Everyone will have admired the austere, practical beauty of military watches, born out of necessity, which was the real driving force behind the transition of timepieces from pocket to wrist. And they've been won over by their design: simple and rugged for land-based military watches, large and precise for pilot's watches, or durable and visible for diver's watches. Because like it or not, all these types were born for military purposes and only later adapted to civilian use. But here, we will mostly focus on the typical field watch, the one that, over time, has evolved to become your daily beater. Are you ready?

Military watch

What exactly is a tactical (military) watch?

There isn't precisely a definition that fully illustrates what a military watch is. The military use of watches started with the adaptation of pocket watches to the wrist and then continued with the evolution of dedicated timepieces that had particular characteristics: robustness, precision, and excellent readability of the dial both day and night.

Watchmaking history holds that the first wristwatches were watches used by the military. Some photos show British soldiers, at the time of the Burma War, around 1885, who wore their pocket watches on their wrists inserted in a "wristlet," a kind of leather bracelet with a pocket that could accommodate them and protect them from shocks.

This use spread in the European armies until someone had the idea to weld directly the lugs on the cases of the watches to secure them with a strap on the wrist: and so were born the so-called "trench watches" that mounted the fixed lugs, called wire lugs. At first, these were modified pocket watches, but changed the dial; usually, from white porcelain or enamel to a metal dial painted in black, with large Arabic numerals filled with a luminous paste based on radium. The same was also applied to the hands, which were replaced with "cathedral" models to increase their visibility at night.

Over time, these watches changed, becoming the models we know today. First of all, manufacturing companies introduced the automatic movement, improving their ruggedness and as such, the automatic watch timespan. More, the advances in metallurgy rendered easy to manufacture cheap and sturdy steel cases, possibly resistant to water and magnetism, but keeping the watch movement as simple as possible, so without any excessive complications like chronographs or GMT watches.

This was the origin of the so-called trekking watches, also known as explorer watches from the name of its most famous specimen, the Rolex Explorer - which continued to be worn until the Seventies, when the automatic watches were superseded by the lighter, cheaper and more accurate quartz watches, and the cases began to be built with high-strength plastic polymers that did not make reflections when hit by the sunrays.

Today, there is a wide choice of military watches, both quartz and mechanical-based, and of different price ranges that can satisfy the taste of anyone who loves this design, so practical and sporty.

davosa swiss made military watch

What to consider before buying a military watch

The fundamental question to ask yourself before buying a military watch (but that goes for any watch) is how you will use it. Just as the best-selling watch model to date is the diver, but people wear it in the office as a casual smartwatch, the military-style watch will probably be used similarly and not for outdoor trekking. So, the first question to ask is, will I really use it "operationally" - that is, in the field, in the wild while hiking, or will my excursions be mostly confined between the boardroom and my desk?

One of the grand divisions of the military watch universe is just that, between tactical watches and timepieces that instead only echo the military-style but are primarily smart casual watches.

Once you have made this assessment, you need to ask ourselves what features will you need in your watch. Do you need high water resistance? A date and day display? An abundant presence of superluminova? Does your watch need to withstand shocks and scratches without any issues? Does it need to be ultra-accurate? Does it need to have additional functions in addition to the classic time measurement? Finally, what budget have you allocated to purchase it?

There are a thousand questions and a thousand different elements to consider before buying a watch - and they depend solely on you and your needs - which are different from those of any other.

So, our advice to would-be buyers of a military watch is to make a "shopping list," marking, on the one hand, the features that are important to you. On the other those offered by the models you're looking at - we suggest making a list of 3-5 references from different houses - so that at the end you get a tidy table that you can evaluate objectively, marking all the pros and cons, and thus make a wise final choice.
 Green military watch

Top 20 Best Military watches

We bet you weren't expecting a huge list of great military-styled watches like this!

