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The Best Military Watches To Complete Your Everyday Carry
— Updated on 5 July 2023

The Best Military Watches To Complete Your Everyday Carry

— Updated on 5 July 2023
Nick Kenyon
WORDS BY
Nick Kenyon

It’s hard to deny that there’s something quietly compelling about the best military watches. The simple fact that they’re such purpose-built objects, designed to fulfil a narrow set of objectives, makes the greatest military watches highly desirable – for everybody from casual enthusiasts to the most serious of collectors.

There are good practical reasons for civvies to favour military watches in daily life. As a rule, watches favoured by martial types have to be easy to read; comfortable and robust enough to handle a range of high-street situations.

This trio of functional requirements is something most of us would favour in our ‘daily beater’ watch anyway, making timepieces which began life on the wrists of military personnel are part of life beyond the barracks – these days, offering an ‘all killer, no filler’ option you’ll never want to take off your wrist.

Military Watches: A Short Dossier

As far as the development of military watches goes, it’s a tale that is tied inexorably to the progress of the wristwatch as we know it today. In fact, the first-ever mass-produced wristwatches were made in 1879 at the behest of the Prussian military, who commissioned Girard-Perregaux to manufacture 2000 pieces for naval officers. Remember, this was an era when gentlemen didn’t leave the house without their pocket watch, and watches worn on the wrist were generally considered too feminine – largely ladies’ watches secured to the wrist using retrofitted silk ribbons.

The next major step forward for military watches represented a development for wristwatches more broadly. Amid the First World War, troops quickly came to realise how difficult it was to check the time on a pocket watch whilst wielding one’s weapon – paving the way for some of the first-ever timepieces designed specifically as wristwear. At the war’s conclusion, surviving veterans who’d grown used to wearing watches on their wrists quickly dispelled the practice’s alleged femininity – popularising wristwatches for civilians too.

RELATED: 9 Best Rolex Daytona Alternatives For Every Possible Budget

A Longines 159/6B issued to an RAF flight crew in 1943. Image credit: anordain.com

It wasn’t till WWII that the watch became a standard issue in many militaries, manufactured in the hundreds of thousands for both Allied and Axis forces. The British Ministry of Defence contracted twelve manufacturers to produce watches to meet a number of specifications, including the likes of Omega, Longines, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, now fondly known among collectors as ‘The Dirty Dozen‘. Following WWII, the archetype of the field watch was born and has remained effectively unchanged to this day.

What Makes A Good Military Watch?

What makes a good military watch? It’s a good question, especially as the military or tactical watch style has grown in popularity, with many brands who have never worked with a branch of the armed forces now offering their own ‘mil-spec’.

In the past, numerous military watches were made to rigorous government specifications, but today a competent example should embody a number of different characteristics, which include but are by no means limited to the following:

A Tudor Submariner ref. 7928 that was hit by a bullet during the Vietnam War. Image credit: hodinkee.com

Highly Legible – an essential quality for military watches, as personnel may only have a split second to check their timepiece. This is why many tactical watches have large numerals and hands that are also luminous: in order to remain highly readable in a variety of conditions.

Robust – if a military watch isn’t seriously shock-resistant, it isn’t fit for purpose. Temperature change, moisture and heavy impacts are all things a solid tactical watch must be able to handle.

Serviceable – as with most areas of military equipment, simple servicing and repair are critical to preventing things from being replaced too frequently. It wouldn’t make sense for hundreds of thousands of military watches to be reliant upon a single repairer, so they must be capable of being repaired almost anywhere.

Reliable – linked to robustness, a good military watch has to be reliable in the conditions it will likely be used in. This means it needs to maintain a certain minimum accuracy, as well as demonstrate energy efficiency (if the movement is powered by a quartz battery).

