The latter defines the tool watch: built to be useful, to resist, and for strength, accompanying its wearer on adventures during which it may even prove to be a vital companion.
Although the tool watch forms part of the bedrock of contemporary watchmaking, it would be a mistake to think that it first appeared in the 2000s. In actual fact, it has existed ever since wristwatches shifted from pure ornamentation to pure functionality. The latter defines the tool watch: built to be useful, to resist, and for strength, accompanying its wearer on adventures during which it may even prove to be a vital companion. Generally speaking, tool watches have three hands, but not necessarily a date. Occasionally, they come with a rotating bezel. This is usually unidirectional on diving models and bidirectional for racing watches; the latter also feature a chronograph complication, preferably with a flyback function. They tend to be black and made of steel or titanium. They are often military in origin (except for those designed for specific categories of very demanding users). Rolex, Blancpain, Tudor, and Breitling cite a wide range of missions, expeditions, campaigns, climbs and explorations – underground, underwater, or in the air – during which such watches have performed their duties without a hitch.
These timepieces are devoid of embellishments, robust, highly readable and uncluttered. They could almost be described as expendable, were it not for the fact that they have often played a vital role. Indeed, in the wake of vintage military trends and the quest for a no-frills style, their popularity has risen over the past 20 years, and shows no signs of slackening off. This backdrop helps explain the emergence of models such as Blancpain’s Bathyscaphe, a simplified version of its Fifty Fathoms – the contemporary reinterpretations of which are more in the luxury sports category than full-on tool watches. Then there’s the Tudor Black Bay, an iconic diving model now available on civvy street, and imbued with so much vintage spirit and finely-honed detail that it’s become the brand’s best-seller. It’s much the same story for several so-called ‘professional’ and ‘technical’ references from Rolex, the brand that has undoubtedly officialised the genre. Its aptly-named Explorers, Submariners, and GMT-Masters were brought into being with a view to being useful rather than merely decorative. The tool watch has also resulted in two watch accessories (although ‘accessory’ is hardly the right word anymore, since these are now essential style markers for contemporary timepieces): the metal (i.e. steel) bracelet, and the fabric strap, NATOstyle first and foremost (though there are others). The influence of these vintage styles has been crucial in defining many contemporary successes, and the trend shows no signs of waning.
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