Finding The Best Military-Style Field Watches Currently Available — Hamilton, Benrus, Marathon, And More
Field watches are often overlooked timepieces in today’s world of luxury watches. They are far from a luxury statement, and that’s exactly how they should stay. There is something really honest about field watches, defined as simple military watches that should do one thing and one thing only — tell accurate time. In the field of battle, keeping exact time was truly a matter of life and death. As a result, field watches are very simple timepieces with their own style and stories. They are stories untainted by extravagant prices and the urge to wear a statement of wealth. No, field watches are about as honest and straight-up as it gets. Time to look at some of the best field watches out there.
When I said field watches are often overlooked, I didn’t mean there is no general respect for them. Au contraire, there is an incredible level of respect for them because of their background and utilitarian style. Their iconic value is tremendous. Originally intended as watches for soldiers in battle, they grew into simple, easy-to-read military-style watches that, to many, are a must-have in any watch collection. Whether new or vintage, field watches have been relevant and popular for over a century with collectors and people simply searching for a casual watch.
Broadening the horizon
Over time, we also saw the context of field watches grow wider. First and foremost, they are military-style watches that tell the time. Traditionally, they are modestly-sized stainless steel watches with a large crown, black dial, white hands, and big white Arabic numerals. If the numerals themselves were not lumed, the brand added lume plots for reading the time at night. A typical feature of many field watches is a smaller 24-hour military-time scale. However, not all military field watches have that feature. Another common trait is the small seconds sub-dial, which was used on the famous “Dirty Dozen” watches. But it does not end there.
Through the decades, we have also seen day and date indications and sometimes even a GMT function added to field watches. Recently, brands have also introduced black DLC cases and bronze cases that perfectly fit the overall military style. And different dial colors and straps have also proven to be an option for field watches. This also brings up a discussion of the wider context of field watches. While still very much a part of the military watch genre, I like the safari-style field watches with lighter dials and straps that are a little sidestep from the norm. Another step further is the explorer’s watch. Are they part of the same genre? And if you take it even one step further, the anti-magnetic engineer’s watches pop their heads around the corner. But for now, let’s look at eight modern-day options for a great military-style field watch.
Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical Bronze
The first pick is a no-brainer. The Hamilton Khaki Field series is probably the most well-known series of military watches out there. Last year, we saw the introduction of the 38mm bronze version of the Khaki Field Mechanical. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I was a fan of the watch. I am not the biggest fan of bronze cases, as I generally don’t see the added value of them. I do like their overall hue, but as soon as the patina starts to form, I am out. But the levels of charm that the bronze case adds to the Khaki Field watch are tremendous. And the 38mm size turned out to be perfect for my wrist, thanks to a 44mm lug-to-lug span.
The combination of the case with the brown leather strap and the black dial with its bright white numerals creates something a lot more sexy than the regular version of the watch. And if there is one watch that I’d let take on the typical bronze patina, it’s this one. The 38mm CuSn8 bronze case is 9.6mm high and is a joy to wear on the leather NATO strap. The case back and buckle are made of titanium and fit the overall style of the watch very well. Inside the case, Hamilton equipped the watch with the hand-winding Caliber H-50. As Rob explained in his review, it’s a modified ETA C07.111, which, in turn, is a souped-up ETA 2824 with an 80-hour power reserve. At €745, this is a great pick and one that is hard to beat.
The next pick is the much newer Serica 4512. If there is one watch that won people over at the Fratello offices in terms of being a joy to wear, it was this 4512. As I explained in my review of the watch, I often miss a certain charm when it comes to military field watches, which makes sense because they are here to perform a functional task. But Serica owner Jérôme Burgert managed to add a ton of charm to the 4512. The charm is injected through clever choices that perfectly fit the military nature but boost the style to higher levels. The absolute star of the show is the 37.7mm stainless steel case. It is 11.3mm thick and features elegantly styled broad-shouldered lugs. It also has a 2mm-thick sapphire crystal and is water-resistant to 200 meters.
