Style 101: The Field Watch

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Look at the timepiece on your wrist — or the wrist of your father, or grandfather, in old photos and beyond. There’s a good chance that your current timepiece owes a debt of gratitude (in terms of both style and functionality) to the field watches that graced battlefields and base camps in years gone by — and in fact, there’s a good chance the first watch you ever owned (be it as a teenager or a college student) also owes a debt of gratitude to the humble field watch.

It’s a silhouette and style with plenty of history behind it, not to mention serious substance, style and major tactical functionality. The field watch is, for the modern gentleman and adventurer, a must-have men’s style essential, the type of watch you  can wear just about anywhere — including, yes, for heavy-duty action in the field or off-trail. Field watches also occasionally go by the simple term “‘military watch,” with different eras of history calling for different types of watches to be worn at home and abroad (but most commonly, abroad in major conflict eras). Like those other men’s style staples — of which we’re willing to bet you own a few — the field watch derived from functional, active-minded men who needed tough gear. The desert boot and the field jacket are two readily available examples seen on stylish men the world over, the type of pieces that transcend time and space to become a daily style go-to.

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And so it goes with the field watch, which is often set apart from other watches thanks to its more casual nature and rugged design. Many watches decades ago featured a smaller dial size, perhaps in response to more straightforward ways of dressing, and the field watch was no different. Today’s field watches often have a beefier case diameter and touches like stainless steel dial construction and premium materials.

Most field watches are designed to resist shocks or scratches on the dial, but they aren’t made for deep sea diving — they’re made for land usage through and through, and often don’t feature heavy water resistance capabilities (although again, the field watch is still tough — it can withstand some punishment). Of note, field watches are still set apart by the use of a grosgrain or nylon strap (also called NATO strap), sometimes with a design that slips through the back of the watch itself — take the Timex MK1 Military Field Watch, for example. It’s one of the most affordable field watches on the market, with the type of history only Timex can bring to life in the present day. The Timex MK1 itself draws on a Timex Archive style that updated a military take for average civilians, and other field watches have history that stretches back even beyond that.

Another prime example of the field watch? The Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic Watch, a durable, dependable and downright iconic watch that could very likely have been worn by your grandfather — and it’ll perform just as handsomely for you in the present day, in fact. It’s the very definition of one of the best field watches for men, made the right way as the brand has done for decades. The 38mm diameter calls to mind more classic field watches, while the green canvas strap and green dial are both handsome and functional, yet field-ready.

Field watches are designed to look great and perform at a high level across the board — but don’t let the emphasis on functionality fool you. Take the Jack Mason Field Watch, for instance, with a stainless steel case and the type of design inspired by original army watches — and yet featuring a handsome tan leather strap. It’s all in the details, and the right field watch can be worn as easily with a slub T-shirt and your favorite pair of dark denim (just add chukka boots), as it can be paired with a crisp white tee, an unstructured navy blazer and white sneakers. Think of the modern field watch like a travel and adventure-ready watch you can count on from sun up to sun down, at home or on the road.

And when you really do need to go out into the field, the best men’s field watches can power right through whatever you need (particularly if you’re geared up accordingly with tough chore pants, leather hiking boots and a chambray overshirt). The field watch is the no-frills answer to the watch you’ve been searching for to round out your rotation. Again, touches like a fabric strap make it decidedly more casual, but timepieces from the likes of Filson — the handsome Filson Field Watch comes to mind — incorporate more refined leather straps for maximum versatility.

While we’d wager you’re going to be wearing your field watch in a manner that’s different from how your relatives wore their field watches back in the day, you should still feel mighty proud to be wearing a heritage-filled piece of history … all right on your wrist.

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