Somewhat surprisingly, 2022 has been a banner year for pocket watches. Between the futuristic Code41 Mecascape “time object” and the faithfully recreated Hamilton Railroad Pocket Watch, there’s been a quiet renaissance in timepieces off the wrist, but while some brands are reviving the notion of a pocket watch, Vortic stands at the forefront of converting great pocket watches to wrist use. The Colorado-based brand has built a loyal following over the past few years with its unique vintage pocket watch conversions, restoring and converting heirloom pocket watches to allow these often-forgotten pieces of horological history to live on. For its last release of 2022, however, Vortic moves away from its usual bespoke commission approach to create a limited edition of military pocket watch conversions. This is the fourth year the brand has released a military-issue series, and for this latest iteration, Vortic turns its sights to the Hamilton 4992B Master Navigator’s Watch, used during World War II aboard U.S. Army Air Corps bombers, including B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s as part of the onboard navigational equipment. The limited-run Vortic Military Edition 2022 offers a tangible piece of both watchmaking and aviation history, combined with Vortic’s uniquely rugged resto-mod stylistic approach.
For me, the Vortic Military Edition 2022 takes on special significance. My grandfather was a bombardier/navigator on a B-24 flight crew in the U.S. 15th Air Force during World War II, flying missions over Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania before being shot down by German flak and bailing out of his plane into Soviet-controlled Romania in spring 1945. Having a piece of equipment that he might well have used on my wrist is an undeniably moving experience, and it’s proof positive of the value of Vortic’s mission of historical preservation.
That said, there’s no denying that the Vortic Military Edition 2022 is a massive watch. At 49mm-wide and monolithically thick with moderately long lugs, this case wears extremely large. The dark-coated stainless steel case body works to emphasize the sense of mass and heft on the wrist, making this a boldly unapologetic statement piece in day-to-day wear. The slab-sided cylindrical main case and broad, wedge-like lugs give the design a suitably utilitarian, military equipment-esque feel, while the dappled dark coating conveys an aged, battle-worn look right out of the box. The real centerpiece of this case design is the titanium 12 o’clock crown, which combines a knurled lower segment with an upper segment featuring broad, rounded gear teeth. Vortic tops this crown with a complex printed signature, depicting a B-17 bomber in silhouette. Around back, Vortic fits the Military Edition 2022 with a Gorilla Glass display caseback, showcasing its approximately 80-year-old movement in full detail. While this case offers an extremely solid look and feel, this is still essentially a bespoke pocket watch conversion, and that custom casework is reflected in the dismal 10-meter water resistance rating. However, this is far from the first watch one would select for underwater use, anyway, and as a display piece, this rating carries less of an impact than it would with a dedicated sports watch.
The Vortic Military Edition 2022’s dial is directly lifted from the Hamilton 4992B donor pocket watch, with no restoration or alteration. This means that each example’s dial may be slightly different thanks to the vagaries of eight decades of aging and patina, but by and large, each follows the same government-regulated pattern. The matte-white sword and spade handset is exceedingly legible at a glance, standing out sharply against the simple matte-black base dial. Actually reading the Military Edition 2022 accurately can require some mental adjustment, however. This is thanks to its 24-hour dial layout, indicated by the inner set of printed Arabic hour numerals. The printed outer minutes scale is sharp and airy, augmenting the bare essentials with additional numerals at five-minute intervals. Other than this, the only dial marking is a large “GCT” (short for Greenwich Civil Time, the nomenclature at the time for what is now Greenwich Mean Time) at 12 o’clock. If this all sounds a bit sterile on paper, that’s certainly not the case in practice. There’s a wealth of nuance here that rewards close inspection, from the mildly warm undertones of the aging dial surface itself to the characterful, gently rounded typeface of the printed numerals. Over the years, the white dial text has aged to a pale, sandy tan tone, and the dial even includes a hint of complementary color in the form of pale sage-green minutes numerals. It’s a remarkably handsome layout when taken as a whole, even if it was designed for strictly utilitarian work.
However, by far the most handsome element of the Vortic Military Edition 2022 is its original hand-wound Hamilton 4992B pocket watch movement. Simply put, the level of finishing here is stunning, especially given that this is an approximately 80-year-old piece of military-issued equipment. There’s broad, even striping for the bridges and balance cock, an elegantly stylized regulator, contrasting spiral brushing for the mainspring barrel, a handful of blued screws, wide perlage for the mainplate, and slender polished anglage bordering each of the bridges. Even the black-filled engraved text is impressively ornamental, with an ornate serif typeface that gives the 4992B an instant sense of historic gravitas. Grading the 4992B on performance is a difficult metric, as this is a restored pocket watch movement manufactured somewhere between 1938 and 1950, but even by those standards, it holds up respectably to modern powerplants. The 4992B offers a 38-hour power reserve at a steady 18,000 bph beat rate, and through our review period, the movement averaged an accuracy of +12 seconds per day.
Vortic includes a pair of strap options with the Military Edition 2022, along with a unique hex screw changing tool to work with its custom lug design. The first is a leather-lined strap made of vintage olive drab military canvas (carried over from the Military Edition 2021), which complements the rugged, worn feel of the design admirably. The brand also includes a saddle brown strap in thick, durable buffalo leather, further emphasizing the toughness of the overall package. Vortic’s packaging for the Military Edition 2022 also deserves special mention here. Rather than the usual varnished wood or leather-wrapped affair, Vortic presents the Military Edition 2022 in a World War II-era painted steel ammunition box. This on its own is a fun and effective bit of theming, but inside this custom-padded box, the brand also includes a unique watch display stand in solid engraved billet aluminum, alongside the original pocket watch case and a handbook detailing the history of this series of pocket watches. It’s a display box that’s truly worthy of the name and makes the Military Edition 2022 stand out immediately amidst a collection of classic black watch boxes.
As more enthusiast attention begins to slowly turn toward pocket watches, Vortic’s core concept of pocket watch conversions is potentially due for a breakout moment. With the Military Edition 2022, the brand has struck upon a truly compelling blend of aesthetics, history, and build quality that could light the spark of that breakout. The oversized proportions inherent in a pocket watch conversion may not make this an easy daily-wear watch, but the tangible connection to history and the charismatic presentation make it a truly compelling statement piece for those bold enough to wear it. Only 50 examples of the Vortic Military Edition 2022 will be made, and the watch is available now through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the Vortic Military Edition 2022 stands at $7,995 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Military Edition 2022
>Price: $7,995 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When spending time with military or aviation fans, or when attending events for my grandfather.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Historians and aviation buffs looking for a piece of wearable history.
>Best characteristic of watch: Beautifully finished historic movement; clean, nuanced dial design; evocative packaging.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Immense proportions will be a turn-off for some; rugged case finishing may be divisive; steep pricing.