Posted on March 22 2019
Ten of the Best Affordable Military Watches
There are a couple of watch collecting niches that always prove popular with watch fans. At the top are divers watches.
At any one time there appears to be thousands of divers models available. They’re chunky, masculine and often designed with durability and functionality in mind. The ideal blend of form and function.
Military watches are similar, although there’s much less emphasis on the aesthetics and more care taken to ensure that the watches are legible and reliable. Increasingly that means battery powered quartz watches, often in a plastic or resin case.
Legible and reliable? Definitely. Stylish and desirable? Not so much.
So there’s still a large market for traditional military-style watches.
Either remakes and updates of classic models or new pieces designed specifically to capture the essence of a vintage military watch. Design cues can come from specific eras, conflicts, armies or government-issued specifications.
The result is a wide range of styles that still manage to incorporate some common themes. And once you’re buying over a relatively low price point, durability, functionality and reliability are givens.
Again, I'm not going to spend time looking at luxury brands. We know that IWC’s pilot's watches have a fine heritage and that Rolex’s MilSub is a holy grail for military watch collectors. But I’d like to present some watches that, whilst you probably won’t have seen them in your local jewellers, they’re still readily available and modestly priced.
CWC and MWC G10
The term G10 is used to describe a specific style of watch issued to the British army from the 1960s onwards.
This mechanical watch, produced by the likes of Smiths, CWC and Hamilton was later replaced by a quartz version. This newer CWC watch is usually what we mean by a G10.
CWC was established by Ray Mellor who had been Managing Director of Hamilton’s UK arm.
As an ex-serivceman involved in the British watch industry he’d noted that Smith’s had folded and that US brand Hamilton was no longer trying to win MOD contracts. He decided to create a watch company to fill that gap.
CWC claims to have produced over 200,000 G10’s for the military alone.
At 36.5mm the CWC G10 is a relatively small watch by today's standards, however, other manufacturers now produce their own versions. Pulsar produced a G10 for the MOD that wasn’t particularly well received and MWC now produce an impressive range of G10’s, some with greatly increased specs from the CWC original.
Nearly all G10’s regardless of manufacturer come with a canvas NATO style strap.
The US Army has its design classics, although the process by which they came into existence is slightly different to that of the UK.
When the US government requires a watch it releases it's detailed specifications for how the watch must function and what it should look like.
Watch manufacturers can submit their designs and bid for the contract.
Therefore, over the decades numerous companies can end up supplying watches to the military. What that also means for us is that today's companies are free to produce watches to those same specifications regardless of whether they were the actual military suppliers.
The government initially released a number detailed specifications for military watches and in 1962 the details were updated to MIL-W-3818A.
Of the numerous companies that submitted sample watches for this contract only Benrus was deemed to have produced a watch to the required standard. They were to later release a civilian version that Steve McQueen would wear in the film Bullitt. I looked at these watches in more detail here.
Around the same time the government also introduced the GG-W-113 specification which was almost identical to the MIL-W-3818A but applied to all government watches and not just the military.
Swiss based MWC (Military Watch Company) produce two modern variations of the GG-W-113 watch. An automatic and quartz version. Both are faithful to the original specification with a 36mm stainless steel case, canvas strap and lumed hands and indices.
Rather than producing military watches Bertucci manufacture field watches. Tough, rugged timepieces designed to be used in the field, whether that’s hiking, climbing or hunting.
Field watches have long been favoured by the armed services and Bertucci do have some designs clearly influenced by the military.
One such watch is the A-3T Vintage 13306.
Bertucci are well known for producing a number of watches with their signature resin cases.
This model however features a 42mm titanium case with a brushed finish. The WWII influenced design includes an authentic and distinctive sand coloured dial. The watch has 100M WR, lumed dial and hands and a heavy duty canvas strap.
Since its launch in 1954 Rolex's Submariner watch has become established as a design classic. The original watch was a part of the Swiss manufacturers Oyster Perpetual line and was designed as a sports and diving watch.
Such was its reputation as the best available divers watch at the time that the British Ministry of Defence chose Rolex as the suppliers to their Navy divers. The resulting watch was the military Submariner, or MilSub, one of the rarest Submariners.
For most the Rolex Submariner is out of their budget.
However, the ‘Submariner’ is now an accepted style of watch - produced by many watch brands. One of which is again MWC.
They offer a range of specs for their Submariner line, including this base model.
It has everything you'd expect from a standard Submariner. It comes in at 40MM and has the default Stainless Steel case used on all MWC Subs. The Lug to Lug measurement is 49MM. Like all of their watches in this range the dial is black. The indices are as expected and the lume is green Super Luminova.
Whereas a Rolex is powered by their own in-house automatic movement, this MWC has a Japanese made Ronda 751Li quartz movement. The Li signifies that this movement uses a lithium battery to give a ten year battery life. Handy if you want to retain that 300M water resistance. See my look at the range here.
