Top 5: Our Favorite Modern Field Watches

Top 5: Our Favorite Modern Field Watches

Posted by Mike Johnson on in Articles, Top 5

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In the wide world of tool watches, field watches don’t really get the love they deserve. Sure, most of our adoration goes towards dive watches, chronographs, and pilot watches – but in a lot of ways, a simple three-handed field watch is the ultimate tool.

But what makes a great field watch?

I see a lot of watch blogs include chronographs, pilot watches, and other random three-handers in their “top 10” field watch lists and it doesn’t make much sense. A field watch should live to tell the time (and maybe the date), and that’s about it.

Some might find the design plain, but to me it’s timeless. Many have GMT scales, and some have seconds sub-dials, but the essence of the field watch is a rugged, legible, three handed watch that does one job really well.

Field watches have been standard military issue since pocket watches made the transition to the wrist in WW1, and have evolved using a fairly standard military template: big arabic numerals, granular second demarcations around the edge, and a simple waterproof case. Movements are both quartz and mechanical, but have to be durable enough to stand up to a lot of rigorous use.

Many field watches on the market today are just imitations of the classics, but some are produced by the same companies that provide watches for real modern military forces. Many people settle on purchasing imitations without realizing they can purchase the real thing for not much more.

Today’s article will explore our favorite modern field watches, both quartz and mechanical, from a variety of well-respected companies (with and without military contracts).

Budget Quartz: The Timex Expedition Scout

Timex Expedition

As far as cheap quartz field watches go, there isn’t much competition for the Timex Expedition. With it’s classic field watch looks and an innumerable amount of color choices, this watch makes a great choice for those of us on a strict budget.

Timex is one of the few cheap brands to get a nod from watch snobs, just don’t expect this watch to last your lifetime. It is what it is for around $30, but makes a fun and disposable choice for those looking to test the waters.

Budget Mechanical: Seiko SNZG13

Seiko SNZG13

Seiko makes another strong entry in the budget mechanical market with the popular Seiko 5 SNZG13. Seiko doesn’t have a history of producing field watches for military personnel, but they do have a history of producing high quality mechanical watches for much less than their Swiss competitors.

This watch features their dependable machine-made 7S36 Automatic, and the modern 41mm case is a bit larger than the classics for those who think field watches wear too small.

Mid-priced Mechanical: Hamilton Khaki Field

Hamilton Khaki Field Auto

For value-oriented buyers looking for a high-quality piece, look no further than the Hamilton Khaki line of field watches. Although Hamilton doesn’t have any current military contracts, it did product field watches for the United States during WWI and WWII. The current line of field watches includes an array of different sizes, in both automatic and hand-wind variants, and they look every bit the part of their vintage counterparts.

With a high-quality ETA Swiss movement inside, this is one of the best values in Swiss Made military field watches you can find.

See also: Hamilton Khaki Field Officer: Hands-On Review

Authentic Military: CWC G10 General Service Watch

CWC G10 Field Watch

CWC (Cabot Watch Company) is a British group little-known outside of U.K military collector circles. Founded in 1972, CWC has been producing field watches for the the British Military for over 40 years. If you’re looking for an authentic G10 watch, the quartz operated CWC G10 is an excellent choice.

With a domed acrylic glass and 16mm lug width, this is a watch that has stayed true to it’s original military specifications, but may be a bit small for modern tastes.

Authentic Military: Marathon General Purpose Mechanical

Marathon General Purpose Mechanical

Marathon is another company that produces watches for US and Canadian Military forces. The GPM (or General Purpose Mechanical), is Marathon’s rendition of the classic American Field Watch. Included in this package is a Japanese made Seiko NH35 movement and a case built to strict military specifications.

It’s built with a lightweight “fibershell” case and uses radioactive tritium markers for illumination. Available in three colors (Green, Black and Khaki).

See Also: Brand Spotlight: An Introduction to Marathon Watches

Vintage Choices

Omega WWW Field WatchAnother option for field watch enthusiasts is to purchase a vintage piece second-hand. Although these used watches can have mechanical problems (and may not be in great shape), it’s tough to beat a field watch with a real military provenance. As a bonus, they can usually be found rather cheaply (for around $200 to $500 typically).

The most popular and common models would be the A17 and A11 field watches, made by a variety of companies including Waltham, Bulova, and Hamilton. These are the watches that almost all modern field watches are based on, and if you can snag one you’re going to have a really special piece for your collection.

See Also: A Brief Guide to the Iconic Military Watches of World War II

Field watches are truly an under-appreciated yet essential part of every man’s watch collection. They embody simplicity and their classic design will never go out of style. Whether you have an authentic military original or a cheap modern homage, chances are you will be smiling while you are wearing it. They are fantastic watches for hiking, doing yard-work, or just lounging around the house.

