Trench watch

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Gold trench watch, 1916

The trench watch (wristlet) was a type of watch that came into use by the military during World War I, as pocket watches were not practical in combat. It was a transitional design between pocket watches and wristwatches, incorporating features of both.[1][2][3][4]


The first watch that somebody adapted to wear on a wrist is unknown. The first series of purpose-made men’s wristwatches was produced by Girard-Perregaux in 1880 for the German Navy.[5] During World War I numerous companies, including Omega, Longines, Elgin and others produced wristwatches for the military.[3][4] Rolex also produced trench watches.[6][better source needed] These watches were of virtually identical style with an enamel dial, wide white numerals and a luminescent radium hour hand.[A] Often they did not bear the name of the manufacturer, though the movement, originally designed in the 1890s for ladies’ pendant watches, was marked "Swiss".[B]

Advertisement, 1918

From pocket watches those trench watches inherited hinged front and back covers. The lugs for a strap looked like a thick wire attachment to the classical round shape of pocket watches rather than an integrated part of the body of the later and modern wristwatches.

The name "wristlet" was used until the early 1930s and was eventually replaced by the modern name "wristwatch".



  1. ^ "[P]owered by radium salts so that it glowed strongly all the time" without resort to sun exposure. While the luminescence only lasted three or four years, the radium paint dials should be treated as radioactive and dangerous.[2]
  2. ^ "A book published during the war as early as 1916 "Knowledge for War: Every officer's handbook for the front" by Captain B. C. Lake of the King's Own Scottish Borderers included the list of Officer's Kit shown in the picture. The first item on the list, ahead of otherwise indispensable items such as "Revolver" and "Field glasses" is "Luminous wristwatch with unbreakable glass". The presence of luminous paint and an unbreakable crystal became the signature features of a trench or "Service" watch, and featured prominently in adverts during the war."[2]


  1. ^ "History of wristwratch", Rolex (article), Quality Time.
  2. ^ a b c Boettcher, Eur Ing David (June 2015). "Great War trench watches". Vintage Watch Straps. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Czubernat, Stan (2015). Elgin Trench Watches of the Great War (Hardcover). Schiffer Publishing, Limited. ISBN 9780764347115.
  4. ^ a b Wiles, Mark W. (July 15, 2016). Maintaining and Repairing Mechanical Watches: A Practical Guide (ebook). Crowood Press. p. 59. ISBN 9781785001567.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  5. ^ Chronology (article) (in Russian), RU: Brand Watch.
  6. ^ Roderick, Kyle. "'The Watch Book Rolex' Makes Horological History". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-07-22.

External links[edit]

  • Friedberg, M, Wristlets (article), Timezone.
  • "The history and evolution of the wristwatch", Rolex (article), Quality Time.