Time Tools: 8 Tool Watches From Luxury Brands

The phrase “tool watch” was originally coined to describe watches that serve as tools to accomplish specific tasks, such as a divers’ watch with a rotatable bezel and high resistance to pressure that is designed to be used underwater. And while you wouldn’t want to use these tool watches to hammer nails, they emphasize functionality and are robust, accurate, legible and (ideally) not excessively expensive in case they suffer a scratch or two during rough usage. In this article from our archives, we present eight of them.


Oris Big Crown ProPilot
Oris Big Crown ProPilot Date

This pilots’ watch from Oris achieves optimal legibility thanks to its matte dial and impossible-to-overlook hands and numerals, which are coated with plenty of luminous material. The big crown can be operated while wearing gloves. The textile strap is steplessly adjustable thanks to a clamping system; the clasp works like the buckle on a seatbelt aboard an aircraft. With a date display on its dial and a time- tested automatic movement inside its case, this watch offers everything you need. Stainless steel, 41 mm, Sellita SW 220, automatic


Tudor Pelagos LHD
Tudor Pelagos LHD

The letters “LHD” in the name of this divers’ watch stand for “left-hand drive,” like a car with its steering wheel on the left. For a watch, LHD means that the crown is located opposite its usual position. This is convenient for a southpaw who wears the watch on his right wrist. But this watch can also be worn on the left wrist, thus keeping the crown especially well protected against impacts. Tudor’s own auto- matic movement has earned a chronometer certificate and accordingly runs with great precision. The titanium case is extremely resistant to salt- water and can resist water pressure to a depth of 500 meters. A helium-release valve rounds out the professional equipment. Titanium, 42 mm, manufacture Caliber MT5612, automatic; click here for more details.


Certina DS Action Diver
Certina DS Action Diver Automatic

The DS Action Diver Automatic upholds the ISO standard for divers’ watches. The stainless-steel case is water resistant to 200 meters and has a rotatable bezel with a diving scale. The dial has luminous indexes, along with plenty of luminous material on the hands to assure that the face is always clearly legible, even underwater and in the dark. The time-tested automatic movement and the robust stainless-steel bracelet equip this timepiece for every mission. The price is appealing, too. Stainless steel, 43.2 mm, ETA 2824, automatic.


Seiko Prospex Diver
Seiko Prospex Automatic Diver’s

Nicknamed “Turtle” because of the shape of its case, the Prospex Automatic Diver’s was introduced in the 1970s. With an indestructible urethane wristband, a case that resists water pressure to a depth of 200 meters, and a unidirectional rotatable bezel, this watch is optimally equipped to accompany a diver underwater. And despite its low price, it has a self-winding manufacture movement. Seiko makes the crystal from Hardlex, which isn’t quite as scratch-resistant as sapphire, but nonetheless harder than ordinary mineral crystal. Stainless steel, 44 mm, manufacture Caliber 4R36, automatic.


TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 5
TAG Heuer Aquaracer 300M Calibre 5

This classic divers’ watch from TAG Heuer has a trendy military look with a black titanium case, sand-colored textile strap, and sand-colored elements and gray luminous material on the dial. The watch has plenty to offer from a functional standpoint, too: Black titanium-carbide coating resists scratches and the screwed crown contributes toward achieving pressure resistance to a depth of 300 meters. The nonreflective treatment on the sapphire crystal helps assure good legibility. Titanium coated with titanium carbide, 43 mm, ETA 2824 or Sellita SW 200, automatic.


Breitling Avenger Blackbird
Breitling Avenger Blackbird

The militarily inspired Avenger Blackbird has a distinctive 48-mm case made of DLC-coated titanium. The coating helps prevent reflections from light, which could betray its wearer’s location. With a unidirectional rotatable bezel, screwed crown, and water resistance to 300 meters, this timepiece is also suitable for diving. In addition to the case, the dial and textile strap are also black. The luminous material on the hands and indexes is beige in daylight conditions. Breitling’s Caliber 17 is based on an ETA 2824 movement and has earned a chronometer certificate to confirm its accuracy. DLC-coated titanium, 48 mm, ETA 2824, automatic; for more on the Blackbird, click here.)


Rolex Explorer II
Rolex Explorer II

This watch, which debuted in 1971, is made for adventurers, researchers and expedition members. Equipped with a second time zone, the continually updated design has become iconic. This model epitomizes a tool watch, although its high price might make its wearer feel annoyed if the case should suffer a scratch or two. The 904L stainless steel that Rolex uses is more resistant to saltwater than ordinary 316L steel. And Rolex’s manufacture caliber is regarded as the sturdiest and lowest-maintenance automatic movement. Rolex’s famous accuracy is assured not only by a chronometer certificate, but also by the brand’s in-house standards, which specify that the watch be so finely adjusted that it neither gains nor loses more than two seconds per day. Stainless steel, 42 mm, manufacture Caliber 3187, automatic.


Alpina Alpiner 4
Alpina Alpiner 4 Automatic

Developed for rugged excursions and mountain climbing, the Alpiner 4 is equipped with a sturdy, 44-mm stainless-steel case and a unidirectional rotatable bezel. A soft-iron inner case protects the automatic movement against magnetic fields. The hands and indexes are coated with white luminous material for good legibility. The screwed crown helps keep the case water resistant to 100 meters. Stainless steel, 44 mm, Sellita SW 200, automatic; more details here.)

This article appears in the July-August 2017 issue of WatchTime Magazine.
















Il Dolce Orologio: Exploring the Eclectic Watch Families of Eberhard Co.

While Italian watch enthusiasts have embraced the timepieces of Eberhard & Co. for well over a century, only a relative handful of American collectors are aware of the brand’s rich history and diverse offerings. Now, buoyed by a surprise Geneva Grand Prix win for its most historically significant model, Eberhard is making the U.S. sit up and take notice.

Eberhard Scafograf WINNER GPHG 2016 poster
The modern version of the Scafograf 300 won the Sports Watch prize at the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

When we discuss the history of diving watches, we usually focus on a handful of acknowledged icons, like the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. When we discuss important historical chronographs, we inevitably bring up Heuer, Breitling, Zenith, and Rolex’s Daytona (which, of course, for much of its existence, used a Zenith-made movement). The Daytona, Heuer’s Monaco and Carrera, and perhaps Chopard’s Mille Miglia collection tend to enter the conversation when it turns to watches connected to auto racing. All this is as it should be, though another venerable Swiss watch brand – one that was founded in 1887, yet operated for much of its existence under the radar of many American watch aficionados – makes a fairly convincing case for inclusion in the conversation. Here is a family-by-family tour through the inventions, world’s firsts, and remarkable technical and design achievements of Eberhard & Co., a Bienne-based watch manufacturer that continues to innovate after 130-plus uninterrupted years.

Eberhard & Co. factory
The original Eberhard & Co. factory building in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Georges-Lucien Eberhard - Founder
Company founder Georges-Lucien Eberhard

Evolutions in Timing: Extra-fort & Contograf

Founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds by 22-year-old entrepreneur Georges-Lucien Eberhard, whose Bernese family traced its watchmaking heritage back to the 10th century, Eberhard & Co. adopted the chronograph as one of its specialties from very early on. The company’s first chronographs were pocketwatches, which were still predominant in the early 20th century prior to World War I. The company produced its first wrist-worn chronograph in 1919, and as stopwatch technology evolved (along with the popularity of wristwatches, which had eclipsed that of pocketwatches), launched increasingly advanced models: a double-pusher chrono in 1935, a watch with an hours counter in 1938, a flyback in 1939. Eberhard chronographs were worn by Italian Royal Navy officers during these pre- and post-World War II years, pioneering the company’s strong presence in the Italian market that remains today.

The culmination of all this advancement was the launch of the Eberhard Extra-fort in the late 1940s. The Extra-fort, which took its moniker from the toughness of its case (fort means “strong” in French), was notable for its sliding push-button that enabled the user to measure intermediate times, a device introduced to the watch industry by Eberhard. The Extra-fort quickly became a leader model for the company throughout the 1950s and influenced the design of all Eberhard chronograph watches that would follow. Among these models was one still prized by collectors today, the Contograf of the 1960s, which included another new and innovative feature, a fast- changing date, in a distinctly shaped trapezoidal window at 6 o’clock, and whose minutes counter was divided into three sectors meant to help its wearer measure the duration of a telephone call.

