What watches do the military use? Do they prefer one brand over the other? Do they need specific watch features on the job? Does the military issue the watches officially?
Whether you’re just wondering if you need to invest in a watch upon enlisting or you’re planning to gift someone a real military watch, this guide will help you decide the type of watch you’ll need in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, or Space Force.
Table of Contents
- Types of Watches in History
- Things to Consider when Choosing the Right Military Watch
- List of Military Watches
- Frequently Asked Questions
Types of Watches in History
Watches have come a long way since the first mechanical clock was introduced in England in 1275, the pocket watch in 1462, and women’s wristwatches in 1810.
It wasn’t until the 19th century did wristwatches start being mass-produced and made for German naval officers. By World War I, almost all soldiers on the ground and air wore wristwatches as part of their uniform.
When the soldiers returned from WWI, wristwatches became commercialized, and even civilians wanted their own. Since then, watch manufacturers have designed numerous types of wristwatches. You can find one categorized by:
- Movement: Quartz, Mechanical, Automatic, Solar
- Function: Digital, analog, chronograph, hybrid, and smart watches
- Style: Pocket watch, luxury, fitness, sports, fashion, dress, racing, diving, military, and more
Today, the military of most countries use military issue watches simply because it is easier to sync time used for missions and day-to-day tasks.
Things to Consider when Choosing the Right Military Watch
Regardless of military watch brands or types, here are some essential considerations before buying:
- Features – Are you on the hunt for watches used by special forces? Or just any tactical watch? Check to see if the make and model of the watch you plan to buy have the following features:
- Luminosity or backlight – to be able to read time under low-lighting conditions.
- Aesthetics – US military watches are designed to camouflage in most scenarios, so look for dark-colored watches.
- Tactical features such as a compass, barometer, altimeter, and more
- Durability – The military watch you buy should be resistant to water, corrosion, and impact. For battery-powered watches, the batteries should last long.
- Accuracy and Reliability– The military found wristwatches more reliable when syncing time. The watch you buy should remain accurate even if exposed to heat or cold. It should also be able to adjust between altitude changes, which is particularly useful for soldiers on the ground.
- Ease of Use – All the bells and whistles of a wristwatch are great, except when reading time becomes complicated. Switch to a watch that is easier to read.
- Serviceability – If you break the watch, will there be spare parts you can buy nearby? Are there service centers that would accept your broken watch?
Consider these watches as an investment. Make sure you learn about the watch warranty as well.
List of Military Watches
There are dozens of watch manufacturers with military-style watches, but these six brands have a special place in the military.
1. Marathon military watch
Marathon produced timepieces for the US and Canadian Air Force in the 1980s. Models like the Navigator, first created in 1986, were made specifically for paratroopers and pilots.
Today, Marathon’s award-winning Search and Rescue line continues to be a favorite watch by those on the field. These military timepieces have been seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a no-nonsense feature-packed watch for combat divers.
2. Casio Pro Tek & G-Shock military watch
Casio opened shop in 1946 as a manufacturer of electronics like calculators and digital cameras. They joined the watch game a bit later and developed one of the most popular rugged watches for basic training – the G-Shock.
G-Shock has been around since 1983, and the shock-resistant, waterproof watch remains an ideal military watch for its design and features.
If you’re not a fan of the G-Shock’s look, Casio manufactures other high-performance watches. An excellent example is the Casio Pro Tek PRW2500, which features a thermometer, Altimeter/Barometer, compass, atomic timekeeping, and tide/moon information.
3. Seiko SKX watch line
Founded in 1881, Seiko isn’t a watch brand you’d first think about when it comes to military watches. Still, they’re among the best in manufacturing kinetic, solar, quartz, and mechanical timepieces.
Seiko’s SKX line is a luxury line, but many aquatic military members trust these watches for their ISO rating. Most of them also have the old-school Navy SEAL watch vibe.
4. Suunto military tactical watches
Founded by a Finnish adventurer in 1936, this watch brand has created outdoor watches with nifty tools for almost 100 years.
