Posted on April 22 2020
Field Watches - Part 2
This is part two of our guide to our favourite field watches. Find the first article here.
Smith’s was one of the bigger names in British watchmaking history. Founded in 1880 as a manufacturer of pocket watches the company would go on to produce wristwatches and clocks and other instruments for the motor and aviation industries. Given its history, there’s a number of interesting stories about the company - from it importing Longines movements to recruiting Swiss technicians from Jaeger-LeCoultre. But ultimately the Smith’s story is a one of a successful British manufacturer producing large quantities of watches before retreating from that market during the quartz revolution of the 1970s.
Smith's fine heritage came to an end in the 1980s, only for the name to be revived by Timefactors, a modern British based company.
Regular readers will be aware that we’re fans of watch manufacturers mining their own back catalogue to bring back iconic watch models. (see an example here of Classic Divers). Smith’s originally released a military watch, used by the British army, in 1967, with production continuing until 1970.
The new version maintains both the original aesthetic and sizing, but with the addition of modern watchmaking knowledge. So it’s quite a small watch, with a 36mm diameter, but it has a sapphire crystal and a Swiss-made ETA hand-winding movement. Both the black and white versions can be summed up by a single word - authentic. It even has a NATO stock number.
Smith Military 36mm PRS29
Canadian brand Momentum focuses primarily on classic designs. As well as their unique creations, the Momentum range also includes a number of watches that are instantly recognisable. There are a Britsh Army G10 style infantry watch, a Submariner diver and a number of field watches.
Among those field watches is the Steelix.
A chunky watch with the distinctive feature of a crown at 4 o’clock, there’s more of an outdoors stying rather than a military one. This variation, with the ivory dial, successfully marries the vintage dial with a more modern case. At 44mm, it’s a substantial watch and although Momentum does have mechanical watches in their catalogue, this model is powered by a Seiko quartz movement. We’ve featured the leather strap model, but it is also available with a stainless steel bracelet.
Momentum Steelix Ivory SE
The company that became Vostok can be traced back to WWII and Russia’s involvement in the conflict. At the tail end of 1941, one of the Moscow watch plants was evacuated, in 150 railway carriages, to Kazan in South-West Russia. From there the story goes, the equipment, workers and their families covered the final 100KM to the city of Chistopol in a convoy of three thousand carts pulled by horses.
By April 1942 the factory was up and running and producing its first items for the military. However, wristwatch production didn’t begin until after the end of the war. 1965 is really where the story gets interesting for watch fans. It was then that the Chistopol Watch Factory became the official supplier of watches for the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union. It was also in the same year that the factory, now using the Vostok name, released the Komandirskie or Commanders watch. This is an iconic military timepiece that has its own unique story and fans.
The K-35 is a modern take on the classic Komandirskie.
Again, it’s a lot of watch for the modest price. The main appeal for watch fans, aside from the history, is the inclusion of a Vostok in-house automatic movement - designed to only need to be serviced once a decade. Stylistically, it has that unsubtle quality that we’ve come to expect from the brand. (See our favourite Vostok Amphibia’s here). It’s a tough, uncompromising watch. No sapphire crystal or GTLS illumination. Just what Vostok does best. A reliable mechanical watch at a bargain price.
Vostok K-35 350754
The full name for the factory that produces this brand is Tianjin Sea-Gull Watch Group. The brand traces its roots back to the creation of those first factories in the 1950s and is one of the ‘big three’. By volume, the Tianjin factory is the largest watch manufacturer in China, having produced only mechanical watches since the crash of 1997.
The D813.581 pays homage to Sea-Gulls first field watch which they produced for the Chinese military in 1964. If there was any doubt, it literally tells you on the dial that it’s a Chinese Military Watch.
Like other Sea-Gull watches I have (see the 1963 Chronograph here), this is a well-made watch. This time housing Sea-Gull’s own ST2553 automatic movement in the 44m case. In a list dominated by black dialled designs, it’s nice to see a green dial, particularly as it is complemented with a green canvas strap.
