Desert Island Field Watches ... aka The ‘Wilson’ Watch
 

Desert Island Field Watches ... aka The ‘Wilson’ Watch

9 min read
Martin Stone

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How To's

Martin Stone

Categories

How To's

Whilst flipping through TV channels recently, I caught a few minutes of the Tom Hanks blockbuster classic, ‘Cast Away’. If you’re a watch fan, you, like me, are probably often lured into the strange, horological phenomenon known as ‘wrist observation obsession (WOO)’, sussing out and trying to identify the choice of watch worn by the subject(s) before you, be it on screen, stage or in real life. In this case, Chuck (Hanks’ character) ends up being the sole survivor of a plane crash, stranded for a few years on a deserted, tropical island with minimal personal possessions to hand that, for anyone, would be an obvious nightmare – least of all if you’ve regrettably forgotten to wear a decent watch! In ‘Cast Away’, the ‘WOO’ effect indicated that Chuck was sporting a Casio G-Shock, a seemingly near-perfect choice for desert-Island living anyway, prior to his plane’s downing and, as an integral part of the story, he’s later shown looking despondently at his now inoperable, highly patinated Elgin pocket watch highlighting the picture of his now estranged girlfriend in its lid. It’s quite probable that he’s just as peeved because he has seemingly lost his G-Shock, as this was nowhere to be seen after he began commencing his beach-combing duties. 

Casio G-ShockCasio G-Shock - Credit WatchGecko

 
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ZULUDIVER Hartland FKM Rubber Watch Strap - Black
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ZULUDIVER Tropical Regis Rubber Watch Strap - Red
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So this got me thinking, what would I hope I was wearing on my wrist if I was stranded on a desert island? According to the premise of the Desert Island Discs radio show, you’re permitted to include one luxury item, so a watch of choice fits this ‘bring-along’ subcategory perfectly. Sourcing the right discs would be a comparative doddle because choosing just one watch is always going to be tough.  

Being stranded alone for the foreseeable future, if not forever, is not a particularly fun proposition, of course, but putting such an unlikely situation aside, this is about which timepiece I would choose to take to my shark-infested location and why I came to that conclusion. In keeping with ‘Cast Away,’ let’s call this the ‘Wilson Watch’ - i.e., the watch variant of Chuck’s volleyball companion.  

I'd need to draw up a shortlist around my must-haves for consideration: for starters, something tough, reliable and accurate. But what about the complications? - quartz versus mechanical, solar-powered, perhaps? - maybe; but would I need a date/day to maintain some semblance?; a GMT function to track the time back home?; a moon phase to assist with the timing of the tides lapping at the entrance to my beach-side abode, and when would it be most suitable to make a break for freedom?; an alarm function, to remind me when my random, roasted rodent is due an evenly baked turn-over?; a decent amount of volume, to light up my gloomy cave dwelling?; analog hands to double as a compass bearing?; telemeter markings to time the speed of my rescue plane (soaring high above on its daily scheduled flight and when to send it my next smoke signal)?; significant waterproof properties for my daily deep-dive to fetch dinner from my newly installed lobster pot? And/or, would it simply be something just pleasing and classy to look at that, as an aside, can also keep track of time?  

So here goes!  

Casio F91W and AE1200

Starting at the less expensive, quartz-driven end of this vastly diverse spectrum, there are a couple of trusty digital classics that ought to be short-listed: the Casio F91W and Casio AE1200. What more could be better than an inexpensive, waterproof watch in a resin case that is reliable, accurate, relatively tough, has an alarm, stopwatch, and costs less than a bag of mangos and bananas? The latter is handily a digital GMT displaying numerous timezones globally. Both are quartz driven with finite juice but have very lengthy battery lives. These two, then, are a good place to start.  

Casio F-91WCasio F-91W - Credit WatchGecko

Citizen ProMaster 'Tough'

Next, we have the extremely popular and superb Citizen ProMaster ‘Tough,’ aka ‘the Ray Mears,’ that some would argue is the Daddy of all field watches. Made from durable titanium, offering 300m of water resistance, a date complication, and sporting great lume, it’s ticking (pun intended) many of the boxes already, and its piece de resistance is, despite being quartz, that it utilizes Citizen’s innovative EcoDrive solar-powered movement resulting in extended, reliable longevity. This beauty would definitely keep me company and on time and for many years to come.  