Today, the Suunto watches aren’t just ideal for adventures in snow-covered mountains or rainforests but also military use.
Two Suunto models known for military use are the…
- Suunto Core Military (a budget-friendly tactical smartwatch) designed for hiking and cross-country skiing.
- Traverse Alpha (a high-performance tactical watch) designed for hunters. This water-resistant watch features GPS, automatic shot detection, a built-in flashlight, a red backlight, and more.
Suunto’s dive watches and compasses are also well-loved by military members.
5. Bell & Ross
If you’re looking for tribute military watches (or timepieces used by veterans in the past), Bell & Ross is the brand to check out.
This brand recreates a wide range of wartime watches, including WWI pocket watches and WWII analog watches.
Bell & Ross takes the classic design of vintage watches and combines today’s technology into each piece. What results is a mighty good-looking timepiece that is functional enough to be used by pilots, divers, astronauts, and other military professionals.
Garmin launched in 1989 as another wristwear company. Today, it is focused on sports and fitness watches, which are also suitable for military use due to their durability and reliability.
An excellent example is the Taxtix Delta, a GPS-enabled smartwatch with heart rate monitoring, live GPS tracking, and solar charging, among other awesome features. This tactical watch can be a good USMC watch alternative, thanks to the built-in ballistic calculator for snipers.
Timex has been a watch company since 1854, producing a wide range of timepieces (from pocket watches to today’s smartwatches) for nearly two centuries.
Timex has been at the forefront of military watches ever since World War I and other wars that came after it. The company even has an entire line of military-inspired watches.
Today, one of the most popular Timex models remains well-trusted among military members. Designed in 1984 as an official watch for the sporting event Ironman Triathlon, the digital watch was one of the first models advertised featuring toughness tests.
The modern Timex Ironman models are lightweight, highly durable, water-resistant, and equipped with a battery lasting up to 10 years.
Frequently Asked Questions
What watch is issued to the US Army?
US Army watches began as the 7-jewel 55-1B watch with 30-second-a-day accuracy. This was improved upon later to become a 17-jewel watch with metal casing.
The latest military issue watches fall under the MIL-W-46374 specification, which focuses on accuracy and durability even in harsh conditions.
What watch does the Navy SEALs use?
The Navy Seal has been associated with Luminox military watches for decades. This is mainly due to the brand’s Luminox light technology, which offers impeccable visibility for the special operations force‘s day-to-day tasks.
What watches do the Air Force use?
In the past, US military watch standard-issue models were created in partnership with watch manufacturers. Since the mid-1980s, the Air Force has slowly stopped relying on these watches and used electronic navigation systems.
You could still find Air Force-inspired watch “tributes” in the market. These watches are often inspired by a particular aircraft, with some of the watches actually built with the same materials as an aircraft.
These days, pilots prefer Breitling Navitimer, Garmin, and G-shock smartwatches.
Why do special forces wear Rolex?
Many special forces used to wear the Rolex Submariner 5513, 5514, and 5517 because of their design and waterproof capability. However, these models aren’t official military watches.
The special forces also wore other brands like Seiko Prospex, Marathon Navigator, Tag Heuer Aquaracer, Casio G-Shock, Timex Ironman, and more.
Where can you find vintage military watches?
If you’re looking for authentic officially-issued army watches for men, your best bet is to check out eBay.com, garage sales, collectors’ groups, and similar sources.
Now that you’ve learned what watches do the military use, it is easier to compare and decide the type of watch, brand, and model you need.
Before buying, check reviews and recommendations of specific watches on Reddit or your other trusted online forums.
If you’ve taken the tips above to heart, a military watch should be a worthy investment that could serve you for years.
John Cotton is Safecallnow’s copywriter. He is an authority on research and reviews. He is responsible for locating information and guidance on riot and disturbance control equipment, training equipment, correctional products, watch house products, tactical equipment, government regulation information, and more. His work guarantees a high level of proficiency and authority.