People in the army would easily guess the key characteristics of a military tactical watch. Obviously, the most important features might depend on the specific corps of the army – for example, there could be differences between the needs of a navy and of an infantry soldier, but overall the requirements are very similar for all of them.

We did look into the must-have of a generic army watch and while they are very intuitive, the list is long and quite demanding for a watch.



1.    Robustness
2.   Discreteness  
3.   Hold tight on wrist
4.   Water resistance (or diving watch)
5.   Easily readable
6.   Luminescence
7.   High autonomy
8.   Accuracy & Precision
9.   24 hour dial
10.  Date (and Chronograph)

The first seven must-have refer to the specific watch structure and conditions the watches must withstand and guarantee to the soldier. On the other hand, the last three requirements refer to the specific movement and the complications they need to offer.

1. Robustness

This is the most obvious must-have. Soldiers are often in rough situations and cannot afford to have a delicate or too sophisticated watch on wrist. Because the nature of their work watches might get easily damaged. This requirement is valid for both the bracelet, the structure and the glass. For example, the watches used during the World War I had protections for the glass either in the form of a leather cover or even in the form of an external metal cage. Those were the so called “trench-watches” and the Elgin National Watch Company was one of the main manufacturers.  

2. Discreetness

Military operations often require soldier camouflage or cover-up. Hence the more discreet the watches are the better it is. Can you imagine a soldier with a “bling bling” wristwatch in the field? The watch must be unnoticeable, it needs to look as part of the overall uniform. For this reason, they are generally army green, black, dark brown or with camouflage kind of aesthetic.  

3. Hold tight on wrist

Due to the conditions on field, it is instrumental to have watches that hold tight on wrist. Soldier cannot take the risk to lose their watch in the field – they need it and they should not leave a trace back to them. This requirement refers to both the type of watch strap and the watch clasp or buckle that goes with it (link to straps post).

4. Water Resistance

Depending on the specific army corps a different level of water resistance might be required, but in any case, a minimum is always advisable (generally 10atm). Even if contact with water is not supposed to be part of the mission, by default soldiers need to be prepared for every situation. Then there is the Navy, the Marines and all similar or related corps for whom a true dive watch might be a better option. And a dive watch should not be confused with a more generically defined water resistant watch.

5. Easily readable

Army missions can happen at every hour of the day and at any weather condition. Having a watch that is easily readable can be paramount to the success of the mission. This means that bigger numbers with high contrast in the dial should be the norm. In this context it is worth mentioning the Flieger style of watches developed by Luftwaffe in the 1930s in which the dial showcases large minutes in the outer circle and hours in the inner part both in light color against a dark background.

6. Luminescence

A great contrast between the numbers/marks and the dial background is not enough for an army watch. Having luminescence in the marks and in the hands is another mandatory feature for those watches. The time needs to be visible even in the dark and at night. The first watches had radioactive radium combined with fluorescent paint in them to generate the luminescence. Fortunately, this has been replaced with safer methods and nowadays SuperLuminova seems to be the most broadly used luminescent material.

7. High autonomy

Soldiers cannot run into the risk of having a watch that does not keep the time. Automatic or manual winding watches are a risk hence quartz watches are nowadays more appropriate. There might not be time to think about winding the watch or there could be occasions the watch (wrist) is not moving enough to keep the rotor saving enough energy. A quartz watch ensures more precision (see next point) for longer time in multiple conditions.

8. Accuracy and Precision

Army tactical missions require a high level of coordination and synchronization. For this reason, army watches must be very accurate and precise. This is the reason why most army watches tend to be quartz rather than automatic. 

9. Dial based on 24-hours

Military time is based on a 24 hour system (link to 24 hour watch post) to avoid any confusion especially when coordinating across different time zones. The most traditional 12 hour watches might lead to risky misunderstandings. This is the reason why most army watches are based on a 24 hour dial - either built on a true 24 hour movement or on a traditional 12 hour with a double hour marking on the dial. Worth mentioning also the GMT watches that have two hour-hands, one based on the traditional 12 hour system and the other one relates to a 24 hour one. Interesting enough, the 24 hour watches have lots of advantages that might of help also to soldiers. 

10. Date (and chronograph) 

There are certain “complications” that might be of help to soldiers in tactical situations. One of them is the date function. This relates again to the concept of accuracy and precision in a context in which it might not be easy to keep track of time. There are also other features that might be of help but those depends on the specific army corps. The chronograph, for example, might be another key complication for soldiers.