Heading into mid-luxury now, and the last of the quartz models, is the current yet recently retired Swiss made, Longines Conquest VHP – this is a ‘very high precision’ quartz-driven piece with a clever perpetual date function, a smart battery-saving mode and an intelligent shock-protection feature. But is it maybe a bit too dressy for the climate? 

Longline SpiritLongline Spirit - Credit WatchGecko

 
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Rochefort Flat Patina Calf Leather Watch Strap - Chocolate Brown
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Rochefort Flat Patina Calf Leather Watch Strap - Blue Jeans
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Radstock Vintage Genuine Leather Watch Strap - Vintage Black

And on to the mechanical/automatic short list: these, of course, do not need to utilise a battery, so for prolonged periods on said island, these should be ideal – even without a watch-maker on hand to facilitate servicing and ad hoc repairs. But deserted beggars can’t be choosers, so I’d look to choose one with a strong, shockproof-able, and reliable movement that one hopes won’t seize, fail or become magnetized during my extended ‘singles-only vacation.’  

Newmark 71

First up is the modestly priced Newmark 71 - this is a far more affordable alternative to the more well-known dive/sport watches, which are made reference to later. Newmark, a recently reinvigorated UK-based microbrand, offers short runs of quality-made ‘tool’ watches, and the 71 is the epitome of affordability, practicality, and toughness and is somewhat different from many of the plethora of dive watch offerings these days. Based on a 1970s vintage Newmark, and utilizing a high beat Japanese Miyota 9000 series automatic movement, and quite probably some of the best, cave-glowing Superluminova lume ever, it should tick all the longevity, fun, and ‘must be pleasing to the eye’ boxes. The only niggle, the watch is now out of production, so an alternative could be their new Waterking compressor model that is equally worthy of consideration.  

 
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Elliot Brown Holton: Land Rover X Elliot Brown Classic Edition
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Elliot Brown Holton Automatic 101-A12 -Bronze/Black
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Elliot Brown Holton Professional

Next is another British offering, the Elliot Brown Holton Professional – a favorite with the military and very tough, complete with razor-sharp bezel, a workhorse/reliable Japanese (Seiko) movement, and made to last the test of time.  

And if you really want a sporty dive watch with both a day and date complication, lots of waterproofness, and some bright colors with great lume, there is the colorful line-up of British designed/Swiss-made Farer's Aquamatic range - each model comes with a standard with three waterproof straps and is run by a reliable Swiss (Sellita) movement.  

Phalanx

Staying with another British designed/owned brand, Geckota’s flagship model, the Phalanx, must Phalanx, has to hit the shortlist. Utilizing the ubiquitous(ish), yet now rare and superbly reliable, Swiss ETA 2824-2 movement, it’s a cool and beefy ‘go anywhere/do anything’ (GADA) adventurers' dream, with oodles of all-round toughness, lots of deep water resistance, a timing bezel, sapphire crystal, 2 straps and some great lume - and this model is genuinely endorsed and worn by Royalty, it’s literally fit for a King too!

PhalanxGeckota Phalanx - Credit WatchGecko

GMTs: there is an array these days of GMTs available at varying price points – 2023 is proposed to be the year of the multiple timezone complication, and there’s certainly a vast array of choices. Some of my favorites are the recently released and impressive Boldr Odyssey – a big beast sporting a high-beat Japanese (Miyota) movement, date complication, and great looks with some original design cues. And there are two attractive GMT offerings, again, from Farer (Maze II and Lander IV)and also the new Christopher Ward C65 Dune GMT is a pretty little thing and one of their latest releases. And of course, the Tudor Black Bay Pro GMT, Rolex ‘Batman’ and their timeless classic, Explorer II are fond GMT favorites for many fans; reliable, accurate yet arguably very pricey timepieces, all would almost certainly keep going and expire far long after my days are over enjoying beautiful sunsets, pretty overhead vapor contrails, and the dietary consumption of grass, iguanas and coconuts.  

