The African Sun Compass is a great tool to have in your survival...
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Much like the ill-fated predictions that we’d all be driving hovercars and fighting cyborgs armed with laser blasters by the early 2000s, we’ve often heard it said that modern technology is bound to make the wristwatch obsolete. Despite this claim, watches seem to be alive and well. In fact, we’d even say that there has been a resurgence in their popularity in the last decade. Some of this may be due to the convenience of knowing the time without pulling out a cell phone, and some can be attributed to appreciation for the visual style of a nice timepiece.
While we can understand the appeal of high-tech smart watches with Bluetooth and internet connectivity, we tend to lean towards simpler designs for every-day carry and use on outdoor adventures. Specifically, field watches offer some distinct advantages for use in the backcountry.
Field watches are simple, easy-to-read analog watches inspired by vintage military wristwatch designs. As a result of this origin, they offer slim cases, high-visibility markings, and tough fabric or leather straps designed to withstand years of hard use. If a smart watch is analogous to a 30-function multi-tool, a field watch is like your grandpa’s WWII-issue Ka-Bar — it’s built for one primary purpose, and it does it well.
For more info on the history of standard-issue field watches, check out our previous review of another Bertucci watch, the A-4T Vintage Yankee.
Although most field watches offer nothing more than a hour, minute, and second hand with high-contrast markings, some designs have a few more advanced features. Twelve- and twenty-four-hour numbering is common, making it easier to tell time in the standard civilian and military formats. A date function is also useful for tracking the day of the month at a glance.
One of the most significant upgrades seen on field watches is referred to as GMT. You may recognize this abbreviation for Greenwich Mean Time, which is the mean solar time measured at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. Time zones around the world are often referred to as GMT +X or GMT -X, where X is a certain number of hours offset from the standard time in London. For example, the time zones in the United States are as follows (not including Daylight Savings Time adjustments):
When it comes to analog watches, a GMT function means that the watch has a fourth hand. When set and adjusted correctly, this enables the wearer to check the current time with the standard three hands, and simultaneously read the fourth hand to see the time in another zone.
The GMT watch feature originated in the 1950s, as a result of pilots who needed to keep track of time both at home and in the current destination. The fourth hand in these GMT watches operates on a 24-hour movement, making one 360-degree rotation each day, as opposed to the regular hour hand, which operates on a 12-hour movement and makes two full rotations each day. There are two ways to use this fourth hand, which we’ll explain below.
If you’re not traveling, the GMT hand can simply be set to provide the 24-hour time in your current location. This makes it easy to instantly read the time in either 12- or 24-hour format without doing any mental math.
If you are traveling outside your home time zone, the fourth GMT hand can be set to your home time, and the primary hour hand can be set to the time in your current location. It’s also useful if you work or frequently communicate with people outside your time zone — just keep the GMT hand set to their time zone so you won’t mix up the scheduled time for an important conference call.
The video below from World of Watches shows the basics of how to set a 24-hour GMT hand:
We frequently wear the Bertucci A-4T mentioned earlier in this article, so we were pleased to hear about the release of its new sibling: the Bertucci A-2TR Vintage GMT. Like the A-4T, the A-2TR features the company’s patented solid titanium case with built-in band lugs and a matte finish.
The A-2TR has a slightly smaller case diameter (40mm) and narrower band (7/8″) than the A-4T, although this size is still substantially larger than the 30mm field watches of the 1950s — those appear tiny by today’s standards.
The A-2TR also features a Swiss-made quartz movement, hardened sapphire crystal, and 100-meter water-resistance as a result of its screw-down crown. These features provide the sort of durability we expect from an outdoor-oriented watch, and ensure it’ll hold up to the inevitable bumps and scrapes of daily use. The hands and face markings are treated with Swiss Super Luminous material that provides passive glow after exposure to light from the sun or indoor bulbs.
Our watch features the optional Horween Montanaro leather band, which is made in the USA , water-resistant, and fitted with a stainless steel buckle and loop. Bertucci also offers this watch with heavy-duty nylon NATO straps in black, olive green, or coyote tan. With the leather band, this watch is priced at $290. With a nylon band, it’s $270. These bands are sold separately, and their straight-through design makes them a breeze to swap out, so you can always get a few options if you’re indecisive.
