The origins of military-inspired timepieces dates back to the birth of the wristwatch itself. From as early as 1880 - when Emperor Wilhelm I commissioned Girard-Perregaux to create 2,000 pieces for German naval officers - the world’s armies have relied on timekeeping to deploy strategies and coordinate tactical advances.
The demands of war were such that these pieces had to be the strongest of their kind, built to withstand the rigours of the battlefield. Though less likely to encounter trench warfare in 2019, our shortlisted timepieces continue to exhibit these hardy characteristics.
Our five candidates for this year’s Military-Inspired category, in association with Help For Heroes, are a combination of the past and the present – a nod to their military origins, while remaining contemporary in watchmaking innovation. These are not watches branded with a little camo-colour, they are the real deal...
Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph
In the early 1950s, the US Ministry of Defence was looking for a high-precision chronograph. The watch has to have a black disk with luminous hands, and hour-markers to maximise legibility. It also needed to have a flyback function, and a small seconds hand.
Step in Blancpain. The Swiss watch manufacturer has already won over the American Navy with its Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, and drew inspiration from its design to develop such a chronograph. Only 12 pieces were ever made and offered to USAF pilots – making it one of Blancpain’s most highly sought after grail watches today.
Now it’s back in a 500-piece collection that stays faithful to the original. Like the 1950s version, it’s equipped with a ratcheted ‘countdown’ rotating bezel.
Once set before flight, this feature enables instantaneous reading of the exact time when the fuel reserve is no longer sufficient for the plane to continue its trajectory.
One of the main updates, though, is the sapphire crystal caseback and what you can see beneath it: a F388B movement graced with a contrasting propeller-shaped red gold oscillating weight.
For more info, visit blancpain.com
Bremont HMAF Automatic Chronometer
The news that British manufacturer Bremont had become the sole watch partner for the Ministry of Defence brought a smile to our face in early 2019 – it makes perfect sense to see their military-inspired watches on the wrists of our service men and women.
Bremont is no stranger to working on special projects for various branches of the Armed Forces, but this is the first time it has been given the license to use the Heraldic Badges and other such regalia from all three branches of HMAF.
To celebrate the partnership, the brand has introduced a trio of watches including the Broadsword. Designed with the Army in mind, this utilitarian timepiece features a chronometer-rated BE-95-2AV movement with a date complication and a 38-hour power reserve.
It’s perfectly in keeping with the original “Dirty Dozen” watches of the 1940s, which saw 12 Swiss watch manufactures commissioned by the MoD to build tough and reliable watches for its army personnel. Sitting on a sailcloth fabric strap, it’s no surprise that Bremont’s contemporary equivalent is the perfect piece for the rigours of daily life.
For more info, visit bremont.com
IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition 'Mojave Desert'
Pilots watches have been an integral part of IWC’s DNA since 1936, but that hasn’t stopped the Swiss manufacturer from continuing to innovate right up to the present day. Take the striking sand-coloured case of the new Top Gun ‘Mojave Desert’: it’s made from ceramic for a lightweight-yet-solid feel on the wrist.
As the name suggests, it draws inspiration from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station located in the famous California desert. There’s also a dark brown dial accompanied with tan markings and a khaki beige textile strap, adding to one of the most distinctive IWC watches we’ve seen in recent years.
Under the hood, you’ll find the excellent in-house 69380 chronograph, with an automatically wound movement ticking at 4Hz, while the double-treated sapphire crystal atop the dial is secured against sudden drops in pressure. The perfect watch should you feel the need for speed.
For more info, visit iwc.com
Panerai Submersible Marina Militare
Panerai’s military association harks back to 1936 when it first created a prototype watch for the frogman commandos of the First Submarine Group Command of the Royal Italian Navy.
Then, as now, the Radiomir was a tough-as-nails timepiece designed specifically to withstand being submersed for long periods of time and to be as legible as possible to the wearer. For 2019, the brand is celebrating its illustrious military past in a new rendition of its most extreme dive watch - the Submersible.
This 47mm brute, known as the Marina Militare, features a camouflage-effect dial and a matching case crafted in Panerai’s innovative Carbotech material – a carbon fibre-based proprietary material that is uniquely lighter and less corrosive than both titanium and ceramic.
Uniquely, the timepiece also uses whole blocks of miller luminous material (as opposed to a coating) for added legibility in even the lowest lights. Panerai may have been creating military watches for more than 80 years, but its svelte new offering is anything but stuck in the past.
For more info, visit panerai.com
Tudor Black Bay P01
For our money, Tudor are the undisputed kings of the daily watch. They’re tough, great looking and feature watchmaking far beyond their price point - there’s a reason every year our Basel appointment with these guys is awaited with great anticipation.
They’ve thrown us a bit of a curveball this year, but after some on-wrist testing we’ve come to the conclusion this piece is another smash hit - albeit without the same broad appeal as some of the other members of the Black Bay collection.
The P01 is what might best be described as a ‘unicorn watch’ - a watch that never truly existed but for a filed patent in 1968 and the odd closely guarded prototype as part of the funky-named Commando program.
In the 1960s, Tudor’s R&D department was toying around with ways to mitigate the opportunity to accidentally knock or turn the bezel on its dive watches while in use; one nudge unnoticed could lead to a watery grave.
The research culminated in a mechanism set between the lugs that could clamp down on the bezel to lock it in place. To adjust it, you simply disengaged the clamp and you were free to move the bi-directional bezel however you saw fit.
For whatever reason, whether it be its complexity or simply the fact the likelihood of knocking the bezel catastrophically was too low, Tudor scrapped the idea and went on to produce some of the best dive watches on the market today.
For more info, visit tudorwatch.com