In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (2023)

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (1)


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The first non-civilian wristwatches ever used by British forces, they are some of the most sought after military timepieces today.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (5)

Arthur Touchot

July 25, 2016

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 watch collecting circles, the name given to a group of 12 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 watches when they are presented individually, as a set, they become some of the most collectible – specifically (but not exclusively), by British collectors.

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In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (6)

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 watches during the First World War. But, when Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, few local 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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (7)

British commandos on the outskirts of Wesel, Germany, in 1945. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Switzerland would export large quantities of watches and pocket 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 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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (8)

Photo Credit: Watches Of Knightsbridge

Each manufacturer delivered as many 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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (9)

Case back of the Record, with military and civil serial numbers.

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In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (10)

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 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 watches have the civil one on the inner case. (The use of the Broad Arrow for government goods goes all the way back toSir Philip Sidney, Joint Master of the Ordnance in 1585, whose family used the Broad Arrow in its coat of arms.)


Today, hundreds if not thousands of collectors own military 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 watches when you ask them which one they find most attractive. As ever when rating watches based on looks alone, no one seems to agree.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (11)

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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (12)

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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (13)

Production numbers based on estimates published by Konrad Knirim's in his book entitled "British Military Timepieces"

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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 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.

In-Depth: The 'Dirty Dozen,' An Incredible Collection Of 12 (Mostly) Inexpensive Military Watches (14)

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 watches worn by military personnel.

Of course, the Corps had little interest in preserving the originality of the 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 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 Watches of Knightsbridge are both examples of this practice).

Because of this, collectors should tread carefully when acquiring these 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 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 watches of great and undeniable beauty. By their nature, military 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.






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What are the dirty dozen military watches? ›

Due to the rigours of military life, very strict specifications were set, and all in, twelve watch manufacturers were eventually accepted, resulting in the nickname 'The Dirty Dozen'. They were: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger Le-Coultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex.

Does the Royal Navy still issue watches? ›

The GS2000 was issued to the RAF, also Royal Navy divers' watches, aircraft and ships' clocks, stop watches and straps. Today, CWC continues to supply watches and CWC straps to HM Forces. The CWC "Strap Watch Wrist Nylon" is the official term for NATO strap, and we currently stock Phoenix straps and CWC straps.

What watches did US soldiers wear in ww2? ›

The American A-11

The A-11 Military Spec was one of the most commonly issued watches types supplied to Allied forces during WWII. The A-11 is not a particular model per-se, but instead a production standard that was implemented by the major American watch manufacturers during the period in several different variations.

What watch did American pilots wear in ww2? ›

The Flying Officer chronograph wristwatch (1939–present), designed and manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland by Gallet & Co., was commissioned by Senator Harry S. Truman from Missouri in 1939 for pilots and navigators of the United States Army Air Forces.

What watch do Navy SEALs get issued? ›

The Luminox Navy SEAL watch is the timepiece that made Luminox famous. In 1992, the Assistant RDT&E Officer for the Navy SEALs, Nick North, was asked to seek a more dependable watch for night missions and found the solution when he discovered Luminox.

Does the US Navy issue watches? ›

The military does issue watches but members can also use their own watch of choice as long as it has essential standards.

What is a dog watch in the Navy? ›

A dog watch is a work shift, also known as a "watch", in a maritime watch system that is half the length of a standard watch period.

Can you wear a gold watch in the Navy? ›

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are subject to applicable security regulations. Authorized watch and fitness tracker colors when in uniform are solid black, brown, dark green, grey, navy blue, tan, white, copper, gold (metal), silver (metal), gold and silver combination (metal) only."

What watches do US presidents wear? ›

So much so, that the Rolex Day-Date has been dubbed as the “President's Watch” as it is one of the most popular watches worn by US presidents. Whereas some presidential watches have been worn for convenience purposes, other presidents have been known to be watch aficionados.

What watches did soldiers wear in Vietnam War? ›

The Bulova MIL-W38-18A

It featured many of the common developments of military watches which include: 12 and 24-hour markings, a very large crown, and a set of cathedral hands. It came equipped in a 34 mm case, sporting a 10 inch movement, and was one of the most trusted watches during the war.

What watch did Tom Cruise wear in the original Top Gun? ›

Porsche Design Orfina Chronograph

If you've seen Top Gun: Maverick and was wondering about Tom's watch – yes, he appeared in numerous scenes wearing the Orfina x Porsche Design Chronograph. It was the same piece worn by the actor in the first installment of the Top Gun series.

Can you wear a pilot watch with a suit? ›

Pilot watches are great for everyday and casual use. They should be avoided for black tie and formal business wear.

What watch did German pilots wear? ›

B–Uhren is an abbreviation for Beobachtungs-uhren, which translates as observation watches. The watchmakers created their B-Uhren with pilots of the Luftwaffe in mind. There are two types of B-Uhr watch; Baumuster A and Baumaster B.