Eberhard Extra-Fort - 1940
An Eberhard Extra-fort model from the 1940s

In the modern era, producing reliable, competitively priced chronographs remains an Eberhard specialty. In 2014, the company issued a modern version of the Contograf, in a stainless-steel 42-mm case and a ceramic, counterclockwise unidirectional bezel emblazoned with a tachymeter scale. The movement is an ETA 7750, one of the many calibers produced by the Swatch Group-owned movement producer that are used in Eberhard watches – a corporate relationship unlikely to change in the near future despite the growing trend of watch manufacturers moving to in-house production, according to Eberhard CEO Mario Peserico. “We have always had a very good relationship with ETA,” says Perserico, who has been with the company more than 25 years. “We’ve always declared that our base movements are ETA, and this allows us to maintain the price position in our core collection between about $2,000 and $7,000. The technical aspects are important, of course, but we’ve found that at least 50 percent of the reason that a client chooses a watch is its aesthetical aspects. Obviously, of course, there are some special pieces that extend that [price] range.”

Eberhard Contograf 2014
The Eberhard Contograf launched in 2014
Eberhard Extra-Fort Roue a Colonnes Grande Date
The Extra-Fort Roué à Colonnes Grande Date

One of those outliers is the Extra-fort Rouée à Colonnes Grande Date, whose first generation was a 500-piece limited edition celebrating the company’s 125th anniversary in 2012. Equipped with a column-wheel chronograph movement and the titular big date indicator at 12 o’clock, the model is one of the few Eberhard watches available in precious metal cases, with rose-gold and white-gold versions priced at $21,070. The anniversary edition also paved the way for the further expansion of the venerable Extra-fort collection, which today includes a three-hand automatic, a three-hand with power-reserve indicator, and a limited-edition Rattrapante model in either steel or rose gold.

Eberhard Scafograf 200 ad
A magazine ad for the Eberhard Scafograf 200

Diving Into History: The Scafograf

Like most Swiss watch companies at the time, Eberhard invested much research, effort and capital into the development of water-resistant watches for diving, which was growing as both a commercial and recreational pursuit during the 1950s and 1960s. The company had in fact been an early adopter, patenting the Calotte Patrouille case construction, which protected a watch’s movement from dust and humidity, as early as 1921, and building highly water-resistant watches for sporting and military use in the years before World War II. It was the launch of the Scafograf in the 1950s, however, that secured Eberhard a spot in the annals of dive-watch history. The first Scafograf, released in 1958, had a 36-mm case, water-resistant to 100 meters, and a distinctive dial, with triangular hour markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock; it did not have a rotating bezel, a fairly new device at the time, which first appeared on one of the Scafograf’s more well-known predecessors, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. A 200-meter Scafograf would launch just a year later, with a similar dial design and a rotating bezel (but no crown guard) added. Only 200 pieces were made of each of these early models, perhaps indicating that Eberhard found it difficult to find an audience for them, competing as they were with the Rolex Submariner, the Omega Seamaster and the aforementioned Fifty Fathoms, among many others.

Eberhard Scafograf 300 1950s
The Scafograf 300, the most influential of Eberhard’s line of dive watches, debuted in 1964.

The third generation debuted in 1964. The Scafograf 300, as its name implies, upped the water resistance to 300 meters, expanded the case dimensions to 42 mm, and streamlined the dial design. It was also the first Scafograf to be powered by a self-winding caliber. The somewhat immodestly dubbed Scafograf Super followed it in 1984, deep in the heart of the Quartz Crisis, with a quartz-powered movement, a helium-release valve, and an extreme water resistance of 1,000 meters, a depth achieved by only a handful of other watches at the time. A professional-grade offshoot of the collection, the Scafodat, with a 500-meter water resistant case, an internal rotating bezel controlled by a large crown, and a dial design reminiscent of the first two Scafograf models, debuted in 2006 and remains in the portfolio today.

Eberhard Scafograf History
The evolution of the Eberhard Scafograf

It is the design of the Scafograf 300 that appears to have best stood the test of time and trends, as it was that watch that Eberhard resurrected in spectacular fashion in 2016. Decidedly modern in many of its elements – a larger 43-mm case in stainless steel, a ceramic unidirectional bezel, Super-LumiNova on its hands, indexes and 15-minute bezel dive scale, three color options for the central seconds hand, and an integrated black rubber strap – it is nevertheless a very faithful homage to the original in an era where retro-look watches, particularly dive watches, continue to grow in popularity. Under its screwed caseback, engraved with a starfish, beats the automatic ETA 2824-2 caliber, with a 40-hour power reserve. Eberhard’s modern-day stewards were no doubt beaming with pride when the Scafograf 300 took home the Sports Watch prize at the 2016 Geneva Grand Prix, against stalwart competitors like the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Dark and TAG Heuer Monza.

Eberhard Scafograf Black Sheep
The Scafograf GMT “Black Sheep” Edition

In the wake of the prize-winning re-edition, Eberhard has added two more versions of the Scafograf. The Scafograf GMT, introduced in 2017, adds a triple-time-zone indication to the dial, which is offered in both blue and black, with matching rubber straps. That model’s 43-mm steel case features a stylized globe, rather than a starfish, engraved on its caseback, and its bezel, also in ceramic, is bidirectional rather than unidirectional, the better to easily use it in conjunction with the GMT hand to set additional time zones. And since the watch is more of a “desk diver” than an actual dive watch, the water resistance is dialed down to a more mainstream, though hardly pedes-trian, 100 meters. At Baselworld 2018, the brand introduced a new feminine version, the Scafograf 100, in a 38-mm steel case with ceramic bezel and mother-of-pearl dial, as well as the limited-edition “Black Sheep” version of the Scafograf GMT, in a 43-mm black DLC-coated case, black ceramic bezel insert and dial, and a contrasting orange GMT hand. “We see the term ‘Black Sheep’ in a positive sense,” says Peserico. “It is a watch for someone who wants to stand out from the crowd.”

Pursuing Power: The 8 Jours

In addition to the ongoing quest for the most waterproof watch, Eberhard has also embraced the challenge of making a self-winding watch with a lengthy power reserve. In 1997, with the mechanical watch renaissance just ramping up, the maker introduced the simply named 8 Jours (“Eight Days”) timepiece, which incorporated a new, and now patented, winding module with two overlapping springs, which together are an extra-long 1 1/2 meters in length (compared to a standard spring, which is only around 30 cm). The device enabled the base movement to amass an eight-day power reserve, thus meeting Eberhard’s goal of offering a watch that its wearer would need to wind only once per week. The watch’s unconventional, asymmetrical dial had a left-side power-reserve indicator, and its caseback featured a sapphire porthole with the bridge of the large going barrel visible through a silhouetted number 8. The original version of the 8 Jours came in a 39.5-mm case, but Eberhard, once again at the forefront of a watch industry trend, debuted the 42-mm “Grand Taille” (big size) version shortly thereafter. The “Grand Taille” case size, which emerged as a response to consumer demands in the late ’90s and early 2000s for bigger watches, has since become a fixture in nearly all of Eberhard’s collections.

Eberhard 8 Jours Grande Taille
Eberhard 8 Jours Grande Taille

Auto Racing Inspiration: Tazio Nuvolari

Eberhard’s fondness for Italian design and culture, and Italy’s embrace of the brand, also brought about one of the most enduring relationships between a watch company and an auto racing icon. Tazio Nuvolari (1892 – 1953), known as Montovano Volante or the Flying Mantuan, was a motorcycle racer turned race car driver who won 24 Grand Prix races and raced for Alfa Corse, Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati. Once dubbed “the greatest driver of the past, present and future” by none other than Ferdinand Porsche, he remains revered by fans of racing history, especially in his native Italy.

Tazio Nuvolari - Automobile Club Mantova
Tazio Nuvolari in a vintage race car

Eberhard & Co. launched the first Tazio Nuvolari Chronograph in 1992, the centenary of the racing legend’s birth. It was the brainchild of Palmiro Monti, who bought the company from the founding family in 1969 and strengthened its ties to the Italian market. “Eberhard is a Swiss brand owned since 1969 by an Italian family,” says Peserico, “but the roots stretch back even further, because when Mr. [Maurice] Eberhard of the founding family used to travel to Italy during the 1950s he was building a very strong distribution network. At that same time, Nuvolari was becoming a myth in the racing world. So the idea to build a product that would honor the memory of this great pilot was one that made sense to us.”

