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My Lifetime Love Affair with the Humble Tool Watch

I have never wanted anything more than a tool watch. From my time as a PADI Open Water and Divemaster SCUBA diver through my time as a Saint Louis School JROTC Ranger Club Ranger through to today, I just want a watch that's tough and useful and handsome and modest and durable and bombproof.
My Lifetime Love Affair with the Humble Tool Watch

Garmin Instinct 2X Solar Tactical

These days, I am mostly running Garmin Instinct Solars, from my initial Instinct 1 Solar to my current EDC tool watch, the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar Tactical. My first watch was the original GShock GW-5000 Square by Casio. Later, I bought a Seiko 6309-7040 Diver that I use until today. Almost 20 years ago,

I got my buddy to buy me a top-of-the-line Rolex Submariner knockoff and I treated it like a tool watch but, at the time, I was volunteering a lot at a homeless food kitchen and felt too self-conscious, even though my watch was a Fauxlex. So, I went back to my Seiko Diver with a black & olive and a black & tan Bond NATO strap.

If I ever bought a real Rolex Sea Dweller or Submariner, I would get it No Date and I would dress it down with a NATO or a ZULU strap. Since then, I have collected a modern, JDM, made in Japan, interpretation of the original Casio G-Shock GW-5000 with radio time sync and tough solar and the iconic screw on back that none of the modern GW-5600 have.

I also bought the most pimped tool watch short of a Frogman, the iconic GW9400-3 Rangeman in tan/khaki/coyote brown, as seen in the movie Extraction (I will admin, that's why I bought it). It's an ABC watch, my second. My first ABC watch, offering Altitude, Barometric Pressure, and Compass, was and is the SUUNTO CORE BLACK, which is really just the epitome of a tool watch. No frills, east to access battery, cool looks, clear and easy to read, a weather alarm, and no need for GPS or anything else.

I found a company on Etsy that offered a nice NATO-style black nylon bracelet and I wore it, only, for years, before GPS watches went from the too-bulky 920XTs to my everyday watch, also an ABC tool watch but also a GPS sports watch, a tactical watch, a shooter's watch, and also a fitness watch with SpO2 and pulse and sleep-tracking, step-tracking, and movement-tracking. But, also with a huge battery (it's a 2X, meaning extra large), and enough solar square millimeters of solar panel that it isn't very dependent on the charger.

While my Rangeman and my GW5000 Square both never need replacement batteries (while the G9000 GShock Mudman is maybe the best watch every made, it does have a battery requiring changing, and that's a little bit of a vulnerability because changing a Mudman's battery is a lot harder than changing the SUUNTO Core is, which only requires a Nickel, a twist of the wrist, and a fresh 2032 3V lithium coin cell watch battery. Just be sure to make sure that you don't pinch the O-ring; and, if you do, you can order a replacement online—and you should in order to maintain waterproofness), most GPS watches have big, bright, OLED other modern, bright, screens.

The Garmin Instinct line of watches, at least for now, is black and white, using MIP technology, which sips battery in a similar way to e-Ink. The solar panels of my new watch might not be able to keep up with my Tough Solar Casios, depending on use and exposure to sun, you should be able to only need to charge up a 2X once or maybe twice a month, depending on intensity of use and how much you've invested in the Garmin's BlueTooth-based smart watch bells and whistles: notifications, GPS-use, the LCD flashlight, the gesture-based backlight, the backlight intensity and length, heart rate and SpO2 features and interactive texting and all the rest.

You can easily turn off those things and you can end up with a tough, ABC, watch with virtually unlimited charge. Nearly "tough solar" levels of ∞ forevercharging. 

