Tool Watch Revolution: Utilitarian Goes Upmarket – Reprise

Tool Watch Revolution: Utilitarian Goes Upmarket – Reprise

Tool watches continue their evolution among the watch industry’s most luxurious and coveted brands. What are these tool watches? Who will buy them? How will people use them?

To find out where this evolution might go, I enlisted the help of three watch industry figures. Gustavo Calzadilla is CEO of Tutima USA, the most celebrated Glashütte aviation watch manufacturer (see 90 Years Of Tutima: An Abbreviated, Complete History); Jean-Christophe Sabatier is head of product marketing at Ulysse Nardin – since 1846, among the most popular manufacturers of marine chronometers; and Christian Knoop is IWC’s head of design, a man who brings an extraordinary insight into the evolution of tool watches.

Many of the luxury watch manufacturers maintain a working line of something close to instrument watches, yet the case materials and dials of these pieces have evolved into what we’d find in the most luxurious of modern timepieces. They are beautiful and highly collectible. Still, the manufacturers maintain many of the specifications that made these pieces so valued by those who once relied on them for something other than their mere beauty.

Many manufacturers’ most popular luxury pieces were once encased in steel or the vintage nickel-plated brass that Tutima (and others) used for its military-commissioned 1941 Flieger Chronograph.

Tutima’s “1941 re-edition” in stainless steel, later known as the Tutima Grand Classic Flieger chronograph

Tool watches had a job to perform, and in those days the materials matched the job.

As time has marched on, the need for the specific jobs of these timepieces has often faded.

Dive watches are a case in point: a wristwatch is no longer an essential piece of diving equipment for sport divers or professionals working deep-saturation dives. At best, they serve as a secondary backup to the dive computer, bottom timer, or the topside diving supervisor in the case of professional divers.

Yet, dive watches are still hugely popular and used for everything from timing the barbeque to looking oh so cool in the hotel pool.

And, yes, for many divers (me included) as a backup – gasp – should the dive computer and/or bottom timer fail.

Collecting around a theme

Perhaps a collection features an aviation or maritime navigation as a theme. Watches made with this functionality in mind are durable, intended for a particular purpose, and used by uncompromising professionals with a job to do. For many collectors (guilty), it is even better if a previously owned piece shows the wear from its daily use in the field.

Today, many work-a-day tool watches have evolved into something truly beautiful. An example is the Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine Diver in blue, encased in pink gold, which has the same 300-meter depth rating, extraordinary legibility, and resistance to shock as its steel companion.

Ulysse Nardin Blue Max Diver

Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine Diver in blue

Its one-way rotating bezel faithfully tracks elapsed time – of anything. However, this is a piece few would take on a dive. After all, gold is soft, scratches easily, and its shine is believed by some to attract unwanted predators.

I dived with it in the gin-clear, warm waters off exotic Phuket, and it performed as expected: perfectly and without any apparent difficulty.

What makes a tool watch a beautiful luxury piece? The answer, of course, is up to the individual.

However, during my discussion with Calzadilla of Tutima, we agreed that the most beautiful tool watch designs are those whose dial format, case material, and fit and finish precisely support its intended function without anything missing or unnecessary for its primary mission.

It simply gets the job done – perfectly, every time, without fail.

Military specs in a tool watch

Tutima is a brand with an extensive tool watch history that has evolved into a luxury collection. Yet Tutima’s “working” line remains rooted in the air and the sea, with the company producing military watches to NATO specifications since 1984.

To this day Tutima remains the official service watch of Germany’s military pilots. And in the States, Tutima provides a highly valued gift piece to pilots graduating from one of the top military air combat training programs.

Like many brands with a “working watch” history, Tutima has upgraded and improved this part of its collection over the decades.

Today, its M2 line replicates many of the same NATO specifications from the 1980s. However, the watch is now made of titanium rather than steel.

“Titanium is hypoallergenic,” Calzadilla says. “It’s half the weight of stainless steel. It is antimagnetic, rust resistant, and not prone to changes from temperature variations.”

Then why the thick sapphire crystal? “It’s actually twice as thick as the original crystal. This – along with the screw-down crown and solid threaded case back – allows the M2 to achieve a 300-meter water resistance, making it impervious to shocks, vibrations, and acceleration up to 7 Gs in…

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