Why do Navy SEALs always wear sunglasses? ›

Having a good pair of sunglasses will reduce eye strain from ultraviolet rays and provide superior visibility. Navy SEALs and other military members rely on sunglasses to provide them with better vision while in the field or the range.

Which wrist should you wear your watch on? ›

As a rule of thumb, most people wear a watch on their non-dominant hands. On the left hand for a right-handed person and right hand for lefties. The reason is simple, people don't want to mess up between the watch they wear and the things they do.

What kind of watch does Biden wear? ›

“He keeps his favorites—and continues wearing them in his rotation—for even decades. We know that traditionally he has 'favorited' Omega over the years, both the Seamaster Diver 300M and the Speedmaster Professional. He owns multiple variations of those two models.”

What watches do CIA agents wear? ›

The CIA is composed of tribes, and timepieces are subtle indications of an officer's tribe or identity. Burly paramilitary officers with beards are seen wearing Panerai, Sangin Instruments, and Bremont.

Do Navy SEALs wear G Shock watches? ›

#1 – Casio G-Shock Analog Step Tracker

Casio and their world famous G-Shock line can be found on the wrist of Navy SEALs in every corner of the world. Collage of Navy SEALs wearing G Shock watches, their preferred choice in many cases. As you can see, every one of them is wearing a G Shock watch.

What watches do Royal Marines wear? ›

“The best part of the Royal Marines is the Royal Marine Commando.” Watch more to find out what makes the Man, what makes the Marine.

What do soldiers call their dogs? ›

Top Military Dog Names
20 more rows
13 Jan 2020

What are Navy SEAL dogs called? ›

Belgian Malinois Work With Navy SEALS

Today, Mals are incredibly important members of the U.S. military. Most of the dogs that work with the elite Navy SEALS are Mals, including Cairo, the brave canine that helped SEAL Team 6 take down Osama bin Laden in 2011.

What watch ends at 4am on a boat? ›

The first watch is from 20.00 until midnight; the middle watch is from midnight to 04.00; the morning watch is from 04.00 until 08.00; the forenoon watch is from 08.00 until noon; the afternoon watch is from noon to 16.00.

Can you wear a wedding ring in the Navy? ›

Only one ring per hand is authorized, plus a wedding/engagement ring set. Double stacking wedding rings with military academy/educational institution rings is authorized on one hand. Rings shall not present a safety or foreign object damage (FOD) hazard. Rings are not permitted to be worn on the thumb.

Can I wear my navy PT gear in public? ›

While on liberty, components of the PTU are authorized to wear individually or collectively. The PTU will not be worn while in a duty status or when conducting official business on base (e.g., PSDs, Medical Treatment Facilities, galleys, legal).

Can you wear rose gold jewelry with silver? ›

Since silver is considered a neutral colour like black and white, it easily complements a range of colours including rose gold.

What watch does Army Rangers wear? ›

US Army Ranger Watch 194A

Luminous dial for illumination in unlit conditions. Japanese movement. Military and Standard Time numbering. Water Resistant.

What watches do snipers Use? ›

Over the last decade or so, one of the most popular watches for armed forces around the world is the Casio G-Shock DW-6600-1V, which has been the choice of Navy SEALS, even featuring on the wrist of Bradley Cooper in the film American Sniper.

Can military wear smart watches? ›

Soldiers are authorized to wear only one item on each wrist while in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. In addition to the one item (watch or identification bracelet) authorized to be worn on each wrist, Soldiers may wear an activity tracker, pedometer, or heart rate monitor”.

What watch does Barack Obama have? ›

When Obama wears a Rolex he's not reaching for a Submariner, Daytona, or even a presidential Day-Date. No, no, no. One of the more under the radar Rollie's out there, Obama's Cellini is a pure, time-only dress watch in 39mm white gold.

What watch does Michelle Obama wear? ›

Michelle Obama

A Cartier Tank Française with a steel bracelet is Michelle Obama's watch of choice. She's travelled the world wearing this piece to numerous official engagements.

What watch did Michael Jackson wear? ›

Rolex – Various

Even after the Vacheron escapade, Jackson still kept buying watches. Mostly Rolexes. And at the same time Neverland Ranch was being parceled off to pay off the singer's mounting debts, he was photographed by the paparazzi buying Rolex watches for himself, his family, and his friends.

What watch has the most accurate movement? ›

Omega Planet Ocean

When it comes to the most accurate watches, Rolex's long-term rival has always been Omega. Both brands have been pioneering what many consider to be the best high-production movements in the history of mechanical watches. One of the very best is Omega's calibre 8500, first released in 2007.

What watch does the German military use? ›


Why do soldiers turn their watches? ›

Military and special forces personnel and armed police can wear watches upside down as it's easier to read the time while holding a rifle or gun.

What watch do SAS soldiers wear? ›

While most of the known SAS Rolex Explorer II watches bear a black dial, the present wristwatch was fitted with a white, maxi dial.

