The Modern Field Watch
The first few years of my watch collecting were all about dive watches. I wasn’t interested in anything else and I didn’t even show an ounce of interest in other types of watches. Especially field watches. I was like a kid who has a favorite cereal and wouldn’t eat unless he would get that specific cereal. Not another brand, not another flavor. Just his favorite cereal. But, as the philosophers from Ancient Rome have taught us, the universe changes and life is opinion. I’ve come full circle on the matter of field watches. Now I understand why so many collectors are heads over heels for them and why so many brands continue to make field watches. Mainly: practicality and robustness.
Not all field watches made in 2023 are created equal, however. There is a lot of crap out there and there are some gems. One has to know what to look for when shopping for a proper field watch. It has to have the right size, have the right movement, and have a legible dial that anyone could read upside down in a mud pool. (I just imagine that some people end up in this kind of situation.) Regardless, today I want to talk to you about the latest offering from the Australian brand Second Hour: the Sattelberg. The Sattelberg is one of these watches that you must see in the metal to fully appreciate its quality and design.
Born out of the founders’ desire to celebrate Australian soldiers’ relentlessness and bravery during the battle of Sattelberg that took place between November 17-25 1943, Second Hour released what they described as being their most interesting design yet. Although the Sattelberg is the first model of the brand I am experiencing in the metal, I can tell, perusing through their website, that yes, it is indeed their most interesting watch from a design perspective. The photos and words therein will hopefully strike your interest to get your hands on one.
Although we are at the end of a painful two decade-long surge of big watches, field watches still tend to be larger than many of us would prefer. Oftentimes with diameters oscillating around 41/42mm in diameter and with cases too thick to make the watch slip under the cuff. But I have good news for you: the Sattelberg fits like a glove on my 6.25” (16cm) wrist. The watch comes with a 40mm diameter, 47mm lug-to-lug distance, 10mm in thickness, and 20mm lug width. It is remarkably flat and it both looks and feels flat on the wrist. When I first saw the spec sheet and product shots I thought the Sattelberg would look too big due to having a thin fixed bezel and, therefore, a wide dial opening.
But no, it doesn’t look too big, quite the opposite.
Despite being only 10mm thin, the Sattelberg comes with 100 meters of water resistance thanks to having a screw-down crown and case-back. Inside beats the Miyota 9015 movement that comes with 24 jewels, 42 hours of power reserve, and beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz.) The 9015 comes with a date complication that Second Hour neatly tucked above the 6 o’clock marker. (Bonus points for putting the date aperture there.) The dial is topped with a flat piece of sapphire crystal that has six layers of anti-reflective coating. The hands, applied markers, and five minute increment markers on the minute track are filled with BGW9 lume.
But wait, there’s more.
As a proper field watch, the Sattelberg was designed to be manhandled. Thrown into a pit or hit by the butt of a rifle. And here lies the difference between a watch that looks like a proper tool watch and one that is a proper tool watch. Second Hour coated the case of the Sattelberg with a proprietary hardening agent raising the typical scratch resistance of stainless steel from 140 to 1,200 on the Vickers hardening scale. This means that although the case can be scratched, you’d have to really work hard at it to endow it with the signs of your human recklessness.
Let’s talk about Second Hour’s most interesting designs to date. In very broad terms, field watches come with full Arabic numeral hour markers, broad hands, lots of lume, and a 24-hour scale in the middle of the dial. Generally, the hour markers are painted rather than printed, and the font used for these markers is bold, so that reading the time is easy. In the past few years (and I am hesitant to tell you exactly how many years,) brands have made modern interpretations of classic field watches from the era roughly starting in the late 1940s and ending in the 1960s. Some brands are very good at it, others aren’t. And some do 1:1 copies while others come up with their own original design and visual identity.
