Mission Timers: Five Modern Watches with MIL-SPEC Origins

Like Jeeps, GPS, and the Internet, some of today’s popular wristwatch models started out as military projects. Here are five modern timepieces whose ancestors were made-to-order for soldiers, sailors, and airmen.


The Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC is based on a historical predecessor from 1957-58, designed specifically to pass a battery of tests conducted by the U.S. Navy. The original model became standard issue equipment for American combat swimmers, including the SEALs’ elite Underwater Demolition Team. Its notable feature was an indicator, on a large disk at 6 o’clock, which changed its color from white to red if liquid leaked into the case. Aside from the 1950s-inspired disk, the watch has other hallmark features of Fifty Fathoms watches, including large, luminous indexes on a black dial and a scratch-resistant sapphire bezel. The case boasts a 300-meter water-resistance, suitable for military diving and an upgrade from the 91.45 meters (50 fathoms) of the original model. The modern watch is powered by Blancpain’s automatic manufacture Caliber 1151, which stores a four-day power reserve in two series-coupled barrels. Limited to 500 pieces, it comes on a NATO or sailcloth strap (price: $14,000) or a steel bracelet with a secure buckle ($16,200). More details here.

Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec - reclining
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec


As a supplier of watches to the U.S. Navy in 1967, Tudor developed a prototype for a new, tactical divers’ watch, meeting a set of U.S. government specifications, to replace the discontinued Oyster Prince Submariner Ref. 7928. This recently unearthed prototype, code-named “Commando” was never mass-produced, but its design inspired the modern Black Bay P01 (“Prototype 1”). The modern watch borrows freely from the original — which had a 42-mm steel case, a 4 o’clock crown, and removable, locking bezel that the owner could remove to clean the watch — with its bidirectional dive-scale bezel incorporating a stopping system in a mobile link at 12 o’clock. The domed matte black dial features painted luminous indexes and the “Snowflake” hands that have been a fixture on Tudor dive watches since 1969. The case boasts a military-grade water resistance of 200 meters. Inside is the COSC chronometer-certified Caliber MT5612, based on the brand’s first in-house movement, Caliber MT5621, with a 70-hour power reserve and a silicon balance spring. The Black Bay P01 is mounted on a specially developed “hybrid” strap with a rubber base and a brown leather trim, connected to the case, as in the prototype’s design, by satin-brushed steel attachments. Price: $3,950. Click here for more info.

Tudor Black Bay P01 - angle
Tudor Black Bay P01


Bremont’s Armed Forces Collection comprises a small family of models, developed in partnership with the British Ministry of Defence, which take their inspiration from the legendary “Dirty Dozen,” watches issued to the British Army during World War II. The watches are the first of Bremont’s military-commissioned timepieces available for purchase by civilians, and the first whose casebacks bear the official heraldic badges of all three of Britain’s military services: Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force (RAF). Like their wartime predecessors, the contemporary pieces meet a strict set of criteria for usage in the field, including water resistance, luminous markings on the dial, and chronometer-certified timing precision. The Bremont Broadsword isthe model that most directly references the classical “field watch” look of the Dirty Dozen: a simple two-hander in a 40-mm, two-part hardened steel case, with a 3 o’clock date and small seconds at 6 o’clock. The black dial’s white Arabic numerals and hands are treated with a special mint-colored Super-LumiNova. Bremont’s automatic, COSV-certified BE-95-2AV movement, beats inside, storing a 38-hour power reserve. The watch comes on a khaki green sailcloth strap. Price: $3,445. Click here for more on Bremont’s Armed Forces Collection.

Bremont MoD Broadsword - Front
Bremont Broadsword


Hailing from Longines’ Heritage collection, the Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935 is a contemporary replica of a watch Longines provided to U.S. Army pilots in 1935. Like the original, built to meet a precise set of criteria for precision, legibility, and sturdiness in order to merit the Army’s “Type A-7” designation, it has its dial angled at 40º to the right, which enabled a pilot in a cockpit to read the time without having to release his aircraft’s control yoke. The dial’s vintage elements include large, legible, Arabic numerals; “pear skeleton” hands, and a train-track chapter ring around the perimeter. The watch has a 41-mm stainless steel case with a large, vintage-style fluted crown, which made it easy for a pilot to operate the watch even while wearing gloves. Its automatic movement, Caliber L788.2, is exclusive to Longines, based on the reliable ETA A08.L11, and equipped with a monopusher chronograph driven by a column wheel. Operated by a pusher embedded in the off-center crown, the chronograph uses a central hand to tick off the seconds, while the subdial at 12 o’clock tallies elapsed times up to 30 minutes. The watch is mounted on a brown alligator strap with a steel buckle. Price: $2,050. We review the Avigation Type A-7 1935 here.

Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935 - mood
Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935


Panerai’s lineup is dominated by descendants of early divers’ watches made for Italian Naval frogmen during World War II. The Submersible series, however, traces its ancestry to a prototype model made for the Egyptian Navy in the 1950s. The Verde Militare model (PAM01055) evokes those origins starkly with its dark, military green dial, which represents the first use of the color on a Submersible (“Verde” is “green” in Panerai’s mother tongue of Italian). The watch’s 42-mm brushed steel case is equipped with both a unidirectional rotating divers’ bezel and Panerai’s proprietary bridge-shaped, safety-locking crown protector to secure the screw-down crown (and thus, the case’s 300-meter water resistance). The dial’s indices and hands glow bright blue-green in the dark or deep underwater, while behind the dial ticks an in-house movement, Panerai’s automatic Caliber P.900, boasting a three-day (72 hour) power reserve, in a single spring barrel, when fully wound. The use of this exceptionally thin movement, used previously in Panerai’s Luminor Due models, allows the case to be accordingly restrained in its thickness — just 14.37 mm). The watch is mounted on a green rubber strap with a trapezoidal clasp in brushed steel. Price: $8,700. More details here.

Panerai Submersible Verde_Militare PAM01055 - reclining
Panerai Submersible Verde_Militare – 42MM
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  1. Sinn has more than one model that qualify, but Bremont HAS to feature. Using a movement that squashes the small seconds hand into the center of the dial.

  2. Gerry Dimatos

    Whilst all the watches listed here are nice, none can compete with the “Fifty Fathoms”.
    It is a legendary and iconic watch.
    From Gerry Dimatos in Australia.

  3. No Sinn EZM :)? Aren’t they the very definition of mission timers?

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