SUUNTO CORE BLACKCasio G Shock GW-5000-1JFCasio G-Shock Mudman G9000MS-1CR Men's MilitaryCasio AE1500WH-1AVSeiko 6309-7040 Automatic Turtle DiverCasio G-Shock Rangeman GW-9400-3 Tough Solar MultibandCASIO DW 5600 early G shock with Commando Nylon Watch BandSUUNTO CORE BLACK with black nylon bandCasio GShock G-9000-3V Military and Casio Gshock DW-5600HR-1  Military SquareGarmin Instinct 2X Solar Tactical


1. What models of watches have you owned and used?

  • I've used several models, including the Garmin Instinct Solar series, Casio GW-5000 Square, Seiko 6309-7040 Diver, a Rolex Submariner knockoff (Fauxlex), Casio G-Shock GW-5000 with tough solar and radio time sync, GW9400-3 Rangeman, and the SUUNTO CORE BLACK.

2. Why did you stop wearing the Rolex Submariner knockoff?

  • I felt too self-conscious wearing it while volunteering at a homeless food kitchen.

3. How do you prefer to style a Rolex Sea Dweller or Submariner if you owned one?

  • I would opt for a No Date model and dress it down with a NATO or ZULU strap.

4. What is your everyday carry (EDC) tool watch?

  • My EDC tool watch is the Instinct 2X Solar Tactical.

5. What features do you value in a tool watch?

  • Durability, solar charging capability, ABC (Altitude, Barometric Pressure, Compass) features, GPS, tactical features, fitness tracking (SpO2, pulse, sleep-tracking), and ease of battery replacement.

6. What was your first ABC watch and what does ABC stand for?

  • My first ABC watch was the SUUNTO CORE BLACK. ABC stands for Altitude, Barometric Pressure, and Compass.

7. Why did you choose the GW9400-3 Rangeman?

  • Its appearance in the movie Extraction influenced my decision, alongside its features as a robust tool watch.

8. What are the challenges of maintaining the G9000 GShock Mudman?

  • Changing its battery is more difficult compared to other watches, which can be a vulnerability.

9. How do you maintain the waterproofness of your watches?

  • Careful not to pinch the O-ring during battery changes and ordering replacements online if needed.

10. What is MIP technology, and which watch uses it?

  • MIP (Memory-In-Pixel) technology is used in the Garmin Instinct line for low power consumption. It's similar to e-Ink.

11. How often do you need to charge your Garmin Instinct 2X Solar?

  • Depending on usage and solar exposure, it needs charging once or maybe twice a month.

12. Can you turn off certain features to extend the battery life of the Garmin Instinct?

  • Yes, features like Bluetooth notifications, GPS, and heart rate monitoring can be turned off to conserve battery.

13. What inspired you to buy a modern interpretation of the Casio G-Shock GW-5000?

  • The modern features such as radio time sync and tough solar along with the iconic screw-on back.

14. What is your approach to wristwatch straps?

  • I prefer NATO-style straps for their versatility and the way they can change the look of a watch.

15. How does the battery life of your GPS watches compare to traditional watches?

  • GPS watches require more frequent charging due to their advanced features, unlike traditional watches which may have solar charging or longer-lasting batteries.

16. What do you look for in a NATO-style bracelet?

  • Quality material like nylon, durability, and comfort for long-term wear.

17. How do the Garmin Instinct Solar watches handle solar charging?

  • They incorporate solar panels to extend battery life, though efficiency may vary based on usage and sunlight exposure.

18. What makes the SUUNTO CORE BLACK stand out as a tool watch?

  • Its simplicity, ease of battery access, clear display, and practical features like a weather alarm without the need for GPS.

19. Why do you value solar charging in watches?

  • It reduces dependency on chargers and offers more autonomy, especially in outdoor settings.

20. How does the tactical feature set of your watches enhance their use?

  • Tactical features, including GPS, compass, and fitness tracking, support outdoor activities, fitness routines, and professional use in tactical environments.


ABC Watch: A watch featuring Altitude, Barometric Pressure, and Compass readings.

Battery Life: The duration a watch can operate on a single charge or battery.

Bluetooth Notifications: Alerts received from a connected device, such as messages or calls.

