Six of the best classic tool watches that are timely all-rounders

For all the attractive vintage-themed watches currently in vogue, the ideal all-rounder surely remains the tool watch, a timepiece that's as at home in the board room as it is on the beach. This is the watch that invariably comes on a sturdy bracelet or rubberised strap, does duty from dawn to drop and is determinedly fit for purpose – be that diving, timing or simply taking everything in its stride.

Rugged? Yes. Handsome? Often. Dependable? Always. The tool watch is the trusty "keeper" you return to when the need arises – and when you tire of the latest must-have piece that stole your horological heart. Just as the quality of watches overall has reached unprecedented levels, be it in performance or presentation, so too has the tool watch become a thing of commanding competence. Today's offerings are more water-resistant, more shock-proof, more resistant to magnetic forces and more accurate – to the point where the differentiating factor is mostly one of brand preference, pricing and which in your eyes has that elusive must-have factor.

Dominant names – no surprise – are Rolex with its Submariners, Sea-Dwellers and GMT-Masters, Omega with its Seamaster and Speedmaster ranges, and Seiko with its dive watches (the favourite of real divers), while Casio's ever-popular G-Shock is the budget (and resilience) hero seen on the wrist of many a military operative. All can give years of faithfull service and reward but are far from being the only desirable tools in the box as evidenced by the following six newcomers that would pass any test with flying colours.

Tidal tempter

Sinn 240 St GZ

If you want to keep an eye on the tides, this Bosch of the beach is the timepiece for you. It has a unique inner rotating tide bezel that according to the instructions can be used to read the water level of your location in terms of current tide. All you need to know is the time of the last high tide and correlate this with the triangular mark on the bezel. The hour hand can then be used to read off the current water level on the bezel. The bead-blasted steel case spans 43mm and there's a day of the week display along with date – handy to know when the weekend is coming up – and the movement is self-winding.

Price: $2585

Flying ace

Blancpain Air Command

One of the most desirable watches released this year, the Air Command is a re-issue of a watch that officially barely existed (archival records apparently make no note of it), a rarely sighted 1950s military piece based on Blancpain's famed Fifty Fathoms dive model but with a chronograph function designed to assist pilots in timing tasks.

Limited to just 500 pieces, the 2019 edition is the De Walt of watches and combines vintage Department of Defence looks with thoroughly modern internals (a self-winding flyback movement with anti-magnetic silicon parts) and finishes. At 42.5mm it's bigger than its mythical forebear and the bi-directional bezel is now ceramic rather than bakelite, but the box-crystal and marking are true to the original.

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Price: $24,750

Dandy diver

Glashutte Original SeaQ Panorama Date

Known more for high-end pieces with a particular classic bent, Glashutte Original has launched a 1960s-influenced sports/diving watch range, its first in years. Available in a variety of guises distinguished by hyper-sized numerals, the SeaQ's combination of understated quality without compromise makes it the Makita of the deep.

Ranging from the vintage-inspired 39.5mm SeaQ to a more modern 43.2mm SeaQ Panorama Date, pictured here, the Glashutte is available on a rubber, nylon or steel bracelet (depending on version) with ceramic bezels and in-house movements. Water resistance to depths of 200 or 300 meters means, yes, you're covered for that cave dive.

Price: $16,800

Military mate

Tudor Black Bay P01

In price terms this particular tool might be the Ryobi of the wrist, but it's one powerful piece with an equally interesting back-story. Derived from a 1960s prototype designed for the US Navy, it features a bi-directional bezel that's "locked" in place by a mechanism linked to the strap. As it happens the prototype never made it into production – too complicated perhaps – meaning this is the first time we've seen the 42mm self-winder in the flesh. Given its heft and striking legibility it probably won't be the last time but don't expect it to be as ubiquitous as its more conventional siblings.

Price: $4970

Green machine

Oris Clean Ocean Limited Edition

Punching above its weight, this is Black & Decker value territory, a self-winding watch that's not only more than adequate for the job but facilitates a bit of self-help when it comes to the environment, with proceeds helping Oris' support of ocean conservation initiatives.

As for the detail, it's a handy 39.5mm with a multi-piece steel case and domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal, screw in crown, and ceramic bezel in aqua blue, the latter matching a stunning dial of similar hue. Good for 300 meters – not to mention the waters its designed for – it's limited to 2000 pieces and comes in packaging made from algae and re-cycled plastic.

Price: $3200

Action man

Breitling Superocean Ironman

If you're talking wrist iron, few do it better than Breitling and the brand has just announced a partnership with the actual Ironman events people, surely a match that was destined to be. It means the co-branded Superocean – the Milwaukee power tool of watches – will feature at championships from Nice to Vegas and Hawaii, and why not on your home-base wrist too?

It certainly looks the part, the 44mm case stamped from steel, the black dial bearing a bold Ironman logo and best of all the rubber pro-dive strap standing out in red. If you've got it, flaunt it. A chronometer-rated movement and water-resistance to 1000 meters seals the deal.

Price: $5180

Bani McSpedden is watch editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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