The attraction of the vintage apparatus watch for many is that these were watches worked to make a particular showing as accurately as conceivable, and, as such, structure almost always followed its utilitarian capacity. Military wristwatches, obviously, regularly took this idea to the extraordinary, with nothing extraneous added, and nothing essential avoided with regards to the design.
During World War II, the British imported Swiss wristwatches and gave them under the A.T.P. moniker (Army Trade Pattern); the majority of these were 29–33-millimeter chrome or steel-cased watches with white or silver dials, iridescent pips or baton files, running central or sub-seconds, and 15-gem developments with snap or screw back cases. Nonetheless, the MoD eventually concluded that these watches, which were essentially civilian models with military dials and spec/issue numbers, weren’t cutting it in the field, and they drew up a specification for another wristwatch intended to fit the particular requirements of Her Majesty’s Government—an ideal military watch where, indeed, structure followed function.
The new spec brought about the W.W.W., the acronym for Wrist, Watch, Waterproof, however the watches themselves have become referred to colloquially as “The Dirty Dozen,” both as a kind of perspective to the famous 1967 war film, and because the watches were delivered by a total of 12 Swiss firms. Because the watches weren’t conveyed until among May and December of 1945, it is improbable that any saw any wartime use in Europe during WWII (V-E Day was May 8, 1945), however the watches remained in circulation for certain years afterward, and, as you will read beneath, some were even reissued to other militaries.
The new W.W.W. spec called for a watch somewhere in the range of 35 and 38 millimeters in diameter (excluding the crown); a black dial with brilliant hour markers, hands and railroad minute track; a 15-gem development somewhere in the range of 11.75 and 13 lignes in size; a shatterproof crystal; and a chrome or stainless steel case. The watches were to be waterproof, and developments were to be of chronometer grade. Case backs (all screw-back except for the IWC, which had a snap-back) were engraved with the Broad Arrow (mark of HM Government’s property), “W.W.W,” and two numbers: one was the manufacturer’s extraordinary recognizing number, and the second, starting with a letter, was the military store number.
Because the 12 contracted firms each varied in size and creation capabilities, each company essentially conveyed as many watches as it was capable of delivering, with about 150,000 watches conveyed altogether. The 12 conveying companies were as per the following: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex. Enicar may have originally been contracted to manufacture the watches as well, however as none have surfaced and record keeping from the time was poor, we may never know the details of this arrangement.
The W.W.W. was designated a “general service” wristwatch, however in practice it appears to have been given to what an American serviceman may pejoratively term a “pogue”: Persons Other than Grunts, or Person Of Greater Use Elsewhere—i.e. artillery officials, signals work force, etc.—anyone however a standard infantryman. There are no firm records on who was given the W.W.W. watch and why, and with WWII having pretty much drawn to a nearby the opportunity the watches came out of creation, the point, regardless, appears moot.
However, notwithstanding the finish of the War in Europe, armed men were a lot of still keen on murdering each other in clashes around the world after 1945, and some Dirty Dozen watches were later renumbered and offered to Commonwealth and other armies. The K.N.I.L. (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army)—in struggle with the local Indonesian resistance development which had recently declared independence—eventually gotten a portion of the W.W.W. watches from the British. A portion of these then, thus, wound up in the hands of their foes, the A.D.R.I. (Army of the Republic of Indonesia), who crossed out the K.N.I.L. markings and added their own.
Servicing the W.W.W. watches was the domain of the R.E.M.E. (Royal Electric & Mechanical Engineers), whose obligation was to guarantee that watches were working and up to spec. What this meant in practice is that throughout the long term many non-original parts discovered their way into these watches. Eventually, original radium dials were swapped for tritium or promethium variants, of which there are several varieties. A portion of these updated dials were duplicates of the original with the manufacturer’s name and pheon (broad arrow), however lumed in promethium or radium. Some were MoD dials featuring the pheon and a five-digit number addressing the individual manufacturer of the particular watch. Others were NATO dials featuring the pheon, circle “T” for tritium, and a NATO stock number and manufacturer code. And to complicate matters considerably further, occasionally certain other slight variations come to light that may well actually establish a legitimate W.W.W. dial variant. All of this, obviously, makes for an exceptionally intriguing collector’s market.
Because of the disparity underway numbers from a portion of the smaller brands to a portion of the larger, it may come as an amazement to learn which of the twelve are the most valuable today. The Omega variant, for instance, features a 35-millimeter stainless steel case and the venerable 30T development, but since approximately 25,000 were created, one can be had for a relative bargain (as of now, generally somewhere in the range of $2,000 and $3,000, contingent upon condition).
Cyma, a brand obscure to many current enthusiasts, constructed a W.W.W. variant that features a cutting edge 37-millimeter stainless steel case and a caliber 234 manufacture development, making it an excellent candidate for somebody searching out a gave military piece that is also exceptionally wearable by today’s standards. Again, in any case, because creation numbers were fairly high, at around 20,000 pieces, these can generally be had for somewhere in the range of $1,000 and $2,000.
But the Grana model, then again, is a completely unique story. Just 1,000-5,000 of this variant were manufactured, making this 35-millimeter stainless steel watch with an in-house KF320 caliber worth about $15,000 on today’s market!
Today, there are various watchmaking firms creating present day interpretations of these great watches, or are delivering watches that take configuration signs from this era and are suggestive of the original (IWC, Longines, and Bell & Ross come to mind). Vertex has even been restored by the great-grandson of the original organizer and is delivering a cutting edge form of their W.W.W. watch.
There is, in any case, something special about an original W.W.W., whether it was created by a smaller firm like Vertex, or a larger one like Omega or I.W.C. These were exactness assembled instruments meant to do one thing—and to do it accurately under adverse conditions. There’s nothing very like wearing one on one’s wrist and pondering where it’s been and what it’s seen.
Featured image photograph credit: client Siewming via Malaysia Watch Forum.