Looking closely at the watch there’s a little more going on than is seen at first glance. The hands, specifically the second hand, are a little more ornate than some others here. Similarly, both the crown and crown-guard have a few unique touches that add to the total overall design.
Sea-Gull D813.581 Chinese Military Watch
Hong Kong-based Armida is best known for their range of dive watches, but this Rolex Explorer-style is a rugged tool watch and compliments their other offerings.
You can immediately see the inspiration. Its heritage is Rolex's classic design. Yet, it's not a homage. The black dial and large numbers are there and the handset is as expected but there are a few subtle differences. Most obvious is the brass colouring of the hands, logo and chapter index. Unlike the Rolex, there's also a version available with a date. At 40mm both variations are slightly larger than their Swiss predecessor. Water-resistance comes in at a respectable 200M.
The A6 is powered by a Miyota 9039 automatic movement. The Miyota is a staple of the Microbrand watch world and is considered to be very reliable. The Explorer styling is obvious but so is Armida's own contribution. A perfect example of a classic design re-imagined.
Californian micro-brand Seals was only launched in 2014. So it’s a young, fresh brand, bringing to the market a unique styling. Founder Michael Seals took his love of tanks as inspiration for his watch designs and subsequently produced a line of watches with a distinct angular construction. Each released in a very limited run.
Hand-assembled in the US, the Model C Field Explorer continues this trend. There’s a functional, almost spartan design, with little that’s unnecessary. The case, with its tank inspiration, is 40mm and has relatively uncommon wire lugs. Additionally, there’s also the hexagonal crown. Though US assembled, the Model C boasts a Swiss automatic movement. Due to the small number released, you’ll need to check in with the manufacturer periodically if you hope to get your hands on one.
Seals Model C Field Explorer
Created as a brand to build watches for urban environments, Singapore based Boldr isn’t an obvious choice for this list. But the Venture is a legitimate field watch. A durable, titanium cased automatic with a slim profile.
There’s little in the way of colour and no date. There’s a large crown at 4 o’clock and like a lot of field watches, an easily replaceable canvas strap. A nice touch is the matt dial which works well with the titanium case.
Boldr Venture Black
Three friends, each a successful businessman in his own right, came up with the concept behind this brand. With a wealth of knowledge, and having sold their previous businesses, the founders quickly headed to Switzerland to research the Swiss luxury watch industry. Simply put, they discovered that many Swiss watches were assembled by parts from the same manufacturers and that they too could get access to these components.
The companies aim was clear - buy excellent quality Swiss watch parts, cut out the middlemen and create “the cheapest most expensive watches in the world”. Working from a converted chicken shed the guys launched their first watches in 2005.
A marketing campaign followed and having subsequently been discovered by the online watch collecting community the brand began its rapid growth. Since then it has merged with its Swiss watchmaking company and has produced its own mechanical watch movement - the SH21. Bear in mind no British watch company has released its own calibre for at least 50 years so this was a great achievement.
This model takes its name from the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. C65 Sandhurst takes inspiration from the original Smiths above. The Smith’s from 1967 was 35mm, but the C65 updates this to 38mm, an acknowledgement of modern tastes for a slightly larger watch. Other than that, this is very much a modern watch that gives more than a nod to history.
Although designed in England, it bears the insignia of the British Army, this is a Swiss-made timepiece - powered by a Swiss automatic movement. It’s not a cheap watch, but it’s very high quality and well-made piece.
Christopher Ward C65 Sandhurst Series 1
Regular readers will know that we love the stories behind watches, particularly if that story is inspired by the region or nations heritage. (See that type back story at Northwind Watches for example).
With Cincinnati Watch Company, and this watch specifically, there’s a story within a story.
This young company was created by two watch aficionados who began their watchmaking careers with a collaboration with Build Your Own Watch, a website that provides kits for enthusiasts to build their own watch. A couple of years later, Rick Bell and Mark Stegman launched the Cincinnati brand, with a mission to both take inspiration from the city whilst also giving something back.