Do soldiers need watches? ›

Military (or tactical) watches are essential for military personnel in general, and especially for those who with military watch straps are preparing to confront combat situations on the battlefield. These tough timepieces are constructed in such a way that they can potentially save you from dangerous circumstances.

Does Tom Cruise Wear a Rolex? ›

Tom Cruise's Rolex wristwear has seamed to span his entire career. Just last week (July, 2022) Cruise was spotted wearing one of Rolex's largest offerings, the Sky-Dweller.

What watch does Keanu Reeves wear? ›

You can find the Rolex Submariner Ref. 16610 on the secondary market for between $10,000 USD and $12,000 USD. Reeves appears to be a big fan of the Submariner, so much so that in 2021 he gifted his entire John Wick 4 stunt team new Rolex Submariners (John Wick 4 was the final film in the John Wick series).

What watch does Tom Hanks wear? ›

Omega Speedmaster ref. 105.012, similar to the watch worn by Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13.

Can I wear a brown watch with black shoes? ›

You should start by matching your belt with your shoes. Then match your watch with both. A black watchband should be worn with black shoes and belt; a brown band with brown belt and shoes. The watchband doesn't have to be the exact same color as these accessories, but should be a similar tone (light vs medium vs dark).

Can you wear a black watch with anything? ›

If you're looking for a versatile color that will complement any outfit, black is the way to go. You can't go wrong with a classic black watch band. Another good option is a brown watch band. Brown is a neutral color that can be paired with just about anything.

What kind of watch looks good on men? ›

For men, especially younger guys, who don't get dressed up in a suit very often, a field watch is probably your best bet; its simple, rugged style may best match your personality and lifestyle.

What is the watch that Jennifer Aniston wears? ›

Jennifer Aniston is always charming and often seen sporting a Rolex watch. the one above is the gold Rolex Datejust with the Rolex oyster bracelet.

Why do pilot watches have a triangle? ›

The white triangular index at “12 o'clock” allowed pilots in the cockpit to instantly recognize the position of the hands and the time at a glance. The upright equilateral triangle has two dots at either side to make the dial easier to read, and is also luminescent.

What Rolex do pilots wear? ›

It bears the name Air-King in the same lettering that was designed specifically for the model in the 1950s. The Air-King epitomizes Rolex's privileged ties with the world of aviation during its golden age in the 1930s.

What watches are worn by Special Forces? ›

President Kennedy ordered that the “Green Beret” only be worn by Special Forces soldiers. He said the beret was “a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”

What watches do the US military wear? ›

The MIL-W-46374 and the GG-W-113 are two watches developed for use by (mostly) American military personnel beginning in the 1960s, and have become well-known as the timepieces often issued to G.I.s during the Vietnam War.

What watches are allowed in the military? ›

Soldiers are authorized to wear only one item on each wrist while in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. In addition to the one item (watch or identification bracelet) authorized to be worn on each wrist, Soldiers may wear an activity tracker, pedometer, or heart rate monitor”.

What is a military grade watch? ›

Military-grade watches are invariably durable and specifically designed to withstand lots of punishment. It's a great tool for the army during war and battles. It's also an important pivot point in history of watches. Without them, men today might still be using pocket watches!

Are Green Berets Tier 1? ›

US Army Special Forces, widely known as the Green Berets, are Tier 1 forces (i.e. undertake direct action) and are trained by the US Army's 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne), located at the John F.

What's the difference between a Green Beret and a Navy SEAL? ›

The Green Berets are the special forces unit of the U.S. Army while SEALs are a unit of the Navy. "SEAL" is derived from their capacity to operate at SEa, in the Air, and on Land – but it's their ability to work underwater that separates SEALs from most other military units in the world.

What do Green Berets get paid? ›

$61,590. How accurate does $61,590 look to you?

What color watches can you wear in the military? ›

1.3. Watches. Must be conservative and only one can be worn around the wrist while in uniform, PTU, or civilian attire in an official capacity. Conservative examples (not all inclusive) are solid color black, brown, silver or gold.

Can you wear a Rolex in the Army? ›

Wearing Rolex Watches on Duty by Choice

However, aside from Rolex watches that were officially issued to (or gifted to) members of the military, there are plenty of military personnel who choose to wear Rolex watches – either on or off duty (or both).

What watch does Tom Cruise Wear Top Gun? ›

Porsche Design Orfina Chronograph

If you've seen Top Gun: Maverick and was wondering about Tom's watch – yes, he appeared in numerous scenes wearing the Orfina x Porsche Design Chronograph. It was the same piece worn by the actor in the first installment of the Top Gun series.

What does watch my 6 means in army? ›

The general meaning of the phrase 'watch your six' means to watch your back. Also, if you think of a clock face with the 12-position being forward and you are facing forward, the six-position is at your back.

What do Marines call watches? ›

Fire watch

This is what Marines call guard duty.


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