Notable Military Watches: A Brief History

Military-issued watches have had a significant impact on the evolution of modern warfare. Likewise, the unique needs of the military have had a considerable influence on the development of watches. For example, the harsh conditions of trench warfare in WWI propelled the creation and popularization of the wristwatch after decades of the pocket watch reigning supreme. Although military technology has far surpassed the relatively simple wristwatches created during the First World War, notable military watches have continued to be an integral tool for troops to this day.

Notable military watches: Panerai Radiomir

There are a few key characteristics that set military watches apart. Two of the more obvious traits are a strictly utilitarian design and a highly-legible dial. Most military watches also have a matte finish accomplished through bead-blasting. This allows for minimal detection and optimal stealth in combat. Many military watches incorporate complications that help serve their intended purpose. For example, watches for naval forces might include a fully graduated diver’s bezel or watches for flight might include a GMT function. Finally, military watches often feature custom government markings, such as the logo of military branch.

Notable Military Watches: Manufacturer Partnerships

Over the years, numerous watch manufacturers have partnered with military organizations. Together they have collaboratively designed timepieces that meet the specific needs of their troops. Most features are governed by military-specified regulations and presented in detailed documentation to watchmakers that they must adhere to. Some watch brands are synonymous with a particular country’s military. Others have produced watches for numerous military forces.

Notable Military Watches: IWC Big Pilot

Each military watch is unique in its own right. However, there are a few notable models that have served their military purpose and continue to be popular among watch collectors. One example is the Breitling Chronomat. WWII sparked the need for pilot’s watches, and Breitling unveiled the Chronomat in 1942. Willy Breitling’s relationship with the British Royal Airforce (RAF) nearly put his company in jeopardy as the Nazis closed in on the Swiss border. Still, he continued to supply the RAF with timekeeping devices, including watches and cockpit clocks.

Another model of note is the Panerai Radiomir, which debuted in 1936. Panerai worked secretly and exclusively with the Royal Italian Navy, providing watches for the classified underwater missions of their frogmen. As legend has it, the large, luminous, waterproof Radiomir was a lifesaving tool on their missions. A final example is the IWC Special Pilot’s watch. IWC has worked with both the German and British military forces over the years. The first Special Pilot’s watch debuted in 1936, followed by the Big Pilot’s watch in 1940.

Notable Military Watches: Breitling Chronomat

Notable Military Watches: For Soldiers and Civilians

After undergoing rigorous tests in extreme conditions as well as simulated combat, it’s safe to say that military watches are among the most rugged timekeepers on the market. They have a clear place in watchmaking history on the wrists of former military forces as well as avid collectors. Military watches have continued to influence the design of many of the modern tool watches we see today. Overall, it’s undeniable that military watches have had a profound effect on the evolution of modern watchmaking.

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Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

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