When it comes to watches issued to the military, few countries can match the incredible number, variety and quality of watches granted to its armed forces than Great Britain. This makes British military watches fertile ground for collectors.
So just what is it about military issued watches that consistently attracts these collectors, and leads to some ‘Mil-Spec’ (Military Specification) watches selling for very much higher prices than their equivalent, often better preserved, civilian cousins?
First, scarcity. A significant part of the value of military issued watches lies in the fact that relatively few of them have made it onto the collectors’ market. Military watches are usually produced in lower numbers than commercially available watches. And, in theory at least, none of them should be for sale anyway.
Military personnel, certainly in earlier years, were only issued with a watch if their role required them to have one. Once issued they remained the property of the MOD, and were supposed to be handed back in. A note of which service person was issued with which watch was usually taken, with the idea that they would not then ‘disappear’.
The first visible signifier that a watch is ‘MOD property’ is the presence of a broad (or thin) arrow, known as the Pheon, sometimes stamped on the case-back of the watch, or sometimes seen on the dial. Another check for genuine issued military watches is that they also have individual engraved issue numbers on the case-back.
Less obviously, another feature that makes military watches particularly collectable is that they are built to very specific technical standards, meaning that they tend to be produced to a higher and more robust quality standard. Military watches fall into the ‘tool watch’ subcategory, being built tough to withstand the rigours of service life. Instead of ‘decoration’ they feature useful elements such as non-reflective brushed cases, telemeter or elapsed time bezels and in the case of watches for nuclear submariners, no radium lume so as not affect the on-board geiger counters.
Collectors go after military watches for sentimental reasons, too. These watches served their respective countries and measured the moments during important chapters of our collective history. Whether worn by soldiers, sailors or airmen, few made it through completely unscathed. Many, if not most, carry replacement parts, were damaged beyond economical repair, handed back, possibly destroyed, or were simply lost. So the ones that remain in good shape are unsurprisingly revered by collectors for whom history is a passion.
And that’s what makes the appearance on the market of two well-preserved ‘Big Triangle’ Omega Seamaster 300s (reference 165.024) so remarkable and exciting. Even more extraordinary is the fact that these watches bear consecutive serial numbers. And that they’ve been kept together, until now.
The Seamaster 300 is one of Omega’s greatest military watches. The company’s relationship with the armed forces of Great Britain goes way back over a century. At one time or another Omega has been an official watch supplier to the British Royal Flying Corps, the British Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the British Army.
The British Ministry of Defence took delivery of military grade Seamaster 300s between 1967 and 1971. Both the Royal Navy and the Army commissioned them, with the only distinction between the two batches being the markings used to identify the service for which they were meant. The first were engraved with number 0552, while the second, for the Army, were engraved with W10 as seen on these two.
Being military watches, they differ from the original Seamaster 300 civilian reference in a few notable ways. Besides the issue markings at the back and the Pheon on the dial, they also feature fixed bars between the lugs, an encircled “T” on the dial to indicate the use of tritium lume, Mil-Spec sword shaped hands, and a screw-down crown.
A single military issued Seamaster 300 with a solid provenance would be a rare find. Two together, one serial number apart, may be a world first. Seamaster 300 Mil-Specs are rarer in the market than the more famous Rolex military issued Submariners. Whilst the market’s regard for the military Mil-Spec Submariner is beyond dispute these particularly fine examples of the Omega Seamaster 300, and the stories they might tell if they could only speak, might prompt a couple of discerning military watch collectors (or maybe just one?) to mobilise.