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It is no secret that the modern men’s wristwatch owes its popularity (though not its existence) to the soldiers of World War I: as a new, mechanized style of warfare came into its own, and the skies became battlegrounds in their own right, the issue of timing came to the forefront, along with ease of use. Fumbling with cumbersome pocket watches in the cockpit was a non-starter; fighter pilots and other soldiers needed to be able to absorb information at a glance, under trying conditions. Initially strapping pocket watches to the wrist, the military soon demanded—and got—a new breed of instrument. Watch brands stepped up to the plate, delivering “wristlets” (an intermediary stage) and then wristwatches that bear a remarkable resemblance to the men’s watches of today. This similarity is even more striking because a number of today’s most famous brands continue to draw inspiration from these military roots.

Bell & Ross

Bell & Ross - WW2 regulateur Bell & Ross - WW2 regulateur Photo: Modern Luxury

Oversized and ultra-legible, Bell & Ross watches hearken back to 20th-century military watches, though the brand itself dates back to the 1990s. Aviation and military history have been major, explicit influences on Bell & Ross, with collections called WW1, WW2 and PW1 (a collection inspired by the original pocket watches in the field). The sand-colored luminescent material on the numerals, indexes and hands of the WW2 Regulateur Heritage complements the leather straps for a vintage feel.

Hamilton

Hamilton - khaki field pioneer auto Hamilton - khaki field pioneer auto Photo: Modern Luxury

In 1914, as war broke out in Europe, Hamilton became a supplier of watches to the US Armed Forces, and in 1942, Hamilton ceased production on consumer watches entirely in order to be able to equip the US military (a choice that had dire consequences for the brand when the war ended and its stock was completely exhausted). The Khaki collection pays homage to this history of selfless innovation, with Khaki Field, Khaki Aviation and Khaki Navy lines tailored to the needs of each arena.

Officine Panerai

Officine Panerai - Radiomir 1940 Officine Panerai - Radiomir 1940 Photo: Modern Luxury

Officine Panerai’s Radiomir 1940 captures a transition point in the design history of the company, when the 1936 Radiomir took on the more imposing case of the Luminor 1950. The comfortable three-day power reserve of the current model recalls the stringent requirements imposed by Panerai in the 1940s—including an eight-day power reserve—as the official supplier of watches to the Italian Navy.

Cartier

Cartier - Tank Louis Cartier watch - pink gold Cartier - Tank Louis Cartier watch - pink gold Photo: Modern Luxury

The first Cartier Tank watch was inspired by the Renault tanks Louis Cartier saw on the battlegrounds of World War I, and in 1917 he gave the first model to General Pershing, two years before Cartier began selling this sleek, modern watch to the public. One hundred years later, the solid lines of the Tank are still going strong, with dozens of models representing the original’s unfussy aesthetic.