The Best Military Watches For Land, Sea, & Air

The Best Military Watches For Land, Sea, & Air

A Capable Timepiece Is An Essential Tool For Service Members

Timepieces intended for the military have inspired the broader watch industry since the earliest days of wristwatches. Names like the Rolex Submariner, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Breguet Type XX, and Hamilton Khaki have all been influenced by or owe their very existence to military use. Buying a watch can be challenging and modern watch marketing clouds the picture, with major watch brands seeking an edge by calling out tenuous or altogether false associations with certain hyped military organizations or units, particularly from the world of special operations. In reality, most modern military members utilize digital tool watches (D.T.W.) to perform their duties, seeking attainability and utility above all else.

But, as we’ve so often documented in the W.O.E. Dispatch, a growing subset of the military and the Intelligence Community value the combination of utility, heritage, and mechanical intrigue presented by analog timepieces. In addition, many outside the military reach for military watches because they provide not only a rugged aesthetic but also a higher level of legibility and durability in comparison to more pedestrian options. In this Dispatch, we’ll present our choices for analog watches intended for military members operating in the most common environments: land, sea, and air.

If you’re on the cusp of graduating from basic training, officer candidate school (OCS), another more specialized pipeline, or you’re just a regular civilian who appreciates the “Use Your Tools” ethos, our picks represent a wide range of price points, spanning affordable options for the brand-new privates out there as well as a few luxury options for the academy ring-knockers with family manors in the Hamptons.

Land - Watches For The Field

Timex Expedition North Field Mechanical - $229

timex expedition north field mechanical ironman military

Timex has surprisingly deep military associations dating back to World War I when the brand created specialized pocket watches for artillery gunners. Also known for watches worn by US presidents and its plastic, disposable field watches provided to the US Army in the 1980s, modern Timex has a legitimate right to the field watch DNA embodied by the Expedition North Field Mechanical. Measuring 38mm in diameter, the North Field Mechanical offers 100 meters of water resistance, a hand-winding mechanical caliber, and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal, rare specs for this price range that combine to represent a solid field watch for any infantryman on a budget.

CWC G10 Military Issue Watch - $300 

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In contrast to almost every other brand on this list, CWC was created for no reason other than to supply military watches to the British Ministry of Defense (MOD), providing its first quartz-powered G10 in 1980. The modern G10 is — beyond a slimmer case profile — almost identical to the original, still equipped with fixed lug bars, a Swiss quartz caliber, a legible dial and handset, a battery hatch for easy battery changes, and a relatively modest 50 meters of water resistance. Over 200,000 of these simple field watches have been issued over the years, serving as further proof of the utility of this legendary British field watch design.

Marathon General Purpose Mechanical - $420

marathon general purpose mechanical field watch

Almost a Canadian answer to a brand like CWC, Marathon was founded in 1939 and was already supplying watches and clocks to the Allied war effort by 1941. Better known for its SAR collection of dive watches, Marathon also produces a large volume of its General Purpose Mechanical field watches for military contracts. Powered by a Seiko NH35, the automatic GPM is housed within a 34mm High-Impact Composite Fibreshell case paired with a stainless steel bezel. Easily visible at night thanks to tritium gas tubes on the dial and hands, the GPM’s smaller size is actually an asset, making the watch unobtrusive when paired with a bunch of tactical equipment. As a note for anyone less familiar with watch sizes, the combination of the 34mm case and a 16-millimeter wide strap means the GPM wears relatively small.

Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic - $695 

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A supplier to the US Military since the First World War, Hamilton is probably the number one name in field watches thanks to its heritage and the value proposition offered by the modern Khaki Field collection. Our pick for this list is the Khaki Field Automatic, offering a more modern design compared to its more-celebrated hand-winding sibling, the Khaki Field Mechanical, as well as 100 meters of water resistance, and a Swiss automatic caliber offering 80 hours of power reserve. If you’re newer to watches and looking for a proven do-it-all field design that is as appropriate for daily wear as military service, this is going to be one of your best bets.

Seiko Alpinist SPB121 - $725 

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The successor to the SARB017, an all-time watch enthusiast favorite from Seiko, the SPB121 is the modern form of the Alpinist, which is the Japanese brand’s explorer’s or field watch. Measuring 39.5mm in diameter, the Alpinist has a few quirks including the use of a cyclops, the odd pairing of green and gold on the dial and hands, and an internal compass bezel. Still, a legible design, impressive lume, and a ridiculous-for-this-category 200 meters of water resistance mean the Alpinist is a field watch deserving of Seiko’s heritage in this department, having been the producer of capable field watches for specialized units including MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War.