E-Ink: Electronic paper display technology known for its low power consumption.

EDC (Everyday Carry): Items carried on a daily basis for utility and preparedness.

Fauxlex: A colloquial term for a counterfeit or knockoff Rolex watch.

GPS (Global Positioning System): A satellite-based navigation system used to determine the precise location.

MIP (Memory-In-Pixel): A type of display technology that conserves power by only updating changed pixels.

NATO Strap: A durable, interchangeable watch strap originally developed for military use.

No Date: A watch design that does not include a date function or display.

O-Ring: A seal used in watches to prevent water ingress.

Solar Charging: The ability of a device to recharge its battery using solar energy.

SpO2: A measurement of oxygen saturation levels in the blood.

SUUNTO CORE BLACK: A rugged outdoor watch known for its ABC features and simple design.

Tactical Watch: A watch with features designed for tactical, outdoor, or military use.

Tough Solar: A Casio watch feature that allows charging through light sources for extended battery life.

Tool Watch: A watch designed for specific functions or activities beyond telling time.

Waterproofness: The ability of a watch to resist water ingress to a specified depth.

ZULU Strap: A thick, durable watch strap similar to a NATO strap but often made with heavier hardware.

The Evolution of the Tool Watch: Functionality Beyond Timekeeping

The history of the tool watch is a testament to the ever-evolving relationship between humans and their environment, showcasing our perpetual quest for tools that can withstand the extremities of our adventures, professions, and daily life. Originating from the basic need for timekeeping, tool watches have transcended their primary function, evolving into essential gear for divers, pilots, soldiers, and explorers alike. This journey from simple time-telling devices to sophisticated pieces of technology reflects a blend of innovation, craftsmanship, and the indomitable human spirit.

The Early Beginnings: War and Exploration

The inception of the tool watch can be traced back to the early 20th century, where the exigencies of war and exploration necessitated the development of watches that could offer more than just the time of day. Military operations required precise coordination, leading to the birth of the first tool watches designed for soldiers, featuring robust construction and luminous dials for visibility in low-light conditions. Similarly, the era of exploration demanded timepieces that could withstand extreme conditions, leading to innovations in water resistance and durability.

Diving into the Depths: The Diver's Watch

The 1950s marked a significant evolution in the tool watch genre with the advent of the diver's watch. As underwater exploration and recreational diving gained popularity, the need for watches that could withstand the pressure of the deep sea became apparent. Brands like Rolex and Omega led the charge, introducing watches with unprecedented water resistance, rotating bezels for tracking dive time, and dials that were legible under the murky depths of the ocean. The diver's watch thus became a symbol of human ambition, pushing the boundaries of what was possible beneath the waves.

Racing Against Time: The Chronograph

The chronograph function, which allows for the measurement of elapsed time, transformed the tool watch into an indispensable instrument for pilots and motorsport racers. The ability to record precise intervals of time became crucial in the golden age of aviation and the fast-paced world of racing. Chronographs such as the Omega Speedmaster, which famously accompanied astronauts on the moon, epitomized the tool watch's role in aiding some of humanity's most daring endeavors.

The Modern Era: Smart Technology and Solar Power

The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed a paradigm shift in the tool watch landscape, with the integration of smart technology and solar power. Watches like the Garmin Instinct Solar and Casio G-Shock have redefined what it means to be a tool watch, offering features such as GPS navigation, heart rate monitoring, and solar charging. These modern iterations cater not only to the needs of adventurers and professionals but also to a broader audience seeking durability, functionality, and energy efficiency in their timepieces.

Tool Watches Today: More Than Just Timekeepers

Today's tool watches are marvels of engineering and design, embodying the spirit of their predecessors while embracing the technological advancements of the modern world. They serve as a testament to human ingenuity, offering a blend of traditional watchmaking and cutting-edge technology. From the depths of the ocean to the vastness of space, tool watches have become integral companions in our exploration of the unknown.