Ready to up your wrist game? In our series The Upgrade, we recommend more premium alternatives to popular watch models to help you navigate your next purchase. Today’s starting place: the classic Seiko 5 Field Watch.
There’s just about nothing else out there quite like the iconic SNK series Seiko 5 Field Watch — that is, nothing like it at the same price level. It’s basic, but for under $100 it offers a pretty decent automatic movement (which is visible, on modern versions, through the case back), solid construction, and an unbeatable military style that’s versatile and satisfying. On the right strap, it can feel a lot more expensive than it is.
Of the wide range of watches in the Seiko 5 phylum, the Seiko 5 SNK Field Watch specifically is where many people start getting into mechanical watches, and with good reason. You can wear one happily for years, but you might eventually want something…more. More refinement, more features, more accuracy, more cachet, perhaps.
Maybe you want the handy features that are standard in higher-end mechanical watch movements, like manual winding and hacking (where the seconds hand stops when setting the time). Well, all that inevitably costs more money. The examples below are all mechanical watches like the Seiko 5 SNK, but each also offer quartz versions that cost a bit less. You’re looking at spending several times the price of the Seiko 5 in any case, but they each represent a solid upgrade in their own ways. (Best of all, the price of each mechanical version is still less than $500.)
Like the Seiko 5’s Size? Try a Marathon General Purpose
The Marathon General Purpose watch offers a few things the Seiko doesn’t. The 37mm diameter of the Seiko 5 makes it work well for many wrists, especially those not previously accustomed to wearing a watch at all. Such sizes were previously considered “small,” but are becoming more common in men’s watches. The Marathon is even smaller at 34mm, but its shape and size make it wear more boldly than it might sound.
Pro tip: A bund-style or NATO strap can help make a small watch wear more prominently.
Marathon watches are produced in Switzerland and feature premium materials like sapphire crystal instead of the Seiko 5’s Hardlex, but the automatic movement inside is made by — wait for it — Seiko. It’s considered a bit more premium than the one used in the Seiko 5 and offers the ability to wind the movement manually. Built to government specifications for actual military use, the Marathon also features tritium illumination on its dial.
Like the Seiko 5’s Field Watch Look, but Want Something More Sophisticated? Try a Merci LMM 01
As its name suggests, Merci is a French brand, and they make a range of products besides this attractive, stylish, and surprisingly affordable field watch. If you like the field watch aesthetic of the Seiko 5, Merci’s LMM 01 offers a modern, playful, and refined take on the genre. It’s more design-oriented than the pragmatic Seiko 5, but it’ll probably feel like more of an upgrade than any other watch on this list.
The Merci LMM 01 has a 37.5mm steel case, scratchproof sapphire crystal, and its powered by a Swiss-made mechanical movement. Unlike the Seiko and Marathon watches above, the Merci’s movement doesn’t offer automatic winding and must be regularly wound by hand (just as the Hamilton watch below). They cost more money because they are Swiss, but these basic manual movements help prices remain relatively affordable.
Like the Seiko 5’s Understated, Versatile Style? Try a Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical
We’ve said it time and again on Gear Patrol: the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is one of the most classic, bang-for-buck, solid mechanical watches you can get. You want a basic field watch like this to be just that: basic. The Hamilton Khaki Field, however, is going to be more robust and accurate, with better parts and materials, than the Seiko 5. It’s not an exact descendant of watches Hamilton actually produced for the military but leverages and represents that history well.
With a 38mm-wide steel case, the Hamilton Khaki Field is water-resistant to 50m and is topped with sapphire crystal. It’s powered by a manually wound Swiss movement, but current models feature a substantial 80 hours of power reserve. Ask any veteran watch enthusiast: you can’t go wrong with a Hamilton Khaki Field.