I have to stop being so surprised by how much I like field watches. It’s just that next to all the gadgety, movey bits on dive watches and chronographs, field watches strike me as rather tame. And yet, each time one falls into my lap for a review, I think, “Hmm. Isn’t this interesting.” That’s what happened last week with the arrival of the Tom Rice A-11 by Praesidus.
Of course, a good story never hurts, either. And this one has an inspired tale, to be sure. The A-11 was a military specification designed by the US during World War II. Nicknamed “The Watch That Won the War,” it does not refer to one specific watch, but rather a watch-type produced by many American manufacturers of the day, such as Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova. Praesidus have re-envisioned it, here, to commemorate the era and meet with contemporary standards of watchmaking.
The name comes from one Thomas Marcus Rice, originally of Coronado, California. Tom, a student and athlete at San Diego State College in 1942, volunteered with the airborne paratroopers at the outbreak of America’s entry into WWII. He graduated from the rigourous training program at Fort Benning, Georgia and joined the 101st Airborne Division as a member of the 501st Parachute Infantry.
It was as a platoon sergeant that he entered the war on June 6th, 1944 in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Tom was injured in the jump and also lost his watch. Tom’s months of service would see him dropped again over Holland in Operation Market Garden, and eventually see him redeployed in Berchtesgaden, Germany, where he saw further action at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
Tom turned 100 last summer, and he celebrated by jumping out of a vintage WWII plane over San Diego–a feat he also did at the age of 97 over Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of that Invasion.
Tom’s story of the lost watch reminds me a little of a short documentary series about 1st Lieutenant, USMC, Barry Jones’ lost Tudor, created by Hodinkee. Only in this case, the watch was not found, but recreated in his honour.
So, what does Tom think of it? “This watch speaks for itself,” he says. And so it does.
A far cry from the 32mm originals, the Tom Rice A-11 comes in both a 42mm version, and a smaller 38mm model. I am glad to have received the 38mm, featured here. While still larger than the original watch, it maintains a vintage feel. This reference has a deep matte black dial with creamy indices. The stark difference makes for strong legibility, but exudes enough warmth to give you the impression of an aged patina. The dial is lumed with green numerals and yellow-orange markers and hands. The green is actually quite bright. I like the choice of cathedral hands, even if many vintage models used a dagger-style.
The case is 316L stainless steel with a predominantly sandblasted finish that is quite smooth and uniform. The lugs, too, are sandblasted along the edges, but the tops are polished. The watch also has a double-domed, mineral glass crystal that molds seamlessly into the case. The screwed caseback is fluted and engraved with Tom’s name and regiment. The crown is push-pull, and the watch is water resistant to 50m.
On the inside we have the Seiko NH35 automatic movement, ticking away at 21 600bph. There are also three strap choices for the Tom Rice: nylon, leather, or canvas. I am most partial to the nylon, personally.
The watch is assembled in the United States.
|Case||316L Stainless Steel|
45mm Lug to Lug
12.5mm Thick /w Glass
20mm Lug Width
50m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Double Domed Mineral Glass|
Matte Black Dial
Painted Markers & Numerals
41-Hour Power Reserve
|Strap||Choice of Nylon, Leather, or Canvas Strap |
/w Steel Hardware
Continuing what they started with the Tom Rice, Praesidus have created a new version of the A-11 to honour the exploits of yet another veteran, Vince Speranza. The watched, launched on Kickstarter last month, was fully funded in under an hour. At the time of publication, the campaign has six days left. So hurry over, if you don’t want to miss out on the final deals.
Any time a brand endeavours to release a vintage re-issue, there is debate about how much of the original to keep and how much to update for the modern watch market. The A-11s of old would have been hand-wound, of course. The NH35 is automatic. I am not bothered by this, but I wonder why the NH38 was not chosen to forego the ghost position on the crown. And while I actually love the look of the mineral glass, acrylic might also have been an inspired choice.
Living memory of the Second World War by those that fought it will soon be gone. I love that Praesidus have chosen not only to make vintage-inspired timepieces, but to tell the stories of those who are still with us. I have had the good fortune to handle several military watches from this era–including a Rolex Sky-rocket. Despite its contemporary accoutrements, the Tom Rice A-11 very much preserves the feel and flavour of the era. It is a well built watch and an incredible value proposition. You can still pick up an original A-11 for a relatively good price. After all, tens of thousands were made. However, they are small by today’s standards and often not available in a condition to face the rigours of everyday wear, let alone adventures in the field. If you are looking for that vintage vibe in a smart, modern package…look no further.
The Praesidus Tom Rice A-11 retails for $249USD. For more information, please visit the brand website.
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