As someone new or unfamiliar with watches, it might be confusing as to why many luxury timepieces are inspired by watches from the past that were anything but showy or high-end. The truth is, military watches designs from throughout the 20th century are regular sources of inspiration for well-made, high-end men’s sports watches today. Why is that?
The reasons begin with the appeal of military watch designs in the first place. Such watches were specifically intended to be useful, durable, long-lasting tools. An emphasis on practicality and longevity made them excellent purpose-built machines – which is the core reason why anyone invests in a good timepiece. Thus, the values that many of these vintage military watches were designed with in the first place have enormous relevance for consumers today.
The second reason is more related to fashion and one’s desire to express their particular lifestyle. It isn’t that military-inspired luxury watches are better than dress watches for instance, but what they say about the wearer while on their wrist is very different. A high-end military-inspired luxury watch sends the message that says: “I am well to do but also active. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and the tools I need to properly enjoy the experiences.”
High-end watch brands today often pull inspiration from military watches they produced in the past. In rare instances a brand like Germany-based Sinn actively works with contemporary military, rescue, or law-enforcement agencies to produce new timepieces that fit into the military-inspired category.
Sinn for example recently released the EZM 1.1 that is actually a remake of its own EZM 1 from 1997, made for German customs special forces. That makes the EZM 1 one of the most recent military-inspired watches to get a remake in the EZM 1.1. Minimalist and focused on operating in extreme conditions, a timepiece like the Sinn EZM 1.1 nicely demonstrates the appeal of daily-wear wristwatch that can survive a combat situation.
Not all soldiers wore the same type of watches. One of the reasons that military-inspired watches are interesting for today’s luxury watch brands is because of the variety of types of conditions and purposes that such watches were originally created for. For example, most military timepieces were created for soldiers in the air (aviators), or in the water (diver’s), or infantry (field watches).
Field watches were typically the simplest, and comparatively when remade today they are typically the most affordably priced. Longines for example has a long history of making a whole universe of military watches, including many field models. Modelled on WWI trench watches, the Longines Heritage Military watch in its 44mm wide steel case has a straightforward name and pleasant design meant to evoke the legibility and masculinity of early military-style timepieces.
Tudor, along with its sister company Rolex, produced their fair share of military watches in the past. The Tudor Pelagos LHD in titanium with its left-handed crown is a homage to the brand’s military diving watch, specifically the ones made for the French navy.
The LHD is less a vintage remake and more a totally modern timepiece with a vintage-designed twist to it. Its ideal for those who want a contemporary sport watch, that could be suitable for military use, and is lightly inspired by real military watches from the brand’s storied past.
Pilot-style watches are among the most popular as the basis for luxury military-inspired timepieces today. These watches are particularly wearable and stylish by today’s standards, and more importantly, vintage pilot watches were larger than most other watches – making many of them suitable for today’s wristwatch size preferences.
Swiss IWC and Zenith are two brands with authentic histories producing military aviation watches, that celebrate this fact in their modern products. More so, both brands produce aviation-style timepieces designed with their historic models in mind.
Zenith recently released the Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2, which is a visual remake of an Italian air force watch it made in the 1960s. Though today it comes in a modern 43mm case and houses a reliable and high-performance El Primero 5Hz automatic chronograph movement.
IWC has its own world of pilot watches, with one of the most recent ones being the relatively accessibly priced Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Tribute to Mark XI.” If that sounds a bit confusing then what IWC is trying to tell you is that it is the 18th version of its pilot’s watch and inspired by the design of the 11th version from 1948, originally made for the British Royal Air Force.
Don’t get too confused by the numbers and dates, what is important in these watches is something else. The best way to enjoy a vintage-style military watch is in one of these high-end modern watches produced today. Why? The ones from the past are older, often heavily worn, and were often produced in higher volumes. At today’s prices and production numbers brands can focus on an attention to detail and style like never before. Thus some of history’s best military watches are ironically produced today.
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Ariel Adams – United States
Ariel Adams started writing about watches in 2007, almost immediately after finishing law school. Since then he’s never looked back – combining his business skills with an enduring passion for timepieces and all things “well-made”. In addition to running the world’s highest-traffic online watch magazine, Adams also wrote a book, The World’s Most Expensive Watches, and also lends his voice to leading watch and thought publications around the world.