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Watches - Feature Article

Three military watches that fly under the radar

This Friday 8th May 2020 marks VE Day, when the country will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of fighting in Europe during the Second World War. It was on May 8, 1945, when Britain and its Allies celebrated the defeat of the Nazi regime after Germany signed its unconditional surrender. We will likely be at home celebrating this anniversary, so we thought it might be nice to share three vintage watches that originated during conflict but have gone on to become cherished collector pieces.

And, before I dive in, it is worth noting that none of the three watches saw action in the time period of the Second World War – I don’t cover any of the famous WWW watches (as their story has been told very well and broadly before), but I do cover two mechanical and one quartz plus two Army issue and one RAF watch. A nice spread.

Now, I’m not sure what the definition for “tool watch” is in the dictionary, but it should read something like “a timepiece, developed in war, a tool fit for purpose, in any environment”. The further down the watch collecting rabbit hole you go, the closer you will likely get to military watches. I have certainly found their simple design and true historical significance captivating.

Smiths W10

First up, the Smith W10. Quite possibly the most underrated vintage watch out there right now. Smiths was founded in 1851 by Samuel Smith, who focused primarily on the manufacture of precision instruments across a number of different industries. The “Smiths” name probably isn’t one that many will instantly recognise, but for those who it does, you will likely make the connection to the 1953 summit of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Some even believe it was a Smiths, not a Rolex, strapped to Hillary’s wrist when he made that historic summit.

Smith W10

The end of the Second World War by no means the end of conflict. Britain became involved in conflicts in Palestine, Malaya, Korea, the Falklands in 1982 the Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990s. The W10, it’s a relatively demure 35mm (I put my hands up and say I thought it might be too small for me, but I was wrong, as the prominent lugs are added a great deal to the look and feel).

The black dial features bold, printed Arabic numerals with a triangle at 12, sword hands, and an outer railroad track for the minutes. Right under 12 is the “SMITHS” logo and an encircled T indicating the presence of tritium. Above 6 is the broad arrow and below 6 is the “MADE IN ENGLAND,” stamp - my favourite touch of the design. Oh, and the tritium dial is one that you can stare at for hours and not get bored.

Seiko Quartz RAF

Next up, a watch I first encountered only a year or so ago. The Seiko chronograph was issued by the Royal Air Force from 1984 until 1990 and replaced the mechanical chronographs that were issued to pilots from the 1940s from the likes of Lemania. Seiko was the first company to develop an analog-quartz chronograph in 1983, prior to this all chronographs were either mechanical or used a digital LCD display. It follows stipulations laid down by the Ministry of Defence, making it as resistant and legible as possible. The case of the watch is different from any that Seiko offered to civilian customers, it has an ultra-cool, matte sand-blasted finish and at 38mm its perfectly balanced.

Seiko Quartz RAF

Omega Saemaster 300 Military

And finally, the iconic Omega 300 “mil spec”. it was introduced in 1957 as part of its “Professional” line of watches. A small batch were made for military use from 1967 until approximately 1970. They were designed with special cases, bevelled lugs, fixed spring bars and “T” dials, which differentiated them from those available to the public. The broad, sword-shaped hour and minute hands, as well as the angular sweep seconds hand, were also specially designed. The crown was screw down as opposed to the snap down design as found on production versions. Their case backs were engraved by the British Ministry of Defence with the military branch code, issue number, and year of issue. I have to confess; it’s been a long time since I have seen patina quite like this here. Talk about wabi-sabi! Military watches have never been hotter, and for good reason.

Let’s honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice this VE Day.

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