The Dirty Dozen is the name of a movie from the 1960s, depicting the misadventures of 12 fictional soldiers during the Second World War. It is also, in watch collecting circles, the name given to a group of 12 watches worn by those who actually fought in it – specifically, British soldiers. They were commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) during World War II, and while they may not be as highly rated as other military watches when they are presented individually, as a set, they become some of the most collectible – specifically (but not exclusively), by British collectors.
The British military had always been equipped with the most contemporary timekeepers of their era, from the marine chronometers of Harrison, John Arnold, and other horological pioneers, which gave the Royal Navy the essential ability to reliably determine longitude at sea, to "unbreakable glass" wristwatches advertised by Smiths watches during the First World War. But, when Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, few local watch companies could compete with Switzerland’s greater production capabilities, and those still in the business of making components were asked to focus their efforts on building military parts for the Air Force and the Navy.
Switzerland would export large quantities of watches and pocket watches during WWII, to both the Allied Forces and the Germans, but these were civilian market orders which pre-dated the war. The MoD thought these were not suitable to the needs of British soldiers, and decided to place an order for custom-built wristwatches. These needed to be accurate, reliable and durable, which in watchmaking terms meant they had to be regulated to chronometer standards, and also be waterproof and shockproof.
The watches also had to have a black dial, Arabic numerals, luminous hour and minute hands, luminous hour markers, a railroad minute track, a shatterproof crystal, and a stainless-steel case. Powering them would be 15-jewel movements, measuring between 11.75 and 13 lignes.
Twelve companies would fulfill this brief: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex.
The Dirty Dozen are easily identifiable by the engraving on the back. The three Ws, which stand for for Watch, Wrist, Waterproof, identify the watches as government property and indicate the type of good in order to distinguish them from weaponry. Other defining features include Broad Arrow heads, on the dial, inner case, and at the back, and two more lines of engravings at the back: a military serial number – a capital letter followed by up to five digits – above a second, standard civil serial number - some watches have the civil one on the inner case. (The use of the Broad Arrow for government goods goes all the way back to Sir Philip Sidney, Joint Master of the Ordnance in 1585, whose family used the Broad Arrow in its coat of arms.)
Today, hundreds if not thousands of collectors own military watches commissioned by the MoD. But very few collectors – some suggest less than 20 in the world – own a complete set of “The Dirty Dozen” in original condition. Why? Because, even though so many were made and most can be found relatively easily, others like the Grana pose a much great challenge.
Case: chrome top
Lug size: 18
Caliber: 022K hand winding