When looking for a rough-and-tumble watch you can strap on for wherever your next hiking, climbing, diving, mountain biking, or otherwise adrenaline-seeking wanderlust takes you, there are a couple different schools of thought.
On one hand, the
cheap-and-cheerful offerings from G-Shock are pretty indestructible, making them a decent pick if you have no intention of wearing one anywhere but the backcountry. On the other, there’s something alluring about having a quality timepiece in your rotation that can survive adventures and still be wearable during your day-to-day life.
Many of the big guns of horology already over-engineer watches to survive more action than they’ll ever see from their average consumer. Beyond that, there’s a special assortment of timepieces built to a remarkable specification—one that you wouldn’t assume possible from a tiny, complicated mechanical device.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster X-Lume
Sturdy construction, accuracy, and brilliant legibility in the dark are the kind of thing Ball Watches hang its hat on. Anti-magnetic and shock resistant—much like our other entrants—the X-Lume (or Spacemaster Glow, as it’s named in other markets) is also COSC-certified, a nice bonus given its relatively reasonable sticker price. Using a significant count of Tritium tubes to provide bright multicolored indices, this is a great pick for the lume junkies in the room, as well as for those whose adrenaline-seeking takes place either in the dark or the watery deep.
$3,499 on bracelet
Bremont’s strong ties to aviation and its ongoing work with the military have ensured remarkable anti-shock engineering in each and every timepiece. The entire collection can survive the immense g-force of being fired from an ejection seat, and its cases all go through a significant hardening process to ensure they are much stronger than the standard stainless steel used by many other manufacturers. The U-2 was engineered specifically for use in the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane that still runs aerial surveillance from 80,000 feet above the earth. If it can survive that, expeditions into the Arctic or up Mt. Kilimanjaro are pretty much a cakewalk.
Kobold Phantom Black Ops Chronograph
If you aren’t familiar with Kobold by now, you should be. Based in Northwestern Pennsylvania, it's been in business since 1998 and has been gradually phasing more manufacturing and assembly processes into its local facility. Michael Kobold designed the Phantom Black Ops after having the opportunity to train with U.S. Navy SEALs, leading up to an expedition up Mt. Everest, taking cues directly from the SEALs about what features and functions are crucial for day-to-day operations. Yearly production of the Black Ops chrono is capped at 50, making one a rare and desirable sight in the wild.
Sinn EZM 7
We always find interesting what special groups have watches designed for them. We’re used to seeing things constructed with the Navy, Army, or Air Force in mind, but a watch built for firefighters? This doesn’t happen all that often. The use of color on its timing bezel was planned with the German fire brigade as an effective means of monitoring time for its respiratory systems. Sinn is well known for its Tegimented steel, which uses a proprietary process to harden the outer layer of its steel cases; across the board, this is another example of a very well-executed and over-engineered German watch that doesn’t cost a small fortune.
$2,670 on rubber
Rolex Deepsea D-Blue
Though seen far more frequently in the boardroom than anywhere else, the Rolex Deepsea D-Blue was designed to commemorate James Cameron’s remarkable
35,787-foot Deepsea Challenge Dive. It took a particularly massive variation of the watch to go that deep, but the D-Blue is still good to go 12,800 feet under, about 11,710 feet more than the current deepest scuba dive on record. Overkill? Nah … $12,350
IWC Aquatimer La Cumbre Volcano Edition
IWC has been working with the Charles Darwin Foundation to help preserve the Galapagos Islands since 2009, and its latest limited release is a particular nod to the massive La Cumbre volcano, which began erupting on Fernandina Island in 2009. While IWC’s Aquatimers are all built like tanks, this model (as well as one other Galapagos Edition release) takes things a step farther by adding a tough, rubberized coating to its case, bezel, crown, and pushers. The feel of the material takes a little getting used to, but it’s a very ingenious way to protect the watch from damage. After some recent wrist time with the piece, this guy is safely one of my personal favorites on the list.
Also on the list for solid, yet affordable German over-engineering, this Damasko is a clean, simple pilot watch with an ice-hardened and bead-blasted steel case that’s superbly scratch- and ding-resistant. It also boasts a fully luminous dial, which is a pretty rare sight in watchmaking these days. Thanks to a screw-down crown, it’s also good for 100 meters (328 feet) of water resistance, so while it’s not a go-to diver, you can still keep it on without worry for a light swim, snorkel, or surf excursion.
A budget-friendly quartz watch doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that should make this list, but Victorinox worked incredibly hard to make the I.N.O.X. one seriously tough timepiece. The company froze it in a block of ice, drove over it with a tank, dropped it off a 33-foot cliff, and boiled it in water without it skipping a beat. In all, 130 strength and endurance tests were performed successfully to make sure this thing could take a serious beating.
Clerc CHYE-144 Hydroscaph Central Chronograph
A highly capable dive watch is a bit of a no-brainer when it comes to extremely sturdy watches. The challenge with building a diving chronograph, though, is that pusher operation is risky business underwater. Clerc has nailed it. The CHYE-144 Hydroscaph Central Chronograph can survive up to 500m below the surface without issue. Its bezel uses a locking system in the crown at 10 o’clock; by using a pair of wide pusher “arms,” the central chronograph (which displays both seconds and minutes from a pair of central hands) can be operated easily, even when you're wearing a wetsuit.
Breitling Aerospace Evo Titanium
Though Breitling Emergency can trigger a personal locator beacon to alert search and rescue, no matter where you are on the globe, at 51 millimeters it’s too absurdly big to wear out in public (unless you’re a 300-pound linebacker). And sure, the Exospace’s smartphone-linked functions are cool, but carrying a phone is completely impractical for any sort of truly strenuous outdoor activity. Which leaves the Aerospace Evo: a svelte 43mm with functions (chronograph, countdown timer, second time zone, alarm, and minute repeater) that are all controlled from its crown rather than conventional chronograph pushers. It’s still way too casual to pair with a suit, but it’s easily one of the most versatile pieces to make our list.
$4,375 on bracelet