Indeed, we've scoured the watch market far and wide to come up with a list of watches that we think should be considered by military/outdoor style enthusiasts for a possible purchase. And we'll then break them down into the two main categories: "tactical" watches and "military-style" watches.

While the automatic watch accuracy in modern timepieces is excellent, you will find that all of the tactical watches mount quartz movements: the mechanical calibers are mostly used by the military-style watches that you wear "leisurely." You will find a lot of different models here, from the microbrand watches to the more established Maisons, in a huge variety of prices starting from a few tens upwards.

The 10 Best Tactical Watches

The tactical watch is the one that is worn operationally and continuously during outdoor excursions, both by military men and simple trekking and outdoor enthusiasts. This type of timepiece is practical and very sporty, very often large in size, highly sturdy, and usually accompanied by a strap made of synthetic material resistant to everything. If you wear this kind of watch during an important meeting, you probably won't go unnoticed, but not precisely because of the quality of your work.

Among the tactical timepieces, you'll find watches of all kinds, from the more spartan and affordable models to the more high-tech and expensive ones that incorporate the smartwatch functionality.


Marathon Military Navigator

This watch is a rugged, versatile timepiece - simple and functional, having few features but full-proof ruggedness. More, it's really super lightweight to wear. It has an understated style that could almost make it everyday wearable, and it houses a reliable Swiss-made quartz movement. Plus, it's tough to spend less!


Timex Expedition Gallatin

Timex is another manufacturer that makes excellent watches with virtually unbeatable value for money. The Timex Expedition Gallatin is inspired by the outdoors, and it shows in every detail. Its Indiglo Night-Light makes it perfect for when it isn't easy to see, and the large, highly visible dial does the rest even in daytime. If you want, there's also a solar-powered version, which offers effortless operation for as long as the watch lasts.


Luminox Navy SEAL

This watch is a direct descendant of Luminox's early models, intended for tactical use - and it hasn't lost its polish. This simple and effective timepiece incorporates Luminox's tritium gas-filled nanotube illumination technology, giving it unsurpassed nighttime legibility. In addition, the case is made of a synthetic carbon composite material with a rotating bezel and double gasket security to ensure water resistance of 200 meters. In short: if you need a reliable timepiece in all conditions, this one certainly is.


Casio G-Shock GWG-1000GB-1ADR Mudmaster

The G-Shock, in its infinite versions, is perhaps the tactical watch par excellence. It was designed in the Eighties and since then has been declined in hundreds of versions and has sold tens of millions of pieces worldwide for its qualities. If you want an indestructible watch, this is definitely it. It is coated with a matte black color on its entire surface that makes it perfect to be discreet. It features all sorts of functions, from the chronograph to the compass, from 5 types of alarms to the thermometer. It is water-resistant to 200 meters and mounts a convenient Tough Solar charging system.


Luminox 8841.KM.SET Recon III Team Leader

This watch is part of the high-end watchmaking production by Luminox, the manufacturer that first launched the new lighting technology based on tritium gas-filled nanotubes, which provide exceptional visibility in the dark. With a water resistance of 100 meters, this watch combines an analog chronograph with a myriad of other functions that make it highly versatile for any tactical use.


Suunto Core Military

The Suunto Core Military is not just a watch or wrist device: it's a multifunctional measuring instrument, perfect for anyone who enjoys the outdoors as a mission. It is equipped with everything that you'd need, altimeter, barometer, compass, and has stored in memory the coordinates for sunrise and sunset times for over 400 different locations on Earth. In addition, it offers a valuable air pressure indicator, which can alert you of an incoming storm.


Casio Pro Trek WSD-F20

The Pro Trek WSD-F20 - available in three variants - is the most technological and innovative watch in the entire Casio Pro Trek catalog because it's not just a tactical watch: it's a tactical smartwatch - with everything that means. It runs on the Android Wear 2.0 operating system, integrated low-power GPS, and features a map that can be consulted even offline. It offers a gyroscope to calibrate the orientation of the display, and its GPS connects to the Russian GLONASS satellite system and the Japanese Michibiki.