The most impressive feature is the brushed flat-top bezel, which gives the case a lot of character. It creates a perfect visual balance with the three different dial options. The first is the WMB dial that features a 24-hour layout encircled by a classic railroad track. The second is the Commando dial, a toned-down version of the WMB dial that features a different track and leaves the large hour markers. The third, and in my opinion the most charming option, is the California dial with half-Roman and half-Arabic numerals. Inside the case, Serica uses the manual winding version of the STP1-11, which offers great accuracy at ±6 seconds a day. Add the great-looking and extremely comfortable Bonklip bracelet, and it makes the 4512 the most exciting recent new addition to the world of field watches. At €690, I’d say this is the best field watch your money can buy.
Timor Heritage Field Watch
In the intro, I already touched upon the “Dirty Dozen”, a collection of 12 different watches that were commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) during World War II. Part of this famous collection was the Timor W.W.W. model. In 2020, we saw a re-introduction of the Timor brand, and last year, Rob reviewed the re-issue of that original watch that was part of the Dirty Dozen. This modern version stays close to the original with its 36.5mm stainless steel case and classic dial layout. But as Rob explained, there are subtle differences between the original and the modern version. The first difference is the larger-sized crown. While the original military watches had oversized crowns, they would be considered normal-sized according to current standards.
Another slight difference is seen in the updated font. While the font style is the same, the size is smaller, creating a slightly different appearance. But you will understand that we are talking details here, so overall, the look and feel is very much like the original watch. Inside the case, Timor gives you the choice of either a manual-winding Sellita SW216 or the automatic Sellita SW260. They are straightforward movements where the only “right” choice would be the manual-winding version. At €960, the Timor is not the most affordable of options out there. But I had the pleasure of wearing it, and it brings a lot to the table in terms of style, quality, and overall wearing experience.
Marathon General Purpose Mechanical
Another great option is the Marathon General Purpose Mechanical. Marathon is a Canadian brand with roots that date back to 1904. Starting in 1941, it became one of the timepiece suppliers to the Allied Forces. Today, Marathon is the last remaining official supplier of wristwatches to the U.S. and Canadian militaries. But the brand also sells watches to consumers. The most interesting, in my opinion, is the 34mm General Purpose Mechanical, or “GPM” watch. This field watch is characterized by its stand-out case design, 34mm in diameter and 11mm in height. The composite case consists of a metal core and a high-impact fiber shell that comes in black, sage green, or desert tan. I love seeing the desert tan and sage green versions as they are a nice break from typical watch case colors.
Marathon equipped the watch with the automatic Seiko NH35 movement inside the case. It also powers the Unimatic watches that I own and has proven to be a sturdy and reliable caliber. All three different options are equipped with a familiar black military-style dial with a 12-hour and 24-hour scale. The dial also features tritium gas tubes for reading the time in darker lighting conditions. A 3mm-thick flat sapphire crystal covers the dial and provides ample protection. All three different models come with matching 16mm NATO straps. Although the watch wears slightly bigger than its 34mm size because of its case shape and colors, it is still a watch for smaller wrists. At €420, the Marathon GPM offers incredible value for money, and on top of that, it looks great.
Benrus DTU 2A/P
Another famous brand that needs to be on this list is Benrus. In the past, the brand supplied the U.S. military with watches under both the Mil-W-3818B and GG-W-113 specifications. The watches earned their reputation as the watches worn by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. On top of that, Steve McQueen famously wore a Benrus ref. 3061, better known as the Benrus “Bullitt”, in the 1968 film of the same name. Just a few months ago, Benrus released the Benrus DTU 2A/P. The watch is a modern remake of the famous Benrus DTU 2A introduced in 1964. For this modern version, the brand equipped the watch with a 39.5mm bead-blasted stainless steel case. Combined with the green nylon single pass NATO strap creates a very understated look and feel, allowing the dial to be the focus of your attention.
The black dial is rather busy with a 12-hour and 24-hour scale. On the outside of the dial, there is a 60-minute track with large triangular markers for every five minutes. Combined with the white syringe-style hands, there are a lot of white elements that contrast well with the black background. The readability is still great despite the busy dial, mainly because the watch has one function — telling the time. The double-domed acrylic crystal protects the dial. Inside the case, Benrus equipped the watch with the automatic Sellita SW200 movement. It’s a movement that we see a lot in a wide range of watches, from affordable to more expensive timepieces. The watch comes with a removable military compass attached to the strap and costs $595. This modernized version of the Benrus DTU 2A/P is the perfect option for someone looking for a slightly larger field watch.