Tudor Ranger - $3,300 

tudor ranger military field watch

Once positioned as a cheaper Rolex alternative within the same family business structure, modern Tudor has become so much more than that. As we’ve established many times in the Dispatch, Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.) are very much a thing including special unit versions of the brand’s dive watches, the Black Bay and Pelagos, as well as the brand’s Explorer-like field watch, the Ranger. Also one of the least expensive sports watches in the collection, the modern Ranger is now 39mm in diameter, powered by an in-house caliber, and capable of hard use for anyone looking to test the “Use Your Tools” ethos on a Swiss luxury watch.

Rolex Explorer 40 - $7,700

rolex explorer 1953 military field watch history

Assuming you’re an Academy graduate, former captain of the polo team, daddy’s special boy, and a newly minted second lieutenant, you may be able to flex something like the Rolex Explorer 40 in uniform. An inspiration for virtually the entire Rolex sport collection, the Explorer as a model family has incredible chops in the arena of mountaineering history, having accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their 1953 ascent of the world's tallest mountain. Today serving more as a luxury item given the price point, the Explorer is still one hell of a watch for anything outdoors, but likely not a serious option for most service members relying upon their biweekly direct deposit.

Sea - Watches For The Maritime Environment

Scurfa Diver One D1-500 - $250 

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To put it mildly, the advent of so-called “microbrands” has changed the watch landscape forever, bringing previously unobtainable features and specifications to price points once thought unimaginable. A great example of this trend is Scurfa Watches founded by commercial saturation diver Paul Scurfield. For around $250, the Diver One serves up a domed sapphire crystal, 500 meters of water resistance, a real helium escape valve tested by the founder, some of the best lume on this entire list, and a custom rubber strap. For anyone on the aquatic end of the military searching for a durable dive watch for a more affordable price even compared to brands like Seiko or Citizen, Scurfa is one of the more compelling options to explore.

Seiko Prospex SRPE99 - $550 

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Affectionately known to enthusiasts as the “Turtle” for its cushion case shape, the SRPE99 is inspired by the older 6309, one of Seiko’s most iconic dive watch designs and a watch issued to numerous special operations units including the US Navy SEALs. Revived in 2016, the modern Turtle provides hacking and hand-winding functionality, a larger 45mm case that thankfully wears smaller thanks to its shorter lugs, and much of the old-school Turtle DNA throughout the dial and hands. With the SKX having been discontinued a few years back, the Turtle is Seiko’s flagship automatic diver in this price bracket. Seiko makes some of the most effective utilitarian dive watches on the market, and the Turtle — whichever variant you go for — is a great place to start for any military diver.

Tornek-Rayville TR-660 - $895 

tornek rayville tr-660 tr-900 vintage navy seal dive watch vietnam

One of the more intriguing tales in dive watch history, the original Tornek-Rayville was essentially a modified Blancpain Fifty Fathoms intended to subvert the Buy American Act requiring military organizations to purchase US-made goods. Designed for US Navy SEALs and other amphibious special operators, vintage Tornek-Rayville TR-900s have become prohibitively expensive for most, making Mk II and Bill Yao’s relaunch of the brand and watch a couple of years back all the more exciting. While it stays close to the vintage look, the modern TR-660 is subtly upgraded everywhere you look from the Seiko automatic caliber to the domed sapphire crystal to the custom-woven nylon strap. If celebrating the old-school with a modern diving tool appeals to you, Tornek-Rayville is a niche pick worthy of a closer look.

Citizen Aqualand JP2007-17W - $550 

Citizen Aqualand JP2007-17W c023 c022 c021 military issue frogman corps

In military and commercial diving circles, Citizen is one of the top names in the game thanks to models like the Aqualand, an analog-digital diver that debuted in 1985. An ISO-6425-rated professional dive watch, the Aqualand combines diving functionality including a depth gauge in a robust utilitarian package that simply works, earning fans among Navy SEALs and other amphibious military units. The modern Aqualand appears almost unchanged compared to the OG other than a new caliber using one battery instead of three on the older model. Last year, Citizen unveiled the JP2007-17W, a new Aqualand with a full lume dial housed within a dark grey PVD case. For the price, it’s among the best picks on this list for anyone doing the military’s wettest and saltiest work.

Marathon GSAR 41mm - $1,500 

marathon gsar military government divers watch

Many of the watches on this list are great for military divers, but only the Marathon GSAR is currently for military and government issue through official supply channels. Surprisingly, the SAR family of watches has a history closely linked to the enthusiast community, with Marathon having tapped the head of a niche military watch forum for help designing the watch in 2001. Intended for Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Techs), the modern GSAR or Government Search And Rescue provides 300 meters of water resistance, a Swiss automatic caliber, tritium tubes on the dial and hands, and one of the best rubber straps in the price range. Our in-house maritime expert, Benjamin Lowry, recently went diving with the SAR collection, confirming its utility in the underwater environment. 

