There are times when a gentleman needs to get his hands dirty. It is not always sharp suits and cocktails, sometimes it is a mug of black coffee resting on the bulkhead of the car whilst tinkering with carburettors. Wearing your finest Jeager LeCoultre whilst working on the car really is not the done thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for mothering my watches, but I am one for selecting an appropriate watch for the task in hand. This thinking also gives you the perfect excuse, sorry, reason for buying another watch.
So, what is the right type of watch to wear whilst up to your elbows in Castrol R? Lets figure out what we need from it first. It ought to be robust enough to take a knock or two. It will need to be water proof. It should be affordable so that you won’t be too worried about it but it should have a decent mechanical movement (there is no need for nasty quartz watches even in the garage) But most of all it will need to be manly as it will be used whilst doing manly chores.
It seems like a logical step to me that the ideal watch for doing your car maintenance and other testosterone filled duties would be a military watch. There have been a number of brands over the years that have produced military watches, from Omega, CWC, Hamilton, Rolex and Smiths to name but a few.
Featured in this article is a Smiths PRS29A which is a modern incarnation of the original W10 which was standard issue in the MOD. It has been faithfully recreated to look virtually identical to the original but to have a modern, high quality Swiss ETA calibre. You can enjoy the design of the original with the benefits that a modern watch brings with it, water resistance and the like. They are available direct from the manufacturer Timefactors who owns the Smiths brand and manufacture the PRS29A in Great Britain.
Regardless of the brand, however, there are a number of characteristics that military watches all have. First of all they all have uncluttered, easy to read black dials with white numbers and minute markers. This is because white on black is supposed to be the easiest colour combination to read in low light.
Military watches always have “fixed lugs”. Fixed lug watches don’t use spring bars to hold the strap on, instead that have a fixed bar between the lugs. This limits the type of straps that you can use but does make the watch very difficult to lose. With watches with spring bars, should a springbar fail then the watch will fall off the wrist and potentially get lost or damaged. With fixed lug watches there is no danger of that happening which makes them ideal for being used for jobs where they might see a bit of rough handling and might receive a knock or two.
Because of the fixed lugs you will always find that military watches are worn on Nato straps. Nato straps thread in between the gap between the fixed bar between the lugs and the main body of the watch. They can be changed very quickly and are easily washable (I put mine through the washing machine but in order to make sure that they don’t get lost in the washing machine I fasten them to the belt loop on my jeans). Nato straps come in all sorts of colours making them quite fun to change to give the watch a different look.
Another great feature that you will find with military watches is that they use acrylic crystals instead of glass or sapphire crystal. At first this might seem strange as acrylic crystals are very easily scratched so at first might not seem very durable. However, they are really cheap and easy to replace if they do get broken and if they get scratched they can be easily polished to get the scratch out. A few minutes with a tin of Brasso and a bit of elbow grease will get a scratched acrylic crystal looking as good as new.
With all military watches you will also find on the case back a long number. This number is the NATO Stock number which is effectively the MOD part code for the watch.
Not all military watches pass the affordability test. There are collectors of British Military Watches out there who will pay vast sums of money for rare pieces. Military issue Rolex Submariners are often sold for tens of thousands of pounds. So despite their robust nature they are unlikely to be used whilst knocking about in your shed trying to fix the mower. But that is not the case for all military watches.
You can easily pick up a used example of an issued CWC or Hamilton for under £200. If you fancied something new you really cannot go wring with a Smiths PRS29A which can be bought new for £280. At that price the PRS29A punches well above it’s weight and you are not going to be too concerned should you give it a knock or two.