The last time we featured the Tool Watch on Throwback Sunday was way back in 2015 and 2016. So we thought it might be a good idea to refresh the list with watches introduced since. And here it is – our pick of 6 of the best Tool Watches since then.
The tool watch. What a genre. To us, this means a watch designed to be tough, made for use and abuse. But also intended for a specific purpose. A specific profession, like diving, mining, medical rescue, or flying an aircraft. In a way, the Rolex professional watches exemplifies this genre. Their Submariner and Sea Dweller series are designed in response to the demands of professional divers. The GMT for airline pilots. The Daytona for race car drivers. The Explorer for, well, explorers.
But Rolex is certainly not the only purveyor of tool watches in the market. Nor the most interesting one. In fact, their catalog has remained largely unchanged, with only very minor detail updates for a long time. As an example, the latest 2021 novelty introduction of the Explorer II Ref. 226570, as an update from the outgoing Ref. 216570 is minimally changed. The bracelet is very slightly larger (by 1mm at the attachment to the head achieved by shaving the lugs). Subtle changes in the print, the anti-reflection coating, the lume used, and the “Swiss Made” print on the dial has been replaced with the Rolex Coronet. The latter is perhaps the most significant, denoting the movement is updated, and is now the Calibre 3285 (not new, as it was first seen in the current GMT Master-II).
However, no Rolex made this list. Primarily because the interesting, weird and counter-intuitive market dynamics. For a brand which commands the largest sales volume, and makes almost a million watches a year, the demand outstrips production. Or so it seems by the way the market behaves. There is a huge grey and black market with secondary market prices at high premiums over retail. Couple this with the inaccessibility of the brand to most but the selected few and most well connected collectors, and we decided not to have any Rolex on this selection.
The 6 best Tool Watches
So on we go. And here is a curated list of what we think might well be the best tool watches you can buy. As usual, in no particular order.
Sinn is perhaps the only company who makes only tool watches. Tool watches are their raison d’etre. All their watches are designed for a specific purpose. The recently announced U50 S is an example of a well designed, fully functional dive watch fit for the professional purpose. But we think the concept of tool watches personified by their masterful EZM series. The Chief Editor prides in his EZM 1. And the Sinn EZM 12 is a case in point. Designed for the medical rescue specialist. A rather narrow selection of professional interest. But also very suitable as a tool watch for the Joe Public.
Sinn’s attention to detail, and the design of a tool watch which is done in collaboration with professionals in the selected field. Not some master watchmaker sitting in Germany dreaming of what an emergency rescue team might need. Sinn chose to work directly with the German Air Rescue Service, which provide emergency response services while patrolling the AutoBahn in helicopters. As such, the needs of the emergency crew are well addressed.
Retail price is USD 3,340 (about SGD 4,700).
The watch which made it to the Moon. You can’t get more feathers in your cap than that. True, the Speedmaster was not originally designed for use in space or the Moon. It was initially designed to time races. But it was the only watch which emerged as the winner in the NASA selection process for an official chronograph for use in its Apollo missions. And was indeed the watch which was strapped on Buzz Aldrin’s right wrist outside his suit (Neil Armstrong‘s Speedmaster was left on the Lunar Module as the electronic timing device on board had malfunctioned), as he became the second man to step on the surface of the Moon, and the Omega the first watch on it. (Edited May 10)
This latest addition to the ever increasing Speedmaster Moonwatch range is a great update with a new movement. The C.1861 variant Speedmasters are easily magnetised, but the update with the C.3861 is great news. The base movement, with the much loved horizontal clutch layout is retained, but now comes with a state of the art co-axial escapement in silicon, and with it, brings the advantage of anti-magnetism.
The watch is available in either a vintage Hesalite crystal priced at SGD 9,200 in bracelet, SGD 8,700 in strap and SGD 10,450 in bracelet / SGD 10,000 in strape for the model in sapphire crystal.
BTW, we are aware that Omega has only made minimal changes to the Moonwatch since its introduction – and the criticism we leveled at Rolex applies. But this watch’s predecessor actually went to the Moon! That trumps everything!
IWC is also a brand who have dedicated a large portfolio to tool watches. From the earlier days, the Ingenieur was a poster boy. It even takes its name from the profession it seeks to serve – the Engineer. But our pick for this list is a much more recent watch. The Pilot Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “SFTI”.
