A wise man once said, “The road to horological enlightenment is paved with MVMTs”. Or maybe it was Invictas, or Daniel Wellingtons.
More of a wise guy, I reckon. Bottom line, you can spend X amount of money on an overpriced, shiny trinket of dubious value, or for the same cash, get something nicer looking, with better build quality, and much more satisfying to own.
This is where Absolute Beginners comes in.
Maybe you’ve only worn a sketchy fashion watch given to you by a well-meaning relative. Maybe you want to see what wearing a certain size or style of watch is actually like before you drop the big bucks. Or perhaps you want to give a watch as a gift, but you might not know what to look for in a quality timepiece. Whatever your situation, the impetus behind this guide is to show that a decent watch can be had at virtually every price point (yes, even $20).
To kick things off, let’s consider the field watch.
What is a field watch, you ask? Loosely defined, it’s a simple, rugged watch with its roots in the military (Google the ‘Dirty Dozen’ watches), with a functional, no-nonsense appeal that pairs with a wide variety of casual looks…sort of a Levi’s 501 of the watch world. The archetypical field watch has a black dial with Arabic numerals, highly visible hands (ideally luminous), in a smallish round stainless steel case. The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical, at 36mm, is pretty much the ne plus ultra when you’re talking classic field watches.
But many riffs have been written from that original tune, and now, the definition of a field watch is much more broad. They’re great everyday watches, and among the most versatile. The Seiko Alpinist, Sinn 556, and even the Rolex Explorer 1 could all be considered field watches, albeit upmarket ones. But pump the brakes, junior…we’re not ready to dive into the big-ticket horological deep end just yet.
When I decided to try a field watch for myself, the origin story couldn’t have been more humble.
I found the little orphan buried in the clearance bin of a ‘disposable fashion’ mall store that we happened to be walking through on the way to the car, hiding under a pile of last season’s wallets, on its final markdown at less than $3 bucks. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever seen. I just had to let it follow me home.
I’m just going to say it. This is objectively the worst watch I own. It sports an aluminium case with fixed strap bars (one-piece straps only!), and the tiniest, cheapest quartz movement possible. There are better-engineered soda cans. And don’t even think about water when you’re wearing it. Yet, I love the look of this simple, sterile (unbranded) field watch, and I don’t own much in the way of white dials, so it’s a win. And at around 37mm, it was the perfect size for me to decide that I love the whole field watch aesthetic. I’ll wear it ‘til it breaks.
But enough with the backstory; let’s get to the plot.
Here, in ascending order, are ten field watches from under $20, up to $300, so no matter your budget, you’re sure to find something you’ll love. Best of all, you won’t be overpaying for some fashion brand bauble that’ll possibly break when you take it outdoors.
Casio MRW200H-1BV – under $20 street price
The least expensive pick on my list is also one of my favourites. The point of entry for most things horological is Casio, and with good reason; value.
Now this one will never be mistaken for high-end, and with its blacked-out looks and rotating timing bezel, it’s not a traditional-looking field watch, but it meets the dual criteria of durability and legibility. And if you replace the thin plastic 18mm stock watchband with something more substantial, you’ll be surprised at how easily it can become a daily driver. It’s lightweight, water resistant to 100 meters, and well sized at 40mm in diameter without the crown. It comes in several colour variants, but stick with the basic black. It’s a damn handsome watch. And it bears a surprising resemblance to one of the higher end quartz watches available, the $2,000 Breitling Colt Skyracer, but at 1/100th the price. The durability and value proposition of Casio watches position them as the one you’ll still wear even after you start collecting high-end watches. I know I do.
HONORABLE MENTION: Casio FT500WC-3BV – $20 street price
For something with the same general specs and durability, plus the addition of a backlight, consider the lovably dorky Casio Forester, which invokes the vibe of an actual Subaru Forester from the 1990s, with its earth-toned, LL Bean charm, complete with what looks like body cladding from one of those proto-SUVs. Available in granola-crunching shades of brown, green, tan, and black, it’s perfect for accessorizing with Danner boots and a down vest. Casio offers some wonderfully weird timepieces, but they’re almost universally well made, especially when you consider the asking price. Hipster irony aside, it’ll probably go for as long as your old Subaru did.
MDC (Momentary Design Concept by Infantry) MD-024 – $23 on Amazon
Now this looks like a field watch. And I haven’t got a clue how they got it to this absurd price point, but here we have a stainless-cased, 50m water-resistant watch with a matching army green NATO strap, mineral crystal, and Japanese quartz movement. It’s a bit larger than a traditional field watch at 40mm, but the two-tiered olive green dial (not to mention the OD case) are positively swoonworthy. Visibility is great, with bright white indices and hands, and yes, it has lume.
