Ever since SEAL Team 6 successfully eliminated one of the most vilified terrorists of the century, the US Navy SEALs have gone from being a well-respected force to achieving near-celebrity status. Since then, every gun, knife, and watch manufacturer on earth has capitalized on their rise in prestige by claiming that their product is a favorite of the SEALs.
However, just because a watch has a trident on the dial or the caseback, doesn’t make it a Navy SEAL mission watch – most of these are just novelty commemorative editions.
The watches that Navy SEALs really wear on missions are sometimes issued, but usually individually-owned. However, they all revolve around a handful of brands and have mission-critical features and specifications that are invaluable to operators. These include Casio G-Shock, Luminox, Timex, Tudor and Rolex, Seiko dive watches, and Suunto.
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Naming Conventions: SEALs, Frogmen, and UDT Divers
To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s hash out the vocabulary. Military language is filled with acronyms and jargon, and the Navy’s makes the least sense.
The US Navy’s primary special operations force. Originally developed as underwater combat specialists, today’s SEALs are highly-trained in conducting small-unit operations in ocean, urban, desert, jungle, and arctic environments.
SEALs go through a highly-challenging selection process called BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition), which includes Hell Week to weed out the weak hands.
A nickname or technical term for combat divers – particularly those who have earned a combat diver’s badge and/or participate in combat diving operations. All SEALs are Frogmen, but not all Frogmen are SEALs.
UDT Divers (Underwater Demolitions Teams)
One of the precursors to the modern Navy SEALs. Recognizing the havoc that the Italian Frogmen were wreaking on enemy ships in WWII, the US quickly followed suit in establishing a similar force.
UDTs performed critical missions to pave the way for Army and Marine amphibious landings by performing coastal recon, clearing beach obstacles, and sinking enemy watercraft.
Minimum Watch Specifications for Underwater Ops
For a watch to be worthy of being worn by a SEAL, it has to meet a minimum set of specifications. Some watches don’t meet these, and then malfunction within hours of operation. Many of these criteria are included in ISO-6425 specifications (the international specifications on what can be considered a dive watch).
Water Resistance – whether its a coastal recon or an underwater demo exercise, the watch should be water-tights since it’s about to be submerged. Ideally the watch should be Diver’s 200m or ISO-6425 certified. However, watches with 100m will also frequently get the job done without leaking.
Shock-Proof – it’s not enough to just be water resistant, a watch should also be shock-resistant. This makes sense on land when apprehending a target with physical force. However, it’s also important underwater: shocks to a watch under pressure will compromise it’s water-seal integrity. That’s why 200m WR is better than 100m, even if you’re only diving to 50.
Luminous – in underwater environments, your watch should be easy to read. This requires the use of luminous material applied to the hands and hour markers, or tritium tubes, or a backlight button on digital ones. Analog watches should have lume on the seconds hand so you can verify in near-darkness that the watch is operational.
Easily-Legible – you should be able to glance at the watch, look away, and know what the reading was. You shouldn’t have to scrutinize and double-check the time. This means we need a high-contrast dial that’s highly-legible.
Affordable – as a SEAL, you’re going to be overextended enough as it is from buying extra booze, guns, and boots. A quality watch to get the job done can be had for one or two hundred bucks; anything more is vanity. Most of the watches on this list are pretty affordable (or completely unaffordable).
A note on outdated watch models
Navy SEALs have officially been around since 1962, and have been wearing watches since at least that time. Over the course of the last 60 years, watch models have come and gone as technology and specifications improved.
In this article, we won’t be looking at these obsolete models – instead, we’ll be taking a look at the modern versions of the watches that today’s SEALs actually wear on missions.
Think of it as a recommendation of a 2020 semi-automatic 30-round M4 rifle over a 1964 20-round M16 on uncontrollable full-auto blast. One is a state-of-the-art modern military technology, and the other is an antique. We’re going to be looking at the updates.
Following the success of it’s predecessor (DW6600), the G-Shock DW6900 is the new favorite watch of the Navy SEALs. Sporting the same case shape and design, this is one of the most durable and affordable watches on the market.
Although the G-Shock DW6600 is often cited as THE Navy SEAL watch, it’s been out of production for decades. As a matter of fact, it was THE military watch of the 90’s, just like the DW6900 is today.
At a certain point after passing Phase 2 in BUD/S, SEAL candidates are issued a G-Shock for the rest of selection. Due to their durability and functionality, candidates continue wearing them after earning their Trident – taking the G-Shocks into combat missions.
Today, G-Shocks are the favorite watch of the military, and especially of the Navy SEALs. They’re nearly indestructible, and otherwise cheap to replace. Among them all, the DW6900 stands out as the classic symbol of Navy SEAL unconventional warfare tools.
The Luminox 3051 has earned a distinction as being one of the few “Navy SEAL watches.” The main reason for this is that they have a SEAL trident engraved into the back, and carry the name of the operational force in the watch name.
Many civilians and operators have bought into the marketing, particularly because it preceded the universal fame that the SEALs gained during the GWOT.
Aesthetically, the Luminox 3051 has a distinctive high-contrast dial and a quartz movement. It looks like a robust field and dive watch with 200m of water resistance.
However, many operators find that after wearing it, the internals of the watch don’t hold up to the stress of daily combat use and training. If the hands don’t fall off, maybe the hour markers will. They’re considered garbage by many team guys.
Nonetheless, Luminox has earned a distinction as being favored by operators for one reason or another. They have other models, such as the EVO blackout that also find themselves on the wrists of Navy SEALs.
In recent years, Timex has become increasingly popular thanks to social media mentions by former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink who swears by them on his mother’s grave.