Another famous name when it comes to military watches is CWC. The Cabot Watch Company was founded to build watches exclusively for the British military. Rob reviewed the CWC Mellor-72 Mechanical in 2020 and was smitten by the watch. It features a typical 38mm case (including the crown) that Hamilton also uses for its Khaki Pilot Pioneer. The case shape has become iconic, and you can find plenty of vintage models featuring the case as it was a very popular watch. The Mellor-72 is an almost exact recreation of the original model released in 1972. That original watch was produced according to the specification for a “General Service” set by the British MoD in the late 1960s. A difference between the modern and the vintage version is the lume color. The vintage models have aged lume, but the original used lume with a light green hue. The modern version uses crisp white lume.
Inside the case, CWC uses the manual-winding Sellita SW216 with 24 jewels and 42 hours of power reserve. The dial design of the Mellor-72 is very straightforward and highly effective. Combined with the case, it created a military timepiece with a lot of character. Speaking of the case, it has fixed strap bars, so your only options are 16.5mm NATO or Zulu straps. Not that it’s a problem because they look great on this iconic watch. But if there is one thing that Rob would have changed with this modern recreation, it’s equipping the watch with spring bars. But that’s the only thing! At £449, the CWC Mellor-72 is a great option. Add another £50, and you can personalize the case back to create something unique.
A young brand that has created its own modern version of the field watch is Boldr Supply Co. The Singaporean brand was founded in 2016, and over the last six years, has managed to build a neat collection of watches. Within that collection, the Venture line is based on the classic field watch but executed in a modern way. The Venture Automatic models are the most stripped-down versions that remind me the most of the classic military field watch. I love that Boldr has developed a modern case design that gives the Venture Automatic a much more contemporary feel. The titanium case measures 38mm in diameter, 12mm in height, and 42mm from lug to lug.
Depending on the variant, Boldr uses different movements from Seiko and Miyota for its Venture models. Rob reviewed the impressive Venture Un.Dark last year that came with the shocking story or the Radium Girls. That watch is powered by the automatic Miyota 8217 movement and features the crown at the regular spot at 3 o’clock. Dave reviewed the funky Venture Chaigo Limited Edition powered by the Seiko NH35 movement that has the crown at 4 o’clock. That’s also the movement that powers the most basic and classic military-looking Venture Carbon Black. This model is available at a very affordable price of €269. Some models are slightly more expensive at just over €300, which is still a steal considering what you get in return.
Unimatic Modello Due
The last watch I picked for this list is the Unimatic Modello Due. The young brand from Milan has created a modern version of the field watch based on its philosophy of removing all the decoration of the dial. This approach has made the Modello Uno an incredibly popular watch with both the more traditional watch enthusiasts and people looking for a style statement. After releasing its watches in limited runs and collaborating with other brands on limited editions, Unimatic recently released its permanent collection. It consists of a basic version of all of its four models that perfectly represents the brand’s design philosophy. It’s a philosophy that works very well with the utilitarian character of the field watch.
The standard Modello Due UC2 features a modern 38.5mm case that is 13.7mm high and has a 47.5mm lug-to-lug length. The watch features a lug width of 22mm, and I love that you can use wide straps for some extra wrist presence. Unimatic uses the automatic Seiko NH35 movement that I have discussed with my previous picks. For the collaborative Modello Due with Hodinkee and their newest Modello Due S-series, the brand equipped the watch with automatic Sellita SW200-1 movements. As a result, the case height is substantially slimmer at 11.6mm. It’s a great technical update, and it makes the Modello Due even more comfortable to wear. It will be interesting to find out whether Unimatic will equip its regular models with Sellia movements in the future. For now, the Seiko NH35-powered Modello Due UC2 can be your perfect modern field watch pick at €400 before taxes.
There you have it. A selection of some of the best field watches currently available. That said, do keep in mind that these picks are some of my personal favorites. There are plenty of other options out there if these just aren’t for you. Nevertheless, it’s great to see that you can buy these iconic watches with an often great history for an affordable price. It makes field watches a pretty special genre within the world of mechanical horology. The field watch provides a unique style that I love both in its traditional and modern executions. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did I pick your favorite? Or did I leave it out of my top five? Let me know what your picks would be in the comments below!