Eberhard Nuvolari Naked Chrono
The Tazio Nuvolari “Naked” Chronograph

A milestone piece in the Tazio Nuvolari collection came in 2013, though its inspiration traced all the way back to 1936, the year that Nuvolari drove his 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo 300 miles on New York’s Roosevelt Raceway to capture the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup. The watch that celebrated that victory was dubbed the “Naked” Chronograph, and it was the first in the family to feature a black dial with white Arabic numerals. On the technical side, the watch also incorporated a chronograph stop-pusher that was co-axial with the winding crown, a feature that debuted in Eberhard chronographs of the 1930s. In 2017, Eberhard added a three-hand automatic to the line, which had previously consisted exclusively of chronographs, to woo customers with simpler tastes and, presumably, leaner wallets. The latest addition, which premiered at Baselworld 2018, is the Nuvolari Legend, a black-dialed chronograph with big, luminescent Arabic numerals, and a vintage-look spiral tachymeter scale in km/hr in the center, overlapping the minutes counter at 12 o’clock and hour counter at 6 o’clock. The driver’s Alfa Romeo Type 12C car is emblazoned on the screw-down exhibition caseback, and the watch, avail-able in both 39.5-mm and 43-mm sizes, secures its retro look with the addition of an “antiquated” leather strap.

Eberhard Nuvolari Legend - reclining
The Eberhard Nuvolari Legend

Dashboard Design: The Chrono 4

Perhaps the most recognizable model in the contemporary Eberhard collection made its debut relatively recently, in 2001, and its DNA can also be traced to Eberhard’s connection to the Nuvolari racing mystique. The Chrono 4 – another creation of Monti, who died in 2005 – brought to the world an entirely new design for a chronograph wristwatch, one influenced by the look of the dashboards of the race cars admired by Eberhard’s large Italian audience, and one that boasts yet another Eberhard patent. Below the central skeletonized hands and unusually placed 12 o’clock date window, four overlapping subdials line up in a horizontal arrangement, displaying chronograph minutes, chronograph hours, the time on a 24-houe scale and the running seconds. To accomplish this feat, Eberhard created its own module that would modify the base ETA 2894-2 movement. “If you look at chronograph dials over the last 20 or 30 years, they are all some version of 3-6-9 or 3-6-12. We wanted to change the positioning, to create a watch on which you can read the time in a different way,” says Peserico. “It took three years to develop, partly because of the difficulty in adjusting the existing movements for the positioning of the subdials.”

Eberhard Chrono4 - original
The Eberhard Chrono 4 debuted in 2001.

Making its debut in an era when large watches were in vogue, the original 40-mm Chrono 4 swiftly begat larger models in the ensuing years, first the 43-mm Grand Taille version in 2008, and eventually an even larger iteration, the Chrono 4 Géant, (“Giant”), whose case was a hulking 46 mm, in 2010. Arguably, the larger case versions were a sensible aesthetic choice, as they allowed the horizontally aligned subdials, which due to the design needed to be quite small, to be slightly enlarged and thus more legible. All three versions continued to adopt new dial colors and case materials, such as titanium, as the collection expanded. The most avant-garde version is the “Full Injection” Géant limited edition of 2013, distinguished by its carbon-coated steel case and côtes de Genève finished dial with sporty red accents.

Eberhard Chrono 4 Full Injection Geant
The Chrono 4 “Full Injection” Géant limited edition

Since its introduction, Eberhard has tinkered further with the design of the Chrono 4, with its most extreme iteration being the tonneau- cased Temerario, whose four subdials are stacked vertically, rather than horizontally, along the dial’s right side, and whose pushers are unconventionally positioned at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock, somewhat reminiscent of a classical “bullhead” arrangement. Among the three patented innovations in this model are the clever crown-access system, which uses a hidden lever beneath the case to pop open the lid of the chamber that conceals the winding crown at 12 o’clock.

With Eberhard & Co. attaining a higher international profile after the GPHG prize, Peserico knows the time has come, after many years of spotty U.S. distribution, to pursue a larger footprint in the U.S. market. “We’ve been in the U.S. for several years, through some rocky times and some less rocky times,” he says. “The brand has always been there and hasn’t changed, but local distribution at times was difficult. But we think we have found the solutions. We have partners, we’ll be at some events, and we will be helping dealers with communication. We want to rebuild the American market because it is a market with huge potential. It’s only a matter of time.”

This article originally appeared in the September-October 2018 issue of WatchTime.


Buying a Chronograph? Here Are 10 Things You Should Know

Sometimes, the analysis of which watch to buy proceeds little further than, “Wow, that one looks cool.” Chronographs, however, are often thought of as “tool watches,” and when it comes to tools, you want the right one for the job. To guide your choice we offer 10 factors to consider when selecting a chronograph, to help make sure it suits your wants and your needs.

1. It’s the Way That You Use It

daytona opener new

Salesman: “How will you use your chronograph?” Customer: “Use it? I hadn’t thought about that.” Chronographs are not just for timing races – they offer many practical uses. Tracking cooking times, parking meters, walks or runs, bike rides, exercise routines, meetings, and guaranteed pizza delivery are often cited. So is determining the shortest commuting route. With your chronograph, you can find out how long an “instant” oil change really takes. Or, try this: when they tell you your table will be ready in five minutes, press the start button. When your wife says she will be ready in five minutes, press the… no, wait, that’s a bad idea.

Lawyers and others who sell units of time can track billable hours. Or you can pass the time by measuring intervals spent stuck in traffic, watching TV commercials, or waiting for the doctor/dentist. Activate your chronograph for a short time when you have an idea you want to remember. Later, when you see the odd elapsed time, it will jog your memory (assuming the idea is still in there). Other uses require that the watch have particular features. For example, most chronographs can’t be operated under water, and many can’t time hours-long events. Some chronographs are designed to run continuously, while others are not (more on this later). Choose carefully if these are features you desire.

2. Can You See Me Now?


Legibility – the easy-to-read display of elapsed times – can no longer be taken for granted. In days gone by, manufacturers  assumed that chronographs would be used and relied upon, so legible elapsed times were a given. Today, elapsed-time indications are often sacrificed on the altar of fashion. Manufacturers will ditch them in a second for the sake of a design they think will induce the customer to say, “That one looks really cool,” and reach for his or her wallet

Hungry subdials: the IWC’s “eat” several chronograph seconds, while the Zenith’s eat each other.

But you’ll want displays that are easy to make out when you’re using your chronograph, so pay attention to the dial, and especially to what’s missing. If you need to read the chronograph in the dark (we won’t ask what you might be timing), you’ll have to search even more diligently, as very few chronographs will suit your needs.

3. The Origin of the Species

A. Lange & Söhne’s Caliber L951.6 from the Datograph Up/Down is a finely finished in-house movement.
A. Lange & Söhne’s Caliber L951.6 from the Datograph Up/Down is a finely finished in-house movement.

Chronograph movements come in a range of flavors: in-house, third-party and hybrid, integrated and modular, and more. To some, this is a virtual caste system, and place of birth and physical form confer status, or stigma, for life.

In-house chronographs are typically integrated, not modular, in design, and a column wheel usually occupies central command (more on these concepts below). In-house movements can offer fine functional finishing, careful adjustment, and the resulting smooth feel of quality. They can also be beautiful to behold. In-house production gives brands the freedom to produce singular designs, and offers control over every step in the manufacturing process. Of course, all of that requires investment. Chronographs with in-house movements tend to be rather dear, and service can be costly as well. The service is also likely to take a long time, and be performed far away. Collectors often joke about the number of frequent flier miles their timepieces have accumulated. That’s called using humor to mask pain.

Third-party movements offer their own advantages. Most have been around for awhile, or they are based on tried-and-true designs, so they are extremely reliable. Service is relatively inexpensive and can usually be handled without sending your watch overseas. Replacement parts are in ready supply. These movements are generally quite sturdy, and they can be excellent timekeepers. (ETA offers mechanical movements in various grades, and as you move up the quality ladder, the timekeeping improves. The top level is COSC-certified.) On the other hand, third-party movements are produced in large quantities, so they are not exclusive. They exhibit little or no hand work. Their components are often stamped, not milled.

Girard-Perregaux’s new chronograph caliber is an integrated, column-wheel design.
Girard-Perregaux’s new chronograph caliber is an integrated, column-wheel design.

They are rarely beautiful to behold. They tend to employ mechanisms designed primarily to reduce costs. Some of these calibers can be found in watches costing from hundreds of dollars to several thousand, even reaching into five figures, which can be distressing to those who buy in at the upper end of the spectrum.