We’ll be splitting our picks of the best military watches and best tactical watches into two lists: one of which is heritage-inspired military watches; while the other will consist of more modern examples. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Heritage-Inspired Military Watches

Cabot Watch Company G10

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 38mm
  • Case Thickness: 10.5mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: NATO strap
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 50m
  • Movement: Quartz ETA Swiss
  • Power Reserve: 3 years battery life

Cabot Watch Company (CWC) has been in the business of producing watches for the British Ministry of Defence since it was established in 1970 and still does to this day. The G10 quartz watch was introduced to HM Forces in 1980 (the same year a CWC dive watch replaced the Rolex Submariner as an issued timepiece), made using Swiss parts according to British government specs.

Featuring a 38mm case, the black dial watch is easy to read thanks to luminous hands and can be strapped to the wrist via 18mm fixed spring bars. Powered by a quartz ETA Swiss movement, the battery is remarkably simple to change thanks to a small coin-opened battery hatch. It’s also one of the most affordable watches on this list, making it a tremendous value proposition when you consider the history of CWC.

  • A field watch that was actually worn my members of the British Army
  • Lightweight and comfortable on the wrist

  • Fixed strap bars mean you can’t wear it on anything other than a fabric or leather NATO strap

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XX

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 40mm
  • Case Thickness: 10.8mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Steel bracelet
  • Dial Colour: Blue
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Movement: 32111 Calibre
  • Power Reserve: 120 hours

While technically a watch made for the skies, the forefathers of the modern IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XX were humble field instruments made for the terrestrial battlefields of WWII. It retains its original purpose-built design with an ultra-legible dial and comfortable stainless steel bracelet.

Featuring an approachable 40mm case in steel, it’s just 10.8mm thick, making it thoroughly wearable for a range of different wrist sizes. With a solid caseback that contains enough unmarked space for an engraving of your choice, the watch also possesses a guaranteed 100m of water resistance. Beneath the steel shell, wearers will find the Calibre 32111 – a robust IWC favourite protected against magnetic fields and offering 120 hours of power reserve, as well as a practical date complication.

  • Classic pilot’s watch design
  • Solid new movement with impressive power reserve

  • No-date dial design would be cleaner

Benrus Type 1 Reissue

A close up of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 42.5mm
  • Case Thickness: 14.6mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Textile
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Movement: ETA Swiss automatic movement
  • Power Reserve: 44 hours

While so many military watches are adored for their function-forward design, the design of the Benrus Type 1 is up there with the strongest designs in the history of watchmaking. Sure, it’s a bold claim, but the longer you look at that asymmetrical case, the better you understand why it was the timepiece of choice for Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and CIA operatives.

As far as tactical watches go, the 42.5mm stainless steel case of the Benrus Type 1 Reissue is deeply compelling, boasting a shape that neatly sees the side of the case forming crown protectors. Perfect for combat divers thanks to 300m of water resistance, the watch is powered by a Swiss-made automatic movement, while being assembled in the US. With a black dial devoid of any branding or text, high-contrast hands and hour markers and a unidirectional bezel, it’s a minimalist’s dream on the wrist. If it was good enough for the Navy SEALs, it’ll certainly be able to handle anything you throw at it.

  • One of the best military watch designs ever
  • Super clean dial and subtly asymmetric case shape

  • Power reserve could be better

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 38mm
  • Case Thickness: 9.75mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Textile and leather
  • Dial Colour: White
  • Water Resistance: 50m
  • Movement: H-50 caliber
  • Power Reserve: 80 hours

Hamilton is another brand with a long history of working with the armed forces of the world, dating back to 1914 when the American-founded watchmaker created pocket watches for the US army. The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical forms a key part of that legacy, as a quintessential field watch that gets the details right.

Measuring a modest 38mm in diameter, the stainless steel case has a matte sandblasted finish that stays under the radar without polished or reflective surfaces. While it might have 50m of water resistance, the dial of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is immediately engaging, boasting both 12-hour and 24-hour markings, as well as lashings of luminous paint. Arriving on a comfortable NATO strap, it’s an ideal watch for everyday wear.

