An Introduction Into American Watch Brands With Military Heritage

How brands like Timex, Bulova and more got their start.

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In recent years, a notable trend within the horological world is the resurgence of vintage models, and with it the creation of vintage-inspired timepieces. At the same time as enthusiasts look for more diverse options to build an everyday rotation, functionality has come to the forefront of their consideration.

If you too are looking to strike the perfect balance between form and function, look no further than military watches, which provide robustness and legibility while retaining the classic design sensibilities of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Here at HYPEBEAST, we’ve compiled a list of the top American watch brands with a true military heritage, many of which are still used by the armed forces today.

Benrus

Benrus was formed by Romanian-American Benjamin Lazrus and his two brothers in 1920s New York, originally as a watch repair shop. As their business grew, the trio transitioned to importing coveted Swiss movements, building their own watch cases and assembling them together Stateside. As the Second World War began, Benrus once again shifted its focus, creating timing devices used in various munitions by the Allied Forces.

With this military background, the brand earned a NATO contract in the ‘60s, creating its now iconic MIL-W-3818 field watch for the G.I.s in Vietnam. A decade later, the U.S. military revisited the company with a demand for more rugged service watches, leading to the creation of Benrus’ Type I and Type II dive watches. These models were subsequently issued to the Underwater Demolitions Team — the predecessor to the Navy Seals — the Army and even the CIA.

Luckily for those looking to own a timepiece from this century-old company, Benrus has just recently relaunched after a multi-year hiatus, with a Heritage Collection kick-starting its journey back into watchmaking. Comprising part of the collection are three makes of its iconic field watch — grey, black and white dials all with faux patina indices and markings — now equipped with Miyota automatic movements, 316L stainless steel cases and even a screw-down crown to give them 100m water resistance.

Hamilton

First founded in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Hamilton has had seven-decade a history with the military. The company originally produced pocket watches, but the arrival of World War I prompted the brand to craft more convenient wrist watches for the U.S. Armed Forces. Its relationship with the U.S. government endured into World War II, when the brand decided to cease its production of watches for civilians and channel its resources into manufacturing watches for the Allied Forces.

Hamilton produced over one million units during this period, earning them the Army-Navy E award for excellence in manufacturing. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Hamilton joined the ranks of Benrus and Bulova, contributing to the efforts in Vietnam as well.

Nowadays, Hamilton continues to be most known for its military-inspired timepieces, with the Khaki line spanning across all three areas of Aviation, Field and Navy. The collections offer almost any function you can imagine: from flieger chronographs to rugged divers to simple field watches up.

Bulova

Like many of its counterparts, Bulova first joined the war effort in the ‘40s. Two of its watches are particularly noteworthy: the A-11 and the A-15. Also known as the hack watch, the A-11 was the first of its kind to feature a hackable movement, which essentially stopped the seconds hand from running when the crown is pulled out.

The mechanism — which soon became prominent in other brands as well — allowed ground troops to synchronize their watches to the second, ensuring everyone was on the same page when a mission demanded spot-on timings. At the same time, Bulova created the A-15 for the Air Force pilots to help with keeping track of their flight times. Also known as the elapsed time watch, the special two-ringed mechanism of the A-15 allowed the easy recording and reading of elapsed time, a key tool for piloting an aircraft.

Despite having discontinued those models for quite some time, Bulova has recently decided to resurrect both the hack and elapsed time watches. The brand has maintained the ’50s design sensibilities with the new A-11 and A-15, but also updated them with new functionalities such as fully-automatic movements and sapphire crystals.

Timex

While Timex has shifted its focus towards more contemporary quartz pieces in recent decades, the American brand was at one point the largest mechanical watch manufacturer in the world. The brand originated in Waterbury, Connecticut as the Waterbury Clock Company back in 1845. At the turn of the century, it moved into producing pocket watches, which ultimately led to the manufacturing of wrist watches as the former became antiquated. By the 1950s, almost one of every three watches sold in the world was made by Timex.

With these achievements, the brand would go on to build its iconic Mil-Spec W-46374B, aka the MK1, for the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. As the NATO military contract conditions were the same, you’ll find that the unbranded timepiece very much resembles its counterparts from Hamilton or Benrus.

Unlike those models, however, Timex’s MK1 is a truly disposable watch. The case is made out of a lightweight plastic, with a permanently sealed caseback making repairs (intentionally) impossible. In 2016, the brand revived the classic model with a contemporary spin, which has since inspired a full collection of time-only and chronograph models constructed from aluminium, stainless steel and even plastic.

Marathon

While some American brands such as Hamilton and Bulova have moved part of their production over to Switzerland, Marathon has gone in the opposite direction. Originally founded in the epicenter of watchmaking in 1904 as Weinsturm Watch, the company relocated to the United States under its current name Marathon some 30 years later. Its military heritage began just two years later in 1941, when the company was called upon to supply the Allied Forces for WWII. Since then, Marathon has kept a close relationship with the U.S. and Canadian forces, providing them with robust, mil-spec timepieces used across the Navy, Army and Air Force.

As Marathon is one of the U.S. military’s only presently contracted watchmakers, you can rest assured that its timepieces are field tested and can take a beating. The brand covers a wide area of tool watches, including divers, chronographs, field watches and fliegers. They offer models in automatic, hand-wound and even quartz movements, meaning there’ll be options to suit your own budget. Some even come with a NATO Stock Number indicating its mil-spec compliance or tritium gas tubes, a radioactive self-illuminating element ensuring readability in the darkest of conditions.

The most coveted pieces from the brand include the Government Search and Rescue (GSAR) diver, the Pilot’s Navigator aviation watch, and the General Purpose Mechanical field watch.

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