4. Built-Ins and Add-Ons

T he Breitling Caliber 01 (above) and Rolex Caliber 4130 (below) b oth use column wheels to control the start, stop and reset functions.
The Breitling Caliber 01 (above) and Rolex Caliber 4130 (below) both use column wheels to control the start, stop and reset functions.

When it comes to chronograph movement design, purists prefer integrated to modular, because the integrated variety is designed to be a chronograph from the ground up. That means all components are optimized for that use. That can be important because a chronograph can be a “heavy” complication that requires significant power to operate. If engaging the chronograph generates a drag the base caliber was not designed to handle, that can affect timekeeping, which means the chronograph can’t measure elapsed time accurately (though most of us would never notice the split-second error). Modular movements, also called sandwich or piggyback designs, begin with a base caliber and add a chronograph mechanism mounted on a separate plate, usually on the dial side. If you want a nice view of the chronograph through the display back, an integrated movement is the way to go.

daytona column wheel lg

Some feel that in all but the finest executions, a modular construction will be less precise. The chronograph seconds hand may jump or stutter when started, the continuous seconds or the minutes hand may jump slightly when the chronograph is activated (even the date disk may move slightly), and the feel of the push-piece is not as smooth and buttery. As noted above, modular designs can also generate more amplitude-reducing drag when the chronograph is engaged. In two recent WatchTime tests, a modular chronograph’s amplitude dropped by 73.5 degrees on average when the chronograph was switched on, while an integrated model’s fell by 19.5 degrees. (The integrated model also used a vertical clutch – see below.) If you’re not sure which type of movement a given watch contains, there are some modular tip-offs. They include a high jewel count, no chronograph components visible through the display back, a date display that sits down in a hole and not directly below the dial, and a crown that is not on the same horizontal plane as the chronograph buttons (though some brands try to disguise this with oversized crowns, push-pieces, and guards).

5. Make It So

Imagine what would happen if you could activate the reset mechanism while the chronograph was running. The phrase “train wreck” comes to mind, and yes, the pun is intended. (Note to newbies: see “train” in Berner’s.) To prevent this and other disasters, chronographs employ systems to coordinate actions initiated by the push-pieces. As you might expect, there are different systems, and each has its supporters and detractors. The traditional system, favored by purists, is the column wheel, so named because the key component looks like a wheel lying on its side with a series of small, vertical columns rising up from it. Each push of a button causes the wheel to turn, and as it turns, the columns, and the spaces in between, move in small increments. This action moves the ends of levers that rest against the column wheel, and the levers control the chronograph’s start, stop and reset functions. Column wheels are traditional, expensive to manufacture and to adjust, and difficult to service. They also look great, and they provide very smooth push-piece feel. In other words, they’re made to order for luxury chronographs.

Column wheels were once ubiquitous, but some manufacturers searching for efficiencies developed cam mechanisms to take the column wheel’s place. The new system functions much like the traditional one, with an eccentric cam (a thin piece of metal with an irregular shape) replacing the column wheel. Cam systems are generally less expensive to manufacture, easier to adjust, easier to service, and not as nice looking. In use, cams generally perform as well as column wheels. NASA certified both the column-wheel and cam versions of the Omega Speedmaster for space flight. Chronographs powered by the Lemania Caliber 5100, with cam switching, were certified by several countries for military use. When the Swatch Group announced that it would halt Caliber 5100 production, watch manufacturers using the movement objected, saying it was the only caliber that could withstand large shocks without the chronograph seconds hand stopping. (The 5100 was eventually discontinued and replaced by an ETA caliber.) Finally, the ETA 7750, which is also known for being rugged, uses cam switching. If you’re looking for a tough tool watch and you don’t care about movement aesthetics, cam switching will fit the bill. If you care about tradition, a nice view through the display back, and the approval of purists, the column wheel is for you.

6. Let’s Get Engaged

An example of a vertical clutch mechanism from the Rolex Caliber 4130 chronograph movement
An example of a vertical clutch mechanism from the Rolex Caliber 4130 chronograph movement

The column wheel and cam issue orders, but other components further downstream transmit the mainspring’s energy to the stopwatch, and once again, there are competing systems. The traditional system uses horizontal or lateral coupling to transmit energy. When the start button is depressed, a wheel mounted on a moveable bridge or lever slides horizontally to link the fourth wheel, which rotates once per minute, with the chronograph center wheel, which drives the chronograph seconds hand. The intermediate sliding wheel is required because if the fourth wheel meshed directly with the chronograph center wheel, the chronograph wheel (and the seconds hand it activates) would run counterclockwise.

The horizontal meshing system is aesthetically pleasing because it enables the owner to watch the chronograph engaging and disengaging. However, meshing teeth can cause the chronograph seconds hand to jump when it starts, and because the teeth used for chronograph coupling have a different shape, or profile, than teeth used for continuous power transmission, regular or continuous chronograph use can cause the teeth to wear. The extra wheels in this system can also sap the mainspring’s energy, affecting the balance wheel’s amplitude, and so, timekeeping. The other main contender in this arena is known as the vertical clutch. Though not as aesthetically pleasing (because the chronograph engagement takes place largely out of sight), this system offers some advantages. It reduces chronograph drag, the chronograph seconds hand does not jump when started, and the chronograph can run continuously without causing excessive wear.

In simple terms, in the vertical system, the chronograph is  always “in mesh” with the timekeeping wheel train, and a clutch engages and disengages the chronograph. The clutch means smooth starts for the chronograph seconds hand, and the  “always in mesh” feature means that starting the chronograph does not generate significant additional drag. The drawbacks include cost, poor aesthetics, and the fact that the vertical clutch can be difficult to service. If you’re a traditionalist who will happily trade a bit of precision for the joy of watching your chronograph in action, the horizontal coupling system is for you. If you’re more concerned with precise starts and stops, or if you like to leave your chronograph running all the time, consider the vertical clutch variety.

7. The Need for Speed

The three wheels involved in the horizontal coupling system are highlighted in this image.
The three wheels involved in the horizontal coupling system are highlighted in this image.

There is a direct relationship between a movement’s frequency and the size of the fractions of a second it can measure. The higher the frequency, the smaller the fractions. So, as the average frequencies for wristwatch movements have increased over the years, chronographs based on those movements have become able to measure smaller and smaller fractions of seconds. Movement frequencies are often expressed in vibrations per hour, or vph. This relates to the speed of the balance wheel’s oscillations. Viewed from above, the balance wheel swings back and forth, left and right. Each swing to the left or to the right is a vibration. Each vibration, or beat, causes the seconds hand to make one jump forward.

The most common frequency for modern mechanical movements is 28,800 vph. To calculate how many vibrations that is per second, divide that rate by 3,600, which is the number of seconds in an hour (remember that vph is vibrations per hour). The answer is eight, which means that the movement is capable of measuring time to 1/8 of a second. Similarly, a watch with a frequency of 18,000 vph can time events to the nearest 1/5 of a second. A frequency of 21,600 vph yields accuracy of 1/6 of a second. A watch with a frequency of 36,000 vph can time events to the nearest 1/10 of a second. If the fellows making 1 Hz, or 7,200 vph, movements (they include the companies Grönefeld and Antoine Martin) ever decide to produce a chronograph, it will measure only half-seconds. Having mastered this bit of math, it is important to keep in mind that the movement frequency does not always translate directly to the motion of the chronograph seconds hand. That’s because the manufacturer can use gear ratios to change the rate at which the chronograph seconds hand moves around the dial. A chronograph with a 28,800-vph movement might be (and often is) geared to actually measure 1/5-second increments on the dial, not 1/8-second.

T AG Heuer’s Mikrograph can time events to the nearest 1/100-second.
TAG Heuer’s Mikrograph can time events to the nearest 1/100-second.

In recent years, some manufacturers, notably TAG Heuer, have started producing chronographs with two mainspring barrels, two wheel trains, and two escapements that run at different frequencies. The timekeeping escapement can tick along at a leisurely frequency meant for movements that run for years on end (offering low wear and a long power reserve), while the chronograph escapement can operate at a much faster frequency that allows it to measure hundredths or thousandths of a second and beyond. That faster speed means the chronograph’s mainspring unwinds quickly, so super-fast chronographs typically cannot time multi-hour events. For example, TAG Heuer’s Mikrograph, which measures to the nearest 1/100-second, can time events only up to 90 minutes in duration. If you need a chronograph that can measure specific intervals, such as 1/10s of a second, pay attention to both the movement frequency and the chronograph seconds track on the dial to make sure they meet your needs.

