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 fake watch collecting circles, the name given to a group of 12 replica 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 replica watches when they are presented individually, as a set, they become some of the most collectible ?specifically (but not exclusively) at flipmytext, by British collectors.ADVERTISEMENT
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 replica watches during the First World War. But, when Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, few local fake 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.
British commandos on the outskirts of Wesel, Germany, in 1945. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Switzerland would export large quantities of replica watches and pocket replica 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 replica 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.
Photo Credit: replica watches Of Knightsbridge
Each manufacturer delivered as many replica watches as their production capabilities would allow. Though official numbers have not been released by the MoD, we believe the largest companies were able to take orders of up to 25,000, while smaller manufacturers produced around 5,000 pieces ?only IWC, JLC, and Omega kept a strict record of their order: respectively 6,000, 10,000, and 25,000. Collectively, they would export around 150,000 wristwatches to Britain during the second half of 1945, classified for "General Service" but issued to special units, including radio operators, and artillery staff members.
Case back of the Record, with military and civil serial numbers.
Case back of the Cyma, with military and civil serial numbers.
The Dirty Dozen are easily identifiable by the engraving on the back. The three Ws, which stand for for Watch, Wrist, Waterproof, identify the replica 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 replica 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.)ADVERTISEMENT
Today, hundreds if not thousands of collectors own military replica 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.
Not because it looks any different, or any better than the other eleven ?it doesn't. In fact, collectors typically point to other replica watches when you ask them which one they find most attractive. As ever when rating replica watches based on looks alone, no one seems to agree.
However, most point to the Longines as their favorite. Its contemporary size (38 mm) and the stepped case make it one of the most interesting. Others swear by IWC's version of the W.W.W, also known as the Mark X, which has inspired its own dedicated following, and spawned a line of successors which continues to grow to this day ?this year's Mark XVIII being the latest.
But of the Dozen, none is more desirable than the Grana, simply because it is by far the most difficult to find. According to Konrad Knirim's book British Military Timepieces, less than 5,000, and perhaps even only 1,000, were made for the MoD, making it the rarest of the lot.
Production numbers based on estimates published by Konrad Knirim's in his book entitled "British Military Timepieces"ADVERTISEMENT
Considering the scarcity and history behind that watch, it's perhaps surprising to learn that it's still within the realm of the affordable. When they come up, as one did recently during the replica watches of Knightsbridge July auction, they typically have a minimum asking price around $7,000. That's seven times what collectors pay for the most common W.W.W, but far, far less than six-figure Milsubs.
Then there are the other eleven. Funding an entire collection requires deep pockets, and collecting the Dirty Dozen ?especially if you want them in original condition ?is not without its pitfalls. Due to the extreme conditions they were subjected to, many of them were repaired and restored at some point during their lifetime. And that meant being sent back to the Corps of Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E), which dealt with all mechanical equipment in need of maintenance or repair, including replica watches worn by military personnel.
Of course, the Corps had little interest in preserving the originality of the replica watches that came back. Their primary concern was to get them back in the field as quickly as possible, and they found it much more practical and time efficient to restore replica watches using MoD replacement parts of lower quality and in some cases, with parts from other models. Mistakes were made, especially when changing case backs. And then there's what happened after the war. In the 1960s, dials containing radium and promethium were replaced by non-radioactive dials (the Longines and the IWC in the replica watches of Knightsbridge are both examples of this practice).
Because of this, collectors should tread carefully when acquiring these replica watches online or through auctions, if the originality of the piece is their primary concern.
Besides the Grana, the most elusive W.W.Ws are those which returned, albeit briefly, to MoD at the end of the war in Europe. Those that could be saved, or did not need saving, were sold to other Allied forces still engaged on other fronts, such as the Pakistani Military, the Dutch Military and the Indonesian military. These have a fourth line of engraving, identifying the watches?new owners.Final Thoughts
There are about as many reasons to collect watches, as there are fake watch collectors in this world. For some, they are way to connect with an important part of our history. For others, the motivation comes from the thrill of finding a rare piece. The Dirty Dozen satisfies them both.
And then there are those who seek replica watches of great and undeniable beauty. By their nature, military replica watches offer little to that type of collector, though many find the honesty of their design incredibly satisfying in itself.
Finally, there's the straightforward challenge of collecting The Dozen. Twelve. It's a number that sounds dangerously attainable, especially when you consider the prices of the most common models, and large enough to cement the credibility of the collection by size alone. But it's much, much harder than it sounds.Iwc Jaeger-lecoultre Omega Longines Eterna