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The Trench Watch - A Brief History

Posted on December 15 2022

The Trench Watch - A Brief History

The Trench watch (wristlet) was a type of watch that came into use by the military during World War I, as pocket watches were not practical in combat. It was a transitional design between pocket watches and wristwatches, incorporating features of both. 

Wristwatches in the 19th century were more novelty than necessity.  Smaller pendant and lapel watches were worn by women, and some companies entertained the idea of making watches to wear on the wrist for women. But men still stuck with the tradition of the pocket watch, since "wristlets" as they were called were considered feminine. It was the need for accurate timekeeping during the war that really impacted the future of the wristwatch as we know it now. 

Watches worn on the wrist had been tested in combat before the great war, most notably in Great Britain’s Boer War.  Some soldiers were issued early military wrist watches, and their impact was immediately recognised. 

Replacing the pocket watch

The pocket watch had served its purpose up to this point but as many soldiers found, pulling out your watch to read the time and holding a rifle was not very ergonomic.  Timed attacks on enemy positions became an everyday event, and when you had to deal with your pocket watch it just wasn't making the cut anymore.

Combat evolved with the wristwatch, since military strategy was becoming more important than bringing more people to the fight, it was now all about timing rather than numbers. Testimony from British soldiers about their watches was positive, proved essential for combat.  

The very first watch that somebody adapted to wear on a wrist is unknown. The first series of purpose-made men’s wristwatches was produced by Girard-Perregaux in 1880 for the German Navy. During World War I numerous companies, including Omega, Longines, and others produced wristwatches for the military. These watches were of virtually identical style with an enamel dial, wide white numerals, and a luminescent radium hour hand. Often they did not bear the name of the manufacturer, though the movement, originally designed in the 1890s for ladies’ pendant watches, was marked "Swiss".

From pocket watches those trench watches inherited hinged front and back covers. The lugs for a strap looked like a thick wire attachment to the classical round shape of pocket watches rather than an integrated part of the body of the later and modern wristwatches. The name "wristlet" was used until the early 1930s and was eventually replaced by the modern name "wristwatch".

Trench watches today

By today's standards, trench watches, or "wristlets" as they were known, look quite radical. There are even emerging brands emulating the look of these watches with contemporary twists for modern day wear  - a testament to the historically simplistic styling of these charming tool watches. From the trenches of WW1 to the wrists of today's newfangled fashionistas - is there any more proof needed that these watches have transcended both time and trends to stay relevant for over 100 years? 

You can check out our collection of trench watches within our military collection - but keep checking back as we are always on the lookout and we add new pieces to our stock all the time. 




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