Times being what they are, the theater of war has changed more than a little, and today’s combatants could just as well be in the jungles and deserts as much as in the offices and urban cityscapes. From the trenches to the desktop, from firearms to mobile phones, every campaign is fought on different terms. One thing that has never changed, though, is that all of them are won or lost by being at the right place at the right moment, and every good man knows that any operation—military or otherwise—is always a matter of timing.
Here then, are six of the most exceptional contemporary timepieces to keep track of the hours as you go into the fray. Watches that have a history of war, remade and reinvented to take the fight to the modern battlefield.
Bell & Ross WW2 Régulateur Heritage
Function and design
Even though Bell & Ross has only been around for a little over 20 years, the French watch manufacturer has already attracted quite a loyal following, due in part to its aesthetic, which is something of a cross between utilitarian and classy. The company is known for its line of watches that are inspired by vintage military designs, and one of the more exceptional pieces in its collection is the WW2 Régulateur Heritage.
Patterned after the pilot’s watches of the second World War, this modern reimagining is equipped with automatic regulator movement and is actually designed to function much in the same way that the watches of that era did.
The Bell & Ross team believe that function gives birth to design, and thus they made the Régulateur Heritage with a pilot’s needs in mind. The original watches were meant to go over the gloves, which made manipulating the watch a little tricky. As a solution, the watch was given an oversized bezel and matched with an oversized crown, which had to be put on the watch’s left side to prevent it’s bulk from bumping into the back of the hand. What this means is you can really get some good use out of the watch if you’re wearing your mountain gloves while scaling the Himalayas or for times when the remote control for the air-conditioning simply refuses to be found.
Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute
On May 24, 1962, Commander Scott Carpenter—pilot, aquanaut, and astronaut—found out that all the training he had been doing under NASA wasn’t all for naught. As a veteran aviator from the Korean War, he had been selected to be part of NASA’s Project Mercury, the organization’s first manned spaceflight project, and was set to fly around the Earth’s orbit three times in the Aurora 7 capsule. Below his right hand lay the controls and on his left was strapped the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute—the first chronograph in space. As a tribute to the 50th year of this feat, Breitling has come up with a re-edition of the classic timepiece.
Out in the black, the Cosmonaute’s 24-hour dial is particularly useful for telling night from day, and its chronograph can help keep track of timed actions. Breitling has chosen to use a manual winding system with this one, which more accurately reflects the original Cosmonaute’s design.
The dial also has a slide rule, which was the coolest thing in the old days for people who hadn’t heard of a calculator. By turning the bezel, you can use the slide rule to multiply, divide, and compute percentages, which lets you determine just how much fuel your space capsule needs or the ratio of vodka you should be pouring into your long island.
Breguet Type XXII
As the 50th anniversary edition of the popular Breguet XX model that was used by the French Air Force, the Type XXII is something decidedly special. With a very high beat movement rate of 10 Hertz (72,000 vibrations per hour, roughly more than double that of most good watches), this timepiece is exceedingly fast and exceptionally accurate. The Type XXII can measure as small a fraction as 1/20th of a second with its chronograph, which is essential for timing things like races, drinking games, or insisting that someone is actually more late than you are.
It’s got quite a few of the features you would want in a flyback chronograph, such as a date display at the 6-hour mark, an easily readable dial, hours/minutes/seconds displays, and a power reserve indicator so you know just how much time you have.
Bremont P-51 Limited Edition
History on your wrist
Military watches will invariably tell you about their long years of service, the organizations that make use of them, or the continuous development that goes into every re-edition. British watch company Bremont, though, takes it a little further with its limited edition timepiece, the P-51. Instead of simply designing a watch intended for military use, Bremont actually produced one that’s partly built from a relic of military history.
The P-51 is made with materials from a 1944 Mustang fighter plane that saw service in World War Two. Named the “Fragile but Agile,” the aircraft was piloted by Lt. Bert Lee, who flew in two successful missions with it. Parts of the veteran war machine’s fuselage have since been repurposed and put to work in this timepiece’s dial and movement.
This automatic chronometer features a 24-hour UTC hand, displays the date at the 4-hour mark, and has a chronograph with seconds and 30 minutes. Water resistant for up to 100 meters and made with Bremont’s trademark electron-bombarded, hardened steel Trip-Tick case technology, the watch can likely survive a fair outdoor beating or maybe even a small bar fight. With only 251 units made, though, it’s probably not a good idea to find out.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch
An enduring legacy
The International Watch Company is one of the most familiar names in the industry, owing its reputation to a long history of watchmaking and producing several iconic pieces. One of the most popular watches to come out of their lines is the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, which was made for the wartime aviators of 1940.
At 46mm, the timepiece lives up to its name, and the design of the latest edition still follows the basic principles laid out by the very first model in the Big Pilot line—ease of use, powerful movement, and reliability even in extreme conditions. Housing the largest movement that IWC manufactures, the watch has a power reserve of seven days, which is displayed on the indicator at the 3-hour mark, while the date can be seen at the 6-hour mark. Whether you’re looking to fly across the Atlantic or simply keeping track of a movie schedule, the Big Pilot’s Watch has you covered.
Panerai Radiomir Black Seal
Stealth in seconds
As the official supplier for the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy) in 1938, Panerai has had quite a history in crafting military watches. The Radiomir is the modern incarnation of the very first watch that Panerai provided to the navy, and its design has been a source of inspiration since. Known for its larger size, a water resistance rating for up to 100 meters, and a processed ceramic or steel casing that’s up to five times tougher than regular steel, this hand-wound creation is made for the outdoors.
Everything about the Radiomir Black Seal speaks stealth. It’s the ninja of the military watch industry—sleek, cold, and can be hidden in the shadows if absolutely necessary, such as in night operations or in the business of avoiding muggings.
It’s easy to get lost in the dozens of features, functions, and movements of the more complicated military watches. The Black Seal, however, doesn’t bog things down with too many utilities, concerning itself only with the most fundamental of watch functions—telling the time and looking good while doing it.
This story first appeared on Vault Magazine Vol 8 2012.