Why you own a particular watch is a deeply personal affair. No one should tell you what you should collect and wear, nor should anyone suggest how you should live your life. You like what you like, and you do what you want to do. That’s why, in this article, I will only tell you about my journey into horology and why it took me nearly nine years to understand what I like. In a nutshell, they are simple-looking, legible, and purpose-driven watches — specifically, tool watches that I would describe as “utilitarian.” What does that mean, you may ask? I’ll get to that in a bit. 

There are many ways to define what a tool watch is. And perhaps we can’t all come to a consensus on what that is, just as we can’t agree on what “luxury” is and what it isn’t. For instance, I’d call an Aera D-1 Diver or the Vero Workhorse a tool watch. However, you might call a Tudor Black Bay 54 or an IWC Chronograph 41 Top Gun Mojave Desert one as well. See? It’s all a matter of perspective. But I will tell you how a World War II-inspired military watch finally cracked the code for me. 

Indeed, I’ll be referencing the Praesidus A-11 Type 44 here a lot, and that’s for a good reason. 

It ended where it all began

This is not an autobiography, but I will tell you how I got into horology. The year was 2014. I was preparing for a 12-month round-the-world trip and decided to get a watch. I had been into watches for a while, but that year changed everything. It was when I started researching tool watches because I knew I wanted a robust timepiece. I wanted one that would survive traveling, hiking, diving, and functioning in all weather conditions. My eyes were set on a Seiko SKX013, but back then, $250 seemed like a lot of money to spend on a watch. So I settled for something much cheaper that broke after three months. Then I bought something even cheaper that worked better, and for another 12 months, I wore a $15 analog Casio. 

Searching for a watch, I told myself a nice tale: I needed a complex instrument on my wrist. I imagined myself wearing a Fortis Cosmonaut or Rolex Explorer II. Obviously, someone who thought $250 was a lot for an SKX didn’t buy either model. And it wasn’t until I was finally traveling that I realized what I needed and felt comfortable wearing — a $15 Casio. It was accurate, utterly under the radar, and robust. Twelve months of wear in over 10 countries later, the crystal was entirely covered with scratches. These were battle scars I never imagined Polywatching off. But once I returned home and started working again, I looked for something more refined and elegant — something that a “working professional” should wear. Ah, how naive I was. 

That’s where the Praesidus comes in. 

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

The watch that cracked the code

After four years of modest watch collecting (I only owned three sub-$250 watches), I switched career paths. Like millions of people, I lost my job in 2020 due to COVID. I looked for jobs for one year while contemplating becoming a full-time writer. I switched at the end of 2021, and since then, I’ve gotten my hands on many timepieces. Each watch I bought has incidentally brought me closer to my ultimate goal. That goal is to acquire as simple of a tool watch as possible. In my wildest dreams, I would sport a vintage Rolex Explorer or Nivada Grenchen Antarctic (a recreation of the latter was announced last month). 

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

You’ve got to admit it: the ads both brands created back then were clever and darn appealing. However, a vintage Explorer has always been outside my financial realm. I also don’t do vintage because I’m clumsy and lazy; I don’t want to baby a vintage watch or spend the time and money to service one. And without getting into defining what a “luxury watch” is, to me, a modern Explorer is just that. It costs thousands of dollars, it contains precious metal (albeit, just on the indices), and the servicing costs surpass what I typically spend on a new timepiece. There, I said it. So, in 2022, I reviewed a Praesidus A-11 Type 44 and purchased one the year after. 

True, the A-11 Type 44 retails for US$595, which isn’t cheap by any means. Then again, in the world of watches, it isn’t outrageous either. What drew me to this watch was the history of the design, its proportions, and its superlative legibility. It is by far the easiest watch to read that I’ve ever encountered. As I realized, that was the most important thing that a watch should do for me. It should do a simple job and do it well.

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

So, what is a utilitarian tool watch?

According to me, it’s a watch that was designed with a clear purpose in mind and with a design that does not delude its raison d’être. Imagine if the Praesidus A-11 Type 44 had a gold case or applied hour markers made of white gold. It wouldn’t have worked out for me. That’s because those materials would have no longer served the watch’s intended historical purpose — telling accurate time on battlefields. Although white gold is a nice material, it adds a lot of unnecessary zeros to the price tag. Therefore, according to yours truly, a proper tool watch shouldn’t cost too much because, well, it’s a tool. It’s not a piece of art. And it is the gold that would have constituted most of the value of that hypothetical Praesidus, not its design. 