8. Exotic Extras

Anything one watchmaker can invent, another can make more complicated, which leads us to some exotic forms of the chronograph: the flyback and the rattrapante. The flyback, sometimes called the split-seconds flyback, can be used as a traditional chronograph, but a special feature allows the user to stop, reset, and restart the chronograph with a single push of a button, usually the one at 4 o’clock. The flyback’s drawback is that the reset mechanism makes it difficult to get a precise elapsed-time reading. When you depress the 4 o’clock push-piece, the chronograph seconds hand does not pause for you to take a reading – it instantly flies back to zero. If you’re looking at a finish line to judge when to push the button, you can’t also be looking at the watch to get the elapsed time. The flyback is much more useful when measuring fractions of a second is not required. For example, if a pilot has to execute a series of turns at specified time intervals, he can quickly reset and restart the chronograph before making each turn. Another exotic option is the rattrapante chronograph, also known as the split-seconds or doppelchronograph. Rattrapante means “catch up” or “catch again” in French, and doppelchronograph means “double chronograph” in German.

These watches have two chronograph seconds hands, one on top of the other. One, the rattrapante hand, can be operated independently of the other by means of a third push-piece, usually located at 8 or 10 o’clock. The extra seconds hand allows the timing of a second event, or splits within a single event, though with one significant limitation we will discuss momentarily. For example, in a 100-yard dash, you can start the chronograph, push the button at 8 or 10 o’clock when the first runner crosses the finish line, and the button at 2 o’clock when another runner crosses the finish line. The two chronograph seconds hands will show the two runners’ times. Pushing the rattrapante button again causes the rattrapante hand to catch up to the primary chronograph seconds hand, which is how you time splits in a longer race. For example, in a one-mile race, you might press the rattrapante button each time the runner passes a quarter-mile marker, reading the time for that split. After reading the time, you can press the rattrapante button again to reunite the chronograph seconds hands, until the next quarter-mile marker comes up. The limitation is that the rattrapante hand has no minutes counter of its own. So, you can time two events, or splits within a longer event, as long as the rattrapante hand does not have to measure more than one minute.

To overcome this limitation, you can purchase an inexpensive quartz stopwatch, or one of the most sophisticated (and, at $120,100, one of the most expensive) chronographs ever produced – the Lange Double Split, which offers a double rattrapante function – each chronograph seconds hand has its own counter on the 30-minute totalizer. The four chronograph hands (two seconds and two minutes) also have flyback functionality. And, the movement has two column wheels – one for stop-start-reset, and one for the rattrapante functions. Now that’s exotic.

9. Do You Need a Date?

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Deep Sea Chronograph Cermet is a beauty with whom you will not get a date.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Deep Sea Chronograph Cermet is a beauty with whom you will not get a date.

It’s a hard fact of life that some of the best looking and most popular modern chronographs, and many classic vintage models, do not have a date. Think Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedy Pro, IWC Portuguese, and vintage chronographs from Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling, and many others. Some of us want a date display, but the chronograph that has captured our hearts does not have one. That leaves the cellphone option, which, in our view, is acceptable, even for a true watch aficionado. As long as you’re wearing a watch, what you do with your phone is your business.

If you want to find out if you can live without a date display on your wrist, take a daily-wear watch and change the date so it’s wrong. Or, put a tiny bit of tape on the crystal to block the date. If after a week you have not experienced withdrawal, you’re ready for that chronograph sans date.

10. But Wait, There’s More

If Montblanc’s Vintage P ulsographe makes your heart race, you can use it to check the rate.
If Montblanc’s Vintage Pulsographe makes your heart race, you can use it to check the rate.

Adding a scale to a chronograph dial or bezel expands the range of information the timepiece can convey. Think of these scales as primitive apps that increase the chronograph’s usefulness.

One set of scales is based on the relationships between time, speed, and distance – if you know two values, you can calculate the third, and the scale makes the calculation for you. For example, a tachymeter allows you to calculate speed over a known distance, typically kilometers or miles. Most tachymeter scales start at 400, located at about eight seconds on the dial, and end at 60, at 60 seconds, or 12 o’clock. A simple example of tachymeter use involves determining the speed of a car, where time and distance are known. Start the chronograph when the car passes a mile or kilometer marker, and stop the chronograph when the car passes the next marker. Look at where the chronograph seconds hand points on the tachymeter scale, and that number represents the car’s speed.

Longines offers a chronograph with both an asthmometer and a pulsometer.
Longines offers a chronograph with both an asthmometer and a pulsometer.

The tachymeter can only measure for one minute, and it is typically graduated to show only a certain range of speeds (for example, between 60 and 400 kilometers per hour). The speeds of runners (too slow) and supersonic jets (too fast) fall outside the tachymeter’s range.

This Baume & Mercier features a telemeter at the edge of the dial and a tachymeter in the center.

A telemeter allows the user to calculate distance based on known speed and time. The scale is graduated using the speed of sound through the atmosphere. The scale allows the user to determine the distance to an event that can be both seen and heard. The two most widely cited examples are lightning and artillery fire. The user starts the chronograph upon seeing the flash of light and stops the chronograph when he hears the sound. The approximate distance to the event can then be read off the scale. Miles and kilometers are the most common units of distance.

This Omega Speedmaster has a traditional tachymeter bezel graduated from 60 to 500 kilometers per hour.
This Omega Speedmaster has a traditional tachymeter bezel graduated from 60 to 500 kilometers per hour.

Pulsometers and asthmometers work on the same principle to indicate a patient’s pulse or respiration rate, respectively. The scale is typically explained on the dial. For example, it may read “Gradué pour 30 pulsations” or “Graduated for 5 respirations.” The user starts the chronograph and stops it when the   indicated number of heartbeats or breaths has been counted. The seconds hand will point to the number of beats or breaths per minute on the scale.

With that, we’ve reached the end. Thoreau said, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” We hope this little overview helps you catch the fish that is right for you.

This article first appeared in WatchTime’s February 2014 issue.








10 Highlights in the History of the Dive Watch

In the beginning, dive watches were pure tools: essential swimming buddies that helped keep divers on time and hence, well, alive. Today they’re something else: fashion statements, conversation pieces, rugged companions for a trip to the beach or pool. This is an excerpt from Timeline: “Dive Watches Through the Decades,” which traces the history of the dive watch from its start in the 1920s, with the invention of the first truly water-resistant cases, to 2014. (Only mechanical watches are included.)

1. Rolex Oyster (1926)

Rolex Oyster, Ref. 679, 1926
Rolex Oyster, Ref. 679, (1926)

In 1926, watches constructed especially for use by divers appear. They have insulated crowns (the crown is the chief point of entry for water into a watch case). It was also the year that Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf introduces the Oyster case, which has a screwed crown, screwed caseback, and securely sealing crystal. It is the world’s first truly water-resistant case. One year later, Wilsdorf asks Mercedes Gleitze, a stenographer vying to become the first British woman to swim the English Channel, to wear an Oyster on one of her attempts. She doesn’t make it all the way, but the Rolex she wears around her neck keeps on ticking.

2. Panerai prototypes (1936)

Panerai watch, PAMPR004, 1936
Panerai watch, PAMPR004 (1936)

The Italian Navy commissions Panerai to develop the first prototypes of a watch that will evolve into the model now known as the “Radiomir.” The watches, water resistant to 30 meters, go into production two years later. The early Radiomir watches have movements and proprietary cases – cushion shaped and 47 mm in diameter − made by Rolex. They are named for the radium that makes their dials legible even in murky water.

3. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (1953)

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, initial Model, 1953
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, initial model (1953)

Blancpain presents its first dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms. The watch is water resistant to 100 meters. (Fifty fathoms is equal to 300 feet, or about 91 meters. It is the maximum depth divers can go at the time with the equipment then available.) The watch is the result of a request by Captain Bob Maloubier, who was a secret agent for the British during WWII and then became leader of the French military’s combat diving corps. He asked Blancpain to make a watch with a black dial, large Arabic numerals, clear indications and a rotating bezel. “We wanted in effect that each of the markers be as clear as a guiding star for a shepherd,” Maloubier later recalled.

