December 1, 2022

I think the genre of field watches should be up for debate, as the preconceptions are many. While some of you equate a field watch to the Rolex Explorer ref. 1016, for most, it’s a simple recipe — all-brushed 316L steel (no polishing, please), a sub-40mm case size, and a simple charm. The dial should have big Arabic numerals and, often, a fairly unreadable inner circle of 24-hour digits. The new William Wood Fearless, however, has twisted the tale.

We are used to brands using evocative imagery and heritage in what now is considered a big USP — the back story. Today, the origin of a brand or a model works just as well as the perfect case size, and William Wood has a powerful story. The brand and its first watch were created in memory of founder Jonny Garrett’s grandfather, firefighter William Wood. The iconic logo of a British firefighter’s helmet speaks more than words, combined with the recycled fire hose sewn into the watch straps to remind us of one of the most important professions I know of.

The new William Wood Fearless

First impressions are strong, and this 40mm field watch is a great example of a modern interpretation of a storied genre. It may seem on the large side, but the William Wood design team knows that lug-to-lug is where it’s at. With a chunky 13.8mm-thick case but a 45mm stretch, it wears comfortably on most wrists, and the soft rubber strap underlines it. I asked Jonny Garrett about the inclusion of a field watch in the range, and he told me, “As a brand that is dedicated to firefighters and first responders who have the ultimate active jobs, it was our natural next step — producing a field watch that could be worn on duty in active surroundings.” And it is a tough tool watch, yes, but one that is to my taste with a touch of panache.

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Stealth with a colorful difference

Quite truthfully, I can’t live with stealth watches. Well, at least not those that follow the usual formula. All-black just doesn’t do it for me (I’ve tried). But add a touch of judicious bling or some color and I’m there, even if it might stray from the field-watch recipe. And it sure does make it (for me, at least) all the better. At first glance, the colored rehaut gives off a Breitling Superocean vibe as I strap on the yellow version. But the feeling is that of a compact, tough nugget of a watch, not an overly large pilot’s tool (yes, a stealthy IWC also comes to mind). The 45mm lug-to-lug is great for my 17.5cm wrist, and the strap feels great. The gold tone for the minute/hour hands and index surrounds juxtaposes with the textured black dial, and the yellow accents and anodized yellow seconds hand give it zing.

William Wood Fearless

But is this a field watch?

Well, the feeling is one of compact toughness and distinct legibility with added freshness. The fact is that the William Wood Fearless would equally fit someone with a penchant for pilot’s watches but who wants a smaller timepiece. That is merely a cool bonus. The strap, with its sewn-in upcycled fire-hose material, is as great an idea here as it was on the first William Wood watch. The black-on-black aesthetic is just right, as is the yellow-accent stitching. Turn it around and you’re met with a firefighter’s helmet with its colored glass visor offering a peek at the Seiko NH35. The screw-down back helps to give this stealthy number a 100m depth rating, and yes, that Seiko movement is plenty tough. It’s also pretty accurate for the money, so movement snobs can keep schtum.

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William Wood Fearless

A dark conclusion

Is this a field watch? In its original sense, yes. In our retro-fixated minds, maybe not. But rewire your preconceptions, and have a think. The Fearless is a limited edition, with three ways of making that black case pop. The choice of orange, red, or lemon yellow is a signal. It’s a hint that maybe it’s okay to revamp a few well-known genres. And that can involve stealthy black IP plating, a good cause, and a damn cool repurposed fire hose. I swear, I could almost smell the smoke. And here’s a bonus too. Included in the £895 price is a red Italian leather roll for three watches. And I can guarantee you, I wanted to keep it. This red leather bonus, the back story for the brand, and the fact that the Fearless is a rather elegant twist to the field watch make it a tempting proposal.

A look into William Wood’s crystal ball

But what’s next for the brand? I asked founder Jonny Garrett, and he told me, “We have ambitious plans for the future. The next big release for us in 2023 will be our first GMT. For the design, we have honed in on a recognized element of firefighting in a playful and cool way.” William Wood Watches will also be attending the now-recognized fairs for smaller brands like the US-based Worn & Wound Windup Watch Fairs. On European sales, Jonny tells me, “We are looking for a vintage fire engine, which we will convert into our rolling store to drive around the UK and Europe selling our watches from, promoting the great work of our fire departments around the world.” I, for one, will be watching this space. For more information, visit the William Wood website.

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So, Fratelli, are you all field-watch purists, or is this a welcome change? You might as well admit that your love of field watches is a stylistic choice, and that’s OK. But if you are indeed a forest ranger, let us know in the comments.

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