The Most Coveted WWII-Era Watch Collection: The Dirty Dozen
Everything You Need to Know About the "Dirty Dozen"
The watch industry is constantly evolving and many watches are made for a specific purpose. These models take a style and transform it into a trend, and field watches are a prime example of this.
Field watches remain rugged and reliable despite the evolution of styles over the past decades. One look at a field watch today will bring you back to their first days during the Second World War.
Typically, in addition to a quality movement, a field watch must be easy to read with luminous hands and large numerals. Of course, it also must withstand tough conditions.
The complete collection. Source: A Collected Man
Here’s an incredible collection of 12 military watches, which are not only the first non-civilian wristwatches ever used by British armed forces, but also some of the most sought-after military timepieces today, a.k.a the Dirty Dozen.
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The Dirty Dozen - 12 Brands and 12 Watches for the MoD
The Dirty Dozen is the name of a movie from the 1960s about the misadventures of 12 fictional soldiers during World War II. The name is also used to denote a group of 12 watches worn by soldiers in World War II.
The movie was highly praised. Source: Esoteric Fish
During the raging wars of the 1940s, Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) recognized the value of having a general-use watch to issue to army personnel when they felt civilian watches just couldn't stand up to the rigors of military life.
To face a growing conflict, a new type of wristwatch was requested that would assist soldiers during duty. This ur-field watch was a rugged, waterproof, and reliable tool watch.
Twelve Swiss brands were entrusted with this vital task, and these included: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger Le-Coultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex.
Twelve timepieces were delivered to the British military in 1945 and accompanied by a pigskin or canvas strap. Compared to the trench watches used in World War I, these new timepieces were a leap forward both visually and functionally.
Unique Specifications and Design
The MoD set specific criteria for how its next-generation military watch should look and function, and you will see most of the original designs reiterated in classic field watches today.
The specs on these watches were exactly what you would expect a military-purposed unit to be, they had to be regulated to chronometer standards, and also water and shock resistant.
All watches follow a strict quality template. Source: Hodinkee
Not only that, but the watches also had to have a black dial with Arabic numerals, a small seconds at 6 o’clock, and railroad-style minute markers. The hour and minute hands needed to be lumed, along with the hour markers.
Powering the watch would be hand-wound movements with 15 jewels, 11.75 to 13 ligne (1 ligne = 2.2558mm) in diameter. In addition, a water-resistant crown also was required to be usable with gloves.
The Dirty Dozen field watches have a regular looking design that is easily identifiable. In addition to the easy-to-read black and white dial layout, most dials of these watches have a Broad Arrow below the 12 o'clock marker.
This symbol is a stylized representation of a metal arrowhead, consisting of a tang and two barbs that meet at a point. The Broad Arrow is traditionally used in British heraldry, and by the MoD.
The back of the watch not only features the Broad Arrow but three W’s in addition, which stand for Watch, Wrist, Waterproof. “W.W.W.” is found engraved on the screw-down or snap-in steel case back.
Another identifying feature is the two military serial numbers directly below the W.W.W., one being the civil serial number of the manufacturer and the second a military one that begins with a capital letter.
The Rarest of the Dirty Dozen: The K.N.I.L. Watch
Prepare yourself for a lot of acronyms.
The Grana version, aka the K.N.I.L., is the most coveted of the twelve watches issued, simply because it is the most difficult to find. The acronym stands for Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger which is the military of the Kingdom of Netherlands, active from 1814 to 1950.
To date, these timepieces are by far the rarest from the Dirty Dozen with less than 10 pieces known to exist. Recognized by their K.N.I.L. engraved casebacks, these watches were issued to the Dutch army stationed in the East Indies during their occupation.
The rarest of the 12. Source: A Collected Man
Some people say that Dirty Dozen watches were left behind by Britain when the war ended. After defeating the Japanese occupation in the region, the K.N.I.L. was back in conflict with the Indonesian freedom fighters who had declared independence.
The Dutch looked to Britain for fresh military goods. As a result, we have what is known today as the mythical W.W.W’s with K.N.I.L. case backs. What is even cooler is that these Dirty Dozen watches were then re-reissued, and this time to the A.D.R.I. (Army of the Republic of Indonesia).
The new engravings seem entirely made by hand. Source: A Collected Man
You can see the K.N.I.L. on the case back has been scratched off and A.D.R.I. engraved instead. So you end up with a watch featuring the military history of the British, Dutch, and Indonesian armies.
Because all W.W.W’s were maintained and repaired by the R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers), the originality of parts on these watches is often doubtful.
Take your time if you are buying a piece from the Dirty Dozen, and make sure you get what you want.
Bring the Dirty Dozen Home
The Dirty Dozen represents an amazing time in the history of watch design and is one of, if not the most famous collection of watches that one may include in his horology vault. Getting all the watches in the Dirty Dozen is a task that’s easy to start but may become challenging to complete, what with one of the twelve being extremely hard to find, more so in good and authentic condition.
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