An example of this inspiration was the Union Terminal Watch, a watch made in homage to the art deco clock on the face of The Union Terminal. Made in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, a portion of the sales price of the watch went back into the local community. The watch we’re focusing on here, the Cincinnatus Field, raises money for Freestore Foodbank, a Cincinnati charity.
The Cininnatus is a beautiful piece that is vintage-inspired and military-styled but manages to not look out of place in 2020. There’s the brand’s inspiration, with this particular model named after a Roman statesman, but the piece is used to benefit the brand’s city today. It’s these stories that keep us interested in new watch brands and their founders.
Powered by a Japanese automatic movement, each watch is personally inspected and regulated by Rick, and includes a sapphire crystal and 100M water resistance.
Cincinnati Cincinnatus Field Watch
French brand Merci is unlike any other company on our list. They’re not a watch brand as such, but rather the founders began with a children's fashion label, then opened the Merci store in Paris. They describe this as “a place which would bring together the best of the world of fashion, of design, of household goods with welcome refreshment areas”.
So watches are just one of the projects that they’re involved in. But like Cincinnati watches, the aim is to use the business to give something back. In this case, Merci raises fund for educational projects and development in south-west Madagascar.
It’s another classically styled watch, but this time with a Seiko VH31 quartz movement that mimics the sweeping second hand of a mechanical movement. There’s nothing innovative here, just a very nice watch with an interesting back story, but it is one of those uncommon pieces that does catch your eye. It’s available with a number of strap choices which allows you to soften the military look if you choose one of the more colourful options.
Merci LMM-01 Field Watch
Hailing from the micro-brand hotspot of Hong Kong, Aquatico as the name suggests, are better known for their diver’s watches. So the Blue Angels (not to be confused with the Russian watch), is a smart, modern take on the field watch - with a hint of aviator thrown in.
There’s a little in the styling that is reminiscent of the Hamilton Khaki, but not to the point that it feels like a homage. There are the touches of red that we’ve noted on some of the other field watches, but this time it includes some on the dial as well as the second hand. There are decent specs, considering the relatively low price. The trusty Seiko NH35A automatic movement, a sapphire crystal with AR coating and a handmade Horween leather strap.
Aquatico Blue Angels
American fashion brand Filson produce outdoor wear, very much inspired by the countries heritage and the founders own experiences in outfitting the stampeders in the Klondike Gold Rush. So there’s rugged clothing, hunting gear, blankets, fishing gear and the like. Tough watches are an obvious addition to that product range.
Filson’s field watch looks American. It’s clearly in the style of watches issued to the US military. This particular variant, with both a green dial and strap and bold numbering, is the most military looking. The over-sized crown, with a touch of bronze, is both a practical feature for ease of setting, but also a bold design feature.
The watch itself, with a diameter of 41mm, isn’t over-sized. It’s a quartz watch, with a sapphire crystal and durable construction - some of their range was produced by US watchmakers Shinola.
Our final field watch is the WWW from Serica, a watch created in tribute to the classic British army timepiece.
The WWW stand for Wrist Watch Waterproof and this watch was the produced by a collaboration between the author of a book on watches and a group of bloggers. The result is a tidy piece that comes in two dial variations and a couple of strap and hand choices.
The one we’ve chosen here is the black dialled version with the broad arrow hands. We’ve opted for the camel strap rather than the black. At 37mm the WWW is at the smaller end of the watches that we’ve highlighted, very much in keeping with the style at the time these watches were in service. The most noticeable feature in this watch is the ETA 2801-2 manual-winding mechanical movement, but of course, its inclusion is reflected in the price.
It’s a fitting watch to round out this article. A historically inspired piece, produced by a collection of watch fans who successfully combined the best of both field and military designs.
Serica W.W.W. (WMB Ed)
Find part 1 of our guide to Field watches here