Traser P66 Type 6 MIL-G
Traser are a Swiss company that produce watches marketed as military watches. Indeed, a quick web search will show that their pieces are regularly worn by soldiers, having been used in recent conflicts.
It’s said that the US military have so far ordered 300,000 watches.
On the whole the Traser line tends towards reliable quartz movements, with all watches also containing the H3 Tritium tube illumination that the company is renowned for. This form of illumination uses small tubes filled with H3 and requires no charging from sunlight or a battery.
This particular model comes in at a substantial 44mm, has a sapphire crystal, a polymer case with a stainless steel container and 200M WR.
Marathon watches can trace its history back to the founding of Weinsturm Watch in 1904. The company became Marathon in 1939 and since 1941 has been supplying timepieces to the military.
The company is still a family owned business, currently in the hands of its fourth generation.
The Navigator model is built to strict military specifications under MIL-PRF-46374G.
First developed by Marathon Watch Company in 1986 this watch was made originally as a request by the Kelley Air Force Base. The result is a tidy watch with the distinctive asymmetrical case of a Navigator style model.
The watch is housed in a lightweight fibre shell case that is sweat and shock resistant. There’s a couple of colour variations with each watch having been made in Switzerland and powered by a Swiss ETA FØ6 quartz movement.
Like most military watches it’s not over-sized and comes in at a modest 41mm.
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Luminox Black Ops 8800
Like Traser, Luminox made its name creating watches that use GTLS illumination. Much has been made of this form of illumination that guarantees a 25 year life span and you’ll see it on a number of watches on this list.
Unlike other brands, Luminox was created around this technology when in 1989 Barry Cohen first came across this form of illumination. Along with a friend he formed Luminox, taking the name from the latin for ‘light’ and ‘night’. Within a couple of years they’d created a watch to be worn by the Navy Seals and the brand quickly gained industry recognition.
The company has added numerous lines to its range, but those nearest to the early Navy Seals watches are the most recognisably Luminox.
The Black Ops 8800 series continues in that vein and contains the elements you’d expect from this brand. Namely, a black carbon case, sapphire crystal, GTLS and a rubber strap.
Overall it’s an understated military design using the most up to date watch technology.
Ironically the Amphibia is now seen as a cheap and cheerful diver. A watch with many dial and bezel combinations that is often modified further by its owner. The history however tells a different story.
Vostok is a Russian based manufacturer that traces its roots back to WWII when parts of the First Moscow Watch Factory were evacuated to Chistopol. After the war the new plant began producing watches, with the Vostok name being used from the 1960’s.
The Amphibia, along with the Kommanderskie, is the best known of the Vostok range.
The original brief for the designers was to cheaply build a bomb proof 200M rated divers watch for the Soviet military. The result is a much loved design classic. A chunky automatic watch with some innovative features, yet still brutally simple. But the real attraction?
You can have all of this for less than £100.
Although it wouldn’t hold its own against the best military watches out there, this is an ideal vintage inspired military diver. The heritage is there.
This is what the Soviet navy actually used and the original factory are still producing this watch to its original specification.
I’d recommend a subtle dial or ‘scuba dude’ design rather than some of the newer, more colourful designs.
Seiko needs no introduction and they’re a regular on this blog, featured in my articles ranging from watches used in space to watches ripe for customisation. The SNK809 was one of the cheaper Seiko automatics that I highlighted as a good base model for modification projects.
However, this model is also a nice cheap watch that clearly takes its design cues from the military.
Technically speaking, the buyer gets a lot of watch for the money.
It has a Seiko 7s26 movement and an exhibition case back. As part of the Seiko 5 line it includes the five standard elements - an automatic movement, date, water resistance, crown at 4 o’clock and a durable case.
Basically the kind of straightforward, functional watch favoured by armies throughout the world. As expected the dial is clear, with white markings on a black dial.
There are options to get the watch on a canvas strap or bracelet.
Timex MK1 Steel
Timex can trace its origins back to the mid-1800s and the creation of Waterbury Clock Co, which would become Timex a century later. During this period Timex produced watches and other components for government contracts before creating a new tough low priced watch.
Marketed with the slogan "Timex – Takes a Licking and keeps on Ticking", and featured in elaborate stunts to show its durability, the new watch helped the company become a market leader.
By 1962 a third of all watches sold in the US were manufactured by Timex.
The MK1 is a classic American military watch in the style of the GG-W-113 and A-11 models. This particular variant features a metal bracelet which many will see as a nice addition, albeit not necessarily authentic for the era the watch evokes.
A unique feature is Timex’s Indiglo technology - a system for lighting up the whole dial. It’s a practical feature not seen elsewhere on this list. At 44mm the MK1 is larger than similar MWC watches and has a 22mm bracelet rather than the 18mm used on the MWC models.
For more a detailed history of military watches and additional information regarding specific models it’s worth having a look at Concise Guide to Military Timepieces by Z.M. Wesolowski.