What Is a Tool Watch?


If you’ve been involved with fine timepieces for any length of time, you’ve heard (or read) someone mention the term “tool watch.” I know this is elementary for a lot of people but for new enthusiasts and collectors, I’m going to talk about the term a little.


Just by the name, you can tell a tool watch is some type of tool, but what does that even mean? They’re not hammers you pay thousands of dollars for. The term is used to describe watches built for a purpose other than dress attire or just to simply tell time.

The term came into use with the invention of dive watches.

Tool watches are made with a specific purpose in mind. They are used as tools (big surprise). For example, a Submariner’s bezel can time a dive so a diver knows when to surface. Other tool watches include aviation watches, boating watches, and watches with functionality designed for timing specific circumstances or situations, like the Rolex Daytona or Explorer. Although some tool watches are created today and some functionality is added, the origins of tool watches are in a time when such watches were the only available tools.


Today, a diver can use modern electronics to know when to surface. Some dashboards display the numbers a Cosmograph Daytona can help a race driver calculate. Certainly there are faster and more effective tools in today’s modern world but I have a hard time thinking they look as nice on the wrist.