I have no idea how well it will hold up over time, but it feels substantial enough, and I have a hunch that when that matte green case finish starts to wear, this thing will look even cooler. Also available in black, it’s the perfect choice when you’re going for that tactical look. Just remember, you’re Dave from Accounting, not Jason Statham.
Timex Camper 36mm TW2R58300 – $40 on Amazon
The first one on the list to really nail the size brief at 36mm, this classic-looking field watch is sort of an updated reissue of an earlier catalog piece. Combined with a great, highly legible dial and the traditional fixed strap bars, it’s got vintage vibes for days. Points off for the measly 30 meter WR rating and snapback case, but at $40 street, you shouldn’t complain too loudly.
Seiko 5 SNK809 – $80-ish street price
The first mechanical watch on the list is likely the number one choice whenever the phrase ‘entry level mechanical field watch’ is uttered. The Seiko 5 is the gateway drug for most collectors when they first get into mechanical watches, and this field watch is one of the most evergreen models in their vast catalog.
Besides the selfwinding 7S26 automatic movement, you’ll get a matte bead-blasted 37mm stainless steel case, legendary Seiko reliability, and your choice of black, blue, olive, or khaki dials. Just buy it already.
Citizen Eco-Drive Chandler Field Watch – $135 street price
If you’re not familiar, Citizen’s Eco-Drive watches offer the no-hassle accuracy of quartz, minus the battery change. Once the solar-powered capacitor has a full charge, it’ll go for six months. And unlike mechanical watches, maintenance is pretty much zero.
With a screwdown crown, 100 meters WR, and a 37mm case, there’s a lot going for the Chandler. Citizen may have a reputation for ‘eh’ when it comes to some of their styling, but you can’t fault their value or reliability. Some of the favorites in my collection are Eco-Drives. They’re the Toyota Camry of wristwatches…they just keep going and going, with no worries and no complaints. And once in a while, they hit it out of the park.
Vaer S3 Standard Issue Field 36mm – $159
Here’s one from a newer microbrand that gets so many things right. 36mm case (also available in 40mm), sapphire crystal, a classic, uncluttered dial, 100 meter WR with screwdown crown and caseback, and five layers of bright Swiss C1 Superluminova on the dial and hands. Besides the entry-level Miyota quartz S3, other watches from Vaer have US-assembled Ameriquartz movements, or even Swiss ETA automatics the further up the range you go. If you’ve never heard of the brand, they’re well worth checking out.
Bertucci A-2T Vintage Titanium – $160-$220, depending on configuration
Bertucci has quietly been making rugged quartz field watches since 2004, and they offer a lot of value, as well as variety. You can choose from a case in polycarbonate, steel, or my choice, lightweight titanium, in a variety of sizes and dials. The A-2T Vintage gets my vote, because of the classic dial layout, 200 meter WR with screwdown crown and caseback, and hardened mineral crystal (you can specify sapphire for an upcharge).
Additionally, the Seiko-esque crown at 4 o’clock prevents it from digging into your wrist on your next adventure, a thoughtful design touch. So if you’ve never heard of them, have a poke around their website. Bertucci offers a unique look and a solid value, with the polycarbonate models starting at just $55.
Timex MK1 Mechanical 36mm – $185
Timex has been absolutely crushing it lately with their Archive Series reissues, with hit after hit (like the Q Series) that mines inspiration from their deep back catalog. The MK1 is the one watch on the list that hits all the right notes for me; 36mm, handwinding mechanical movement, and a perfect, no-date 12/24 hour dial in my favorite color for this type of watch, olive green.
Game over…it’s stunning. If you’re in love with the traditional field watch look, there’s no better choice below the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical.
Boldr Supply Company Venture Carbon Black – $299 direct
And now, we pivot from the most traditional-looking, to probably the most contemporary watch on this list. Boldr has been making unique dive and field watches for about as long as microbrands have been a thing. The Venture is a modern titanium field watch that features an automatic Seiko NH35A movement, an angular 38mm tonneau-style case, flat sapphire crystal, screwdown caseback and crown with 200 meters WR, and superb Japanese Superlume. It’s a hell of a lot of spec for the price.
And if you like the look, you can choose from black, white, green, or blue dials. Boldr makes some of the best-reviewed watches among microbrands, and the Venture is no exception.
There’s a lot to love about a field watch, and a good amount of choice at every price point, even at the entry level. So if you’re looking for a rugged, versatile, easy-to-wear piece that won’t break the bank, there’s a lot to choose from. You’re sure to find something to accompany you wherever you may wander.