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

To make a long argument short, let’s think about it this way: when was the last time you saw a wolf put on a golden helmet and silk gloves to hunt for prey? I’m not kidding. Or does a Ferrari actually make going from point A to point B easier? Faster, perhaps, but not easier. There are so many things that could go wrong with owning a Ferrari, just as there are many things that could go wrong with owning a $10,000 tool watch — theft, the cost of service, un-stealthiness, and the simple fear of losing it or getting it damaged. The gleam of applied white gold hour markers would quickly give away your position on the battlefield, by the way.

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

This makes for a perfect segue to succinctly talk about the origin of the A-11. It was commissioned in 1942 by the United States government to equip its soldiers and paratroopers to participate in Operation Overlord. The government wanted a watch that was robust, legible, and that could be produced in large numbers. Three American brands made the A-11 — Waltham, Bulova, and Elgin. 

The beauty of simplicity

We live in a complex world. Our attention is constantly being solicited by our phones, emails, people, sounds, reminders, notifications, and emails. I’ve just turned 40, and I’m already feeling that I would like the world to be more analog. The other night, a friend and I were mourning the disappearance of analog gauges on car dashes. These days, everything is a digital screen, and there are far fewer buttons and knobs to turn. There is even less control over what the car does because everything is automated. I could easily transpose these complaints to smartphones and smartwatches. Today, what we call “tools” don’t fulfill one purpose but many. And I believe they can’t do more than one thing well, just as we can’t correctly execute two tasks at the same time. 

So a simple tool watch like the Praesidus A-11 Type 44 is very special to me. First, it represents timekeeping distilled to its essence. In other words, it only shows the current time, and it does so efficiently. Second, it was designed with a clear purpose in mind, and it’s not embellished by precious materials or a rare movement. It’s made of stuff that works and requires minimum maintenance. Just like a simple wooden dining table, it was designed using one material and for one purpose only. A simple, utilitarian tool watch is driven by purpose, sober, and straightforward, just like nature is. 

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

Going back to the natural, the authentic

I’ve never been huge on technology, and I only tolerate using that which I need to fit in our modern world (alas, I think Nacho would kill me for sending articles handwritten on sheets of paper). I strive to live a simple life where I only acquire what I need. I want just enough clothes and furniture to function as a human, to consume just enough food to survive, and not overindulge in superfluous things and objects that contribute to living in unnatural ways and harm our planet. However, like everybody else, I’m a hypocrite: I don’t need to own ten watches, and I don’t plan on holding on to all of them forever. But I’m now at a stage where I know what kind of watches I like and why. If it wasn’t clear yet, those are purpose-driven, under-the-radar, and legible tool watches. 

Praesidus A-11 Type 44 military watch

Although I’m far from living in a way that I deem ideal, wearing a watch like the Praesidus A-11 reminds me of keeping things simple. It keeps me on track and centered. What I want to care about is here and now, not somewhere else tomorrow. There is beauty in the simplicity of a three-hander that doesn’t cost too much to acquire and own. That is, I suppose, what attracted me to vintage military watches that were inexpensive and beautifully simple in looks and operation. I know I won’t lose sleep over losing or damaging the Praesidus A-11. And I know that things made of simple components tend to last longer than those made of intricate, precious, and rare stuff (ah, don’t we all wish we had bought a 1980s Mercedes 300D?).

Final thoughts

Just as in all aspects of my life, I live in the gray area when it comes to watches. The Praesidus A-11 Type 44 is not the only watch that I own and wear. Although it’s on my wrist 80% of the time, I switch between three tool watches during the week, including a €250 Momentum SQ30 Eclipse Solar Quartz and a €1,400 Seiko Alpinist GMT. So yes, I need to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk. But I’m human, and it has taken me a long time to understand what I like and how I want to collect watches. After all, watch collecting is a deeply personal endeavor, and through this article, I simply wanted to share a bit of mine, especially why I’ve gotten more and more obsessed with utilitarian tool watches. 

At the end of the day, I guess it’s a question of being authentic to who I am. I’ve always seen myself wearing a small, three-handed exploration watch every day and anywhere life takes me. All I ever wanted was a simple companion to take with me on all my adventures. For some reason, though, it took me a while and a hefty dose of courage to make this step. It happened this way because I’m bombarded every day with images and articles featuring outstanding watches. In one way or another, I’m often told that X type of person should wear Y type of watch. But what about who I am? 

Please share comments about your horological journey below. I can’t wait to read them!