4. Panerai crown protection (1956)

Panerai crown protection, 1956
Panerai crown protection (1956)

Panerai receives a patent for a curved, crown-protecting bridge. Now a hallmark of the company’s Luminor collection, the bridge contains a locking cam lever that pushes the crown against the case so that it fits tightly against the crown’s seals.

5. Breitling’s first dive watch (1957)

Breitling Superocean, 1957
Breitling Superocean (1957)

Breitling launches its first dive watch, the Superocean. The watch is water resistant to 200 meters, thanks in part to its monocoque (i.e., one-piece) case and its especially sturdy crystal. The watch’s bezel can be locked in place so that it won’t be knocked off position during a dive. A chronograph version of the watch comes out in 1959.

6. First Rolex Sea-Dweller (1967)

First Rolex Sea-Dweller, 1967
First Rolex Sea-Dweller (1967)

Rolex introduces the Sea-Dweller, a deeper-diving version of the Submariner. Its distinguishing feature is its helium valve, through which helium that has entered the watch case during time spent in a diving chamber can be released. The watch is produced at the request of the French company COMEX (Compagnie Maritime d’Expertise), which specializes in deep-diving equipment and services, chiefly for offshore oil and gas extraction. The watch is water-resistant to 610 meters.

7. First dive computer (1983)

The first dive computer is introduced. In the 1990s, the use of dive computers becomes widespread, and dive watches are relegated chiefly to the role of back-up equipment.

8. ISO invents dive watch standard (1996)

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issues standard 6425, defining the features that a watch must have in order for it to be designated a “dive” watch. They include requirements for water resistance (the watch must be 25 percent more water-resistant than claimed on the dial), legibility under water, resistance to thermal shocks and ability to measure elapsed time. Standard 6425 supplants the standard issued in 1984 and is still in effect today.

9. CX Swiss Military 20,000 Feet (2009)

CX Swiss Military 20,000 Feet, 2009
CX Swiss Military 20,000 Feet (2009)

CX Swiss Military unveils the 20,000 Feet, which breaks the Rolex Deepsea’s record for water resistance (20,000 feet is equal to about 6,100 meters) and enters the Guinness Book of Records. (CX Swiss Military had held the deepness record from 2005 until the Deepsea appeared in 2008.) The watch is a chronograph with a 28.5-mm-thick case and a domed back. According to CX Swiss Military, it is actually water-resistant to 7,500 meters, thus providing the 25-percent margin of safety required to meet ISO 6425.

10. IWC Aquatimer collection (2014)

IWC Aquatimer Deep Two, 2014
IWC Aquatimer Deep Two (2014)

IWC updates its Aquatimer collection, fitting it with an outer, bidirectional bezel and an inner, unidirectional one. The most impermeable of the new Aquatimer models, the Aquatimer Automatic 2000, is water resistant to 2,000 meters.

Discover the complete history of the dive watch in our download — available in the WatchTime Shop — which includes even more highlights and firsts, like the Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000 and the first Omega Seamaster!





Flight Fight: A History of IWC and Breitling Pilots’ Watches

When longtime IWC head honcho Georges Kern left his position at Richemont to become CEO of Breitling, some saw it as the latest salvo in the two Swiss brands’ historical duel for horological supremacy in the air. Here we explore in depth how both brands have made their marks on the history and evolution of pilots’ watches.

In contrast to dive watches, pilots’ watches do not have to meet any objective criteria. Good legibility under all light conditions is generally all that’s needed, and good design makes the watches what they are. A pilots’ watch looks like a pilots’ watch. But it’s precisely the design that shows the different approaches to pilots’ watches by IWC and Breitling. Both brands base their own unique designs on their long traditions and histories. In the case of IWC, the company relies heavily on its Big Pilot’s Watch from 1940, which it, and other companies like A. Lange & Söhne, supplied to the German Air Force.

IWC Big Pilot & Breitling Navitimer
Icons: IWC has offered its Big Pilot’s Watch with its accurate pocketwatch movement since 1940. Breitling introduced its first Navitimer with chronograph and slide-rule bezel in 1952. Both were originally designed for use in aviation.

Typical features included the military-style triangle with two dots at 12 o’clock, sans-serif numerals (a plain, unadorned bar for the numeral 1), and dagger-shaped hands. Today these same features are found on every pilots’ watch made by IWC. Even the Mark XVIII follows this same family design – although its predecessor had different numerals and hands (the pilots’ watch Mark 11, built for the Royal Air Force in 1949). The only exceptions are the models dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince,” in which IWC uses serif numerals, elegant blue or brown dials, silver hands and polished bezels. A conical crown, which makes operation while wearing gloves easier, is found on many other IWC models.

But IWC really unleashes its functions. The collection ranges from a simple hand-wound watch to chronographs with and without split seconds, world-time watches, and perpetual calendars. And with its limited Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55, IWC even restores its original 55-mm diameter. It closely approximates the design of the original – with beige luminous material and a matte case – though it has a small seconds display (the original model had a central seconds hand).

IWC can also reveal its modern side. The brand’s Top Gun models have a matte-black ceramic case and a textile strap for a contemporary military look, while still maintaining other traditional features. For this reason, these watches are easily recognizable as IWCs. The Top Gun Miramar line presents another interesting variation of the design: a muted green dial, beige luminous material, a red hour track, a polished ceramic case and an olive-green textile strap come together to create an exciting mix of modern and retro elements.

Breitling Navitimer & IWC Big Pilot Watch
Today’s Classics: Breitling has been building the Navitimer (steel, $8,215) with visual features that have remained virtually unchanged since 1962. An automatic in-house caliber ticks inside. IWC has only cautiously changed its Big Pilot’s Watch (steel, $12,900) over the last several years. The newest version of IWC’s seven-day automatic movement has powered the watch for the past year.

Breitling can also look back on a long tradition of pilots’ watches. Today, its iconic Navitimer looks much as it did just a few years after its introduction in 1952, when it was given a light-colored dial. These chronographs, with their distinctive rotating slide-rule bezels, are available with numerals as well as markers. Both types are immediately recognizable as Navitimers. Traditionally, one can choose between a black leather strap with a lighter stitched seam and a seven-row metal bracelet with offset links.

Breitling offers its icon in 43-mm and 46-mm sizes. There are also models that offer various additional functions along with a chronograph: a second time zone, world-time indication, full calendar and perpetual calendar. A wide selection of limited editions varies the design – from the re-release of the first models issued in 1952 for the pilots’ organization AOPA and elegant brown or blue dials to the modern look of Blacksteel (matte-black-coated case with black hands and markers on a black rubber strap).

IWC Big Pilots' Watch
Homage to the Beginnings: With special editions in 2016, both brands recall the first iconic pilots’ watch models. IWC is offering a 100-piece special edition of its Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 (titanium, $14,800, above) in its original 55-mm diameter. The Breitling Navitimer AOPA with logo is limited to 500 pieces ($7,655, below).
Breitling Navitimer AOPA

Breitling is also one of the manufacturers that react most strongly to prevailing trends; it introduces new models to the market almost on an annual basis. This is clearly the case with its pilots’ watches, especially in the Chronomat and Avenger lines. Both always have a rotating bezel with raised markers.

The Chronomat – with its distinctively detailed numerals on the dial, round crown, and polished markers, which originally formed a square on the dial – alters its pilots’-watch look with sporty-elegant and modern options. In addition, other bezel numerals and markers are offered in this collection. Black-coated models with black or anthracite-colored markers and hands lend the watches a touch of modern sportiness. The Airborne models represent a timeless military style with more practical-looking numerals and markers and textile straps.

IWC & Breitling Military Pilots Watches
Military Flyers: With black cases and textile straps, both brands offer a military-style look: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun (ceramic, $36,000) and Breitling Avenger Hurricane (Breitlight, $8,390).

But Breitling’s Avenger line goes still further in this direction. Its stencil-like numerals recall the distinctive look of military equipment. And the crown and pushers are designed with function in mind. In contrast to the Chronomat collection, which features chronographs exclusively, the Avenger line also includes three-hand watches. The look can also be varied with different straps: a polished metal bracelet for classic sportiness, leather for a more retro look, a rubber strap for functionality or a textile strap for military appeal.

Breitling is known as a pilots’-watch brand to an even greater extent than IWC. At Breitling, this means maintaining traditions as well as satisfying the customer by offering contemporary designs. Watches are also produced to meet the demands of today’s pilots. For this reason, Breitling sometimes dispenses with the mechanical movements that have come to be expected in a luxury watch. This results in extremely precise multifunction watches that have countdown, alarm, and additional time-zone functions.

