So You Want to Buy a Military Watch…

After the introduction of trench watches during World War I, the wrist watch took its rightful place in military arsenals everywhere. Time was precious on the battlefield, and a good watch became a valuable resource for successful military operations. As a result, military watches have developed as a popular genre for watch collectors. These are functional instruments at their core and carry a certain degree of exclusivity and collectability due to their limited, government-issued roots. And because of their unique appeal, brands have also released modern watches that carry several of the same features found in true vintage military models.


Characteristics of a Military Watch

Military watches follow a very specific design ethos but also vary depending on their intended purpose:

  • Strictly utilitarian design free of unnecessary complication
  • Bead-blasted and matte-finished case construction for minimal detection and stealth in combat scenarios
  • Highly legible dials that often include markings for both 12- and 24-hour scales
  • Operation-specific features or complications like a GMT function, chronograph, or fully graduated diver’s bezel
  • Engraved government markings that often specify the associated military branch, inventory or part numbers, and manufacturer

Military Watch Buying Guide: Panerai Radiomir California Dial

Many of these characteristics are governed by military-specified guidelines, which are documents provided to manufacturers seeking to produce timepieces for military branches. They are traits found in several types of military watches, and in many ways, are a big part of their overall appeal. What’s important is finding the piece that appeals to you as a collector and that fits in with your daily wear and wardrobe preferences.


For The Vintage Enthusiast

You keep it simple no matter what and your watch should both accessorize and serve up that collectible vintage appeal. If you prefer something understated that also has an interesting story behind it, these might be a few features to look for in a military watch. Best part? These watches can still be abused while offering the utility of a reliable timekeeper. Consider:

  • That authentic vintage aesthetic, with tasteful patina and an original unpolished case
  • A piece in good working order, serviced, and keeping good time
  • A mil-spec dial layout that meets the minimum requirements of a 12- and 24-hour scale
  • Smaller case size reminiscent of watches designed and developed in the earliest parts of the 20th century
  • Vintage acrylic crystal, which serves as a reliable and serviceable alternative to sapphire or mineral glass
  • A basic leather strap that matches with the rest of the watch’s patina

Military Watches Buying Guide: Sinn Military Chronograph

Our Pick: The Sinn Military Chronograph


For The Contemporary Militaria Connoisseur

If you’re seeking a bold, military-inspired look but aren’t looking to track down a vintage piece, you still have a world of options. These watches are perfect for daily wear, boast an aggressive look, and don’t often carry the high price tags associated with their vintage counterparts. Look for:

  • Modern case sizes inspired by military and vintage aesthetics
  • Visual connection to modern military branches or tools used by military professionals
  • Robust movement architecture that goes beyond the minimum mil-spec requirements
  • Nylon or rubber strap options appropriate for outdoor wear
  • Colored dials for a touch of character

Military Watch Buying Guide: BBell & Ross Aviation (Desert Type)

Our Pick: The Bell & Ross Aviation BR03-92


For The Mission Specialist Out In The Field

You need a watch that looks the part and plays the part. You probably don’t exactly do the whole office job thing and might even find yourself in harm’s way on occasion. Either way, consider these characteristics for your next watch:

  • Carefree quartz movement
  • Rugged stainless steel or titanium case construction
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
  • Brushed or matte case surfaces that can take a beating
  • Chronograph complication paired with a compass or mission timer bezel

Military Watch Buying Guide: Breitling Emergency

Our Pick: The Breitling Emergency 


Overall, a military or military-inspired watch can serve as a great everyday option. Their functional and utilitarian features make them perfect in most casual situations as well. Whether you choose a modern interpretation or a true government-issued vintage piece, the world of military watches is an exciting place for all types of watch collectors.

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Crown & Caliber is the smartest way to buy or sell a luxury watch. As an exclusively online marketplace for pre-owned timepieces, Crown & Caliber exists to ensure that when it comes down to the final transaction, buyers and sellers can both win. For sellers, we do all the legwork of valuating, marketing, and selling—for buyers, we put trust back into the act of purchasing sight-unseen with our servicing and authentication process. By emphasizing transparency and placing value on quality, Crown & Caliber has become the preferred marketplace for watch collectors and casual enthusiasts alike.

Latest comments
  • For the F-100 fighter pilots of Tuy Hoa AB, RVN, the watch of choice in 1969 was the Rolex, GMT Master.
    I got mine from the China Fleet club (world’s greatest base exchange in a duty free port) in may.
    It cost $146.00!
    I just sent it back to Geneva for refurbishing and it’s like new!

  • What is the first watch pictureD in this article?

    • It’s a PAM 448, California Dial.