Sinn U50 Hydro - $2,690 

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Another brand closely associated with military diving is Sinn, which was founded by a pilot named Helmut Sinn in 1961. Despite its aviation heritage, Sinn is well known for dive watches backed by impressive tech not commonly seen elsewhere including the oil-filled approach utilized in the new U50 Hydro. Based on the 41mm U50, the U50 Hydro swaps an automatic movement for quartz which is the only option when the central case is filled with oil, a seldom seen method of combatting water pressure that makes the watch all but pressure-proof. Another oil-filled watch from Sinn is standard issue for the KSM or Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine, essentially the German Navy SEAL equivalent and the brand also makes special “mission timers” for the GSG 9, the German Federal Police’s special operations unit.

Tudor Pelagos 39 - $4,700

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A favorite of the W.O.E. team, our next pick is the Tudor Pelagos 39, the hotly-anticipated smaller version of the 42mm Pelagos that is just a bit too large for some wrists. While it’s not cheap, Tudor presents a solid value for what you’re getting in a modern luxury dive watch from Switzerland, with the P39 housed within a grade 2 titanium case and equipped with a manufacture caliber providing 70 hours of power reserve. The Pelagos FXD might seem like the obvious choice here, but we’re going with the 39 for its versatility, a watch that looks just as appropriate on its rubber strap with dive gear as it does on its bracelet with a dress uniform. Whether we like it or not, most knuckle-dragging enlisted divers simply aren’t reaching for a $5,000 watch for actual diving duties.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300 - $5,900 

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Often associated with James Bond, the Omega Seamaster Diver 300 is also a watch with legitimate military history including use by the Special Boat Service, Danish Frogmen, and the US Navy SEALs. Originally intended as a direct competitor to the Rolex Submariner, Omega’s professional diving watch now comes in at around half the trading price of a regular Sub while offering finishing and specifications that exceed the Rolex in some departments. Rather than simply engraving a caseback for special orders from military organizations, Omega also has a completely different version of the Diver 300 with a matte-finished case and bracelet, no-date dial, and a special color for its luminescent material. The days of military organizations issuing watches like the Seamaster are long gone, but for anyone seeking a dive watch offering a blend of military provenance and luxury, the Seamaster Diver 300 is one of the better options. 

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 42mm - $16,600 

blancpain fifty fathoms 42mm titanium

To get it out there right up front, a $17,000 watch probably isn’t going to be the number one pick for military members, but it is important to pay homage to the original gangsters in this space. Dating back to 1953 and designed specifically for the needs of French commando frogmen, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms cemented the format we now innately understand as the prototypical dive watch. Having climbed the ranks of luxury brands over the past 70 years, the recently-released Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Automatic Titanium 42mm isn’t for everyone given its price tag, but would still serve as one hell of a dive watch for anyone with the scratch.

Air  - Watches For Pilots & Aircrew

Seiko SSK001 - $460 

ssk001 gmt seiko special forces pilots watch

Beyond durability, low-pressure resistance, and legibility, the ability to track a second timezone is one of the most useful aspects of a pilot’s watch. If there has been one major change in more affordable watches in the past few years, it is the advent of less expensive mechanical GMT watches, with Seiko’s SSK collection leading the way. For under $500, the SSK001 offers a friction-fit, bidirectional GMT bezel, an automatic “caller” GMT caliber, and the established case silhouette and dial format calling back to Seiko’s legendary SKX007 and SKX009. Also backed by 100 meters of water resistance, the Seiko SSK001 is one of the better inexpensive GMT watches on the market and ideal for a budding military pilot while also being a brand with extensive service history in the US Military in particular.

Sangin Kinetic II - $600 

sangin kinetic II pilots watch intruments atlas

Despite plenty of negative outcomes from the Global War On Terror, one of the positives has been the rise of entrepreneurship among GWOT veterans whether we’re talking about coffee, apparel brands, knives, or watches. Sangin was founded by a Marine Recon Raider and specializes in watches intended for military environments while also representing solid value for what you’re getting. The Kinetic II is Sangin’s purpose-built aviator’s watch, the result of extensive testing by over forty military pilots and aircrew. With a ridiculous 300 meters of water resistance, Swiss-made Super-LumiNova on the dial and hands, and a Swiss Ronda GMT quartz caliber, the Kinetic II is a lesser-known but not less capable option for any military pilot looking to celebrate the community with a legitimate tool watch.