Christopher Ward Dune C65 Christopher Ward C65 Dune - Credit WatchGecko

 
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Christopher Ward + WatchGecko C65 Aquitaine - Stainless Steel Bracelet
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Christopher Ward + WatchGecko C65 Aquitaine - Overton Coral Leather
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Omega Seamaster Professional

And talking of Rolex, no shortlist could be without its very own Submariner, its bigger brother, the Sea Dweller, and its primary competition contender, the Omega Seamaster Professional. And let’s also not forget the Omega Speedmaster chronograph as a contender to time the tides - handy for sussing out an escape-by-raft strategy. 

Omega SpeedmasterOmega Seamaster - Credit WatchGecko

But one watch that is, in my eyes, a rather unusually unloved stunner, that surprisingly goes mostly unnoticed in favor of its competitor, the Rolex Explorer 1, is tough, waterproof, and can resist most things magnetic due to its incredible 15,000 gauss resistance: the often overlooked and understated Omega Railmaster. It has the looks of a vintage classic, faux-patina-style lume and an all-brushed case, yet few frills; no alarm, no additional timing complication, no dive bezel, no date. But it looks great, and with its brilliant Co-Axial METAS COSC movement beating away, it will track your time exceedingly well, accurately, and for many years to come – and when you glance down at your suntanned and weather-beaten wrist, it will continue to bring a smile to your equally weather-worn and blistered lips. Not only that, it’s a strap monster and a reminder that any good traveler should always pack a selection of (waterproof) strap alternatives. This watch, in particular, looks the business on a raft of numerous strap options.  

Rolex Explorer IRolex Explorer I - Credit WatchGecko

 
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FORMEX Field Automatic - Petrol Blue - Blue Nylon Strap
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FORMEX Field Automatic - Ultra Violet - Blue Nylon Strap

Breitling Emergency

But ultimately, there is just one obvious watch that would be ideal for every budding castaway: The Breitling Emergency! The only watch that has a survival beaconing function to facilitate a timely search and rescue mission response – that’s very cool and clever, yet it’s the priciest one on the shortlist and, personally speaking, it’s just not for me. When you’re on a desert island, you need a challenge, surely? - that’s half the fun. Pressing a button to summon help is amazing, but... 

Breitling Emergency

Breitling Emergency - Credit FellowsAuction

And there were so many other makes and models up for an honourable mention, from Alkin to Zero West and with at least numerous other offerings from the likes of Bremont, Marloe, Formex, Nodus, Timex, Hamilton, Baltic, Seiko, NTH and Pinion, to name just a few. Choosing just one watch to be your reliable and trusted companion in sandy solitary confinement, let alone generally, in everyday life, is such a painstakingly difficult decision-making (and first world problem) dilemma.  

And there were so many other makes and models up for an honorable mention, from Alkin to Zero West and with at least numerous other offerings from the likes of Bremont, Marloe, Formex, Nodus, Timex, Hamilton, Baltic, Seiko, NTH, and Pinion, to name just a few. Choosing just one watch to be your reliable and trusted companion in sandy solitary confinement, let alone generally, in everyday life, is such a painstakingly difficult decision-making (and first-world problem) dilemma.  

Top Three Winners 

But, I need to make this all-important choice now, as the gate is closing and I need to get to my seat and familiarise myself with the inflight safety instructions ... so here are my top three winners:  

Bronze : the Geckota Phalanx

Not only does this super impressive tool watch tick all of the boxes, it’s the only one that comes with a very apt survival tool and an equally tough and practical, waterproof box – and it looks great both on or off the wrist.  

Silver: the Omega Railmaster is my runner-up.

It’s arguably my favorite watch ever. Well, for now, anyway. And it ticks many of the aforementioned needs for my ‘extended beach holiday,' yet one model steals the top spot ...  

And so the Gold medal goes to ... the Citizen ProMaster ‘Tough.’

This is the epitome of the aforementioned 'GADA' watch, and its nickname sums it up perfectly. Excellent value for money, classic field design, solar-powered, handsome, able to dive deep in any ocean, and so darned tough it's pretty much unbreakable. The ProMaster Tough should be on everyone’s pre-departure desert island checklist.  

So, what would you choose as your ‘Wilson watch(es)’?  

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Martin Stone

About the Author: Martin Stone

Horology has always been an interest but is now an engaging hobby. I've a soft spot for most things Omega, and especially a keen supporter of microbrands who are passionate about creating something original, innovative and pleasing on the eye. Part-time reviewer, full time father and all-round photography, travel and nature enthusiast.

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