Garmin Tactix Bravo

The Garmin Tactix is the wrist-worn version of the company's in-car navigators. It is the perfect watch for the hardened trekker who loves to go into the most unexplored locations. In addition to being a device with GPS tracking and a three-axis compass, it also has a complete set of sensors that provide information about the weather and the elevation reached, as well as all the notifications you usually receive on your home computer. "Good morning, and thank you for your email, sorry I'm only responding now, but I was wading through a river."

Traser P66 Tactical Mission Watch

This tactical watch is Made in Germany and incorporates solutions that make it suitable for intensive outdoor use. Its composite case includes a steel core and fiberglass polymer reinforcement, an anti-reflective sapphire crystal, and offers a water resistance rating of 20 atmospheres. The indexes and hands use tritium ion illuminating technology for perfect readability, and the watch features a rotating bezel and date — few features, but outstanding ruggedness and reliability - and appropriately priced.

Breitling Emergency

Breitling is one of the leading players in technical watches, and it has outdone itself with this model. The Emergency is not only a complete tactical watch, offering time, day and date, countdown timer, 1/100th of a second chronograph, second time zone, and alarm, and compass, but also a miniaturized dual-frequency PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) module with 18-24 hour battery life, which allows you to raise the alarm and guide location and rescue operations if needed.

The 10 Best Military Style Watches

Military-style watches could be vintage military watches, modern editions of the same, or watches that are part of the large ranks of explorers timepieces. Due to their characteristics, they are less extreme - and more elegant - than the tactical ones. Moreover, this type of watch is undoubtedly more flexible: it can be worn on various occasions, even formally, without raising too many eyebrows, but remember that with some exceptions, these military watches offer above all the name and style: better not to overdo them in the field.


MWC A-11 1940s WWII Pattern Military Watch (Automatic)

At first glance, it might look like a vintage watch: but this watch is designed to echo the shape and size of the vintage watches of the late 1960s era used in the Vietnam War, and it becomes a perfect timepiece to be worn all the time, even in the office. Nevertheless, it is robust and reliable: it mounts an automatic movement and equips it with several modern improvements such as a sapphire crystal a screw-down crown and back that make it water-resistant to 100 meters.


Victorinox I.N.O.X.

The famous Swiss manufacturer of multi-tool knives has created a line of heavy-duty watches that perfectly complement the robustness and functionality of its multi-tools. The timepiece lineup offers numerous models, both quartz and mechanical. Still, they all have in common the characteristic stainless steel case and a fitting plastic or paracord strap to secure it to your wrist in total comfort. They also display a striking design, making them perfect for smart-casual use.


Seiko Prospex New Alpinist SPB121JI

The name doesn't do justice to this new edition of the Seiko Alpinist, a watch that has become iconic. This new edition mounts a next-generation movement, with 70 hours of power reserve, and retains the features that made people love the first Alpinist (although the model name has disappeared from the forest green dial), such as the retro design, internal rotating bezel, cathedral hands accompanied by a complete dose of Luminova, and 200-meter water resistance.


Davosa Trailmaster Steel 100M Automatic

A splendid watch built for adventure, the Trailmaster features a solid stainless steel case secured to the wrist by a technical composite strap with contrasting stitching, ensuring a great fit. The unique feature of this timepiece is the internal rotating bezel, controlled by an additional crown, which allows it to be quickly and safely set without moving. It surrounds the black dial with white markers offering excellent readability and character. The screw-in case back and crown assure it a water resistance of 100 meters.
 Davosa trailmaster swiss made watch

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Hamilton today is a Swiss company, but it belongs to the American watchmaking tradition - and was famous for its watches assigned to the US military during its wars, from World War II onwards - with military timepieces still representing one of its best-selling series. The Khaki Field embodies the model of the military watch, practically unchanged since then as a design. Through its many more or less "tactical" variants, some with PVD coated cases, it still offers timepieces, beautiful, simple, robust, economical, and with a great personality.


