Victorinox is one of the most famous names in the world of knives and tools. It was founded in the late nineteenth century as an association of Swiss knife manufacturers, whose early customers just happened to include a contract with the Swiss Army. The company built its success on the Modell 1890, a multi-bladed pocketknife equipped with a blade, reamer, screwdriver and can opener. Soldiers and officers were impressed with these compact yet practical and versatile tools, which meant they could service their rifles in the field and, presumably, open tins of baked beans while they were at it. As such, these knives rapidly grew in popularity. They were the antecedent of what became known as the iconic Swiss Army Knife (SAK), subsequently adopted by military forces across the globe but also sold to a range of civilians. Today, everyone from boy scouts to professional explorers use ‘em.
However, it was only in 2014, to mark the 130th anniversary of Victorinox’s founding, that the brand decided to produce a watch that would be just as tough as its famous pocket-knives. They came up with a series of 130 extreme endurance homologation tests. Its name? The I.N.O.X. watch – a term that borrows from the French term for stainless steel (‘inoxydable’), often found stamped on knife blades. Fittingly, the watch has an extra thick stainless-steel case. However, Victorinox also coined a new acronym for their watch, claiming that INOX stood for: ‘Impact Neutralizing Object for the Xtremes.’
Extremes indeed – over a six-month testing period in which they went through 421 product samples, they drove over the watch in a 64-ton tank, took it down to 200 metres below sea level, dropped it from a height of ten metres, hooked a mountain rescuer to a helicopter with it and flew him over some glaciers, sent it down an Olympic course on a bobsleigh, and – perhaps most impressively –subjected it to the same temperature shock trial used by the US Army to test their missiles. That one involves cooling the watch to -57°C, then immediately heating it to +71 °C. That is some operating range, suggesting that whether you’re a polar researcher or a desert explorer, this might be the watch for you.
Who is the Victorinox I.N.O.X. ‘Autumn Spirit’ Watch For?
This is a modern tool watch that will undoubtedly appeal to outdoorsy types who are also fans of the iconic product for which Victorinox is best known: the classic Swiss Army Knife. Just like their pocket-knives, it’s built tough, with function and utility in mind. That means an all-steel case and bezel, a sapphire crystal, screw down crown, shock-resistant movement and a genuine 200m/660ft of water resistance.
This ‘Autumn Spirit’ edition, with its purposeful camo pattern paracord strap, also seems tailor-made for military and bushcraft types. If you’re about to be deployed on active duty to some far-flung destination, or alternatively love nothing more than a weekend in the woods, this is the sort of thing to stick on your wrist.
The case is made from 316L marine-grade stainless steel, as is the fixed bezel and the screw-down caseback. The large, signed crown also screws down, and is protected by two burly crown guards. It’s an extremely well-built watch – you might even say ‘overbuilt’, but then the INOX series was purposefully designed to be used and abused in extreme conditions.
The dial is protected by a highly scratch-resistant flat sapphire crystal, which is slightly recessed from the bezel to give it further protection. It’s coated with a triple anti-reflective finish to ensure excellent legibility from all angles.
The dial itself is also all about readability too. This ‘Autumn Spirit’ edition uses high-contrast white applied hour indices on a black dial, with clear Arabic numerals in sans serif font at the classic 3, 6 and 9 positions – which instantly associates the watch with various iconic tool and explorer watch references. At 12 o’clock, the Victorinox crest – a stylised shield emblazoned with the famous Swiss cross – leaves no doubt as to the watch’s origins. But just in case there was any ambiguity, the dial also reads ‘Victorinox Swiss Army’, with ‘Swiss made’ printed at 6 o’clock.
“If you’re tough on your gear, and need a watch that will survive plenty of punishment, it’s a superb choice.”
The face has plenty of depth, thanks to a double chapter ring that has both minute and seconds tracks for precision timekeeping. There’s a deeply recessed contrast date window at 4.30 and a matt steel lumed handset, with a contrast seconds hands in autumnal orange – a really nice detail. We also like the fact that it extends right to the edge of the dial, again aiding more precise timing.
