Ultimate Guide to Military Watches

Ultimate Guide to Military Watches

Updated at 22/12/2019 10:12 Military Watches Blancpain Hamilton Omega Panerai Rolex

Military watches are designed for timekeeping in demanding conditions. Over time, special features required by armed forces have found their way into watches meant for the civilian market. Today, a special operator is far more likely to be wearing an off-the-shelf G-Shock than a mil-spec Rolex Submariner. That was not always the case. Military forces looked to their country’s watchmakers for Mil-spec models capable of standing up to punishing conditions.

Guide to Military watches milspec , Rolex Milsub 5517


Design of Military Watches

Civilian watch collectors adore military issue watches. These timepieces are purpose-built and have been worn in all sorts of military operations. Designs were meant to stand up to combat, underwater missions, aviation needs, bomb squads, and myriad special operations. All with one key design theme, get the job done. Military watch designers place a high value on accuracy, dependability, and durability. The result is a watch with a special kind of beauty not found in other timepieces. Mil-spec watches are tough. They are designed to be highly resistant to impact, corrosion, and harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures, wet, or dusty settings. Another key design feature is luminosity. The watch needs to deliver the time to soldiers without fail in low light conditions such as murky water. It must also be covered up to prevent the luminous dial from being spotted from afar. Military watches must be able to function in cold, heat, and at high altitudes, and, if battery-powered, they should feature batteries that are extremely long-lasting and efficient. Of course, it should be easy to use and simple to service.



What was once the Ministry of Defense (MOD) standard issue equipment is now one of the rarest collector’s watches ever. This Rolex is the by far the most famous military-issued dive watch and is a highly sought after piece of watch history. After WWII, the MOD realized a robust and reliable dive watch would be essential for diving units. At the time, Rolex was the clear leader in waterproof watch technology. It marked the first appearance of a military-issued Submariner. Beginning in 1954, Rolex Submariners were supplied to the British Ministry of Defense, Rolex reference 5517 went on to be the best-known military watch model in the world. Prices reach well into the six figures for an original Mil Sub as only 1,200 were made. Tribute watches are currently available.


The British MoD began using the Seamaster 300M in 1967. The 300M is an iconic military diver on par with the Milsub. When a 300M with genuine military markings comes up for sale expect it command five figures. Omega makes a modern version just like the 300Ms used by members of the British Royal Navy’s elite Special Boat Squadron.


Hamilton produced this watch to the GG-W-113 specification (6/6/1967).The GG-W-113 spec watches have been issued to the American Air Force (USAF) since the Vietnam war. Today a close homage to the watch can be seen in the Hamilton Field range.

GG-W-113 specification summary is as below:

  • A mechanical movement with an accuracy of +- 30 seconds per day
  • 15 Jewels
  • A hacking mechanism
  • Shock resistance (must survive a fall from 4 feet onto a wooden block)
  • Waterproofness
  • Luminous Hands (using Tritium)
  • Antimagnetic
  • Minimum of 36 hour power reserve


Officine Panerai creates Radiomir to meet the military needs of the Royal Italian Navy. Radiomir was a radium-based powder that gives luminosity to the dials of sighting instruments and devices. It was critical to frogmen at the time to be able to read the dials of the water underwater and in extreme low light conditions. The strap was designed to be worn over a diving suit. Only 10 of these watches were made dating back to 1936.



The story of the MIL-SPEC 1 Fifty Fathoms begins from Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud, founders of the French Navy’s combat swimmers corps and who were searching for a reliable watch for their new secret dive team. Bob Maloubier sketched his specifications and invited a few companies to come up with a watch. Blancpain won the bid and the Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC 1 was born. The watch is famous for having a circular water-tightness indicator, such that if any liquid were to leak into the watch case, a disk would signal the problem by changing its color from white to red. Modern versions are available. 



Picture courtsey: Analogue Shift

The Dirty Dozen is a collection of twelve watches that the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) commissioned during WWII. Manufacturing in Britain had a narrow focus. The focus was on machinery, ammunition, and weaponry for the military rather than timepieces. The MoD invited any Swiss watchmaker who could create a watch to the desired specifications to do so. Twelve brands answered the call: IWC, OMEGA, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Buren, Lemania, Eterna, Timor, Cyma, Record, Grana, and Vertex. Interestingly, Vertex was a British brand with production facilities in Switzerland. The MOD encouraged each manufacturer to produce as many units as possible. Production of timepieces was around 150,000. These timepieces remained in service well after the war, into the 1960s. But by the 1970s, many were destroyed because of the use of radium on the dials. It is said that less than twenty collectors around the world have a complete set of watches.


Not content with a watch that only tells time? Special watches are out there. If you are asking yourself how do I choose a watch like this? What should I pay? Is there value behind the brand and price? You owe it to yourself to look closer into the Watchnerd.com buyer decision making guides. Watchnerd.com shows you your options as a buyer. Our guides are indispensable while trying to decide which brand and model is right for you. Watchnerd.com is ready to help.  Our passion is timeless.

Be first! Share your thoughts with us.

Please login to leave a reply.