDC watch, these 5 are worth considering. The rugged looks simplistic design and rich history make the noble field watch a must have EDC item. There are so many options when it comes to field watches that this list could have been 4 times the size. As always, I’ve chosen these watches on price, features and design to try and cover most needs. If you own any of these watches or would add in something else let me know below in the comments.