What Even Is A Tool Watch, Anyway?
Six watches, six different takes on one of watchmaking’s hardest to define categories.
In the year 2021, does a tool watch really mean anything? Some say yes, some say no. Naturally, we say yes. A tool watch can be anything to anyone. A dive watch, a GMT, a chronograph, a field or pilots’ watch. It can be complicated or simple, bland or exciting, really anything you want it to be. In honor of Tudor’s revival of its Marine National partnership that culminated in the release of the new Pelagos FXD yesterday, we’ve gathered six of our favorite watches currently available in HODINKEE Pre-Owned that iterate on the tool watch identity.
The modern side of Tudor’s contemporary dive watch offerings (the vintage side being the famed Black Bay), the Pelagos is one of the most distinct, professional-grade divers out there. This model is the 2016-launched Pelagos LHD ref. 25610, an extension of the second generation Pelagos design, and complete with its distinct five lines of text on the dial, widely praised in-house movement, and “Left Hand Drive” left-side crown placement.
With a 42mm case and 14mm thickness, the Pelagos undoubtedly has a strong wrist presence, but the robustness of this watch doesn’t end there. In addition to boasting 500 meters of water resistance, the watch comes equipped with a scratch resistant ceramic bezel and a helium escape valve (HEV), making this model far more than a stylish timepiece and instead a serious tool watch for amateur or professional divers. Yet, Tudor’s attention to detail doesn’t come at the expense of aesthetics. The Pelagos incorporates trademark features of the brand, like snowflake hands, while keeping them functional with a healthy dose of lume. The LHD in particular boasts a red-line Pelagos and accents of vintage-cream throughout, providing the already unique looking left-side crown diver with an additional historical flair.
Launched in 2013 in celebration of the partnership between OMEGA and the GoodPlanet Foundation in support of the nonprofit’s efforts at the time to help preserve mangroves, aquatic plants, and coral reefs in the oceans of Southeast Asia, the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GoodPlanet ref. 184.108.40.206.03.001 is a unique take on the watchmaker’s hardy GMT diver.
Featuring the second generation Planet Ocean base design, the model is distinguished by a blue and orange colorway, but is otherwise unadorned with any commemorative elements outside of a small script along the steel edge of the exhibition case back. In this regard, the model serves as an interesting and less common take on the ready-for-anything travel watch, its 43.5mm stainless steel case prominent on the wrist, with its silhouette including a 10 o’clock helium escape valve, slightly twisted lugs, and a large screw-down crown helping provide an impressive 600m water resistance. A bi-directional 24-hour power bezel tops the style, the use of this feature preceding the inner 24-hour scale used in the follow-up generation of Planet Ocean GMT watches.
With its distinctive high polished steel case, unmissable presence, and archetypal pilots chronograph fit and finish, the Type XXI Transatlantique Flyback from Breguet is simultaneously modern and historically relevant. Characterized by a handful of key visual attributes this ref. 3817ST from the Type XXI series offers a matte slate grey dial color on multiple layers with charm, allure and depth in abundance.
Some of those key visual features include its most noticeable detail being the steel, bi-directional bezel seen here in brushed finish. Contrasting that is the 42mm wide case which is polished with a coin case side accurate to models from the past. Supersized Arabic yellowed lume numerals appropriately appear to match the equally impressive and legible large syringe like handset. Considering this is a three register flyback chronograph, those hands do a great job at being clear as day to read at a glance (think of the Speedmaster hands). This Transatlantique increases functionality once more with a date aperture occupying the lower portion of the sub-dial at 6 and an AM and PM indicator in the sub-dial at 3.
Big, chunky, and boldly legible, the Glashütte Original Senator Navigator captures the spirit of WWII’s best pilot watches while adding a unique complication to the in-house caliber 100-09 movement. While watches in this style abound from multiple brands, only the Senator Navigator includes the ability to jump the second-hand back to 12 o’clock for instant timing functionality. This complication works by pressing the stout pusher at eight o’clock, which instantly snaps the seconds hand to noon. Some have called this complication “instant hacking,” others a “quasi-flyback,” but we call it a clever, innovative, and elegant complication.
As with many military watches, the larger track on the outside of the dial is for the minutes and seconds, offering the pilot or soldier a more useful scale for measuring tasks and events under duress. Relegating the hours to a smaller track inside the dial only emphasizes the battle-readiness of the Senator Navigator. The rugged and unadorned stainless steel case provides the perfect frame for this utilitarian dial, and the stout lugs assure that even at 44mm this watch wears comfortably on wrists of all sizes.
Among many other things, TAG Heuer is probably best known for creating motorsports watches with genuine history as well as modern-day pieces that keep the brand young and on the lips of budding watch collectors. This Aquaracer CAK2112 actually combines both of those aspects resulting in a beast of a tool watch with practical functionality through the roof.
This modern TAG Heuer has a noticeable presence on the wrist thanks to its 44mm width with a thickness and lug to lug measurements to match. The forward-facing details on this watch are evocative of the brand’s purposeful DNA with bold, legible hands, a neatly framed date window, and a horizontally lined dial adding depth. The CAK2112 is a tough cookie both in looks and performance thanks to its ceramic bezel, 500m water resistance, and tons of lume.
First introduced in 2001, the Avenger series was updated in 2019 and has since proved a heavy-hitter in the Breitling lineup. Another watch that celebrates the pioneers in aerospace, the Avenger collection is comprised of large legible pilot’s watches in a variety of makeups. All are designed to be operated in actual flying scenarios.
Large and in charge, the lightweight Night Mission Limited Edition features a 45mm titanium case DLC-coated to a matte black. With an olive drab green dial and large Arabic numerals, the watch also has a date window, and of course a GMT function. The rugged bezel is designed to be operated even with gloves, which you would of course be wearing on a “night mission.” Limited to only 2,000 pieces, this shock-resistant watch is powered by the self-winding Calibre 32.