Calling back to their military roots, field watches can be defined as simple, durable wristwatches built for everyday outdoor use. Field watches are not as fancy as luxury watches and normally don’t include a lot of extra features such as a compass or a lunar phase indicator. In other words, field watches are straightforward timekeeping tools, with legibility and durability being their main selling points.
Sadly, shopping for a field watch is not as straightforward. There are dozens of products on the market, each hoping to be strapped on your wrist. Seiko alone offers at least 10 good field watches. For watch enthusiasts, shopping for a field watch is easy. But for most regular folks, the ones who are not even aware there is more than one type of wristwatch, the shopping experience can be confusing. If that last sentence made you nod in agreement, then this field watch guide is for you.
A field watch with a Japanese quartz movement, the Corporal SS A346 has a 48-millimeter stainless steel case, which makes it one of the larger field watches on this list, and comes with a three-link stainless steel band with a fold-over clasp. It’s available in different color configurations, including one with a gold dial and a black strap and one with an all-white color scheme.
Covered with a Hardlex window, the black dial has large numbers and a small day and date window at the 3 o’clock. The stainless steel case connects to a durable nylon strap with a buckle closure. As the model name suggests, the SNE331 is a solar-powered watch with a Japanese quartz movement. Once fully charged, it boasts a 10-month power reserve.
In regard to construction, the Night Vision Watch, which is available in different colors and strap configurations, has a 42-millimeter titanium case with an anti-reflective sapphire crystal. It tracks time in both 12-hour and 24-hour formats and comes with a date window at the 6 o’clock.
An automatic watch, the H70575733 has a 42-millimeter titanium case, with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a black dial. Its black strap is made of canvas and has a buckle closure. Equipped with luminous hands, the H70575733 tells time in both 12-hour and 24-hour formats and includes a date window at the 3 o’clock, along with Arabic numeral minute markers on the outer rim.
Different Types of Watch Movements
On the surface, field watches all seem to have identical mechanisms. In fact, most people will judge a field watch based solely on its exterior design. Take the Bertucci A-2T and the Hamilton Khaki Field Watch, for example. Set aside their obvious difference in appearance and what you’ll see is just a pair of watches with a 12-hour and 24-hour format and a date window on the dial. What sets them apart is the caliber or the watch movement.
The watch movement is one of the most important things you need to consider before you spend money on a field watch. Modern field watches come in three configurations: quartz, mechanical, and automatic – an automatic field watch is also mechanical, but it uses a different mechanism.
- Quartz movement is the most common movement among field watches. The easiest way to identify a watch with a quartz movement is to look at the second hand. If the second hand has individual ticks, then the watch is 100 percent a quartz watch. A quartz watch is powered by a battery, which sends an electric current through a quartz crystal, creating vibrations that keep the watch hands moving in a consistent manner.
A quartz watch offers a number of benefits. It’s extremely accurate and easy to use, with no need for regular manual labor to keep it going. The only thing you need to worry about is the battery, which needs to be replaced as soon as it drains out. A quartz timepiece is also more affordable than a mechanical watch due to its unsophisticated mechanism, which doesn’t require a lot of watchmaking craftsmanship. That’s why collectors, who know how to appreciate the labor put into the intricacies of mechanical watches, often eschew quartz watches.
- Mechanical movement is preferred by collectors and aficionados and is often the movement type of luxury watches. A mechanical watch’s second hand moves in a sweeping motion. Unlike a quartz watch, a mechanical watch relies on manual labor for power. It relies on a wound spring, often called the mainspring, which transfers stored energy to a series of gears and springs, powering the watch.
Owners need to manually turn the crown to wind the mainspring and store energy. After being wound, the mainspring will slowly unwind, doing so until the stored energy runs out. A mechanical or manual-wind watch relies on regular winding to keep going. Some models require daily winding while others only require a couple of times per week.
The most obvious advantage of mechanical watches over quartz watches is that you don’t need to worry about replacing the battery. Longevity is also a key selling point. Given the proper care, mechanical watches can last for a very long time. On the other hand, manual-wind watches are more expensive than quartz watches because of their more complex mechanism.
- Automatic movement is a form of mechanical movement. It relies on the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist to store energy, with no need for regular manual winding. An automatic or self-winding watch has largely the same mechanism as a manual-wind watch. The difference is that it includes a metal weight, which is connected to the movement. The metal weight, called a rotor, rotates with each movement of the wrist, and in doing so, it transfers energy to the mainspring, automatically winding it.
With an automatic watch, daily manual winding is not required. As long as you wear it every day, it will never run out of power. The only time you need to put in manual labor is when the watch has been on the shelf for a long time, which caused it to stop.
When it comes to movements, everyone has different preferences. People who want an accurate and low-cost watch for everyday use will want a quartz watch while those who appreciate the craftsmanship and engineering involved in watchmaking will want a mechanical watch. When shopping for the best field watches, make sure you have your priorities straight so you can narrow down your choices.