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince”
Elegant Flyers: Polished surfaces, applied markers and decorative finishes on the dial add elegance: Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” (rose gold, $32,400, above) and Breitling Chronomat 44 (steel, $9,060, below).
Breitling Chronomat 44

Watches in the brand’s Professional line typically have a functional case and large numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Some have rotating bezels for quick calculation of flight routes. The hands are partially skeletonized to permit view of the LCD indications at the top and bottom of the dial. Breitling’s Emergency model attained fame with its integrated distress beacon. The chunky case houses a screw connector for the antenna, which wearers view as a positive feature of the watch, not a hindrance.

The newest addition to the Professional collection is the Exospace B55 for wireless connection to a smartphone. The user can set the time using the phone, as well as reading start and landing times on the phone’s large screen. With its black case and gray or blue hands with matching rubber strap, it has a modern, high-tech look.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar & Breitling Chronomat 44 Airborne
Retro Flyers: Vintage luminous, functional design, unadorned textile straps and earthy colors come together for a retro military look: IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar ($10,900, left) and Breitling Chronomat 44 Airborne ($8,030, right).

IWC and Breitling interpret the pilots’ watch in different ways. IWC uses an iconic model from its past and rolls out a homogeneous collection of pilots’ watches with unmistakable features. Different colors and materials transform the lines and push them in different directions for an elegant or military look.

Breitling chooses another path. This brand continues to offer and produce its pilots’ watch icon, the Navitimer. Variations are offered with special editions in which the company creates a feeling of greater elegance or modernity through its use of different colors and materials. Breitling has also created collections that are inspired by contemporary or military designs. Bracelets and straps also provide numerous possibilities to modify the design.

Both brands rely on distinctive features so it’s always immediately possible to recognize the model as an IWC or a Breitling. But where IWC tinkers with its design and continues to develop its look or make steps toward its origins, Breitling invents itself anew while still leaving its icon intact.

Breitling Exospace B55
The Breitling Exospace B55 (titanium, $7,180), with smartphone connectivity for flight times, has a modern, technical appeal with digital displays, a black case, functional design, and a dark gray rubber strap.

This article originally appeared in the March-April 2017 issue of WatchTime.













Field Ready: The Complicated Story of the Simple Field Watch

How the field watch journeyed from saving lives in the hellish trenches of World War I to decorating the wrists of fashionably rugged-looking civilians a century later is a rather befuddling tale. In this feature from our April-May 2019 issue, correspondent Allen Farmelo takes us through it.

At first only acceptable for women, the wristwatch finally gained currency among men during the American bicycle craze of the late 1800s when a bevy of clever devices for strapping watches to the wrist – then called “wristlets” – were developed and marketed for hands-free time telling. During the second Boer War (1899-1902) and World War I (1914-1918), soldiers began buying these wristwatches because they believed, quite accurately, that a watch could help keep them alive by synchronizing movements at the front with the larger artillery blasts happening behind them. When service ended, some survivors of these wars began to use their wristwatches for hunting, fishing, hiking, bicycling and driving the occasional automobile. Watch manufacturers in Europe and America were quick to catch both the military and civilian trends, and advertisements readily conflated both uses into one message: rugged men doing rugged things needed a rugged wristwatch.

Vintage Rolex Explorer - Christie's
A first-series Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ref. 6350 with honeycomb dial from 1953 that sold for CHF 68,750 at Christie’s Geneva on May 16, 2016. The time-only Rolex Explorer was a rebranded Oyster with numerals on the dial that debuted in 1953 as a rugged tool for the era’s most aggressive adventurers.

In 1903, Dimier Frères & Cie. issued a patent for a watch case with attached lugs to hold the wrist strap, and as early as 1913, the New York-based mail order company Ingersoll – capable of churning out as many as 8,000 watches a day – was advertising these new wristwatches to “outdoor folks” and “husky sportsmen.” Other companies dubbed similar watches the “Skirmisher,” the “Campaign Watch” and the “Territorial Wrist Watch.” Before long, “Khaki” began to appear in ads for watches with straps made of beige webbing, and as early as 1917, the American company Depollier was selling moisture-proof wristwatches with luminous dials and Waltham-built movements as the “Khaki Watch.” The field watch as we know it today was thus codified over 100 years ago.

Shedding Victorian Values and Embracing the Great Outdoors

While these new wristwatches appealed to soldiers for obvious reasons, they also appealed to a whole generation that was shrugging off the high decoration and strict etiquette of the Victorian and Edwardian eras in favor of stripped down, functional designs and increasingly relaxed social norms. Between the World Wars, wristwatches also aligned with a rising obsession with the great outdoors, epitomized by the legacy of John Muir’s conservationism, Teddy Roosevelt’s formation of the American National Parks and the vast popularity of Ernest Hemingway’s stories about the contemplative WWI veteran and trout fisherman Nick Adams. This was a context within which a rugged tool watch could begin to capture the hearts of civilians.

Rolex, Tudor and the Civilian Roots of the Field Watch

In 1919, Hans Wilsdorf moved Rolex from London to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, where he began to perfect his waterproof Oyster case, and in 1946, he formed Tudor in order to offer similar but more affordable watches. A brilliant marketeer, Wilsdorf would exploit headline-grabbing explorers and athletes as watch brand testimonees, cementing the idea that a wristwatch could act as a symbol of one’s ruggedness and bravery. That symbolic power was – and still is – one of the core appeals of the field watch.

Even though Rolex took on only limited military contracts, many World War II soldiers – especially pilots – would buy Oysters for themselves because the legibility and accuracy far exceeded that of mil-spec watches. Wilsdorf couldn’t have asked for a better promotional lift, as these Rolex-wearing military personnel were fast becoming folk heroes and style icons. Capitalizing on that marketing opportunity, Wilsdorf rebranded the Rolex Oyster as the Air-King in 1945, a move that dovetailed perfectly with the emergence of the Jet Age after WWII. In 1953, Wilsdorf rebranded an Oyster with numerals on the dial as the Explorer, this time capitalizing on an Oyster having made it to the top of Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary’s team. Though neither the Air-King nor the Explorer were military issues, they brought straightforward aesthetics and battle-ready durability to the wrists of countless civilians.

Tudor Ranger - Vintage 1967
The Tudor Ranger was an affordable version of the Rolex Explorer.
Tudor Heritage Ranger - Contemporary
Reissued as the 41-mm Heritage Ranger in 2014, this watch helped Tudor achieve the vast popularity of their current line of vintage-inspired tool watches.

The Air-King raises questions about the differences between pilots’ watches and field watches. Though many watches were designed with pilots in mind (e.g., Charles Lindbergh’s clever Longines Hour Angle, Zeniths with billboard-sized dials, various chronographs and eventually GMTs), many WWII mil-specs covered watches for both air and ground divisions, making it difficult to draw a clear line between the two categories. Because most civilians never become pilots, commercial marketing of these watches focused on “the field,” a term which likely derives from ‘battlefield’ but which has long since become synonymous with the great outdoors. In the case of Rolex – as well as many other brands – the distinction between a pilots’ watch and a field watch may come down to naming conventions and marketing, neither of which deliver a definitive distinction.

Nonetheless, the Rolex Explorer was popular enough during the 1950s that Tudor brought out the Ranger as an affordable alternative in the early 1960s. With its black face, bold luminous markers and an impenetrable Rolex Oyster case, the Ranger epitomized the simple aesthetics and functionality of the field watch. In 2014, Tudor reissued it as the Heritage Ranger, a 41-mm field watch with a camouflage strap that helped shuttle the company back to the top of Swiss watchmaking. That camouflage strap suggests a military connection that was never really there while also capitalizing on the recent revival of camouflage in popular fashion; one can imagine that Hans Wilsdorf, the clever marketeer, would wholly approve.

The Rise of the Hamilton Khaki Field Watch

Why would a WWII-era watch design still hold sway over the popular imagination during the 1950s and ’60s, a time when fast-paced futurism promised to put the war as far behind as possible? Part of the answer is the endurance of military men as sex symbols in WWII-themed films after the war – especially 1951’s Oscar-nominated film The Frogmen, which helped cement Hamilton’s military watches into the popular imagination as symbols of masculinity and bravery.

Like most American manufacturers, Hamilton stuck to WWII-era military specifications after the war, but in 1964, the U.S. Department of Defense issued watch specification MIL-W-46374A, the template for Hamilton’s 33-mm Ref. 9219, a time-only watch with a 24-hour inner track that Hamilton would readily produce millions of. Predictably, those numbers swelled during the Vietnam War.