As expected from a GMT watch, the A-2TR features a fourth hand (a red arrow) that moves on a 24-hour rotation. Numbers on the inside of the face indicate 24-hour time. The GMT hand is set by loosening the screw-down crown, pulling it out to its first position, and turning counter-clockwise. Turning the crown clockwise at this position adjusts the date function, and pulling it out to its second position allows adjusting the primary hands.
Another notable feature of the A-2TR Vintage GMT is its rotating bezel, indicated by the R in its model name. The bezel rotates counter-clockwise with 60 positions, each indicated by a positive click of the ratcheting bezel mechanism. This bezel offers two valuable functions for use in the outdoors:
The main function of the rotating bezel is to help you track elapsed minutes or seconds, similar to a stopwatch. To track elapsed time, rotate the bezel counter-clockwise until the large red triangle aligns with the minute hand.
As the minute hand moves, the markings around the bezel will show the number of minutes that have passed. There are markings for 1-minute increments up to 15 minutes, then 5-minute increments for the rest of the hour. If you need to time more precisely, you can align the bezel with the second hand. In this case, you’ll have to mentally keep track of the elapsed minutes after the first 60 seconds.
Breaking down challenging projects into smaller increments has been shown to improve productivity, so this is one way we use the timer bezel. It’s also helpful for tracking how long you’ve spent walking a path, cooking food, brewing coffee or tea, or working on any other task.
The other advantage to a rotating bezel is the ability to use it as a navigational aid.
During the day, you can aim any analog watch’s hour hand at the sun and split the angle between it and the 12:00 mark to find a north-south line. The end of this line furthest from the sun will be north, assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere. For a more detailed explanation, refer to our previous article on how to use a watch as a compass.
A rotating bezel will help you use this technique more precisely. Once you’ve pointed the hour hand at the sun, turn the bezel ring until the “30” mark is halfway between the hour hand and 12:00 on the watch face (i.e. south). The red arrow is now indicating north, the 15 mark will indicate east, and the 45 mark will indicate west. The other increments can be used to orient yourself more precisely to the northwest, southeast, and so on. The ring should be adjusted every hour to reflect changes in the sun’s position.
Once you’ve established the N/E/S/W cardinal directions, bezel ring can be rotated again to shoot an azimuth, much like you’d use the bezel ring on a real USGI lensatic compass.
See the Bertucci manual excerpt at the end of this article for more details about rotating bezel compass use.
The new Bertucci A-2TR Vintage GMT is a modern-day homage to the classic field watches of the 1950s. The integration of features such as a date function, a 24-hour GMT hand, and a rotating bezel add value without diminishing the watch’s reliable simplicity and old-school style. The strong titanium case, sapphire crystal, and water-resistant screw-down crown subtly modernize this design.
As with the previous Bertucci watch we reviewed, the interchangeable bands are a nice touch, since they make the watch more versatile and very easy to clean. As much as we like the Horween leather band, we’ll probably switch it for one of Bertucci’s Tridura synthetic bands in the future, since the band on our A-4T has proven surprisingly resistant against moisture, dirt, and abrasions.
During our time with the A-2TR, it has made a nice addition to our EDC gear rotation, and it has been hard to find fault with any aspect of its design or construction. However, the included documentation could use some improvement — despite Bertucci’s site stating details on the use of the rotating bezel as a compass can be found in the owner’s manual, we found no mention of this feature there. The manual also makes no mention of adjusting the GMT hand, but this was easy enough to figure out. Our manual is dated 1/2017, so perhaps a future revision will add more instructions.
Update: Bertucci let us know that, as we suspected, we mistakenly received an old version of the watch manual. They sent us a PDF of the correct A-2TR-specific manual, and we can confirm that it includes information on how to set the GMT hand and use the rotating bezel. We’re told all future orders will include this corrected manual. See below for a sample of the rotating bezel compass instructions:
For more information on Bertucci field watches and the A-2TR Vintage GMT, go to BertucciWatches.com.
A standard-issue A-11 field watch, one of the most iconic designs of the WWII era. Source: Crown and Caliber
Top: Bertucci A-4T (44mm) / Middle: Bertucci A-2TR (40mm) / Bottom: Citizen BM8180 (37mm)