The Sattelberg, therefore, comes with a unique design language which—to be totally frank with you—I wasn’t sure would be my jam. I’m obsessed with symmetry and boring designs and the Sattelberg is quite new in its approach to laying out a dial. Here I’m talking about the alternation of 3-D Arabic numerals at the 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 o’clock positions and high polish applied markers everywhere else. While the symmetry isn’t perfect (the 12 o’clock marker is an inverted triangle,) I wasn’t bothered by it after wearing the watch for a few minutes. And I have to admit that the Sattelberg pushed me outside my cozy comfort zone and I’m glad it did.
In some aspects, the Sattelberg shines: the applied triangular-shaped markers as well as the hands come with a fine polish treatment that reflects light superbly. Although it’s beautiful to look at, I imagine it’s not the most practical thing on a battlefield as these elements could give away your position. (Have you immediately noticed how little I know about warfare?) However, the rest of the markers come with a matte finish, given that they are made of lume. The more utilitarian aspect can be seen in the vertical brushing on the dial that absorbs light and the discreet date window at the 6 o’clock that comes—thank God!—with a color-matched date wheel.
Speaking of colors, did you notice the orange highlights at the 12, 4, and 8 o’clock markers? They are part of the brand’s unique design language that can be seen in other Second Hour models where these markers are made larger than the other ones. Given that the Sattelberg has a different layout, the brand opted to nod to their other collections by adding the orange highlights. I think this is a nice touch both in terms of visual effect (I love the touch of color) and as a testament to the brand’s commitment to its own design language and originality. And there is more!
One of my favorite elements of the Sattelberg is the case design. Or should I say, case profile. The case has short lugs that turn down, a thin profile that is accentuated by a polished chamfer that runs from one lug to the other, highlighting the slender figure of the mid-case. Even though you could have guessed it looking at the dimensions, the Sattelberg does indeed wear superbly on my wrist, the latter being more skinny than large, the one of a true writer and not of a hardcore athlete. But regardless, I love that darn case profile that is endowed with elegance (polished chamfer) and pragmatism (flatness.)
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the matter is the fact that Second Hour has created something brand new and refreshing. More than that, I would say that the brand was able to accomplish something that few brands can: innovation in design. Thinking back to the early years of my watch collecting, perhaps my lack of interest in field watches was due to the fact that they all tend to look the same. I know, that’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone who had an obsession with divers. However, while divers use the same design language—e.g., a dive time bezel, contrasting dial, legible hands—field watches all looked more or less like an offspring of a Dirty Dozen.
At least, they did to me. Please don’t judge me too harshly.
Even though asymmetry makes me nervous, my nerves reverted back to a natural and calm state as soon as I strapped the Sattelberg on my wrist. The comfort that emanates from the case design and the intricate alternation of polished and matte markers, the high polished hands on brushed dial, as well as the discreet placement of the printed logo above the pinion—won me over. Now I feel that more field watches should look like a Sattelberg, not that they should look the same, but that they should come with their own visual identity that does not mirror that of the hundreds of other field watches available on the market today.
One element of the Sattelberg I have yet to mention is the straps the watch comes with. First of all, the watch is shipped in a zipped pouch that has the right size and feel to be used for other things, and not a massive wooden box that I would simply jettison across the battlefield. The Sattelberg also comes with a canvas strap and a fabric strap, color-matched to the dial of the model you choose. But, my friends, let me tell you how nice the fabric strap is: it’s made of two pieces, it’s super stretchy and soft on the skin, and comes with quick-release spring bars. What a delight to wear and operate!
In good Mainspring fashion, I could not hide my riveting enthusiasm for the Sattelberg. If I had not even a sliver of enthusiasm I wouldn’t be writing about it anyway. And I make it a rule to only write about watches that I actually like, otherwise I wouldn’t even bother. (And that’s a rule I can only impose on myself when I write for myself, otherwise known as Mainspring.) So yes, I quite like the Sattelberg and of the two versions I was sent for review (black and gray,) I prefer the gray one, otherwise called Gun Smoke by the brand. Speaking of colors, besides black and gray, one can order the Sattelberg in blue and white.
And, speaking of ordering the watch, orders open February 17/18 directly from the brand’s website. Retailing for roughly $493 (USD,) you can’t go wrong with a Sattelberg.