This”officially” makes the Timex Ironman a Navy SEAL watch – especially considering all the new SEALs inspired by Willink’s social influence to purchase it for their own frogman careers. Timex is one of the last remaining American watch companies, founded in 1854.
The Timex Ironman is affordable, durable, and functional. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking (old Timex slogan). For this reason, today it’s not only favored by Navy SEALs, but also by triathletes.
Rolex (and subsidiary Tudor) watches have been issued to special operations forces during and after the Vietnam War. At the time, they were an unmatched diving instrument that was quintessential to underwater operations.
Those were the days before dive computers, and water resistance was still a developing science. Today, every watch company has a similar-looking design that they’ve copied, with water resistance of over 200m included – for a few hundred bucks.
However, Rolex was first to market – both with their iconic designs and waterproof watch technology. Today, they’re recognized as not just a luxury civilian watch, but a military tool with a timeless legacy.
Tudor is in the same boat, so to speak. They were also issued to Navy SEALs, and could be commonly found on their wrists in the 70’s and 80’s. Today, Tudor is made to very similar quality and design specs as daddy Rolex for a quarter of the price.
For that reason, Tudors are considered some of the best-value Swiss watches you can buy, and they have a genuine legacy of being worn by the SEALs.
Seiko dive watches have been a favorite of many operators for underwater dives and missions. They’re known for being extremely durable, reliable, and easy to read. For these reasons, they’re frequently purchased by (and issued to) Navy SEALs and other special operations forces.
Seiko divers come with the same functionality and legacy as Rolex, but without the hefty price tag. They’re built to professional specifications by one of the best names in Japanese watchmaking.
Today, they’re enjoyed by civilian watch collectors and military divers as a robust and timeless underwater instrument. In the last few decades, Navy SEALs have been issued one type of Seiko dive watch or another – they were the G-Shocks of the 1970’s.
The Suunto Core is a favorite among SEALs in need of a watch filled with mission-critical features.
Overall, the watch has a lot going for it: t’s large and easy to read, and has some nice ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass) features. However, many users report that it is less durable and feels less robust than Casio products, which is a big negative in the field.
While it’s a great watch for navigation to and from a mission, it seems rather fragile for a UDT guy. Nevertheless, you’ll have at least one guy on your team that swears by them, so he’s probably a more reliable source for what works (at least for him).
Overall, the Suunto Core is one of the few watches that’s easily recognizable on the wrists of Navy SEALs. It’s a high-quality precision instrument that also helps them accomplish their mission.
- Blancpain Fifty Fathoms – one of the original watches developed for combat divers in the 1950’s. Today it is a luxury timepiece and highly collectible.
- Benrus Type 1 and 2 – issued to Navy SEALs, UDT divers, (and allegedly some SF units) during the Vietnam war.
- Citizen Eco-Zilla Aqualand – Professional diving instrument said to be sighted on the wrists of Navy personnel with beards.
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Navy SEALs – luxury Swiss watch produced with collaboration and for use by Navy SEALs. One of them can probably afford it.
The United States has an infatuation with the Navy SEALs, and with good reason – they took down bin Laden, and they’re also one of the toughest units to get into. They use the best equipment and tactics to assist in and accomplish some of the most dangerous and critical missions on Earth.
Along with using state-of-the-art weapons and gear, SEALs also use highly-durable and reliable watches. While many commemorative models have been released in their honor, team guys rely on a handful of reliable brands. Whether purchased privately or issued by the military, the watches that earn the top place in US Frogman history are Seikos, Casio G-Shocks, Rolex and Tudors, Timex, Luminox (and Blancpain and Benrus).
Historical Context: Origins of Underwater Special Warfare Teams
The development of the modern combat diver is closely tied to the development of underwater breathing technology – which was in also closely related to underwater watch development. Both technologies began appearing during WWII and gained traction in the following decade.
The first modern frogmen were Italian Commando divers in WWII (1938). They utilized newly-developed technologies (diving masks, snorkels, fins, rubber dry suit, and one of the first dive watches – the radioactive Panerai Radiomir).
The Italian Frogmen conducted successful operations against British ships and oil tankers, leading to the creation of the British SBS (Special Boat Service) – the maritime version of the SAS.
In 1942, the US Military established the first joint-branch Amphibious Scout and Raider School to train military personnel in underwater combat tactics. Before the SEALs, CIA, and Special Forces, there was the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), who experimented with all manner of unconventional warfare.
Between 1942 and 1962, the US slowly increased reliance on combat divers for conducting critical aspects of operations. The progenitors of the modern Navy SEALs included the OSS Maritime Unit (MU), the Special Forces (who have their own combat dive school), UDTs, and the Seabees.
Starting in the 1960’s, President Kennedy recognized the increasing need for unconventional warfare units, and the Navy SEALs were officially established in 1962. This school combined all the expertise of the prior two decades of UDT operations, as well as combat training and unconventional warfare, into one elite fighting force.
Since then, the Navy SEALs have been quietly conducting operations all over the globe and solidfying their place as one of the premier special operations forces in the world.
With the advent of the internet and Charlie Sheen movies, Average Joes started hearing about and knowing about the SEALs due to book deals, Twitter and Instagram posts by former SEALs, and Navy-sponsored films like Act of Valor. Other famous movies include Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and Navy SEALS vs Zombies.
Finally, SEAL Team 6 (ST6) is an elite sub-unit of the main teams dedicated to the most covert and top-secret missions (the Navy’s Delta Force). We’re not really sure what they do outside of killing terrorists – God bless ’em.
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