If you happen to enter the words “field watch” into Google, you’re certain to find yourself in a sea of virtual storefronts advertising all kinds of watches as field watches. From quartz to automatics, fixed to rotating diver’s bezel, fabric straps to bracelets, and everything in between.
So, what actually makes a Field watch and what’s fluff?
First and foremost, let’s consider the outside of the watch. A true field watch is generally constructed of stainless steel, although premium versions often use titanium. What’s for sure is that there should be minimal polishing on the case, if any at all.
Overall, the case should be as unadorned as possible, almost bordering on bland and uninteresting. We’re dealing with a rugged work watch here, not a lustrous timepiece intended to attract eyeballs.
The band on a field watch is traditionally presented in fabric or leather. Although they’re encountered on some models, a bracelet is not appropriate. The nonadjustable nature of a metal bracelet would only serve as an obstacle when out in the field.
In the modern day, scratch-resistant sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coatings have become standard, at least above a threshold price point. This is no different with most quality field watches, though it’s not absolutely necessary.
When it comes to the dial, less is more in the best field watches. For reasons we’ll discuss next, the end goal is legibility. The numerals should be lumed, as should be the hands, with no other complications convoluting the dial.
Field Watch Movements
Lastly, the most authentic field watches will be powered by mechanical movements. Here, modern technology has once more blurred the lines.
Since quartz movements are so cheap, they’re almost unanimous in lower-end field watches. Nevertheless, a field watch should possess a mechanical movement to be able to pass the most stringent of authenticity tests.
Next, we discuss how field watches came to be, and what kind of environment required such specific conditions to be met.
History Of The Field Watch
As we’ve covered on our other watch guides, especially the one on pilot’s watches, many styles of wristwatch were the product of necessity in the war-ravaged decades of the mid 20th century.
WWI saw very specific use of wristwatches, particularly with plane pilots who needed to keep their hands on the command at all times. However, these were specialized instruments issued before missions, which often had to be returned when the wheels touched the tarmac once more.
When WWII rolled around, wristwatches had become much more popular in society. Similarly, most producers of pocket watches had converted almost completely to the new style of timekeeper.
The Second World War brought about the need for timely troops, which meant that essentially every pair of boots also needed to be equipped with a watch. American watch manufacturers, the likes of Hamilton, Elgin, Bulova, and others answered the call.
The requirements were relatively simple but critical:
The watch must be rugged; that is, waterproof, dustproof, resistant to shock and temperature, and above all, accurate.
The watch must be clearly legible, both in light and in the dark.
The band must withstand the conditions of the battlefield, as well as be easily adjustable and comfortable.
Considering the qualifiers above, it’s easy to see why field watches are so pervasive. It’s not so difficult to match all of the above characteristics and call yourself a field watch.
What is difficult is to rise above the millions of other similar timepieces with unique quality, style, and sophistication. We’ve gone out there and found the ones that have, and we’re jumping into them next.
Top Field Watches For Men
1. Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical Ref. H69439411 [Best Field Watch]
A very similar look to the one worn by the military, this Khaki Field also possesses all the virtues brought on by modern watchmaking.
First, the case is traditionally sized at 38mm, and is crafted of stainless steel with a deliberate matte finish. The dial, white with black numerals in this tempting example, also possesses an internal military time scale.
Moreover, present on the dial are luminous indices and hands, both filled with “old radium” Super-LumiNova. Though the timepiece is, of course, new and modern, these impart a vintage look that make for a beautiful, albeit subdued wristwatch.
This Khaki Field watch is serious about its military heritage. Considering this, we thought the olive NATO strap seemed appropriate. To be honest, the style of this watch is so versatile that just about any color strap would work well.
Topping it all off is a newly-released hand-wound H-50 caliber with an impressive 80 hour power reserve. Almost double the standard power reserve of most watches, the Khaki Field watch mitigates these concerns with ease.
Overall, Hamilton has done an outstanding job with their latest field watch offering. They’ve skillfully modernized a classic style of watch without selling out its soul, and in the process, made the best field watch that money can buy.