Hamilton Khaki Field Watch
Today’s 38-mm Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is larger than its predecessors from the 1970s and ’80s, but the field-watch aesthetics and durability remain largely unchanged.

By the end of the 1960s, Hamilton had partnered with L.L. Bean to sell co-branded versions of the 9219 through the Maine-based mail order company’s catalog. Offered alongside Swiss Army knives, compasses, thick wool socks and other outdoorsy goods, Hamilton would repeat this co-branded marketing strategy with Orvis and Brookstone, as well as selling countless Hamilton-branded Khaki Fields to other commercial outlets. When the MIL-W-46374A specification became defunct in the 1980s – leaving massive manufacturing capability potentially inert – Hamilton began to hit the civilian market even harder with the Hamilton Khaki Field Watch, effectively transforming this military icon into an outdoorsy lifestyle accessory.

Mil-Spec Becomes Mil-Chic

In a stroke of good luck for Hamilton and other companies selling field watches, the military-influenced style was undergoing a complex journey into high fashion during the 1970s and ’80s. In 1971, Yves Saint-Laurent unexpectedly turned camouflage prints into runway chic, a gesture in perfect sync with anti-war protesters in the U.S. who sported combat uniforms with studied irony. By the 1980s, politically minded punk bands like The Clash helped make army jackets as common as blue jeans, while Andy Warhol started painting huge canvases with camouflage patterns. Camo had become a fashion statement, which in turn fueled a significant uptick in army surplus stores at the time.

It was in this milieu that the preppy weekender look – which has always borrowed liberally from military garb – would ascend to great heights. Paul Newman and the ever-outdoorsy Robert Redford sported aviator sunglasses, khaki pants and field jackets with effortless aplomb and massive sex appeal. Meanwhile Andy Warhol – somewhat confusingly as a glamorous, gay, urban art star – complemented his Levi’s, Chelsea boots and horned-rimmed glasses with a red L.L. Bean down-filled puffy vest. Passing away in 1987, this would be one of Warhol’s last looks, one so elemental and iconic that’s it’s been a men’s fashion staple ever since.

CWC Military watch
CWC has been selling field watches to civilians since the 1990s. The 38-mm General Service model pictured here is just one of many mil-spec models CWC offers today.

These outdoorsy styles became so widespread and have endured for so long that today we hardly notice the military origins of camouflage-print Louis Vuitton handbags, $500 Prada aviators, or the epaulets and ammunition holders on a Ralph Lauren jacket. Following yet another resurgence of the preppy outdoorsy look, today’s so-called heritage brands (L.L. Bean among them) are reissuing items from their back catalogs as the latest styles. Accordingly, in 2018, Hamilton was able to bring out the Khaki Field Mechanical, a hand-wound version that’s become a hit all over again – including, for the first time, fashionable camouflage straps.

Today’s Khaki Field series ranges from blacked-out 50-mm giants to svelte 38-mm steel versions with aged lume and olive green NATO straps. The latter are largely faithful to the aesthetics of the early Khaki Field Watch, and – following current trends down into the sub-40-mm zone – some of the most popular. The resurgence of the Hamilton Khaki Field proves once again that, while technology marches more or less forward, fashion will perennially circle back on itself.

The Mechanical Field Watch in the 21st Century

Beyond Tudor and Hamilton, the field watch is seeing a broad resurgence among many brands, old and new. Below are a few examples that demonstrate how brands today are playing with field-watch style, mixing up various features to create new models that scratch that old itch for durability, simple design and the symbolic power of sporting a tough little tool watch.

CWC General Service (£199-£449) – In the 1970s, the Cabot Watch Company, or CWC, established itself in order to snatch up newly available contracts with Britain’s Ministry of Defense as Rolex and Hamilton relinquished these shrinking partnerships. By the 1990s, CWC was starting to sell mil-spec watches to civilians, and today, CWC’s blocky, utilitarian General Service models are available in a range of compelling and affordable models. The CWC W10 GS, for example, sports an ETA 2824 automatic mechanical movement, a rounded, 38-mm stainless-steel case and a classic mil-spec dial that could easily pass for a WWII-era watch. Other CWC GS models recreate the quartz units of the 1980s and ’90s in a number of military-inspired colorways.

Longines Heritage Military
No two of the Longines Heritage Military’s “aged” dials will be the same. With its simple 38-mm steel case and minimal dial text, it captures the stripped-down appeal of a classic field watch.
Bell & Ross BR V1-92
At just 38 mm across, the Bell & Ross BR V1-92 Black Steel is one of the smallest watches in the Bell & Ross catalog, but its striking, straightforward dial gives it massive wrist presence.

Longines Heritage Military Watch ($2,150) – Despite its somewhat ordinary name, the Longines Military Watch was one of the most alarming watches in all categories for 2018 because it included an intentionally “aged” dial. That aging was achieved by randomly splashing flecks of dark paint onto the cream dial, creating what many call “fauxtina.” That dial may look a little odd against the otherwise unblemished case and the brand new blued steel hands, but these speckles add depth and warmth to the simple elegance of this 38.5-mm time-only field watch. The L888 movement (built on an ETA A31 base) beats a little slower than today’s standard, but in so doing offers up a robust 65-hour power reserve.

Bell & Ross BR V1-92 Military and BR V1-92 Black Steel ($1,990) – Where CWC and Longines can draw on their own heritage, younger brands don’t let that stand in the way of producing some of today’s most compelling field watches. Consider the Bell & Ross BR V1-92 Military and BR V1-92 Black Steel, two 38.5-mm automatic mechanical field watches released in 2017. Bell & Ross excels at playfully patching together preexisting design elements to create their own concoctions, and with the BR V1-92 Military they’ve done so with characteristic grace: aged lume, a minutes track around the dial (no hours), a “mouse pip” at noon, a red “MT” logo (stands for Military Type) and a decidedly plain brushed steel case. For those seeking something more straightforward, the Black Steel’s monochromatic dial offers eye-grabbing legibility and classic military style. Though neither model resembles any historical reference, both the Military and the Black Steel look just like field watches ought to; as such, they are brilliant examples of how functional military design elements have become fashionable aesthetic cues over time.

Weiss 38-mm Standard Issue Field Watch ($950-$1,995) – Another interesting riff on the field watch comes from California-based Weiss Watches, a recent phenomenon in the American watch scene. We might catch a bit of irony in the name Standard Issue Field Watch, as this design is neither standard nor issued; instead, like the Bell & Ross, Weiss has combined classic field-watch details to excellent effect. With a 38-mm steel case, a subdial for running seconds at 6 and a railroad minutes track, this watch exudes classic field-watch style. Meanwhile, the “Los Angeles, CA” label across the dial announces that there’s no bona fide military connection whatsoever. Two movements are available: the manually wound Caliber 1005 built on an ETA 7001 base and the automatic Caliber 2100 built on an Eterna 39 base. Those looking for a bigger watch will want to jump up to the 42-mm model that features Weiss’s in-house manually wound Caliber 2005 (starting at $2,250 for steel and going up to $8,950 for the solid 18k yellow-gold models).

Seals Model C Field Explorer ($640) – Affordable, funky and inspired by seemingly everything from WWII at once, the Seals Model C Field Explorer combines various field-watch elements into a wholly original-looking watch. The blocky case and wire lugs are reminiscent of a Panerai Radiomir, while the generously lumed numerals and markers, broad hands and high contrast outer track offer classic field-watch legibility. Inside is a Swiss Technology Production 1-11 automatic mechanical movement capable of storing 44 hours of power. For the funkiest version, go for the aged stainless-steel finish with the blue dial.

Weiss Standard issue Field Watch
Weiss Standard issue Field Watch
Seals Model C Field Explorer
Seals Model C Field Explorer

The Future of the Field Watch

Where complicated watches draw us into nuanced engineering feats and bejeweled watches dazzle us with diamonds, the field watch must stick to the simplest design formula without succumbing to banality. Witnessing and judging attempts by watchmakers to meet that design challenge is surprisingly rewarding, enough so that over a century after its inception, simple field watches are some of the most highly anticipated iterations each year. Despite the slow pace of their evolution – or perhaps because of it – we can count on field watches to hold our imaginations, not only as companions for life’s various adventures, but as symbols of who we’d like to be as we explore, scout, range and traverse whatever it is we consider to be the field.