  • Authentic vintage sizing
  • Impressive 80 hours of power reserve

  • Might be too small for those who prefer larger watches

Yema Navygraf ‘Marine Nationale’

A clock on the side of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 39mm
  • Case Thickness: 12.15mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Sapphire
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Steel bracelet and textile NATO strap
  • Dial Colour: Blue
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Movement: In-house YEMA2000 calibre
  • Power Reserve: 42 hours

As one of several brands that enjoy a direct relationship with the French Marine Nationale, Yema has a well-proven track record of making watches for the French armed forces. First working with the French Air Force in 1963, the Yema Navygraf was designed in partnership with French Navy personnel in 2022, cementing quite the legacy.

Offering a solid 300m of water resistance, the Yema Navygraf is cased in 39mm of stainless steel and stands 12.15mm thick, with a matching steel bracelet. It has an attractive navy blue dial that looks almost black in different lights, with a matching blue bezel and proud MN signature at 6 o’clock. Powered by Yema’s in-house YEMA2000 calibre, the movement is guaranteed to be accurate to within 10 seconds per day, while offering 42 hours of power reserve.

  • Balanced no-date dial design
  • Impressive build quality for its price

  • Hard to fault for its price

Longines Heritage Military Watch

A clock sitting in the middle of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 38.5mm
  • Case Thickness: 11.70mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Leather strap
  • Dial Colour: Cream with uniquely speckled patina
  • Water Resistance: 30m
  • Movement: Automatic caliber L888
  • Power Reserve: 72 hours

Longines is another watchmaker with a storied history in the arena of combat-ready milspec timepieces. As one of the British Ministry of Defence’s contractors, Longines produced thousands of watches for soldiers that had a reputation for being hard-wearing and water-resistant.

The Longines Heritage Military Watch is a recreation of a timepiece first produced during the 1940s, and has been designed to look like a watch with decades of history behind it. Featuring a creamy, parchment-like dial, its surface has actually been hand-sprayed with black droplets to create a patinated effect. With a 38.5mm steel case and oversized manual winding crown, the blued steel hands are turned by the in-house calibre L888. Arriving on an aged leather strap, it’s pretty much a vintage watch, without the worry of being easily broken.

  • Historically faithful vintage sizing
  • Reliable movement with solid power reserve

  • Speckled aged dial won’t be everyone’s taste

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de Combat

A close up of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 54mm
  • Case Thickness: 15.7mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Ceramic
  • Bracelet/Strap Material:
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Movement: Caliber 1315
  • Power Reserve: 120 hours

While everyone assumes that the Rolex Submariner is the OG dive watch archetype, it’s believed that that iconic design was (in part) based on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. First produced for French Combat Divers in 1953, it was originally commissioned to help these military frogmen calculate their oxygen levels more easily.

As a faithful nod to the ’53 original, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de Combat boldly embraces the “less is more” approach to compelling diver design, with a simple black dial and matching dive scale (that also doubles as a countdown timer). While not the smallest watch on this list, featuring a 45mm steel case that is 15.7mm thick, it’s a cleanly executed timepiece with wide historical appeal. Powered by the in-house calibre 1315, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Nageurs de Combat arrives on a sail-canvas strap with a comfortable leather-backed layer.

  • The original dive watch design
  • Impressive movement and water resistance

  • Not the most affordable watch on this list

Panerai Radiomir Black Seal 8 Days

A clock in the middle of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 45mm
  • Case Thickness: 13mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Bezel Material: Steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Leather strap
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Movement: P.5000 calibre manual wind
  • Power Reserve: 192 hours

Without its work with the Royal Italian Navy in the late 1930s, it’s unlikely that Panerai would exist as we know it today. In fact, the first timepiece that Panerai ever created was the Radiomir, at the behest of the Royal Italian Navy divers in 1936.