The strap supplied with the watch is hand braided from woven camo pattern paracord – the same heavy-duty nylon utility cord that is widely used by bushcrafters and tarp-and-hammock campers. This is 550-gauge cord, the real deal stuff with seven internal strands, ensuring it is strong enough to be used for parachute suspension lines. In an emergency however, it can be unravelled and used for temporary gear repairs – replacing a busted bootlace, for example. Alternatively, if things got really desperate, the brand says you could use the individual strands as fishing line in a survival scenario, or as lashing cord to build a natural shelter. These straps have been developed in collaboration with Swedish brand Naimakka, whose logo appears on the brushed steel strap hardware.
With its muscular looks, this is a watch that suits bigger wrists. The stainless-steel case measures 43mm in diameter, but it wears fairly large due to its chunky bezel, slabby sides and pronounced crown guards. It’s fairly thick at 13.6mm, and relatively hefty too, at 133g. On the other hand, those generous proportions give it plenty of presence and reassuring solidity on the wrist. It also suits the thick woven paracord strap, so overall the watch feels well balanced. Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a serious unit.
The Victorinox I.N.O.X. prioritises function over form. Its looks will probably be polarising, as it is a bit of a brute. But others might appreciate its rugged, no nonsense looks and muscular appearance. It’s not completely bereft of concessions to style either. There are a number of interesting angles and curves that add visual interest to the overall design, which employs mostly brushed finishing with six sloping, polished surfaces around the bezel.
Although this isn’t a dive watch (though there is a Victorinox INOX diver range, if that’s your bag), the screw-down crown and case back contributes to an impressive water resistance of 20 ATM – that’s 200 metres, or 660ft, which ensures that it’ll survive any waterborne adventures you embark upon.
The hands are indices are all lumed, providing a soft blue glow in low-light conditions. We wouldn’t call it dazzling – particularly compared to something like the Elliot Brown Bloxworth 3HD – but it does the job, whether you’re huddled up in a bivvy bag somewhere deep in the woods, or wild camping in a dim tent up in the hills.
Aside from the date window, which we were pleased to find flicks over crisply at midnight on the dot, that’s about it for features. Basically, this is a watch that tells you the time, accurately and reliably – but it’ll do so in a wider range of temperatures and conditions than almost any other watch out there.
The watch is powered by a Swiss made Ronda 715 quartz movement, with NIHS 91-10 shock-resistance augmented by Victorinox’s own internal movement shock protection system. It’s accurate to within -10/+20 seconds per month. And unlike a lot of cheaper quartz watches, we were pleased to see that the seconds hand hits the markers on the dial very precisely.
It’s also fitted with an end-of-life-indicator to give you a clue as to when the battery will need replacing. The seconds hands will jump every two seconds rather than ticking every second when the battery is low, telling you it’s time to switch the button cell out for a fresh one.
This is a watch with seriously rugged looks and the build quality to match. It’s the sort of thing that looks and feels as though you could use it hammer in tent pegs (though we didn’t actually try that – perhaps we should suggest it as test #131 for Victorinox’s future models…)
The robust build inevitably means a little added bulk and heft compared to most other watches. Placing the INOX side by side against a classic field watch like the Hamilton Khaki is like putting up Ant-Man up against the Hulk. So, if you like slim, elegant and lightweight kit, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re tough on your gear, and need a watch that will survive plenty of punishment, it’s a superb choice.
The INOX (quartz version) costs £549, though if you shop around you can normally pick it up for a good deal less than the RRP. That’s not small change by any means, but for a Swiss-made timepiece that ought to last a lifetime of dates, drops and dings; not to mention countless adventures, it might just prove a shrewd investment.
Price: £549 / Brushed stainless steel case with crown guards / Fixed steel bezel with polished highlights / Flat anti-reflective sapphire crystal / Screw down steel case back / Swiss made Ronda 713 quartz movement / 200m/660ft water resistance / Signed, knurled screw-down crown / Braided paracord strap.