An Abbreviated History of Black Watch Tartan


An Abbreviated History of Black Watch Tartan

August 19 2021 – David Lemmond

Black Watch
Black Watch

Long associated with honor and devoted service to the royal family of Great Britain, the Black Watch has played a significant role in battles like Fallujah, Waterloo and the two World Wars. The Black Watch’s contribution to some of the biggest conflicts in world history have nurtured a great pride in all those associated in this Regiment.

black watch tartan cloth


In 1725, King George I of Great Britain authorized the formation of a “watch” force to patrol the Scottish Highlands. It was composed of 6 Highland clans, including Campbell, Grant, Fraser, and Munro. All were instructed to wear the same tartan -- a mix of dark blue and green, which is likely where the name “Black Watch” originated. This was carried out during an era when England was tightening restrictions on Scots, due to rebellions and uprisings.

The Original Black Watch Uniform

black watch uniform

From the Forces War Records, one of the utmost authorities on UK military genealogy,

“The original uniform was a twelve-yard-long plaid of the dark tartan which is now so well known as The Black Watch tartan. This was fastened around the body with a leather belt. The jacket and waistcoat were scarlet with buff facings and white lace and a blue bonnet was worn. The men were armed with a musket and bayonet, a broadsword and generally also a pistol and dirk (long dagger).”

Bagpipes and kilts are also recognizable parts of the uniform and even have their own purpose in battle. Bagpipes were originally used to signal the movements of troops for tactical purposes. They were commonly used to lead men out of the trenches and into the battles of World War I. It’s estimated that nearly 1,000 pipers died during this period.

As for the kilts, according to legend, during WWI, the Germans on the Western Front gave Black Watch soldiers the name, Die Damen aus der Hölle -- “Ladies from Hell” -- because they wore kilts and were such ferocious fighters.

Who Wears Black Watch Tartan Today?

For nearly 300 years, the same tartan pattern or near-identical variations have been worn by the Scottish military. Today, Black Watch is one of the most popular tartans and is recognized worldwide. It is considered an open tartan, which means it is acceptable for anyone to wear, regardless of affiliation. The Black Watch tartan is a universal symbol of bravery and tradition. It is worn by the British Royal family (male and female), Highland athletes, and everyone in between.

At Rustic & Main, we’re proud to incorporate Black Watch tartan into some of our rings. While all of our rings are made right here in the USA, we wanted to be as flexible as possible in the tartan patterns available. That’s why we've connected with Scotland Shop and House of Tartan, two Scotland-based companies that make patterns for nearly every clan out there. From the Black Watch micro-tartan with white gold and rosewood ring you see below, to the Flower of Scotland tartan, Irish National tartan and everything in between, we’re sure we can get the tartan you’re looking for.

black watch tartan ring

We love crafting meaningful rings that can connect our customers with their family roots and heritage. Get started designing your custom ring today!

This article was written by Rustic and Main Ring Craftsman, David Lemmond. David is a former counselor turned expert ring maker. He has a love for history, particularly genealogy, and philosophy, and makes some of the best BBQ sauce on the planet.