The origins of the field watch trace back to the early 20th century and the transition from the pocket watch to the wristwatch. Pocket watches simply didn’t suffice for the trench warfare of WWI — soldiers needed timekeeping devices they could access quickly and read easily without fumbling in a pocket. The original solution was to simply add wire lugs and leather straps to pocket watches, and this practice eventually evolved into one of producing dedicated wristwatches.
After the war, soldiers came home with their timepieces, and the stigma around wristwatches — which were originally marketed to women — started to shift: If they were rugged enough for battle, they were certainly rugged enough for the average gentleman. By the time WWII set in, nearly every major watchmaker was eager to produce timepieces for military use, marking the birth of the modern field watch.
It’s been 75 years since the Second World War, and the field watch is still an enduring design. In an era of watchmaking filled with infinite complications, avant-garde designs, and futuristic materials, the no-frills field watch holds a special place in our hearts and our collections.
Now, as it seems to fit in our modern lives so seamlessly, you’d think this type of timepiece was made specifically for the average millennial working at a startup in a uniform of jeans and t-shirt. But adaptability is the charm of the field watch, which once served an indispensable purpose on the battlefield. Nowadays, it’s an essential tool that everyone should have in their collections. Here, we have two stellar options for under $450.
Nodus Sector Field
The Nodus Sector Field is a quintessential field watch, with high accuracy, good legibility, and solid water resistance. However, it’s been re-interpreted with modern style elements and contemporary engineering.
Water Resistance: 150m
Movement: Seiko (SII) NH38
Vaer A5 Field
The Vaer A5 Field balances the ruggedness of a field watch with a refined design. With an emphasis on water resistance, the model adopts an “ocean-to-office” functionality. All the while, it upholds Vaer’s commitment to American assembly, craftsmanship and local parts sourcing.
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Miyota 9015
The Nodus Sector Field comes standard on a stainless steel tapered bracelet with button release clasp. (Though many field watches traditionally ship on fabric or leather straps, some well known models, such as the Rolex Explorer, ship on a bracelet.) To give it the true field test (pun intended) and to make for a more even comparison with the A5 Field, I tried it out on both the bracelet and a NATO strap. The bracelet gives the 38mm Sector Field a more substantial weight, with a feel similar to that of a modern tool watch. However, once you get it on a NATO, it’s instantly lighter and looks more like a classic field watch.
With the right tools, changing from a bracelet to a NATO strap was surprisingly easy on the Sector Field. This option really added to the versatility of the watch. (It’s a somewhat controversial opinion, but I tend to prefer bracelets to straps.) So, I enjoyed the Sector Field as it came — it paired perfectly with jeans and a sweater. That said, when I was ready to head upstate for a day hike, it was nice to have the NATO as an alternative.
With the A5 Field, you get a choice of two straps (either quick-release or single-pass), from which you can choose silicone, nylon, or Horween leather options. However, I was lucky enough to test all three. The supple Horween leather and silicone fit seamlessly. On the other hand, the nylon is a bit thicker and stiffer at first but will certainly mold to the wrist with wear.
When it comes to the functionality of a field watch, durability and legibility are key. The Nodus Sector Field is a time-only watch with a clean, easy-to-read dial. In daylight, the white Arabic numerals and hands pop on the black dial, and in low-light, a healthy dose of Super-LumiNova keeps them equally legible. The thick 316L surgical-grade steel certainly gives the Sector Field a durable feel.
Adding to the overall readability and heft of the watch is a double-domed, tapered sapphire crystal treated with blue anti-reflective coating on the underside. The screw-down crown makes it easy to set the time while contributing to the water resistance of up to 150 meters. Inside, you’ll find the Seiko (SII) NH38 automatic movement.
With respect to functionality, the Vaer A5 Field is fairly comparable to the Sector Field. However, there are a few minor differences, chief amongst them being a date function at the three-o’clock position. For me, this was a nice bonus even though a traditional field watch is time-only. Despite the date, the dial layout is quite similar to that of the Sector Field: It features bold, white hands and Arabic markers on a contrasting black background, both with Super-LumiNova coating for high legibility in all conditions.
Though the A5 Field is also comprised of a 316L stainless steel and features a domed sapphire crystal like that of the Nodus Sector Field, it’s remarkably thin and wears lighter the Nodus, which I appreciated when using it in more active settings. Despite this light weight, the threaded, screw-down design of the crown and case back makes for 100 meters of water resistance.
The A5 Field’s case comes in slightly larger at 40mm, yet, it’s significantly thinner at 9.7mm compared to the Sector Field at 12.9mm. Inside this model, you’ll find the Miyota 9015 automatic movement, which you can see through the exhibition case back.
Nodus prides themselves in assembling watches like the Sector Field entirely in-house, which includes regulating their movements in four positions (+/-10 seconds/day) even though they don’t use their own calibers. The Seiko (SII) NH38 automatic is considered a reliable workhorse movement — a smart choice for the Sector Field. Externally, this model appears to have an equally substantial build quality: the bracelet clasp’s button release disengages and latches securely. The case itself also has a hearty construction, from the overall weight to the screw-down crown.
The Vaer A5 Field features equally solid construction. As previously mentioned, it houses the Japanese Miyota 9015 automatic movement, which is also considered a workhorse caliber, offering a minimalist design while being accurate and easy to service. The only potential downside to the A5 Field may be the quick-release straps: They’re certainly user-friendly and convenient. However, they’re not as secure as a bracelet or NATO strap, which could become an issue in more extreme conditions. Of course, if this is a concern, you can get the A5 Field with a single pass strap.
All in all, the Nodus Sector Field and Vaer A5 Field made for an admirable field watch match-up. If you have a NATO strap and feel comfortable swapping out a bracelet, the Sector Field is slightly more versatile, as the bracelet allows it dress up a bit more easily. On the other hand, it instantly becomes a true field watch on a NATO.
The A5 Field’s lightweight construction and slim build in combination with the strap options make it feel like a second skin. In this way, it serves as an ideal field watch. While elements like the date function and exhibition case back stray from its field watch roots, I personally appreciated these thoughtful and functional touches. You really can’t go wrong with either model if you’re looking to add a field watch to your collection.
Nodus and Vaer provided these products for review.