As we’ve discussed before in the past, vintage military-issued timepieces are simply some of the most interesting tool-watches that money can buy; especially when you consider the impressive provenance associated with each and every one of these historical horological artifacts. Enthusiasm and interest in military-issued wristwatches is at an all-time high, as highlighted sales and auction results will reflect.
Though, having said that, it is still possible to find a great vintage military watch at a price that won’t break the bank, so to speak. Those in search of such a watch should start their hunt by taking a look at the “Dirty Dozen,” a famed group of twelve pieces commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD).
One Watch from 12 Brands
The story of the so-called Dirty Dozen begins in 1939, right at the beginning of the Second World War. At this time, manufacturing efforts within Britain were made to focus on the production of components and machinery for the military, and without a large reserve of timepieces, the Ministry of Defence was left in need of suitable watches to equip their men with. The answer to their problem would come from 12 different Swiss watchmakers in 1945; each produced similarly styled, manually wound time-only pieces that were up to the task of handling the everyday rigors of military use.
Famous Names and Small Brands
Upon taking a look at the entire set — a rare opportunity in 2017 — one can easily identify the traits shared by all 12 pieces made by Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Lemania, Cyma, Buren, Longines, Eterna, Vertex, Record, Timor, and Grana. Most notably, all of the steel-cased military watches featured black dials with Arabic numerals along with luminous hands and markers. Together, all of these details made for a highly durable, reliable, and legible watch capable of serving enlisted men during some of the darkest hours in human history.
Additionally, all issued examples of these watches can be identified by the engravings found on their casebacks, which if original and correct, should read “W. W. W.” followed by an issuing number and the civil serial number designated by the manufacturer. These three W’s stand for watch, wrist, and waterproof, and were used by the MoD to designate the classification of the government-owned property.
On a side note, it can be mentioned that it was originally planned to order watches from 13 brands instead of the eventual 12. It’s said that Enicar was initially part of the group, but was removed as a supplier for uncertain reasons.
In total, it’s believed that roughly 150,000 examples of these ultra-utilitarian watches were collectively manufactured by the various watchmakers, but it’s worth noting that not every manufacturer produced the same number of watches and unfortunately, not all examples survived. This makes collecting the Dirty Dozen somewhat of a demanding, though greatly rewarding undertaking. While examples from Omega may be found easily after only a few minutes of browsing the web, acquiring an issued W.W.W. from Grana or Vertex can take years of hunting, if you are lucky.
While they might not have the same cachet as something like a 1970s military-issued Rolex Submariner or a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the W.W.W.’s are undoubtedly some of the most iconic and historically significant military timepieces ever produced, and the influence they’ve had on future designs has been strong to say the least. If interested in diving into this sphere of watch collecting, remember to do your homework and be careful when navigating this market, as just like any other vintage watch, the devil is in the detail.