Well, we don’t. And we don’t need watches either. Watches are no longer necessary to stay organized and to be on time. Although I use my watch to keep track of time—this is how I like to do it—I could use my phone or my laptop. Or a smartwatch. But, if you are reading the Everest Journal, I would assume that you are here because you like what watches mean, not only what they can do for us—telling the time. Our relationship with time is a very personal experience, just like the way we connect with a watch is a highly personal one.
In that vein, there exist different types of watches that create different emotions inside of us. You could be a professional diver and enjoy wearing a dive watch because it represents what you do for a living. Or you could wear a Rolex Explorer 1 which could mean that you either appreciate nice horology or have an adventurous mindset. So, I would like to discuss whether or not we need exploration watches (in 2022), what they are, and what options are available?
What is an Exploration Watch?
Please take what follows with a grain of salt. How we define a watch can vary based on who we are, what we do, and where we are from. For the sake of this article I will keep a general stance as to what exploration watches are. Therefore, as their name might indicate, these watches are made for explorers, travelers, and adventurers. People who explore the Amazon forest, hike Mount Everest, or walk the busy street of New York. The primary goal of these watches—unlike any other type of tool watch—is to tell time. And exploration watches are generally robust and on the smaller side.
Because when we explore we need to know what time it is. We don’t need to time an event (like we do with a chronograph) and we don’t need ultra contrasty dials with an enormous minute hand (like we find on dive watches.) No, we need to be able to tell the time and do so easily and elegantly. When I think of exploration watches I think of the first Rolex Explorer that had a cream dial, Dauphine hands, and polished applied indices (see picture below.) They would come on a leather strap and fit under the cuff of a thick winter jacket.
Vintage and modern exploration watches (which can also be called Field watches although the latter means watches that have a military vibe,) are time-only, under 40mm in diameter, and comfortable to wear—you know, for all-day exploration. They don’t come with intricate complications nor do they boast 300 meters of water resistance. They do tend to come with a decent water resistance (at least 100 meters), resistance to magnetism, and a reliable movement. However, depending on how much you want to spend on an exploration watch, you won’t necessarily have the highest specifications.
Who Are They For?
Exploration watches are for everyone. They typically come with a versatile design that is refined enough to act as a dressier timepiece and casual enough to work on the weekends with a good pair of jeans. Just like dress watches can be for anyone, exploration watches can be for anyone and are akin dress watches with an extra oomph of robustness. They are a great watch to start collecting watches and can be found at all price ranges and with different levels of movements and finish. If this is not clear enough, exploration watches are versatile and can be for anyone.
However, if we want to look at the more romantic side of horology and the first exploration watches, we find that exploration watches are almost always connected to debonair explorers. People who climbed Mount Everest for the first time or who traveled the world and wrote jaw-dropping travel adventure books. I would say that exploration watches are for those who seek adventure and who are curious about the world. There is a certain charm in the idea that comes with owning a watch that looks good in every situation and that only comes with one functionally: telling the time right now, not yesterday nor tomorrow.
A Few Options
When we look back at the first examples of exploration watches, we will find a few key models: the first Rolex Explorer 1, the first Seiko Baby Alpinist, and the Omega De Ville. All of the aforementioned models were born in the crucial post World War II era of the 1950s/1960s during which mankind was again curious about the outside world. While these vintage models fetch thousands of dollars on the second-hand market, today we can find respectable and unique exploration type watches in different price brackets. Below we will focus on currently available models that herald, for the most part, from younger brands.
Of course, we must point at the Rolex Explorer 1 first, the archetype example of a vintage and modern exploration watch. The current 36mm version respects the traditional format of these watches having a legible, time-only dial and a solid construction. If one doesn’t like the Explorer 1 or cannot afford one, then I would direct you to MONTA’s Noble. In a way, the latter is what an Explorer 1 would have looked like if it had first been released in the 21st century. From its case diameter of 38.5mm to its robust movement, superior finish, and clean dial, the Noble constitutes a great example of a modern exploration watch.
Also coming from the United States is Astor Banks and the Fortitude Light. The brand describes the Fortitude as being a “civilian” version of their previous model which was a little thicker and a little more robust (it had a higher resistance against magnetism.) The Fortitude has a clean dial, a no-date movement, and a modest case of 38.5mm in diameter and a 45.5mm lug-to-lug distance. Another great option from another American brand is the Oak & Oscar Olmsted 38, another 38mm diameter watch (seeing a trend here!) that comes with a robust construction and movement.
Looking at the Swiss brands, we can include the Aqua Terra Mid Size (link to previous article) which I mentioned in a previous article as well as the Tissot Gentleman. The latter looks more dressy than the other models mentioned above, however it does come with many of the attributes that make for a decent exploration watch (for example, having a silicon hairspring that is paramagnetic.) From Japan I would like to mention the re-creation of the 1959 Alpinist model which comes with 200 meters of water resistance, a case of 36mm, and a high-grade movement.
As we can see, an exploration watch is an everyday timepiece with a clean dial, a robust construction, and a solid movement. Although the first exploration watches were smaller than they are now in 2022, in a way modern versions of it have safeguarded the overall design ethos of the original ones. I could see myself wearing any of the aforementioned watches for any type of adventure I would find myself on. I would be curious to know about you and the choices you would make to take on your next adventure, whether near or far. Please leave your comments below.Featured image: www.hodinkee.com