An Authentic New WW2 Watch - 2023 Praesidus A-11

An Authentic New WW2 Watch - 2023 Praesidus A-11

8 min read
Richard Brown



Richard Brown



A few years ago, WatchGecko made early contact with the US-based brand Praesidus regarding their contemporary take on an American WW2 icon, the A-11 military watch. As we mark the 79th Anniversary of D-Day, it seems a fitting time to take a look at a modern iteration of this most famous watch and what it represented to so many young men back in June 1944.

Vintage but well-worn, A-11s can be found online in auctions and with dealers, typically valued at around £500 depending on condition. Pristine models go for considerably more. The A-11 has a powerful story behind it, equally as strong as the Dirty Dozen, and they are hugely collectible.

When Praesidus first released their A-11 homage, we reviewed it in prototype form, and advanced production sold out very quickly; in all honestly, too quickly for Praesidus to cope with the orders. WatchGecko and Praesidus re-engaged last month, and I was offered a different variant. We had really liked the simple model from a few years ago, so the chance to see another option was tempting, especially for myself as a military watch enthusiast. As before, the prospect of wearing a “brand-new” A-11, well priced at $299 (£240), which looked identical to the watches worn by the 101st Airborne troops as they dropped into Normandy, was compelling.

PraesidusPraesidus A-11 - Credit WatchGecko

Background to the A-11

As an opening line to a story of such historical significance, the phrase “FSSC 88-W-800” does not really inspire. It is a typically Army nondescript title denoting a design specification for a piece of equipment. However, this reference spawned a legendary genre of military watch, and the resulting service models shaped modern field watches.
When the United States committed to involvement in WW2, it necessitated the introduction of new equipment for their troops who would be serving overseas in a wide variety of theatres, from desert to jungles and ultimately in the assault on Europe. Vehicles, weapons, and personal equipment needed upgrading as much issue kit had failed to evolve since WW1. FSSC 88-W-800 set the new specification for a standard-issue military watch stating it should be legible and tough enough to take the knocks of the battlefield. Technically the watch had to be equipped with a 15-jewel hacking movement to allow synchronization, be hand-wound, and have a seconds hand, and a minute track around the dial divided into 10-minute increments. These requirements seem normal to us now, but in the 1940s, many soldiers still wore non-regulation personal timepieces which were wholly unsuitable for operational use.

Preasidus Praesidus A-11 - Credit WatchGecko

The famous US brands Elgin, Bulova, and Waltham stepped up. Each development was based on exactly the same specification, with the three companies adopting a slightly different interpretation. Collectively these watches were given the US military designation Watch Type A-11. The models were often made from plated base metal to save precious steel, but the movements were sound, and today, they are highly sought after by global watch and militaria collectors.

The US brand Hamilton also built a watch under FSSC 88-W-800. It was not designated an A-11 and was issued only to US Naval Aviation crew, although from a historical perspective, the four brands, Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova, are generally listed together. The Hamilton 2987 exceeded the required specification by being equipped with upgraded luminescence and an 18-jewel movement. It was more expensive to buy than the other three watches by a few dollars, and that was enough for it to be officially excluded from the A-11 designation and subsequent mass purchase by the US military. Instead, 2987 was issued to specialists, and only an estimated 3,000 were made between 1943 and 1945.

Enter Tom Rice and his missing A-11

When the American fleet at Pearl Harbour was bombed in 1941, Thomas Marcus Rice from Coronado, California, was 22 years old. Soon after the attack, he volunteered to join the U.S. Airborne Jump School. Dropping troops behind enemy lines by parachute was a new and untested form of warfare, but to the young men who joined Airborne units, it was all part of the adventure. By the time the Allies were in a position to advance on Europe, Tom had been posted to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. On the 6th of June 1944, he was dropped over Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

When Tom jumped from his C-47 Skytrain aircraft over France, part of his heavy combat kit snagged the door edge. His left arm was wrenched hard to the side, and his new A-11 watch was ripped off his wrist. Tom landed successfully and continued to fight for months as part of the Allied advance and ended his war in the unit that captured Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

PraesidusPraesidus A-11 - Credit WatchGecko

Back to the present day with Praesidus

The New York watch company Praesidus is a strong military veteran supporter, with a particular connection to parachute units such as the 101st Airborne Division – the Screaming Eagles. On the 5th of June 2019, Tom tandem jumped once again from a C-47 over Normandy to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. He was 97 years old. Modern French military parachutists took part in the jump, some of whom personally knew the Praesidus management team. Tom told them the story of his missing watch, and they immediately relayed that tale to Praesidus.

Tom could not remember what model of A-11 he was issued with prior to D-Day, but during an interview, he was shown images of vintage US WW2 watches and picked out a Hamilton 2987. To honor Tom’s service, and with his full cooperation and consultation, Praesidus remodeled the classic watch he lost on D-Day taking their inspiration from the rarer Hamilton model, arguably the best watch created under WW2 specification FSSC 88-W-800.

