War is hell, as General William T. Sherman (yes, he of the tanks) once put it. And he wasn’t wrong. To crawl through the dirt of war, to weather its tragedies and traumas, man must have a certain level of grit, determination and hardiness. And so must his watch.
Years before laser-sights and night-vision buzzed onto the scene, the humble wristwatch ticked at the cutting edge of wartime tech. It timed military manoeuvres, unified troops and saved lives. In fact, in 1944, the British military laid out exactly what they required from a watch and sent these specifications off to 12 choice manufactures — all of whom set to work on one watch each and together created the infamous ‘Dirty Dozen’.
Some of these brands remain on wrists to this day, including IWC, Omega and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Some are lesser-known, including Buren, Lemania and Vertex. But all did a job — and did it handsomely. So what of the Dirty Dozen’s DNA survived the war? Which design touches and techniques prevailed? And what are the best military watches you can buy today? Bring your heels together, your chin up and stand to attention — for we’ve rounded up our five favourites below.
The Vertex M100B has heritage at its heart
Vertex, one of the inimitable original members of the Dirty Dozen, was recently relaunched by the founder’s great-grandson, Don Cochrane. When Gentleman’s Journal met the watchmaker, Cochrane told us how he had been “captivated by the stories of soldiers dropping out of planes and landing on beaches with those watches strapped onto their wrists”, and felt impelled to revive the brand.
The M100B is a black DLC-coated version of the brand’s first modern timepiece, the M100. Made to resemble the original 1944 model, but crafted to modern specifications, these models come with a hand wound ETA movement that carries a 42 hour power reserve. Only 150 pieces will ever be produced, so getting your hands on one might be tricky.
The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical is a 'Mil-Spec' marvel
American-designed and Swiss-made, Hamilton watches have been created by this unlikely coalition of countries for years. The brand’s foundations can be found firmly in the expansion of the American railway system, when timings were key to the 1800s industrial revolution. And, while it isn’t a ‘Dirty Dozen’ watchmaker, Hamilton creates some of the best military style watches on the modern market.
In fact, in the 1960s, Hamilton was contracted to created ‘Mil-Spec’ watches — timepieces with dimensions, materials, and parts all tested to military specifications. This Khaki Field Mechanical watch, visually, is a near-identical reproduction of the style. Functional, robust and boasting understated good looks, the result is one of the most rough and ready watches in this style.
Hamilton Khaki Field mechanical
The IWC Mark XVIII tribute to Mark XI honours the past
In 1948, after shouldering the weight of the ‘Dirty Dozen’, IWC produced the Mark XI. A true utilitarian watch, it combined hardiness with a simple, effective design — and is still held in high regard among collectors today. Gladly, IWC decided to honour the watch with the Mark XVIII.
Recreated for modern times and modern pressures, the Mark XVIII offers all the vintage nostalgia you hope for, along with the incredible watchmaking expertise that modern IWC pieces are packed with.
IWC Mark XVIII tribute to Mark XI
The Seiko Prospex is as dependable as watches come
If you were enlisted to the Swedish Navy in the 1970s, you would have been handed — along with your tough leather boots and dress uniform — a new Seiko divers watch, much like the one above. It’s a safe bet that many of those sailors’ Seikos are still ticking, as the Japanese brand is renowned for its meticulous workmanship.
Tough, endlessly precise and extremely legible, these military watches outperform models far more expensive than themselves. They’ll keep ticking for years to come — through even the toughest of conditions.
The Longines Heritage Military is understated and unique
There’s something innately humble about Longines’ offering. There may be an automatic movement with a 64-hour power reserve in that case, not to mention a scratch resistant sapphire crystal and many other trappings of modern watchmaking, but they are completely invisible in this incredible model from the watchmaker’s Heritage line.
Taking inspiration from a particular pilot’s watch, produced by Longines in the 1940s, the Heritage Military looks more like a vintage model than a timepiece fresh from the manufacturer. It has been decorated using a unique technique of fake ageing — meaning that each example is completely unique.
Longines Heritage Military
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