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Field Watches Overview

Field Watches Overview

A traditional field watch is a simple but reliable wristwatch in a durable case, remarkable for its high accuracy and designed for military purposes. Originally named as ‘trench watches’, they were used by soldiers and officers in trench warfare during the World War I. Due to their simplicity and wearability, they are still favored by timepiece collectors and remain one of the most iconic watches on the market.

There are several salient features that distinguish traditional field watches from other watch types. As they were supposed to be employed under harsh weather and poor visibility conditions, they were provided with rugged case designs, water and scratch-resistant crystals, and high-contrast dials with easy-to-read (sometimes luminous) Arabic numerals and bold hands. Some timepiece models were also equipped with additional features, including alarms and stopwatch functions.

Until the late 19th century, wristwatches were considered feminine due to their dainty and jewel-decorated design. According to some historical accounts, the first bracelet-mounted watch was presented to Elisabeth I, the Queen of England, back in 1571, while other sources mention the Queen of Naples as the first wristwatch owner. Nevertheless, regardless of the exact date and person, wristwatches were obviously designed exclusively for women and looked more like jewelry than functional timepieces.

The first mass adoption of commercial male wristwatches is often attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm I, who purchased a great number of timepieces for the German Imperial Navy in 1879. However, their design was much unlike traditional field watches: they were provided with chains instead of leather bands, and the dials were protected with metal grids.

The familiar field watch design was presented only during the First World War in response to new challenges: under the rough battlefield conditions, infantry soldiers had to synchronize their actions with artillerymen, so they needed precise but durable timekeepers that could be used inside trenches. The later field watch versions were also designed for mariners and their pressure-resistant and water-sealed cases could withstand a 30m diving depth.

While original field watches were mainly provided with stainless-steel cases, the present-day versions may be supplied with PVD (thin film) coatings or titanium constructions. Despite the long list of contemporary field watch makers (including such brands as Rolex, Timex, Seiko, Citizen, Bulova, Hamilton, Timor, Omega and others), the Buser models deserve a separate mention, as their vintage-inspired designs along with accurate movements, water-resistant durable casings and high-contrast dials make them a valuable asset for a genuine timepiece connoisseur.