Several watch models and inventions can be traced back to the military and its varied needs as time was (and still is) crucial to any operation. Military historians tell us that timing artillery strikes was the main thing, and ease of access was what moved the watch from the pocket to the wrist. Even before the days of wristwatches, we can still see legacy items, such as the trench wrist strap, that allowed pocket watches to be worn on the wrist in a relatively secure and convenient fashion. That World War I practice, preceded by British officers during the Boer War, was subsequently adopted among a wider public to the point where it became a norm. Historians generally agree that officers returning from the front had gotten used to the idea of wearing their timepieces on the wrist, and this put paid to the notion that wristwatches were only for aristocratic ladies.
Over the course of the last few issues, we have devoted many pages to the subject of how time found itself on our wrists, chiefly by examining the oft-ignored watch band – the very thing that makes the wristwatch what it is. While this story ran in WOW Thailand some issues ago, we held back until we could use it to cap off the discussion. As you read this story, various themes that have played out across 2020, and right into this issue, can be attributed to the military and its need for no-frills precision timekeeping.
The subject of lethal conflicts aside, we have the military to thank for pushing horological boundaries both in terms of
precision (anti-magnetism), durability (resistance against the elements including water), legibility (luminous materials) and even practicality (the NATO strap being one of such militaryinspired inventions, see our main story for more details). The list goes on and it all reflects chapters in history, and we might even add the whole business of longitude and the need for instruments of navigation. We do not “need” watches especially designed for the military in order to tell the time in the 21st century. Indeed, most of the adaptations used by Western militaries are accidents, typified by the example of the trench watch.
On the other hand, we still see military-themed watches at all price levels from multiple brands, and for all sorts of
reasons, history being just one of them. A handful of watch brands currently in existence had supplied the armed forces of different countries back in the day, and we will list some here in due course. Therefore, they can lay legitimate claims and produce either faithful reproductions or reinterpreted versions of those military issued timepieces. Some, such as GirardPerregaux and Rolex hardly ever reference their history in this area, despite having the facts to back them up.
Simulacra and Simulacrum
Girard-Perregaux is perhaps the progenitor of all military wristwatches, given that one of the earliest claimed official orders for wristwatches for the armed forces is attributed to this brand. Reportedly, the German emperor ordered deck watches for the officers of the Imperial German Navy in 1879. The brand endorses this report, and no one really disputes it. As for what this watch actually looked like, or actual examples of the pieces, no one is actually sure. The brand suggested something, but that immediately became contentious. Nevertheless, Girard-Perregaux did produce a recreation of this watch some years ago, which of course did nothing to quell the discord surrounding the subject. Most brands, by way of contrast, have pretty straightforward claims.
Hamilton serves as a good example. The firm possesses a strong history of supplying to the United States Army and Navy during the World Wars. The demand was so great they had to suspend consumer production in 1942 in order to dedicate their output to the military. Today, their no-nonsense Khaki Field watches resemble what American servicemen wore in the 1960s. The military specification of that era demanded a secondary set of hour numerals from 13 to 24 on an imaginary inner concentric ring – the feature is kept alive today as the watch’s tell-tale signature feature.
One of the most prolific subgenres of militaryinspired watches in the market must be pilot watches. The playing field is shared by watch brands with or without a history of service. One proof of this possibility is the BR 01 collection of Bell & Ross.
The firm’s relative youth means they do not have wartime stories to tell. Nevertheless, the Parisbased company designed their BR 01 collection of square watches after the aesthetics of cockpit flight instruments. The code is passed onto the small brother BR 03. Any lack of heritage is compensated by engaging visuals and tasteful marketing that associate the products with aviation and, in some cases, military services. You do not need to look farther than the key
images used to promote the BR 03-92 H.U.D on the opening page of this article with no less than a Rafale fighter jet. That is more than enough to excite (if one can be excited by a flying machine, that is).
Sticking with aviation, Breguet provides a counterpoint here, with the Type XX model representing a direct link between the heirs of Abraham-Louis Breguet and the pioneering history of flight, including warplanes in World War 1. For some unfathomable reason, the Type XX is today the unsung hero of aviation watches. Collectors might rejoice at
this relative anonymity, because the model remains something only for the few who know better. But World War 2 is when the action really heats up.
Of course, there are plenty of options when it comes to watches associated with the military in that global conflict, including from the likes of Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, IWC, Laco, Seiko, Zenith, A. Lange & Sohne, Panerai and yes,
Rolex. Many legends were born at that time, even if the brands that made them have gone defunct, or emerged from the aftermath of war, reconstruction and decolonisation completely changed. To be sure there are complex stories
to be told here, and we have not even taken the plunge into dive watches. These do not interest everyone, and there are certainly simpler ways to go…
Sometimes, it is just a certain look one is after. A host of watches may just settle with
the use of a camouflage pattern here and there, like on the bezel of the Casio G-Shock GA-2100SU-1A, as well as on the dial and the strap of the Perrelet Turbine Camo. The bottom line is this: consumers continue to find a great sense of romance in the domain of the military. These watches can be fun. One need not even be vaguely interested in history, much less specialised historical areas, to enjoy them. They are not a necessity but a stylistic
or fashion statement, as well as an artistic or cultural expression. There is no pretence here like when someone wears a full uniform illegitimately. For example, we are sure that plenty of people like the IWC Top Gun models because of the movie, not the US Air Force.
Give Luminox a go if you are still unsure. At the very least, you will end up with a perfectly good beater for your weekend adventures.