Marathon TSAR Military Diver

If you are looking for a watch out of the usual choices that can express your desire for adventure, the TSAR could be for you. It's a classic, heavy-duty diver watch that mounts a Swiss quartz mechanism in a solid stainless steel case and a very readable dial that incorporates tritium gas illumination technology. And let's face it: it's beautiful to look at and wear, too.


Davosa Military "Vintage" Black PVD 200M Automatic - *SOLD OUT*

If you want a modern watch yet inspired by vintage timepieces from the 1960s, this model from Davosa is perfect for you. Thanks to the large numbers and markers, the Military has perfect readability with its amber lume on a black background, ensuring ideal readability in all light conditions. Its steel case with matte black PVD coating mounts an automatic movement and offers a screw-down case back and crown for up to 200 meters water resistance.

Davosa Swiss military PVD watch

Bell & Ross Black Camo

This French manufacturer has always offered military-styled watches, but this Black Camo reaches the top of the impression, with its matte black surfaces all over and its solid, polished look, with a three-tiered dial of black and gray that goes well with the rest of the timepiece. The case is technical ceramic, and the strap is high-quality tactical nylon. The only thing that isn't subtle about this watch is its price, but chances are you won't regret it.


Davosa Titanium Black PVD 100M Automatic

Another "stealth" watch with a great personality that pairs well with both outdoor use and as a luxury smart casual. The Davosa Titanium offers a lightweight titanium case with matte black PVD treatment, accompanied by a carbon-effect synthetic strap. The same design is echoed on the dial, adorned with contrasting white numerals and markers, evident thanks to a generous supply of Superluminova.


Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech

How would it be possible not to remember one of the houses that invented military watches? The Tuscan-Swiss house presented this timepiece that stands out, despite its understated black color. It features a case made of Carbotech, an innovative carbon-based material that makes it light and durable, and titanium for the case back, while the dial and hands are discreetly punctuated with lumen to ensure good readability. You indeed won't find many features on this watch, but for sure, you won't care too much about that.


FAQ's - frequently asked questions

The military world has always fascinated those who are not military. That's why military watches have such a large following that many companies have considered building their success on them. Even - and often, especially - when they don't have anything genuinely military about them. A case in point was a British manufacturer called Services - now no longer in business. Despite the name, it never provided watches assigned to the armed forces: its timepieces (with rare exceptions, all of a very cheap make) were made in a military-style to suit civilian tastes.

Despite this little marketing "trick," this is not to say that all tactical watches are not good enough to be used by the military - far from it. Typically, the armed forces assign particular watches as equipment to certain specialists. Still, they usually let every serving military member wear the timepiece they prefer, even on missions, if it (especially for the more advanced models) has been approved by a military specialist with expertise in IT and communications as suitable for wartime missions.

As far as the U.S. military is concerned, there are unique standards to which every piece of equipment must refer, called MILSPEC - and watches have their place, too. At the time of publication of this article, the only watches with MILSPEC features were Marathon's - but we must say that to date, the US armed forces do not have any assigned timepieces. However, it is possible that in some instances, some corps, units, or single specialists receive specific watches to perform their duties.

One of the habits of military men is that they often wear watches upside down - that is, with the dial worn on the inner part of the wrist. This is for a couple practical reasons: the first is to avoid reflections on the sunrays over the watch crystal. The second is that it is much better to consult it when you have your hands full - like when holding a weapon.
 watch exhibition case back

What watch do Navy SEALs wear?

Navy SEALs are special forces that operate in all areas, even though they belong to the Navy. Their training is some of the most intense and selective in the world, literally taking them from the depths of the water to the skies - as they must be certified as paratroopers and military divers.