There’s no question of the quality of timepieces that Tudor puts forth year after year. With the Heritage Ranger, Tudor’s version of a field watch, the brand’s reach successfully extends into the utilitarian timepiece space.
Additionally, this Heritage Ranger offers a pleasing deviation from the boatload of Black Bays that have come out in recent years.
The watch touts a brushed steel case in a contemporary 41mm case size. The dial is uncluttered and clean, only marked by the large and legible luminous indices and precise minute markings.
The only bit of color is found in the center seconds hand. Although it’s minimal, it adds just the right amount of contrast to make the dial interesting to those who get up close.
Inside the case is an ETA-based movement, a workhorse caliber in its own right, ensuring that any shocks encountered in the field may be successfully sustained.
Lastly, we found the camo strap most fitting. It makes for extremely comfortable wear, and rounds up the military style while remaining practical, just like field watches of times past.
Longines has a well-established reputation for producing home run vintage-inspired timepieces. In fact, we’ve previously reviewed one of their most popular in this category, the Longines Legend Diver, and became quite fond of the watch.
The Military COSD is yet another grand-slam from the Swiss watch manufacturer’s Heritage watch line. A special edition inspired by a British Special Forces watch from the 1940s, this field watch example is slightly different from our previous picks.
Most notably, the case is high-polish stainless steel. Though this imparts a classier look, the military cues are still evident.
The opaline dial boasts a military time scale, a railroad minute track, and the essential luminous material throughout. There’s also a date, which maybe makes for an officer’s watch more than a soldier’s, though the COSD will thrive in the field regardless.
Naturally, the watch is presented on a green NATO strap, much like the originals given to British Combined Operations Command in WWII. The same also touts metal “minders”, yet another indication of the watch’s elegant style.
All in all, this Heritage Military COSD wanders outside the boundaries of the strictest definition of a field watch. Nonetheless, Longines’ expertise in this field ensures the final product endures as a distinguished field and military style watch.
When it comes to durable and tough timepieces, there’s few brands that makes them like Sinn. The German watchmaker prides itself in their materials innovations, as well as in the professional use of their watches.
The 556 is certainly no different. It possesses the satin stainless steel case which, albeit unadorned, boasts an attractive profile. Its black dial is equally simple and functional.
There’s large luminous hour indices and white minute markings. The lumed hands at center, which replicate aircraft instrument hands, also make for ideal legibility.
The watch can be had on a bracelet but its native strap or any kind of textile strap will make for the perfect field work watch. Yes, it’ll get scratched. It’ll also take some hits. But it’ll keep on going, it’ll wear its dings with pride, and continue looking great doing it.
Women’s Field Watch
Since men are not the only ones who get their hands dirty out in the field, and who desire a watch that’ll keep up with them, we thought it only proper to present an example fit for the horologically inclined women out there.
Bertucci M1-S Women’s Field Ref. 18011 [Ladies’ Field Wristwatch]
The Bertucci M1-S Field watch shows all the traditional signs of the field watch. Moreover, all of these are aptly executed, albeit in a smaller size case, without leaving behind the essence of the style.
The case is 30mm in stainless steel, and boasts a 4 o’clock crown designed to ensure comfort when worn. The dial is a traditional white with black numerals, a small date, and luminous indices and hands.
As can be expected, the watch is offered on a Zulu Nylon strap, one which can be had in many different colors direct from the manufacturer.
Though the watch is powered by a Japanese quartz movement, this undoubtedly helps keep the final cost down. This is always a plus for the end consumer, even more so in a field watch, where the fear of breaking the watch can be restrictive to the price paid.
This Bertucci M1-S Women’s Field Watch is an overall outstanding field watch example, presented in a sensitive size, sure to captivate female wrists everywhere.
More Watch Articles & Guides
There’s millions of different field watch models out there, and only a few specific ones on our list. So, what did we miss? And what did you think of our ultimate field watch picks?
Let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, feel free to check out our other watch guides, like these:
"I've got a couple of quartz field watches in my collection, though none as nice as the ones on this list. It's still fascinating seeing luxury brands execute on traditionally inexpensive styles like the field watch."