Finding a Good Field Watch

I think, perhaps, I tend to over-think the purchasing process.  I generally research something compulsively (a hat, a messenger bag, a bicycle) until I find something that is sufficiently over-engineered that it not only exceeds my needs but will last me a very long time.  I then continue to use it until it wears out.

Here’s an example of what my process is like.

I need a decent field watch.  It needs to be durable enough that I can use it in training environments, but nice enough that I don’t have to swap it out when I am dressed up.  (I am, ultimately, utilitarian both in my aesthetics and my purchases.  I don’t see the need to own more than one watch.  I want one watch that will do everything I need.)

Initially, I thought I wanted a watch with tritium tubes for the hours and the hands, but I couldn’t find anything that didn’t look like it might also be on the wrist of a Vegas Three-card Monte hustler, so I let that go.

I then decided that I wanted either a purely mechanical, automatic watch (I like the elegance of something that keeps time without electricity), or a solar watch (I like the idea of a watch that keeps incredibly precise time but doesn’t need a battery replacement).

My other main choice is between a olive watch face or a black one.  All of the watches I looked at have day/date, water resistance to 100m, and a mineral crystal.

After checking reviews and reliability ratings, I narrowed it down to six.

Seiko SNZG09

Seiko SNZG09

Seiko SNZG09 – Olive Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

 

Seiko SNK805

Seiko SNK805

Seiko SNK805 – Olive Face – Small Hours, Big Minutes, No 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNZG15

Seiko SNZG15

Seiko SNZG15 – Black Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNK809

Seiko SNK809

Seiko SNK809 – Black Face – Small Hours, Big Minutes, No 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNE095P2

Seiko SNE095P2

Seiko SNE095P2 – Black Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Solar

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180-03E – Black Face – Big Hours, Small Minutes, No 24hr – Solar

So, three decisions:

  • Solar or Mechanical?
  • If Mechanical: Olive or Black watchface?
  • If Mechanical: Large Hours or Large Minutes?

The watchface decision is the easiest.  Olive watchfaces look odd with a black band, but black ones look fine with an olive or a black band – so black.  It also has more of a classic look, in my opinion.

Between the two mechanical Seiko watches, it’s a tough call.  The larger “minute” numbers make for easier timing of seconds or minutes, but I think I prefer the aesthetic of the larger hour numbers.  I also prefer a “12” at the noon position, rather than an arrow.  Here they are side-by-side:

Seikio SNK809 and SNZG815

Seikio SNK809 and SNZG815

This is a really tough call for me.  I can see the benefits to the SNK809 dial, and – if someone were to give me one for a month to carry around – I’d be willing to give it a try.  With that said, if I’m going to be spending my hard-earned money, I’d rather risk it on a watch I can read at a glance – that’s the SNZG815.

The two solar watches also offer a very tough choice.  Here they are side-by-side:

Citizen BM8180 and Seiko SNE095P2

Citizen BM8180 and Seiko SNE095P2

Wow!  I like the look of both of these watches!  The Seiko really captures the vintage Army feel that reminds me of the watch I (and I suspect everyone) bought at the PX in Basic Training.  The bezel looks a little too shiny, but that is hopefully just the angle of the flash in the photo.  I love the classic watchface on the Seiko.

The Citizen has a more contemporary look to it, and I am not a fan of the more exposed stem.  On the other hand, it’s the only watch with large numbers for the hours and small numbers for the minutes/seconds, making it easier to use the watch as a timer/stopwatch.  The Seiko almost looks too busy by comparison.

I would say that both watches are beautiful, elegant examples of what they set out to be.  The Citizen looks like the ideal contemporary solar field watch, and the Seiko looks like the ideal vintage-style one.  Again, a very tough call, but – by a narrow margin – I prefer the aesthetic of the Seiko.

So now…mechanical or solar.  Here they are side-by-side:

Seiko SNZG15 and SNE095P2

Seiko SNZG15 and SNE095P2

Seen side-by side (and ignoring the bands – I can always swap those at my leisure) it’s a no-brainer.  I really like the aesthetic of the SNE095P2.  In fact, the SNE095P2 has everything I like about the SNZG, only better.  Seeing them side-by-side makes me like the SNE even more, and it also gives me more appreciation for the SNK809 I previously rejected.

Ultimately, the winner based purely on online  aesthetics was – for me – the SNE095P2.  The vintage military styling sold me.  I’d love to have it as a purely mechanical watch (or to have any of the mechanical Seikos because I think they’re beautiful machines), but – if I’m only going to buy one watch – this one made the most sense.

Then it arrived…and I was greatly disappointed.  The clock face looked great, but the bezel looked cheap and far too shiny.  I sent it back, and went with the ultimate winner, the Citizen BM8180:

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180

UPDATE:  I swapped out the band for a synthetic, olive band and have now had the watch for over a year.  It looks great, holds up very well, and keeps great time.  I highly recommend it!

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Now, if only I could find an Astron for 95% off…

Also, a couple of honorable mentions that are out of my price range:

The Cabot Watch Company Automatic (available here)

The Hamilton Field Watch (needs a canvas band)

Here’s the vast majority of the watches I considered.

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