Traditionally, SEALs are associated with Luminox watches, with which the unit collaborated in the 1990s. Still, the truth is that - being special forces - each SEAL can choose the timepiece they want to wear on a mission. Thus, among the most used, we can find the ubiquitous G-Shock and others such as Traser, Suunto, and even Timex. A curious note: originally, SEALs were equipped with Rolex watches assigned by the unit, but since the costs far outweighed the benefits, these watches were soon withdrawn, and individual SEALs were left free to use timepieces of their own choice.

swiss made military watch Ternos Pro limited edition

What watch do SAS use?

The SAS (Special Air Service) is a British equivalent - in terms of notoriety - of the US Navy SEALs, although the latter are more specialized in military operations, while the SAS perform more "civilian" actions, like the release of hostages from terrorist organizations and reconnaissance and intelligence acquisition.

Also, in this case, being a special unit, the members are free to choose the watch they prefer, and the majority follow the preferences expressed by their American colleagues, namely, Casio G-Shock and other models and brands among those already mentioned above.


What watch do British soldiers wear?

The British armed forces have long had official suppliers for "issued" timepieces, which were renowned during World War II. The watches from this era represent a great catch for modern military watch collectors. However, the last timepiece to be adopted by the British armed forces was not that glamorous: we are talking about the CWC British Military G10 model, produced by the Cabot Watch Company.

The G10 model is a simple, rugged quartz watch that does exactly what it's supposed to do - reliably mark time. It entered service in 1980 and was renewed, with the adoption of a different quartz movement manufactured by ETA, in 1982, and was issued until 2008. It is estimated that more than 300,000 such watches were produced for military use. Still, after the end of the contract, CWC continued to make it unchanged in design and features to this day.

swiss made military automatic watch

What watch do the Green Berets wear?

Green Berets is a term that generally defines the Special Forces of the U.S. Army since the Vietnam War, where these units operated in reconnaissance, observation, counter-terrorism, and training roles for local forces more than in simple combat. The Green Berets can be the Army equivalent of the Navy SEALs, who operate under the command of the Navy instead.

The Green Berets are special forces, and therefore typically do not have an assigned watch: everyone uses the one they prefer during their service. Many Green Berets use Casio G-Shocks, just like Navy SEALs.


What watches do US Marines wear?

As we have said, only specific units and particular roles had watches assigned by the reference armed forces: it would not make sense to give the same expensive tactical watch to a clerk working in a warehouse and an Advanced Observation Ranger operating deep inside enemy lines. Thus, the fashion of issuing military watches as part of the equipment went down over the years until it almost ceased altogether, especially today.

U.S. Marines wear personal watches, usually inexpensive but rugged and reliable like the simpler G Shock and Timex. But it's not out of the question that some may wear watches from other brands that better suit their personality and needs and that certain specialists - officers and others - may wear specific watches to fulfill their roles better.


In summary

The world of military watches is very complex, articulated, and populated by myths and legends that very often do not correspond to the truth, or if they do, they refer to situations that are now past.

That said, modern civilian tactical watches are often used in the military for their convenience, ruggedness, and low cost, making them an ideal choice as an accessory for the soldiers on operational duty, who often appreciate the ability to choose which tool to use for their needs, or the casual civilian trekkers who want to be well-equipped for whatever the environment can throw at them.

Update: This article was updated on the January 26th, 2024 and is now updated for 2024.

The Davosa-USA.com website is NOT affiliated in any way with Audemars Piguet, Franck Muller USA, Inc. Richard Mille or Richemont Companies, Seiko, or any other brand which is not Davosa Swiss. Rolex is a registered trademark of Rolex USA. Davosa-USA website is not an authorized dealer, reseller, or distributor for Rolex and is in NO WAY affiliated with Rolex SA or Rolex USA or any other brand besides Davosa Swiss.


October 07, 2021 — Davosa Editor


walser Caban said:

thank you for taking the time and making one of the most important quality man watch on the market my caution is if you can make wear is say gmt but in red

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