The 2023 Praesidus A-11

The first sight of the latest A-11 is a beige military-style cardboard box. This robust package looks the part - very GI standard issue. On opening, the Praesidus A-11 is every bit the army classic field watch with a simple unbranded dial. It is a very close copy of the Hamilton and could not be mistaken for the Elgin, Waltham, or Bulova of the era. The Hamilton’s hands were very distinctive, and Praesidus has nailed it.

No doubt someone will argue that the watch is just a clone of the 2987, but as this A-11 is marketed with the approval of US Veteran organizations, such as the SCREAMING EAGLE FOUNDATION and the WWII AIRBORNE DEMONSTRATION TEAM, to accuse Praesidus of “copying” would be frankly churlish. Additionally, the personal collaboration with Tom Rice and the fact that the case back bears his name adds provenance. This watch is an accurate homage which sets out to look exactly like an original WW2 model and does not pretend to be anything else.

PraesidusPraesidus A-11 - Credit WatchGecko

The Praesidus A-11 comes in 38mm or 42mm with a black or off-white dial. The 38mm is closer to the original WW2 issue size, and that is what we had for the review on an unusual creamy white dial. The watch wears quite small and, at 12.5mm in height, fits easily under clothing. Overall, the proportions have a contemporary feel for 21st-century buyers.

The dial is uncluttered. Therefore, legibility is good. Luminous vintage dots support bold black numerals. The hands have a distinctive 1940s art deco style and are also luminous with a vintage brown patina appearance in daylight. All lume is green. The 10-minute segmented outer ring is not luminous, which matches the watch to the original FSSC 88-W-800 spec. The dial is protected by double dome sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective finish. This is a step up from the original A-11 watch we tested years ago, which was mineral crystal.

The steel case back, which seals the A-11 to 50m water resistance, is stamped with official-looking words replicating the plethora of stamping the original watch had. There is a small space on the case back for engraving additional personal text, such as a veteran's name and unit.

The movement is the big difference between the original FSSC 88-W-800 watches and the new A-11. While the war issue A-11 was hand wound, the Praesidus is automatic, powered by a Seiko NH35 movement. The NH35 is a well-known, relatively inexpensive, 24-jewel movement that should deliver an accuracy of -20 / +40 seconds per day. It is equipped with basic shock-absorbing capability and offers a power reserve of around 41 hours. Crucially it has a hacking function to stop the second hand which replicates the original wartime watch. Our sample watch came with a quick-release green canvas strap which closely mirrors the original model, but buyers can also select from a bespoke brown nylon or leather strap. Also, inside the box is a WW2-style stamped metal dog tag. This has a QR code etched on it which gives you warranty details when scanned.

Into action with the A-11 – how does it wear?

The 2023 watch wears well. It is comfortable and not heavy at only 58g (less strap) as a timepiece. The domed glass looks suitably vintage in style, almost like armored plexiglass. The oversized crown looks good on a military-style watch and allows easy adjustment with gloves on. However, far more than the superficial appearance of an aesthetically pleasing watch, the A-11 compels you to look at it and wonder what was going through the minds of the US troops in the C-47s as they looked at their watches, waiting nervously for the green jump light to come on and the command “Stand up! Hook up!”

PraesidusPraesidus A-11 - Credit WatchGecko

For the price, this is a watch that any military enthusiast should enjoy owning. Originally 2 years ago, it could be seen as a gamble on the part of Praesidus to make a watch that was a clone of a famous WW2 model. However, it paid off because commemorative organizations and Tom Rice are behind the program. Is there anything that we would change? In truth, not much, as the watch is so close to the original. If the off-white dial is not really to your liking, then you have a more classic black dial with luminous numerals as an alternative. 

The canvas strap that comes with the A-11 is OK, but the watch wears very well on a military nylon, so it will be worth playing with straps a little. Some British Navy units actually used A-11s during WW2, so a nice homage to them is to swap the OEM canvas for a grey ZULUDIVER Nylon for a different look.

The original Hamilton watch will always be one of the most famous pieces of US military equipment from a decisive period in WW2. It is arguably every bit as iconic as the .45 Thompson Sub Machine Gun or the Sherman Tank. Wearing the watch begs us to reflect on how many missions commenced with the call “synchronize watches,” triggering a unit of soldiers to push in their crowns and leap into the unknown with their A-11s. 

Praesidus A-11 2023 tech specs:

  • Case Size/ Diameter - 38mm
  • Case Thickness Including Glass - 12.5 mm
  • Case Material - Surgical Grade Stainless steel
  • Case Finish - Sandblast
  • Case Lug Width - 20 mm
  • Strap Width - 20 mm
  • Glass - Double Dome Sapphire Crystal
  • Water Resistance  -50M
  • Movement - Automatic Seiko NH35
  • Strap – Canvas
  • Price - $299 from Praesidus website (NB: models selling out fast)

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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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