Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Vintage military watches - style on the wrist

Men have peculiarly acquisitive instincts - how many men do you know who are obsessed by collecting something? It may be cars, watches, clothes, cameras, books, golf clubs, rare birds, works of art or racing bikes. We're no doubt reflecting some ancient instinct which had us collecting weapons, women or whatever was required for our survival and that of our genes.

One item that a man of style might collect is watches - and why not vintage military timepieces?

Photo Grey Fox
There's a move towards smaller watches of plainer design - possibly in response to the proliferation of what I call footballers' watches - huge ugly timepieces, (often 44mm or more in diameter) covered with enough dials, pushers and winders to keep the most frustrated engine driver happy. Nowadays a sophisticated minimalist watch design can work well with formal or informal wear. What better than vintage military watches to fill this niche and to appeal to man's collecting instincts?

The watches in these pictures were made for the British military between the forties and sixties, a vibrant period of military watchmaking, before electronics brought rather soulless quartz watches. They are small by today's standards, around 34mm to 36mm in diameter, but they stand out on the wrist because they were designed to do just that - and to be instantly legible. They are robustly designed with movements which are beautifully made and generally easy to maintain.

Vintage military Hamilton watch - photo Asos
Most can be bought for under £500, though collectible ones like the Omega 53 or Mk11 navigators' watches made by Jaeger LeCoultre and IWC can cost in the thousands. Unlike modern watches, however, they should hold their value, and in many cases actually appreciate. Inevitably, buying vintage military watches is a minefield - a lot of fakes are sold on eBay and even on watch fora and by dealers - get good advice before you take the plunge. 

There is one watch in the picture below which is modern, can you spot it?

Photo Grey Fox
Military watches are often worn with one-piece nylon or "NATO" straps - these can be bought in a wide variety of colours so you can change the appearance of your watch to suit your mood.


Matthew Moodie said...

The one on the right? What's the answer?

Grey Fox said...

Yes, the one on the right is a Seiko made more recently and the design of which was based on military watches. It is itself a collectible watch now - it has a hand-wound mechanical movement.

Thanks for your comment.

Richard Wigington said...

Dear GF,
Just stumbled upon your blog via another and really like the Military Watch / Nylon Band look - it's so sharp and a very cool way of introducing a very subtle colour trim to any formalwear look. Colour is so important but not every occasion can handle it. Sometimes even a sober tie has to be worn for that "heavier" meeting but a dash of colour on the wrist in this way evokes a sense of perhaps the guy opposite is ex - service so the meeting might take a positive turn born on this assumption. I have a few contemporary versions of this same watch band style which I bought for my Bronze face Rolex GMT and it looks just awesome. Bamford & Sons used to sell them and at the time, realising they might not be around for ever, purchased a few in leather - brown, white, tan - that sort of thing when I had the chance. Great blog!

Grey Fox said...

Thanks RW for your great comments - I agree; they are easily changed so you can choose a regular colour/ style change for the wrist - perhaps to co-ordinate with other clothes. I can imagine that the GMT looks very good with a NATO-type strap, whether coloured nylon or leather - and we won't go into the advantages of nicely worn-in leather straps!

CarlosL said...

I always wanted to buy a Military watch as I do like collecting them, got a Rolex and a Hermes however I like the idea of the color options you have with these sort of watches so I got one. I also didn't know about the different type of straps one RAF and the other one the G-10 (or long one) I guess it all depends of the look you're after ...

Great blog !


Dear GF I know this is an old post but.. I recently got back from a road trip round New Zealand where I picked up a 1915 Trench watch that required a service & new strap. I sourced an authentic style strap from vintagewatchstraps .com David the owner makes the straps himself which are of great quality. Might be worth an article sometime. my watch is on the customers page.

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