Simple, durable, usually accompanied by a canvas or leather strap, and affordably priced, the field watch exudes utility and practicality. It promises adventure the way a dive watch dares a plunge into the ocean depths. Whether or not you ever use them as intended.
The field watch, like the wristwatch itself, was born of war. Before World War I, wristwatches were primarily worn by women, and men favored the pocket watch. But a pocket watch wasn’t practical for a soldier, so the wristwatch won out. And by World War II, they were democratized, no longer an officer’s tool and now something to be worn by regular soldiers and pilots. It was the war that made them a ubiquitous men’s accessory, and it was the field watch that led that drive.
“Field watches were forgotten for a long time, at least for the big audience,” says Robert-Jan Broer, the founder and editor-in-chief of the online watch magazine Fratello Watches. “But in recent years, the field watch has gotten attention (again) from watch enthusiasts.” Broer says that the only exception is the Rolex Explorer, which has always been popular, but the present high cost and lack of availability make the Explorer more of an aspirational watch for most people.
“A field watch is that perfect companion for outdoor activities,” says Broer. “It’s often rugged, very legible, and affordable — exceptions aside,” says Broer, who adds that recently he’s seen a growing demand for field watches at Fratello, and that the smaller microbrands are filling the gap that Rolex and some other big brands left by turning into luxury watches.
These 10 field watches range in price from affordable to a more considered purchase, but all share a flair for color and a readiness for adventure.