Military Watch: The Ultimate Men’s Accessory
The standard accessory for men’s fashion, the wristwatch, was inspired by military timepieces that go back to the wars and skirmishes of the late 1800s. Like khaki pants or a classic peacoat, a traditional military watch conveys durability, strength and timeless style.
Modern business chic has strong ties to military dress codes. Khakis, still considered the standard issue dress pant for men, originated so British colonialists could still look crisp and clean in dusty environs overseas. So much of men’s style, including accessories, stems from classic military uniforms. Rather than signifying uniformity or unoriginality, military-inspired fashion conveys archetypal masculinity: strong, rugged and, most of all, practical.
Switching Away From the Pocket Timepiece
The pocket watch, typically hooked to a chain and stored in a pouch, was the perfect timepiece for the leisure class. It signaled luxury and a relaxed relationship to schedules. Fashion-forward men wore one with their waistcoat. The first wristwatches were made for women. The watch face affixed to a bangle to be worn as jewelry.
When the design converted for men, it was strictly for practicality. Men needed a timepiece on the battlefield or battleship. Military histories connect the invention of men’s wristwatches to the precision needed to time bombardments accurately. In the 1880s, an early design originated in the German navy. By World War I, the standard uniform for all soldiers included issued military watches.
The “wristlet” or the first banded watch came about like many things — as a matter of convenience. During military exercises, a pocket watch became a liability. Soldiers couldn’t waste time pulling out a timepiece. Early military watches were designed to withstand the rigors of trench warfare. Like the pocket watch, many came with a protective cover or guard plate to keep out dust and shield the glass face.
Fashion Follows Function in Military Watch Design
Modern wristwatches combine sleek style with functionality in ways that originated with military necessity. Designers like Cartier, Rolex and Hamilton, with a watch called “Khaki,” created wristwatches commissioned for the U.S. military. Cartier designed the “Tank” wristwatch, its rectangular shape inspired by aerial views of actual tanks. Rolex produced the first “submersible” watch in 1926, the “Oyster,” and similar innovations came about to help pilots with time precision and gauging fuel.
Charles Lindbergh helped design the first rotating bezel after his transatlantic flight in 1927, inaugurating “Aviator” style. In addition to the leather bomber jacket, shades and scarf, the aviator look came with a sharp military watch. The classic look included a large round face that made it easy to chart time, but the sleek function became typical of the timeless style, as well.
By World War II, military watches had a black face and large white numbers with luminescent second hands. After the war, the modern man’s essential accessory was the wristwatch. Pocket watches were over.
During Vietnam, military watches reverted to a simple design with high visibility especially at night. Faces became plastic, rather than glass, and rimmed with stainless style. The canvas straps reflected the transfer to optimal durability.
The Military Watch and Its Timeless Influence
Today, even the advent of the smartwatch can’t compete with the classic edge conveyed by a man’s wristwatch, especially if it conforms to the sleek functionality of military style. Whether a simple round face with a bezel or equipped with a compass to ensure survival, the military-inspired wristwatch expresses ageless ideas about ideal masculinity.
Military watches signal simplicity but also bring about classic functionality as a thing of beauty. The style endures and so it brings about its precision, resilience and heavy-duty charisma. Wearing a military watch doesn’t mean you’re a soldier — just that you can be, if needed.
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