From a functional standpoint, field and everyday watches are the same. They tell time and don’t come with complex complications, for example a chronograph or a moon phase. Historically, both field and everyday watches were time-only timepieces. Looking at the evolution of wristwatches since the 1920s all the way to the 1970s—roughly—most men and women wore small three-hand timepieces. All of what they needed to know was what time it was. When field watches spread at the brink of World War II, they would also only tell time. So, from a technical standpoint, they had the same functions, however they looked different.
Both types of watches came with a particular design language that was necessary to fulfill their functions and to look appropriate for their use. (You know, looking good in the situation.) When looking at catalogs from the 1950s, therefore, it’s easy to tell apart a field watch from a dress watch. However, in 2022, it’s common to see field watches look dressy and vice versa. So in this article I wanted to first talk about the core visual differences between the two types of watches and then discuss how they have merged over the past few years.
What is a Field Watch?
Field watches were created for the military during World War I and became more common during World War II. Since then, various brands in various parts of the world have been making watches for the military, including field watches, pilot watches, and sometimes space exploration watches. Of all types of military watches, field watches—as their name indicates to be used on the battlefield—are the most popular ones. They display time in a way that is very easy to read by using full Arabic numeral dials, high contrasts (between the hands and markers and the dial,) and are comfortable to wear.
Field watches typically come with an hour hand that is shorter and stubbier than the minute hand, a 24-hour scale (military time) in the center of the dial, no date, powerful lume, a solid case construction and robust movements that can take a beating. Field watches are, by all visual and technical aspects, simple watches that were designed to keep people on time and to be able to synchronize military operations. All of what military men and women need is to know what time it is and to be able to read it simply and accurately. At the core, that’s what field watches are.
What is an Everyday Watch?
An everyday watch is one that is versatile and accurate and that can be used for daily activities—spending time with the family, working at the office, mowing the lawn on the weekend. As its name indicates, it’s a watch that can be used everyday for most activities. My personal definition of an everyday timepiece is this: a watch that can fulfill 100% of core essential functions in 95% of situations. What “core” functions depend on each person but for me is being able to tell time and having a date complication. By its own nature, an everyday watch should also keep good time.
From a visual standpoint, an everyday watch can be anything. From having Dauphine hands to baton-style ones, printed or applied markers, lume or no lume, simple black dials or white enamel ones. There is something for everyone and in everyday timepieces. One thing an everyday watch should be able to do is to be worn in most situations, which means that generally it has to have a versatile design—nothing too military, nothing too dressy. Furthermore, an everyday watch should always be comfortable to wear and therefore be light and have proportions that are appropriate for our wrist size.
When Lines Get Blurred
However, in the past few years we’ve seen an increase in field watches that look dressy and everyday watches that are built like tanks. Of course, there is nothing wrong with either situation but I wanted to shed some light on what field and everyday watches should look like in 2022. And this means staying away from which functions they should fulfill because technology has progressed in such a way that it is now ok for an everyday timepeice to come with a moon phase. The differences, therefore, lie again in how they look more than how they operate. Again, technology is so advanced now that it's easy to find affordable, accurate watches on both sides of the aisle.
To keep things simple, a good modern example of a proper field watch is the Hamilton Khaki Field. Hamilton is one of these brands that have preserved the visual quality of yesteryears classic field watches in the use of high-contrast dials, 24-hour scales, bead-blasted finish on the case and strap buckle, and a robust construction, which in 2022 means having a solid movement and sapphire crystal. Hamilton has kept the watch proportions more or less in line with old field watches: a case that measures 38mm across.
Therefore, on the opposite side of things, a good example of a modern everyday watch is the Tissot Gentleman Powermatic 80. It comes with satin and polished surfaces, a date window, polished applied markers, and a movement that is both robust and offers 80 powers of power reserve. (It comes with a silicon hairspring that is paramagnetic.) Visually, the Gentleman looks polished and will work well in both professional and casual situations, while the Hamilton Khaki won’t look at home with a suit or on a date.
When A Watch Can Be Both
With all of the above said, sometimes a brand creates a model that can do it all. The most iconic example is the Rolex Explorer 1. It is both robust, elegant, and superbly made and will look as comfortable in the boardroom as it would doing barbecue on the weekend. But the Explorer 1 comes with a price tag of $6,600 and is hard to obtain. Luckily, our friends at MONTA created their own do-it-all watch: the Noble. It has a reasonable set of dimensions (38.5 x 47 x 9.7mm), a solid movement, elegant and robust construction, and it comes with essential functions: telling time and indicating what day of the month it is.
I have a thing for everyday watches, true everyday watches. There is something unique about having a timepiece I can wear in any and all situations and that keeps accurate time and can take a knock or two. I also appreciate a good field watch because they are easy to read and robust, however they cannot be worn in most situations. They have a special use-case. In a way, it’s a positive thing that brands have slowly blurred the lines between field and everyday timepieces. And there are many other examples I could have used to showcase what a good example of each type looks like in 2022.
But I limited myself to one option for each in order to easily tell them apart. And as we’ve seen, MONTA produces a great everyday timepiece in the Noble, and I would argue that the Triumph also offers a solid choice. Check out MONTA’s website for more information.
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