Working in close collaboration with the Navy Fighter Weapons School to create a watch for their graduates, IWC made a chronograph in a black ceramic case, with the TOPGUN patch on the dial. As this was made exclusively for school’s graduates, it was not within the grasp of the public. However in late 2020, IWC made a commercial version in a limited edition of 1500 pieces, and takes its inspiration from the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor“ watch.
Crafted in a special material IWC which calls Ceratanium®, an alloy of titanium and ceramic, the watch is based on the famous IWC Fliegerchronograph of yesteryear. But thoroughly updated with not only the new super durable case, but also with an in-house movement – the Caliber 69380. Earlier Fliegerchronographs from the late 1990s had Valjoux 7750 movements.
The IWC is priced at a rather modest SGD 14,100.
Glashütte Original introduced the new Spezialist collection (which houses the SeaQ watches) in 2019 during the Time to Move event. This marks the brand’s return to tool watches since the discontinuation of the Evolution Series in 2011. The SeaQ is based on the brand’s historical diver’s watch, made in 1969. We have reviewed the re-edition of the original Spezimatic, as well as a modern version in the form of the base 39.5mm SeaQ. But the two tone version with Panorama Date gets out pick as the standout from this elegant, but sporty watch.
The SeaQ Panorama Date balances out its tool watch abilities by a hint of the elegant, by the addition of subtle gold accents around the bezel and the crown. Elevates it to a dressy watch when the need arises. But when called to perform its duties as a rough and tough dive watch, it excels in its rated for 300m non-saturation diving duties.
Retail price of the bicolor Glashütte Original SeaQ Panorama Date is SGD 23,000 for the buckle variant, and SGD 23,400 for the fold fastener model. Available in either cloth or rubber strap.
The original Promaster NY004 was a diving watch that was released in 1989. This formed the basis for the re-introduction in 2018, and evolve to include a steel bracelet in 2019. Both earlier variants were 42mm case size. For 2020, the case size was “super-sized” to 44mm.
The original NY004 was nicknamed “Fugu”, or Japanese for puffer fish. The distinctive shape of the bezel, which is curved with sharp serrated edges reminded the fans of the puffer fish. And as the fish was notorious in Japan for being a poisonous delicacy, it had a cool vibe, and the name stuck. Citizen took this cue in the re-edition of 2018, and engraved the image of the fish on the case back, acknowledging the fan’s choice.
The Fugu has carved out a nice niche in the modestly priced mechanical dive watch genre. It gets the aesthetics right, with Citizen taking care to ensure that finishing of the case, dial, hands, and the straps/bracelet are excellent. The movement is left functional, but undecorated to keep the pricing low.
Retail is SGD 555.
OK, we end this roundup in the super high end. Introduced in early 2019, the Greubel Forsey GMT Sport is now also available in the original engraved casework or in the newer, sleeker case. Both versions are limited editions of 11 pieces. We have arranged a hands-on photoshoot of the new 2021 model. Soon!
The watch was conceived out of a desire to make their GMT more sporty. This is a huge personality change, but retains its complicated core, as any Greubel Forsey is complicated – this one has an inclined tourbillon and GMT with Worldtime. The GMT Sport introduces a new case design and aesthetics to make it conform to the sporty goals of being lightweight, ultra-strong shock resistant and a water resistance rating of 100m.
As we said in the detailed review, we loved the aesthetics after some acclimatization. This is a Greubel Forsey true and true. The concept is interesting. The execution is flawless. The finishing sets the standards of hand workmanship.
Retail price is set at CHF 480,000 on the rubber strap for both the launch version and the new 2021 release. The 2021 release is also available in a magnificent titanium bracelet at a CHF 50,000 premium.
Did we miss out any? We most certainly did. This is not, and will never be an exhaustive list. We could have easily included the various Zenit like the Pilot Type 20, or Panerai like the Luminor Marina, or the many Seiko diving watches, like the PADI or the Grand Seiko Diver Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600m, or the various Bell & Ross models, like the BR 03-93 GMT or the BR V2-94 Bellytanker. All equally deserving and perfectly functional watches set for their purpose. But we forced ourselves to keep it to 6. So only our favourites. What are yours?