December 9, 2022

Vintage-inspired field watches are having a moment. We have seen many brands offer a take on the famed mil-spec A-11. The original A-11 performed admirably in WWII, and Praesidus has improved upon the specifications, bringing the design to modern spec. But Praesidus has also gone a step further, producing a watch that is a near carbon copy of a Waltham A-11. The brand has made two versions and two sizes, allowing the vintage feel to be as original as the wearer decides.

Timekeeping is of the utmost importance for military precision. Upon entry into WWII, the U.S. Military recognized the need to equip troops with a reliable timepiece that would serve them well on the front lines. The A-11 spec was developed and originally produced by the U.S. watch manufacturers Hamilton, Waltham, and Elgin. These watches proved so reliable that the over 100,000 that were produced not only equipped the U.S. Military but most of the Allied troops as well.

Following in the footsteps of a legend

The original A-11s produced by Hamilton, Waltham, and Elgin had chrome-plated brass cases that measured 31.5mm in diameter. This case housed a 15-jewel movement that was equipped with a hacking function per the spec from the U.S. Military. It had an “unbreakable” acrylic crystal. The watch had a 16mm lug width and a 39mm lug-to-lug length. Water resistance wasn’t included in the spec, potentially because of the lack of reliable waterproofing technology in the mid-1940s. These watches were a compact package on the wrist but proved essential to Allied troops.

Now, you might be thinking that with the lug-to-lug and lug-width measurements included above that the author of the original A-11 spec might have been a watch enthusiast or at least paid significant attention to detail. That information was not sourced from the original spec, but rather, from Praesidus. In order to produce a watch as close to the original spec as possible, the brand purchased a Waltham A-11 produced in 1944. Praesidus’s design team then took the watch apart to better understand how to recreate it in a modern package. This sort of process sounds familiar.

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Praesidus A-11 Type 44

Vintage spec, modern tech

The idea to take a vintage design and build it to modern specs is nothing new in the watch space. Taking a design and offering it in vintage dimensions is something that is less often attempted. A 32mm case is smaller than most watches on the market. This bold move would be very interesting to see in person. Unfortunately, we only had the 38mm in for review. The dimensions, wrist feel, and thoughts on the overall package will be based on this model.

While 38mm is larger than the original A-11 spec, it fits quite well. This size is proving to be a sort of sweet spot for a lot of wrists, and the Praesidus is no different. The fully polished case has short lugs, which shrink the overall feel slightly, hewing more towards the vintage aesthetic that is the goal of this model. The drilled lugs are also an excellent choice, making changing between leather, textile, and bracelet options a breeze.

Praesidus A-11 Type 44

Plenty of nice detail

Its A-11 Type 44’s domed acrylic crystal leans into the vintage aesthetic and is an excellent choice. The final detail that ties this all together is the coin edge bezel. Very few modern watches use this design feature, which is a shame. It adds a touch of elegance to an otherwise spartan watch and, given the original intention of this design, illustrates the old-world charm that is sometimes missing in modern watches.

Praesidus A-11 Type 44

There are two dial options offered. One comes with stark white markers and lume that looks like a new-old-stock A-11 might have when it was new. The other, photographed for this article, has vintage-looking yellowed lume, which might be closer to what an original A-11 might look like today. Both dials follow the original spec, with an Arabic numeral for each hour marker and a secondary marker for each ten-minute increment outside the minute track. While both are attractive, I am drawn to the stark white version, even in images. The idea of wearing an A-11 as it would have been when issued is what pulls me in.

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Praesidus A-11 Type 44

The Praesidus A-11 Type 44 on the wrist

The 38mm Praesidus A-11 Type 44 wears very nicely on the wrist. The short lug-to-lug of 45mm still allows the vintage feel, even with the larger case size. While the domed acrylic does add some height, the watch does wear nice and slim, even at 13mm thick. The fully polished case does catch quite a bit of light. This might not adhere to the idea of a field watch, but the original was chrome-plated brass. I am sure most of us would applaud Praesidus for leaning into the original design, even if the watch isn’t chrome-plated. The coin edge bezel is polished, but the cutouts are not. This does reduce the overall bling factor by a fair amount.

Praesidus A-11 Type 44

The three strap options (leather, textile, and Bonklip bracelet) all fit the form factor quite well. The leather option feels most like what would’ve been worn on the front lines. The textile fits the go-anywhere, do-anything vibe of modern field watches. My favorite, however, is the Bonklip. I am a sucker for bracelets. And while these may not have been paired together in 1944, the Bonklip was introduced in the 1920s, so this combination was definitely possible, even during WWII.

While I was disappointed we didn’t get to see the 32mm, I can also imagine what the reaction would have been. The idea to re-produce a 32mm version of this watch is unique, and while it would’ve been an exciting novelty, it would have been just that — a novelty. The 38mm will fit modern tastes and will, in all likelihood, fit the bill for most of us just fine. However, it is nice to know that the 32mm version is there, just in case you want 100% vintage proportions.

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Movement improvement

The A-11 Type 44 does have modern movement technology ticking away inside. A modified Soprod P024 allows for manual winding and hacking and comes with 23 jewels compared to the original’s 15. Manual winding is a nice touch, especially when a watch is as vintage inspired as the A-11 Type 44. The lack of a date function is also a nice choice for a field watch.

The movement isn’t the only improvement Praesidus has made. The Praesidus A-11 Type 44 comes with 100 meters of water resistance. This compares quite well to the negligible resistance offered by the original A-11s. While the original A-11s earned a solid reputation in the trenches, this Type 44 is significantly more capable thanks to modern manufacturing and materials.

The movement is Swiss, but the watch is assembled and checked for quality in the state of Oklahoma in the U.S. Though Oklahoma is not exactly the first state that comes to mind when we think of the former American watchmaking industry, it is nice to see that a watch that takes so much inspiration from the U.S. military will be assembled in the United States.

Final thoughts

The Praesidus A-11 Type 44 offers a unique package. By sticking to the original A-11 design specifications, the brand has managed to produce as true of a WWII field watch as exists outside of the vintage market. While that 32mm version is a novelty, this 38mm model offers a vintage look with slightly upsized proportions. The strap options complement the overall design and complete the vintage look and feel. I would love to see the white 32mm in person, but I appreciate the aged lume look of the 38mm we had on hand.

These will be limited in production, with 100 pieces available for shipping this December. What are your thoughts? Would you go for as near a new-old-stock 32mm field watch as you can find, or would you upsize for a modern feel with a vintage look? Let us know in the comments below!

For more information, please visit the Praesidus website.