The Watch Column

Four of The Best Military Watches

Once little more than a pocket watch attached to a soldier’s wrist with a rudimentary strap, the original military timepieces were far from sophisticated. Produced during the First World War to allow soldiers the freedom to use their hands to fight - instead of flapping around with fussy pocket watches - those early timepieces were not only primitive, they were incredibly expensive to produce.

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In a bid to combat the problem, manufacturers focused on producing fewer, more specialist timepieces with higher standards of legibility, water-resistance and durability. Most notable of these influential early watches was the Officine Panerai, which was produced for Italy’s marine commando units.

In place of the florid numerals of the 19th century pocket watch were black dials, simple radio-luminescent numerals and bar hands, recognisable in today’s Panerais.  Less striking but equally enduring were the pilot’s watches of the Thirties, characterised by legible dials with prominent second hands, vital for navigation when cruising above 200 knots.

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Today, it’s not only servicemen who wear military watches, we civilians don soldierly styles too, as they tend to be the most basic - not to mention affordable - offerings from the larger watch houses and feature up-to-date innovations, such as protection against strong magnetic fields and shatterproof Perspex crystals.

Breitling is easily the brand best recognised by today’s military pilots but others have also made an impact. Bell & Ross have adapted the functional chic of the aircraft cockpit, even designing a dial around the sweeping line of a radar screen, while Bremont offer a quirkier take – they’ve been known to use aluminium recycled from Spitfire wings in their designs.

Here, to help you pick your own wartime watch, is my selection of the best military-inspired timepiece on the market right now.

Main image, from top: Breitling Aerospace, £3,450 breitling.com. Bremont MBII watch, £2,995 bremont.com. Omega Speedmaster Professional, £2,800 omegawatches.com. Panerai Radiomir Black Seal, £3,900 panerai.com.