Hands-On Praesidus 38mm Mechanical Type A11 – A Very Vibey WWII-Era Field Watch Tribute

The Skinny

  • 38mm 12.8mm
  • Seiko NH35 automatic mechanical movement
  • 5atm water resistance
  • $249 on Kickstarter

Military Watches Vs. War Narratives

With the Type A11 Field Watch series, Praesidus offers a tribute to the A11 mil-spec units that the US Military contracted from Bulova, Waltham, and Elgin starting in 1942. This is a Nazi-killer’s watch, not a Nazi Watch, and therefore the A11’s history lacks ethical uncertainty. This is a straight-up Good Guy’s watch.

If that narrative isn’t clear enough, Praesidus has attached individual Allied soldiers to each model. These brand ambassadors look awesome in their military uniforms. It’s hard not to love these old men who found themselves on the right side of history. The watch I have in hand is named after Vincent Speranza who flew with the 101st Airborne Division, helping preserve democracy in Europe and N. America.

Of course I celebrate that we annihilated the Nazi’s, and I’m grateful for all the people who served the Allies in WWII, including my own father, who wore an A11 while stationed inside the crater at Nagasaki.

However, throughout The Cold War, my father imbued in me the horrors of nuclear war. When I was a toddler, my oldest brother was trying not to serve in Viet Nam. My older sister put peace symbols on everything, including a sticker on the headboard under which I slept until I moved out. Is it any wonder I came out a hippie peacenik? I consider war as solely tragic and horrific. I do not celebrate democratic victories; I respectfully mourn them. I do not fetishize the tools of war; I fear them.

And yet I absolutely love field watches, including this A11 recreation from Praesidus.

The Hippie Vibes of Civilian Issue Field Watches

Since WWI military watches have found use as robust tools in civilian outdoorsy activities. For many folks, like me, field watches begin in the 1980s as outdoorsy accessories, perhaps from L.L. Bean or Orvis. Hippie kids like me didn’t understand field watches to have been military kit any more than we understood Ray Ban’s to have been war glasses or khaki pants to have been British desert fatigues. All this shit was benignly outdoorsy and very preppy.

In my 20s, field watches were all about playing hacky sack with braless co-eds in homemade tie-dies while camping in my VW Bus in the woods of Vermont. We all understood that my rugged, unadorned field watches signaled something vaguely gritty and dangerous about our countercultural lifestyle. For us hippies, field watches delivered Deadhead chic, which is truly the opposite of military vibes.

My point here is that, because Praesidus has laid on the war narrative so thickly, you may struggle to attain your own direct relationship with this watch. But I have the cure: just don’t look at the case back with its 3D bullet. Instead enjoy the excellent recreation of the sterile A11 dial. It’s just full of that gritty, dangerous vibe. (Update: 3.25.22 – responding to feedback, the brand is offering a version of the case back without the bullet sticking out. Details at Kickstarter.)

Praesidus Has Attained Serious Vibe

This watch has a ton of vibe. Yes, we can attribute much of that vibe to Praesidus replicating an historically significant and truly cool functional mil-spec design, but so many brands screw that up, even when recreating their own mil-spec watches.

Man, I love IWC’s exceptional case and dial work, but when IWC adds beige lume and army-green straps to their mil-spec watches the effect is entirely unconvincing. These IWCs are just too refined to attain the gritty, dangerous vibes that light up a field watch. Hamilton’s modern field watches suffer a far worse fate, in my opinion, because they share IWC’s sterility but lack IWC’s refinement.

I put on these watches and think, “Meh.” There’s just no vibe.

In person, the author finds these watches lack gritty and dangerous field watch vibes.

I actually ended up buying a 40mm Montblanc 1858, of all things, to scratch my recent field watch itch. Why? Because the Montblanc just has a vibe that would totally kick the hacky sack with Deadheads in the woods.

Vibe for days.

My Montblanc has a strikingly similar visage and vibe to the Praesidus A11. And, given what I’m seeing on Instagram, it seems other people are feeling the Praesidus A11’s vibe, too. I could try to further decode that vibe, but I’d rather just have you look at the pics some more and ask yourself if you don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling looking at what Praesidus has achieved? And did you notice that you got your warm fuzzies without the warm and fuzzy Nazi-killer narrative?

A Closer Look

At 38mm, this watch feels super on the wrist. This one sits up a little, but in a good-ole vintage way. Importantly, the A11 graphical layout doesn’t read large when blown up to 38mm from the original 32mm. This is because the numerals are toward the center of the dial, thus retaining the spacing and size we’d expect from a smaller watch.

At 38mm, it wears really nicely.

If you don’t look too closely at the case, you’ll be perfectly happy with it. Bead blasted steel with the tops of the lugs polished looks cool. A machine made this, of course, and it’s pretty good. Keep in mind my standards for case finishing run to hand-polished Grand Seikos and Vacheron Constantins, so grains of salt are needed as I assess a $249 watch.

For $249, the case work is pretty impressive.

The crystal is intriguingly curvaceous. Most domed crystals cause distortions only along the outer edge of the dial, but even looking straight on at this one you see the main numerals are all fun-house-mirror weird. Even as a fan of crystal distortions, I don’t know what to think about this. Maybe it’s cool, but there’s also a distinct break from distortion to clarity that I find a little distracting.

Note the break from curved to flat.

The hand set has taken me a minute to get used to. It’s kind of a weird amalgam of the different shapes you’d see on various original A11s. While I think this handset works, they initially struck me as a little fat for the watch. But after a while I don’t notice that so much. The fake aged tritium is nicely done, and is just enough fauxtina to create vibe without overwhelming.

I like the Seiko NH35 automatic mechanical movement because it’s solid and always inexpensive. If it stops, get a new one put in.

The straps are of the type/quality I suspect will come apart after a while, and that’s ok at this price point, I suppose. I do struggle with the eventually wasted materials. I would rather have gotten a cool nylon NATO that would last forever. Also, one of the included straps is shaped like a semi-automatic rifle and the other has that rifle’s barrel stamped into the outside and the inside of the strap. Really? I don’t even know or care which semi-auto it is, or if it killed Nazis by the dozen on behalf of my freedom. I’m just not into guns.

This strap above is a semi-automatic weapon. The one below merely depicts one.

Packaging is kind of elaborate, but made of unbleached cardstock. As a good hippie, I hope it’s not too hard on Mother Earth, though I’ve seen nothing to address environmental impact here.

All told, this is a really solid A11 tribute for $249. So many young brands will truly screw things up, and while I don’t need the narratives or the gun straps, it’s not that hard to just take this as a super vibey watch, one so affordable that I’d consider gifting it – with a nylon NATO and an apology for the bullet on the back, of course.

Peace, brothers and sisters. See you in the woods.