Nearly every casual wrist watch has evolved from the classic military field watch. The history of these watches began with WWI pocket watches. During WWI, many countries issued their officers pocket watches, but many of them complained about the inconvenience of having to operate the watch with two hands during combat. This led to officers innovating a way to strap their pocket watches onto their wrists.
During this time, back stateside, American watch companies such as Hamilton, had developed ladies’ wrist watches using small pocket watch movements with supplementary bracelets. These watches were seen more as jewelry than functional and practical timepieces and were much too delicate for men at war. Some years later around 1919, Hamilton released its first wrist watch for men with the military officer in mind.
The necessity of the wrist watch grew to such an extent that by WWII they had become standard issue. During this war era the A-11 Field Watch rose in popularity and was manufactured by four different companies — Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, and Hamilton. As soldiers would return home with these watches, adoption began to grow by the general population and ultimately the field watch came into general fashion.
Features of the modern field watches are similar to the classics, with legible analog displays and durability being the primary features of these timepieces. Physically, they are small to midsize which helps avoid getting caught on clothing or equipment. Durable cases offer protection from the elements, and water-resistance has become a prominent feature. The original A-11 was mostly made with a chromium-plated brass case but today they are typically manufactured from stainless steel or titanium.
Traditionally, field watches featured a hand-wound, hacking movement with center seconds and minute and hour hands. These movements were designed to be stopped and be able sync with another timepiece for coordination on the battlefield. Movements on modern field watches are often battery-powered with quartz or mechanical components. Most designs will have a high-contrasting black dial with white numbers and illuminated hands, making it readable in low-light conditions.
The military inspired field watches are a classic piece of gear that every man should own. Their timeless aesthetic allows it to be worn in almost any occasion, from everyday wear at the office to far-flung outdoor adventures.