In 2023 I am setting out on a quest to find the ultimate Field Watch. I plan to test drive some of the classics like the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical and others you may be less familiar with. I have argued in the past that I may already own the best of the best, the watch that is the subject of this feature, but I recognise that my original Citizen Promaster Tough ‘Ray Mears’ is now over 20 years old and Field Watch capability and design has moved on. Take for example the new Formex Field which radically rethinks the genre, or the Bremont Broadsword which comes with UK Military approval. I could even push the envelope and consider one of Luminox’s Eco-Friendly Bear Grylls survival models.
The Citizen Promaster range first appeared in 1989 with models aimed at professional users. The Promaster Tough range was the only dedicated Field models in the series and released 10 years later. Today Citizen offer two Toughs; a relatively discreet model which has a subdued daily wear look (ref: BN0211-09X) and a more adventurous sibling (ref: BN0118-12L). The latter is the current incarnation of the iconic “Ray Mears” model. First let’s be clear about origins. Unlike the Bear Grylls Luminox range, Ray Mears had nothing to do with the design of the Citizen. He has never marketed it or claimed to have any connection to Citizen. He just happened to wear one on TV and his legendary status amongst bushcrafters resulted in the watch being sought after and unofficially named after him.
The 2022 model is freely available but has undergone some technical and cosmetic changes when compared to the first generation which Ray wore. The new model is still colloquially known as the ‘Ray Mears’ but it is the discontinued early models which attract serious collectors attention. Today they are quite hard to find, principally as no one wants to part with them.
Technically they were brilliant watches, benefitting from Citizen’s solar powered Eco-Drive technology which proved a real plus in an outdoor and adventuring watch. The charge was quick, taking only 11 minutes on a cloudy day to give the watch a full 24 hours of power. In a sunny climate it took 11 hours of sunlight exposure to give a full charge which lasted a maximum of six months.
Offering 200m water resistant the original Promaster Tough was built from titanium on a monocoque principle, i.e., it had no case back. The anti-glare sapphire crystal was slightly domed, and the luminescence applied on a dual level basis with the hands glowing brighter than the indices. Legibility was superb clear even in the worst light. The watch had a Duratec finish to the titanium making it almost impossible to scratch and the movement was housed in an anti-magnetic non-ferrous inner structure. The super-quartz itself had a clever anti-shock feature. If the watch experienced a knock an electrical signal was sent to the hands to instantly lock and then unlock them. The entire process took 1000th of a second so there is no perceivable time loss and accuracy was maintained.
My first generation ‘Ray Mears’ was a bought in the early 2000s therefore it came on the original green Kevlar strap. This stayed on the watch for no longer than a week before it was replaced by a decent NATO. I have never been a fan of this strap it still sits pristine in the watch box where it was placed 20 years ago. I found it inflexible, I didn’t like the oversize riveted pin holes and clunky metal keeper. The whole Kevlar concept was a bit too “bullet proof” tough, and I think it is a shame the current blue and black iterations still come with a successor to this strap.
The good news is that the watch itself, like any decent Field watch, works well on countless other strap combinations so the Kevlar faux pas can be consigned to action hero history and you can fit some very attractive and capable straps to your Promaster.
In the planning stage, before we started taking photographs for this feature my friend and fellow writer Anthony Peacock managed to find a perfect example of an early Ray Mears, ironically for sale fitted on a ZULUDIVER Bond NATO. To have access to two watches for the photo shoot was an unexpected bonus so join me on the first part of my Field Watch journey by checking our best strap recommendations for any generation of the iconic Citizen Promaster Tough ‘Ray Mears’.
The Promaster has always suited a NATO strap; it should have come on one! Hence they feature heavily in this article. It’s a classic combination that works so well. As the 2-piece Sailcloth strap is our best seller we naturally wanted to develop a NATO in that material. The resulting ZD Typhoon was described in one review as possibly the best dive strap of all time. That naturally makes it a fine outdoor strap for the ‘Ray Mears’.
Three layers make up the 0.78mm thick PVC sailcloth rubber. The first lining layer is made of a black woven cotton fabric which gives it tear-resistant strength. The next layer is a grey neoprene foam for flexibility and comfort in a wide range of temperatures. The top layer is black PVC rubber embossed with a sailcloth pattern and gives the material its a unique look and robust high abrasion-resistant finish. The combination of these layers makes the material durable, flexible and very comfortable to wear. Finally, the sandblasted metal work matches the Citizen’s titanium case perfectly.
Leather on Field Watches is not new. However a fully outdoor capable leather NATO is worth reading about. Our Crazy Pull-up leather NATO is cut and crafted from beautiful oiled 'crazy horse' pull-up natural premium leather and perfectly complements the ‘Ray Mears’.
Crazy horse leather 'breathes' and over time will absorb the natural oils from your skin and cause the leather to form a glossy sheen that will make the watch strap look even better. It has been carefully stitched with strong coloured thread fitted with a classic 'NATO' solid stainless steel buckle. Even after you've enjoyed the timeless aroma of new leather as you open your new purchase, each 'crazy horse' leather ZULUDIVER strap has another secret. As you enjoy wearing your premium leather ZULUDIVER strap over the years, it will gradually take on an increasingly vintage leather look from being rubbed or scuffed.
To indicate craftsmanship and authenticate quality ZULUDIVER has been branded onto the inside of the leather. We have also detailed the NATO with a hot-stamp line around the edge, and hand-painted and sealed the edges with a coloured stain. This strap is available in three fitting sizes 18mm, 20mm and 22mm.
Most of the time my Promaster lives on this strap as I have found it very hard to improve on. There is a reason it remains our best selling strap. The ZULUDIVER Sailcloth Maverick quick-release is made from premium PVC rubber and outperforms cheaper alternative sailcloth materials. This latest MKII evolution introduced in August 2022 is an improved version where we have taken customer feedback and made a few upgrades. The strap is finished with a remborde edge to ensure it looks as good as it is tough.
The buckle has been upgraded to our popular Sub-Aquatic, which is made from saltwater resistant 316L stainless steel, professional dual finishing, solid machined tongue and drilled holes for easy fitting or removal. The matte areas of the buckle nicely match the titanium case.
The Vintage Highley is the backbone of the WatchGecko range of premium leather straps and there are very Field Watches which do not look good on a vintage style leather strap. It immediately conjures up a WW2 look or an old school adventurer feel. The Highley has proven to be very popular among customers and continues to be one of our top sellers. It is thickly padded (6mm thick at the lug end) and made from the very best Italian vegetable-tanned, full-grain leather. The supple pull-up leather is oiled and will age with grace, picking up patina as it’s worn. The strap features a cut edge, finished with colour-matched paint for a seamless finish and to help prevent moisture penetration and improve durability. Lastly, the Highley incorporates quick-release spring bars for easy strap changes.
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