So, what are your favorite field watches? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author

Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson is the managing editor and primary contributor to Born into a military family as the son of US Navy pilot, Mike spent many of his formative years studying Computer Science and User Experience Design. When not obsessing over watches, Mike spends time hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family in Phoenix, Arizona.

Comments 10

  1. Jose c

    Both Wenger and Victorinox make awesome field watches both in automatic and quartz and can be found for a steal on sale especially online !!
    Great article cheers!!

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  2. Kenhash

    “Seiko doesn’t have a history of producing field watches for military personnel”

    This is incorrect. Just as the German military in WWII wore watches made by companies like IWC, Stowa and Laco, the Imperial Japanese military wore watches made by Seikosha, the former name of Seiko. More significantly, the US Army Special Forces under CISO-MACV in the Vietnam War were ISSUED Seiko watches, specifically the 6619, 6119, 7005 purchased directly from Seiko. In addition, the number of Seiko watches bought by US troops in PXs all over Asia during that period gave rise to the saying “The Vietnam War ran on Seiko time”. It was the troops returning to the U.S. with their Seikos that popularized the brand in this country,

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      Mike Johnson

      Kenhash, thanks for the info. My understanding is that Seiko watches were purchased by troops at the retail exchanges (PX/RX) overseas, not directly issued by the government. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. government issued watches made by American companies (Elgin, Waltham, Benrus). The DOD is not in the habit of fulfilling government contracts with foreign companies. It’s true Seiko (more accurately, Seikosha, which was technically a different company), did issue watches to Japanese pilots during WW2, I don’t think it’s accurate to say the U.S. government issued Japanese watches to its troops.

  3. KenHash

    Mike, you are correct that many GI\’s individually purchased Seikos (as well as may other brands including even Rolex) at PXs. You are also correct that the standard US Army issue watch during the Vietnam War was made by a number of manufacturers through a bid based military contract. – However, the U.S. ran covert operations during the Vietnam War widely known now as SOG (Studies and Observation Group) under CISO-MACV (Military Assistance Vietnam) headed by Conrad Ben Baker. As these Special Forces teams operated behind enemy lines in places they were not suppose to be, they carried equipment not readily identifiable as American in the event of capture or death. This included Pentax cameras, Seki made unmarked combat knives, and Seiko watches.
    (please scroll down to the watch).

    \”The black faced Seiko watches were purchased directly from the manufacturer in bulk by Ben Baker who was the department head of CISO (Counter Insurgency Support Office) and issued throughout the different SOG Supply Offices (S-4). Two variations of the watches were issued to cross border personnel to include a time date and non-time date. The bands were usually replaced by the veterans for the nylon strap found with the survival wrist compass. The Seiko Watch on the left was issued to Michael Sheppard of Recon Team Montana and the watch on the right was issued to Steve Perry who was assigned to MAC V SOG, OPs-80.\”

    That certain Seiko models were issued to US Special Forces during the Vietnam War is historically documented with the models fairly well identified.

    Moving forward, during the 1990 Operation Desert Storm, the British Royal Air Force procured directly from Seiko UK, the model 7A28 Pilot\’s Chronograph watch which was issued to RAF pilots, and later to Royal Navy helicopter pilots. Around the same time, the Swedish Air Force also procured and issued the same model or variant to their helicopter pilots.

    Therefore, I respectfully repeat that your statement \”“Seiko doesn’t have a history of producing field watches for military personnel” is not correct.

    Best Regards
    PS- I wear a Rolex 5513…not a Seiko.

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      Mike Johnson

      Fascinating stuff. Thanks again for your contribution, I’ll definitely dive deeper into the links you provided. Funny enough, I was just watching that SOG Seiko video you linked this morning. Enjoy your 5513, I hope to have one some day as well.

  4. Clint

    There is an error in this article. Please note that the lug width on a CWC G10 is not 16mm as you state, or even 18mm (as Sebastien above says). The correct lug width on on CWC G10 is 19mm. Please correct.

  5. Sold Corp Watches

    Really great article. You can’t talk about this segment without mentioning the Hamilton Khaki Field Watch. It’s just a legendary field watch from a storied watchmaker. A small correction is that the NH35 movement is from Seiko, a Japanese company so it isn’t really a “Swiss” movement.

    If you want to see more watches related to this segment, check out this article about the best affordable watches that come fitted with nylon straps. Nylon straps and field watches go hand in hand. They complete that rugged, casual, and utilitarian look. Not to mention they’re comfortable, lightweight, and cost effective.

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