Featuring an oversized 47mm steel case, the Panerai Radiomir Black Seal 8 Days is a picture of legibility, with an expansive and uncluttered dial that is adorned with the simplest of luminescent hour markers. With a running seconds subdial at 9 o’clock, the PAM00609 is powered by the hand-wound P.5000 calibre, which ticks away at 21,600vph and boasts an impressive 8-days of power reserve thanks to its twin barrels. If you’re after a tactical watch with some Mediterranian flair, this is it.

  • Quintessential Panerai design
  • Extremely impressive power reserve

  • Leather strap means it’s not ideal for swimming

Modern Military Watches

Casio G-Shock DW-6600-1V

A close up of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 50mm
  • Case Thickness: 18.7mm
  • Case Material: Resin
  • Bezel Material: Resin
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Resin
  • Dial Colour: Digital display
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Movement: Quartz digital
  • Power Reserve: 5 years battery life

While many luxury watch manufacturers have built their reputations upon making tactical watches for the world’s armies in decades past, today, the watches which are actually favoured by soldiers have a slightly less mechanical lean.

Over the last decade or so, one of the most popular choices for armed forces around the world is the Casio G-Shock DW-6600-1V, which has been the go-to- option for Navy SEALS, even featuring on the wrist of Bradley Cooper in the film American Sniper.

While very lightweight thanks to its plastic construction and resin band material, the DW-6600-1V has massive proportions, measuring 50mm in diameter and 16.3mm thick. The robust case also makes it extremely shock-resistant, while the digitally displayed quartz movement will keep your calendar till 2039, and provides a stopwatch and alarm, as well as a long list of other functions. This watch might not be a specific military version, but it’s served more servicemen and women than we care to count.

  • A great everyday watch packed with heaps of functionality
  • Extremely affordable

  • Case size might be too large for some wrists

Tudor Pelagos FXD “Marine Nationale”

A close up of a man

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 42mm
  • Case Thickness: 12.75mm
  • Case Material: Titanium
  • Bezel Material: Ceramic
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Textile
  • Dial Colour: Blue
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Movement: COSC Calibre MT5602
  • Power Reserve: 70 hours

Much like Yema, Tudor has enjoyed an enduring relationship with the Marine Nationale (French Navy) over the decades, making diving-focused tactical references for a range of specialist fighting forces. As a relatively new release (from 2021) you won’t find a quartz movement in the Pelagos FXD ‘Marine Nationale’, but rather Tudor’s COSC-certified in-house Calibre MT5602.

Boasting a lightweight titanium case measuring 42mm, it feels just right on the wrist thanks to its moderate accompanying thickness (12.75mm). Both the dial and ceramic bezel are an attractive shade of navy blue (what other colour could they be?), while the closed caseback and screw-down crown help guarantee a water resistance of 200m. With carefully selected band material options, either a velcro fabric or rubber, you’ll need to thread them through the fixed spring bars that offer additional security.

  • Lightweight titanium case
  • Great movement with impressive power reserve

  • Lug design means you can’t fit a bracelet or traditional leather strap to it

Luminox Navy SEAL 3501

Calendar

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 45mm
  • Case Thickness: 14mm
  • Case Material: CARBONOX
  • Bezel Material: CARBONOX
  • Bracelet/Strap Material:
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Movement: Swiss Quartz
  • Power Reserve: 3 years battery life

Another brand with close ties to the Navy SEALs is Luminox, which has built its reputation on supplying the unit with watches since 1992. In the decades since, Luminox has worked with dozens of other military and police units around the world designing watches with a host of special features that can handle the worst of environments.

Featuring a large 45mm steel case, this tactical watch is then covered with a CARBONOX coating that effectively makes it scratch-proof and improves its overall durability. The watch is lightweight at just 71g, and water-resistant to 200m, while also being extremely easy to read at night thanks to the luminous tritium gas tubes that are in the hands and hour markers. Powered by a quartz movement, the Luminox Navy SEAL 3501 arrives on a comfortable rubber strap, ready for anything.