Longines Spirit Zulu Time - $3,150 

longines spirit zulu time 39 stainless steel pilots true gmt under

Another brand with legendary status in the arena of pilot’s watches is Longines which produced specialized watches intended for flight for none other than Charles Lindbergh. Also once a supplier to the Czech military, modern Longines still makes some excellent watches for pilots including the Spirit Zulu Time. With refined looks, design DNA that calls back to vintage Longines designs, and an impressive caliber offering “true” GMT (or Zulu Time) functionality and 72 hours of power reserve, the Zulu Time is one of the better “entry-to-luxury” options for a GMT watch today. Of interest to military pilots, the Zulu Time is also available on a wide range of straps including an excellent leather strap with a micro-adjusting clasp, a traditional nylon strap, and a well-done stainless steel bracelet.

Bremont U-2 - $4,950

Bremont U2 pilot's watch military version custom

Coming from a brand founded by a pair of pilots, Bremont was always going to need to be on this list. Also one of the primary producers of “unit watches” in the current watchmaking landscape, Bremont’s U-2, which was designed with input from serving military pilots, is our pick for this list. Housed within a 43mm case made of hardened steel, the chronometer movement inside the U-2 is located within a rubberized movement mount that reduces the effect of shocks. Also including an internal rotating bezel operated by way of one of the two crowns, the U-2 can be used for a variety of different navigational computations. There have been numerous unit-specific versions of Bremont watches over the years, the U-2 is one of the most common models chosen by military aviation professionals for good reason.

Breitling Navitimer - $9,850

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Among the all-time icons in the world of aviation timekeeping, the Breitling Navitimer is at or very near the top, having been created with pilots in mind back in 1953 in association with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Like a few other watches on this list, Breitling has ascended to a more luxurious position but still has a strong history of use by military pilots as well as numerous other sketchy dudes. Looking at the functionality, the Navitimer is of course a chronograph but also offers a unique rotating internal bezel that can be used for a wide range of navigational and computational functions directly related to the needs of pilots in the air. You wouldn’t necessarily think of a watch costing nine grand on the wrist of a military pilot, but when it comes to the Breitling Navitimer and a few other models from the brand including the Aerospace and Emergency, it happens more often than you’d imagine.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XX - $5,250 

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Used by military pilots on both sides of World War II, IWC is another brand with serious legitimacy in the world of military aviation. While IWC’s chronographs including the Top Gun collection receive a lot of the shine, our pick in this category is the Mark XX which traces its history to the Mark XI, a watch produced for the British Military by IWC (and other brands) in the wake of the Second World War. Today, the Mark series serves as a robust time-only watch honoring IWC’s heritage in the space while also providing crystal clear legibility for modern pilots. Recently reimagined, the Mark XX offers 100 meters of water resistance and a more wearable case compared to previous iterations. For the price, the movement is also solid, providing an extended five-day or 120-hour power reserve.

Rolex GMT-Master II - $10,900 

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In the arena of sports GMT watches, whether we like it or not, one name reigns supreme: The Rolex GMT-Master II. When the original GMT-Master was unveiled in 1954, the watch aligned with the early jet-setting era and the advent of business travel, but the GMT-Master and later the GMT-Master II would become legendary in our community thanks to the watch’s use by pilots as well as special operations personnel. One might argue the modern GMT-Master II feels more jewel than tool, but there are still numerous instances of military members selecting this iconic model for hard use in austere environments including the cockpit.

Final Thoughts

As we mentioned, any of the watches in this could be replaced by a capable digital tool watch, but for anyone in uniform who values the mechanical intrigue and heritage represented by a quality timepiece, this list is for you. Our goal is to let this be a living article that we can add as we go until we’ve created the most complete list of excellent analog military watches on the internet. If you think something is missing, be sure to let us know in the comments.

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7 comments

Military aviator: My grail is the black or blue Breitling Super AVI B04. Three time zones, bidirectional bezel and a 12 hour chronograph. Freaking powerhouse of a watch.

Jake

Cool to see a couple Marathon watches on the list! One more for the “Air” category could be the Marathon SSNAV. The new auto version is superb!

Jeff

Lots of Breitling on the flight line where I am, but it’s mostly Aerospaces and Avengers. Omega is the runner up for luxury watches, and there’s also a couple of TAG Heuers. 4 of us wear Breitling regularly, and 3 wear Omegas regularly. One wears an older Bremont watch from a previous squadron, and everyone else wears smart watches or cheaper quartz watches like timex and Casio.

Tom

Can you please put the date at the top of your articles. Helps me discern whether I may have already read it, when I click a hyper link to open it. And it’s common journalistic practice. Thanks

Nick

Tornek-Rayville would be nice if they actually sold watches. Im sure they are a great timepiece, if you could actually buy one. They are never in stock. Their main concern seems to be social media presence. Just wish their focus on production was equivalent to instagram views.

HNS

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