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The 5 Best 38mm Affordable Military Watches (For Small Wrists)

Posted on June 02 2021

38mm and Under Military Watches

When watches are designed for a specific purpose they start to develop a style.

So dive watches look like each other. They have common features and that leads to a common appearance.

This is most often seen among military watches.

They're built for a very specific job. It's not an exaggeration to say that they have to function in life or death situations. In practice, that means that military watches have an obvious military DNA.

Often, this is explicit.

Both the UK and American military issue guidelines for military watch design. Manufacturers can then submit their watches for consideration - as long as they meet that criteria.

Size is one of the crucial elements that armies factor into watch design. And they like them smaller rather than large.

Military Watches 38mm and Under


I don't want to rehash the history of the military watch here. What I'm more interested in, is today's military watches.

What makes a watch a military watch?

There's no strict answer - although as I mentioned - when governments are shopping for watches they will usually specify some basics.

A good example of this was the spec list that the American government issued for military watches in the 1960s. For a watch to be considered for military use it had to have:
  • A mechanical movement
  • 17 Jewels
  • Hacking function
  • Shock resistance
  • Water resistance
  • Luminous Hands
  • Antimagnetic
  • 36 hour power reserve
This was the GG-W-113 spec list and the British government had a similar spec sheet for their G10.

What's important for us is that the watches built to these specs didn't just have the same features. They started to look the same. The GG-W-113 watches have a distinct look. As do the G10s.

In part, that is because the watches have the same function. Fashion doesn't come in it. They need to be highly legible, comfortable to wear for long periods and unobtrusive.

No soldier needs any extra weight to carry. Or a watch that keeps catching on his equipment. Or an ornate dial that is difficult to read.

So military watches tend to be comfortably sized and easy to read. More often than not they'll have a light, easy-to-change strap. They'll be black, brown or khaki.

Bulova and Seiko Military Watches

And they'll look more like a tool than a piece of jewellery.

Many brands have stuck to the classic designs and they're the ones that I want to highlight. Each watch on this list is 38mm or smaller. And each watch is affordable too - as you can see, I have a couple already.

Bulova Hack Cream Watch

This is the military watch that I wear the most. It's a modern watch from Bulova that recreates a model from their own back catalogue.

It's a fairly typical American military watch. This design was used by most of the big names in American watchmaking.

That familiarity can also be read as authenticity. And that's one of the first impressions that I got from the Bulova. It's an authentic military watch.

There are cream and black variations. I chose the cream. And I wasn't disappointed. It looks and feels like a military watch should. The vintage dial is easy to read and the watch has a pared-down aesthetic.

It's a comfortable 38mm but wears bigger due to the thickness. I swapped out the leather strap for a different one, but the original is a good choice.

If you want a vintage-style military watch, I'd suggest that you start with the Bulova Hack.

Bulova Hack Automatic 96A246

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Domed Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance


MWC G10 Watch

If the Bulova is a typical American military watch, then the G10 is its British equivalent.

Hundreds of thousands of the G10 has been issued to British troops over the years. It's an icon. The infantry watch most associated with the British Army.

Swiss brand MWC does a whole series of G10 watch, from this G10LM up to GMT and GTLS equipped models.

The G10LM is the entry-level model. The most affordable and the smallest. It comes in at 35mm, which is small by today's standards. But remember, it's built to tell the time, not impress your mates in the nightclub.

Again, it's a very legible watch and unlike the automatic Bulova, this has a more affordable quartz movement.

Like Army issued G10s, the MWC version comes with a one-piece canvas NATO strap. This is very practical and can be swapped without removing the strap pins.

It also means you can change to a NATO strap with your nation or team colours. You might be surprised at how many strap options you'll have.

This is an inexpensive way to get the authentic look of an army-issued watch.

It doesn't have the highest specs or the most brand recognition - but it does its job fine. And on a tight budget.

MWC G10LM

  • 35mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Seiko SNKE01K1

Seiko created the Seiko 5 line with a series of must-haves. This included a mechanical movement, water resistance, the day/date and a durable case and bracelet.

Does that sound familiar?

To me, it's similar to the specs that governments issue for military watch contracts. So I've often looked at the Seiko 5 range for military watches.

And this is one that I own that has a strong military vibe.

Although it's busier than the G10 - it has a bezel that the others don't - it's still a simple watch. The day and the date are both easily readable and the dial is a straightforward contrast of silver markers on a black background.

The crown has been repositioned at 4 o'clock and that reduces the number of knocks that it'll take. It also avoids the crown digging into the back of your hand when you're active.

It has a Japanese automatic movement and token water resistance.

The Seiko SNKE01K1 isn't a military watch. Instead, it's a watch that would work well for the military. And that's good enough for me.

Seiko 5 SNKE01K1

  • 37mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 21mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Hardlex Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Hamilton Khaki 38mm watch


Although Hamilton is now Swiss-owned, its history is associated with America's railroads and military.

In my eyes, Hamilton is still an American brand. That's due, in part, because they still reissue their classic designs. That includes the Khaki, the brands most famous military watch.

When I referred to the familiarity of military or field watch designs, this was what I meant.

It's styled similar to the Bulova. It's also similar to Benrus and other US brands.

Again, I like that. It's authentic. It's how Hamilton and other suppliers to the military used to make their watches. And if you want a small military watch, this is the era when they were in abundance.

Everything that I want is here. The military dial, the simple case and the canvas strap.

But the quality is here too. This is a Swiss-made watch with Hamilton's Calibre H-50 handwinding movement.

It also has a sapphire crystal.

It's a little more pricey than the Bulova, but still great value for money.

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical H69439931

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 9.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Hamilton Calibre H-50 Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


MWC W10 Watch

The W10 is the second iconic British military watch on my list. It's distinctive and comes with a 36mm cushion case.

It's another smaller watch that has a real retro charm. The original was issued to the British Army in the 1960s and 70s. MWC's reproduction sticks very close to the earlier piece.

All the requirements of a military watch are here, and I particularly like the clarity of the dial. The simple hands also subtly add to the design.

MWC produce a couple of variations - with a choice of movements and with or without a date window.

The automatic with the date works best for me.

MWC W10 W10B/AU/D

  • 36mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Conclusion


There are some very good reasons for wearing a smaller watch. For the military, the number one reason is practicality.

Smaller watches are lighter and less cumbersome. They get bumped less and slip under your cuff easily. Governments are very specific about how they want military watches to look and function.

So what happens when you put all of this together?

You get small, legible watches that are designed to perform. And from a watch fans point of view, we get some excellent watch designs.

The five on this list are my favourite affordable 38mm military watches. Dig deeper into each and then let me know in the comments what you think.

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1 comment

  • Supes Critic: July 05, 2021

    I have a Smiths PRS-29A (reproduction of the Smiths W10). What makes it really special to me is #1 Authentic design and specs #2 antimagnetic #3 polished steel hands.

    These watches are already plain as it is, so having some nice shiny hands goes a long way to still be authentic and looking much much nicer.

    Also, I’m tired of all these brands bringing out so-called “field watches” with no extra antimagnetic protection. All the high-end brands are investing in antimagnetic technology, and the Smiths PRS-29A is evidence that a small, slim and inexpensive watch can be produced that has extra protection – there is no excuse for all the other brands to be lacking.

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