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On January 5, 1940, the London subsidiary of the Omega Watch Co received an urgent order from the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company for 2000 watch movements intended for Royal Air Force crews.

Four other manufacturers (Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Zenith and Movado), were similarly contacted with instructions for delivery to be made by March 10, 1940. The Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company provided the 33mm snap-on cases.

The design they followed was one invented five years earlier by the US naval officer and navigation pioneer Philip van Horn Weems. He came up with the idea of the ‘second setting watch’ with a 60-minute rotating bezel which could be locked in place. In those old war movies, when an officer instructs ‘synchronise your watches’ the pilots are probably turning their Weems bezels.

The watch, officially known as the Mk VIIA 6B/159, was one regularly given to Spitfire pilots and gained recent exposure in the 2017 film Dunkirk when the Omega Weems was worn by actor Tom Hardy.

Of the five ‘types of Air Ministry ‘Weems’ watches’, the Omega is arguably the most coveted.

Omega makes auction appearance

Relatively few have come to auction but a good example (in working condition and minus only the clamp to the bezel) surfaced at Lockdales (19.5% buyer’s premium) in Ipswich on February 20.

Estimated at £1000-1500, it took £3800. Another took £3200 at Tennants in July 2020.

Most commonly encountered are the thousands of Ministry of Defence general service watches made by 12 different makers - Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, International Watch Co, Jaeger-Le-Coultre, Lemania, Longines, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex - known affectionately as the ‘Dirty Dozen’.

Watches of this kind were ordered by the British Ministry of Defence during the tail-end of the Second World War for issue to army ground personnel. The WWW to the case back stood for ‘Watch, Wrist, Waterproof’.


Grana Ministry of Defence ‘Dirty Dozen’ watch, £14,000 at Bonhams.

The Grana, manufactured by Kurth Freres to Ministry of Defence specifications, is considered the scarcest of the dozen with perhaps 1500 units made.

Prior to 2015, sums of between £3000-5000 were typical. However, prices since then have accelerated. In May 2018 Trevanion & Dean sold one for £9000 followed by another at Sheffield Auction Gallery in October 2019 for £12,000, and latterly an £18,000 watch at Thomas Miller in Newcastle upon Tyne in October 2020.

The most to come for sale was sold by Bonhams (28% buyer’s premium) as part of a specialist sale on February 21. Here the hammer price was £14,000, just below the guide of £15,000-20,000.

Swiss role

Immediately after the Second World War the MoD procured watches for service from a range of different Swiss manufacturers.

The Mark XI pilot’s watch model (6B/346) made by the International Watch Company was introduced in 1948.

The watch was never available to the public and was offered to RAF personnel and civilian pilots as an aviation tool, hence its ‘Broad Arrow’ insignia. Its reliability meant the model was made through to the early 1980s but the example with the serial number 977/48 offered at Dawsons (25% buyer’s premium) in Maidenhead on February 22 was from the first year of production. Again, a watch in good working order, it took £4500.

Italian design


Panerai Ref 3646 with a Type ‘B’ case, $32,000 (£25,300) at Sotheby’s New York.

The best known of the watches made for Italian soldiers during the Second World War is the Panerai 3646 produced for frogmen in the Marina Militare. The 47mm stainless steel cases were produced by Rolex, and many came with Rolex sourced and supplied movements.

However, Guido Panerai, who had filed his patent for a radium-based lume he called Radiomir in 1915, provided the distinctive dials manufactured from a sandwich of two layers of plastic and a thin layer of brass which formed the backing. The lume was impregnated into the plastic layer - all held together by two pins or rivets near the centre.

The example offered by Sotheby’s New York (27% buyer’s premium) as part of the Hammer collection of Panerai watches on December 7 was among the earliest known and still retained its original ‘pin’ dial and a leather strap with chrome plated Panerai fishtail buckle.

It was offered with a collection of period ephemera including two ‘top secret’ 1944 letters from the Marina Militare to Panerai, a 1947 book detailing the story of the Italian frogmen and a tablecloth used in the mess hall of the Marina Militare from 1939-40.

Estimated at $30,000-60,000, it took $32,000 (£25,300).

The Hammer collection was formed by Alan Bloore, an Australian who became one of the first ‘Paneristi’ and the single greatest collector of the Panerai brand.

This distinctive outsize model was also used by German submariners or Kampfschwimmer. Two other versions of the Panerai 3646, both ‘liberated’ by British soldiers from German frogmen captured during Operation Market Garden, 1944, were offered at Fellows in January 2018 and April 2019. They sold at £41,000 and £42,000 respectively.

Navigation leaders


Lange & Sohne Type A observation clock c.1942, £4500 at Bonhams.

German navigation watches represent a further subset of the market.

The beobachtungsuhren or observation clocks of the Luftwaffe were not intended to be worn on the wrist but attached to the arm outside a bulky flight jacket, or on the navigator’s thigh by use of a long leather strap.

The standard of performance was similar to that expected of marine chronometers and German pilots were justly proud of them. Their giant 55mm size was also appealing to the Allied soldiers who frequently persuaded captives to part with them.

Commissioned from Lange & Sohne, IWC, Laco, Stowa and Wempe there are two dial variations: Type A dials, featured a standard outer minute track and large triangle at 12 o’clock, while the later Type B dials had an inner hour track and outer minute track.

It was a Lange & Sohne Type A watch c.1942 that sold for £4500 (estimate £5000-7000) at Bonhams.