Field watches have come a long way since the First World War. Back then, they had lire lugs, metal cages protecting the crystal, and were quite small by today’s horological standards. Field watches evolved greatly since and now come in all shapes and sizes, colors, prices, and materials. Field watches are one of the most popular types of watches on the market today and there exist hundreds of models from Swiss and Japanese luxury brands and from a myriad of independent brands. In this article we will look at some iconic field watches that can be seen also as perfect everyday watches and that are currently available. This is not an exhaustive list, just a highlight of some of the best field watches available on the market.
Rolex Explorer 1
I’ve written about the Explorer 1 before (LINK) and I could write a book just about this model. It’s iconic because of its deep ties to exploration and human’s search for the most physically strenuous endeavors. It also is iconic because of the way it looks and the way it’s made. In 2022 the Rolex Explorer 1 comes in with a 36mm case, a chronometer-certified movement with superior protection against shock and magnetism, and 100 meters of water resistance. It’s basically a tiny tank of a watch that has the most versatile design available: a succession of Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, and 9 positions and baton-style markers everywhere else. It also comes with the iconic Mercedes hands and the Chromalight lume.
The current version of the Explorer 1 is by far my favorite of all, not only because it comes with a 36mm case diameter and outstanding technology, but because it still is imbued with the original’s DNA. It retails for $6,800 and you can learn more about it here.
Omega Aqua Terra
Rolex’s eternal rival also offers a proper field watch in the Seamaster Aqua Terra line. This collection comprises close to 300 variations of different colors, strap options, and sizes. To compare apples to apples, we will take a look at the 38mm Co-Axial Master Chronometer model that is the closest to what a proper field watch looks like: legible dial, robust specifications, and a modern design that is versatile. Although the Aqua Terra line was only launched in 2002, Omega has a history of making robust time-only watches that can be found in the hundreds—if not thousands—models coming from the Seamaster line. (This line of watches is extremely vast and sometimes a misnomer.)
Although there are several hundred models I could have picked for this article, I went for the black-dial 38mm as it is the easiest to put side-to-side with the Explorer 1. The particular model shown below retails for $6,400 and you can learn more about it here.
Tudor launched the Ranger line in the 1960s, most likely as a way to offer a more affordable version of a proper field watch, and in particular of the Explorer 1. I’ve always found it fascinating that Tudor has always had such a close relationship to Rolex and that for many decades released models that very much looked like cheaper alternatives to Rolex. But I don’t believe this was the case with the Ranger line. The latter always had a distinct look and it still does today. It looks much more field-ready than the Explorer 1 that is now made with precious metals. By saying that I’m not implying that the Explorer 1 is not capable—the absolute opposite is true—but that the Ranger looks more like a tool watch.
The Ranger comes with chronometer-certified movements, superior resistance to shock, magnetism, and decent water resistance. The current model retails for $2,700 and you can learn more about it here.
Hamilton Khaki Field
Hamilton has a long-standing tradition of making practical field watches for the military. It was one of the original makers of proper field watches and one that still makes them today. A bit like Omega, Hamilton has released many versions of the Khaki Field, but its most iconic model today is the hand-wound 38mm version. In many aspects, it’s one of the most legit field watch money can buy as it has preserved its particular military design cues. For example, the syringe hands, triangle-shaped hour markers, 24-hour scale on the central part of the dial, and its sandblasted finish.
As mentioned above, Hamilton offers many versions of the Khaki Field that come with automatic movements, sapphire crystal, and date complications. This particular model retails for $625 and you can learn more about it here.
MONTA made a field watch that has become iconic in its own right, the same way the Explorer 1 or Ranger have in the 1950s. I know this is a big claim to make but here’s why: the Triumph is robust, comes with superior finish, and better of all: it looks unique. I do appreciate it when independent brands release simple-looking but well-made field watches, but it’s even better when they create something we haven’t seen before. The Triumph comes in with a reasonable 38.5mm case in diameter, a Swiss-made movement and construction, and a highly legible dial. Perhaps my favorite part is that it comes with an awesome bracelet which is to me a staple of any proper modern field watch. I also like the fact that the Arabic numerals are of different sizes in order to make reading the time easier.
Of note is that the Triumph was MONTA’s second model but the one that put the brand on the map. The Triumph comes in at roughly $1,723 and you can find out more about it here.
Bulova is one of the very few American watchmakers still in existence today. (Hamilton is now part of the Swatch group and therefore can no longer be considered as being an American brand.) Bulova was one of the brands that produced a field watch at the end of World War II and that was part of the famous Dirty Dozen series. The brand recently released a modern interpretation of its 1940s field watch in the 98A255 Hack Watch pictured below. This model screams vintage military watches in the semi-cathedral hands, the sterile dial with the 24-hour scale, luminous markers and high contrast dial.
This model retails for around $250 and you can find more about it here.
Sinn 556 A
I’ve been a big fan of Sinn for the past few years. To me Sinn manufactures sturdy watches that represent what a field watch would look like if it was made for the first time in the 21st century. One particular model I would like to take your attention to is the 556 A. A proper field watch through and through due to having a highly legible dial, a solid Sellita movement, sapphire crystal, and excellent finish and manufacturing quality. Although the brand has only been around since 1961, it has made a name for itself by offering robust watches at reasonable prices. I would even argue that Sinn has helped put German watchmaking back in many collectors’ purview.
Check out Sinn’s website as the brand offers different variations of the 556 and of field watches in general. This particular model retails for about $1,250.
Perhaps we can agree that most models I’ve picked could be seen as great everyday watches, perhaps with the exception of the Hamilton and Bulova. In 2022, many field watches look more like everyday timepieces rather than hard-core military watches which explains in part why they are so popular amongst watch enthusiasts. The list presented in this article is by no way complete, and I’ve found articles that list several dozens of field watches available in 2022 that come with their own history and unique design. However, I wanted to share a few that I find the most interesting and that you may want to look into.
Featured image: www.montawatch.com