  • Highly legible
  • Lightweight on the wrist

  • Not much to dislike

Breitling Emergency Titanium

A clock in the middle of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 51mm
  • Case Thickness: 21.6mm
  • Case Material: Titanium
  • Bezel Material: Titanium
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Rubber
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 50m
  • Movement: Breitling Caliber 76
  • Power Reserve: 3 years battery life

The best modern military watches should offer truly modern functionality, and this is perhaps most present in the Breitling Emergency Titanium. Without the slightest hint of nostalgic heritage design cues, it’s a watch that can be relied on anywhere in the world thanks to a very clever party trick.

Housed within the titanium case is a dual-frequency distress beacon, the first ever found in a wristwatch, that will activate an emergency rescue signal via a miniaturised antenna if you ever need it. The time-telling elements of the watch are powered by a COSC-certified SuperQuartz chronograph movement, in the Breitling Caliber 76, while the watch arrives on a comfortable rubber strap. A truly go-anywhere watch.

  • One of the most capable survival watches on the market
  • Lightweight titanium case

  • Water resistance could be improved

Bell & Ross BR03 Type Aviation

A clock in the middle of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 42mm
  • Case Thickness: 11mm
  • Case Material: Matte black ceramic
  • Bezel Material: Matte black ceramic
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Black rubber
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Movement: BR-CAL 301
  • Power Reserve: 42 hours

The aesthetic of Bell & Ross is inherently inspired by aviation and the armed forces, with its signature circle in a square shape designed to reflect the instrument panels of military aircraft. The French-founded brand has also worked closely with a number of military and law enforcement units from France, to create a purpose-built tactical watch for the specific requirements of each unit.

The Bell & Ross BR03-94 Black Matte is one such watch, created with the needs of military aviators in mind. The 42mm case in brushed ceramic houses Bell & Ross’s self-winding BR-CAL 301 – a contemporary take on the chronograph, equipped with a 30-minute totaliser. Arriving on one of the most comfortable rubber straps in the game, it’ll handle any adverse conditions you can throw at it.

  • Eye-catching pilot’s case design
  • Probably the most comfortable rubber strap you’ll ever wear

  • Power reserve could be improved

Bremont Argonaut

A close up of a watch

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Case Diameter: 42mm
  • Case Thickness: 15mm
  • Case Material: Hardened stainless steel
  • Bezel Material: Hardened stainless steel
  • Bracelet/Strap Material: Textile
  • Dial Colour: Black
  • Water Resistance: 300m
  • Movement: BE-92AV automatic chronometer
  • Power Reserve: 42 hours

Bremont is a relatively young watchmaker based in England, which has been producing watches for dozens of military units around the world for years. In fact, while it continues to grow as a watchmaker, the military arm of Bremont accounts for more than 20% of its overall business.

The Bremont Argonaut sits within the Armed Forces collection of the brand and presents as a well-built and robust military dive watch, cased in 42mm of steel. Featuring a pair of different coloured sword hands, the dial is framed by an internally rotating dive bezel, while the movement within is the chronometer-rated BE-92AV calibre. There’s a lot to enjoy about the Bremont Argonaut, no matter if you’re on terra firma or not.

  • Classic dual-crown design
  • Impressive build quality and accurate movement

  • Power reserve could be improved

What are military watches?

Military watches are robust and highly legible timepieces worn by members of the armed forces around the globe. Generally, the best military watches will be easy to read at a glance; serviceable with a wide variety of watch repair centres; reliable in any situation; and robust enough to tackle a range of harsh environmental conditions.

Did Rolex make a military watch?

Many Rolex watches – particularly the Submariner – have been used by armed forces around the world, including the SAS and Navy SEALs.

How do military personnel wear their watches?

Often, soldiers will wear their watches dial-side facing down: this makes it easier to read the time whilst holding a firearm; and, more importantly, prevents the watch from reflecting environmental lighting and giving away one’s position.

Nick Kenyon
WORDS by
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at) luxity.com.au