Field watches, i.e. specially designed military mission watches, still enjoy great popularity today. Just think of Hamilton’s Khaki Field here for a second, which has been among the brand’s (industry’s?) best-seller for years and is responsible for a considerable share of Hamilton’s sales today.
But did you know that the characteristically monochrome design of the dials can be traced back to twelve military field watches commissioned at the beginning of World War II, commonly referred to as “the dirty dozen”?
Faced with a raging World War II, the British Ministry of Defense commissioned a new type of wristwatch to best assist its soldiers during their missions: a rugged, waterproof and very reliable operational tool watch. However, compared to the trench watches formerly used in the First World War, these newly developed pieces really had to up the ante both both visually and functionally.
To this end, the Ministry of Defence consulted twelve Swiss watch brands to entrust them with this vital task: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex.
The ministry left nothing to chance; after all, the correct functioning (or non-functioning) of a watch could mean the difference between life and death for soldiers in combat.
At the time, the commander Alan Brooks was considered the mastermind behind the development of the “perfect soldier’s watch,” and he specified the following characteristics:
In addition to the easy-to-read black and white dial layout, most dials of the dirty dozen field watches are adorned with the brand name and a so-called Broad Arrow directly below it. This term describes a stylized representation of a metal arrowhead, consisting of a tang and two barbs that meet at a point. Traditionally used in British heraldry, the Broad Arrow is considered a symbol steeped in history that was commonly used by the British government to mark its property.
The same is true for the back of the watches, where the caseback not only features the Broad Arrow, but three W’s in addition. The “W.W.W.” was engraved either on the screw-down or snap-in steel case back and stands for “Watches, Wrist, Waterproof” – in other words, nothing other than a water-resistant wristwatch. Another identifying feature is also the military serial number directly below it, consisting of a capital letter followed by up to five digits.
Original Dirty Dozen World War II watches change hands for horrendous sums on the used market these days, not least because of their scarcity and crazy history.
The good news, however, is that many of the aforementioned twelve watch brands either still exist or have since made a comeback, so that a variety of faithful replicas can easily be purchased these days.