As recent watch phenomena go, the return and ascent of Vertex is nothing short of remarkable: while not quite on the scale of the similar, concurrent return to greatness – that of Tudor – the revival of a nearly-forgotten brand and its contribution to the “Dirty Dozen” is a display of genius. But first, a little bit of background:
As has now been recounted in numerous articles, since committed to memory by any watch enthusiast who ever showed a predilection toward timepieces of military origins, the Dirty Dozen has come to define the essence of the genre. Aside from slightly smaller commissions involving multiple manufacturers — the French AeroNavale Type XX for example — it was a rare occasion when a government tendered a specification that garnered such a large response.
It was dictated by need: the British Ministry of Defence needed timepieces during WWII, approaching the neutral Swiss to meet the requirements. Ultimately, 12 manufacturers supplied time-only wristwatches to the M.O.D., all fulfilling specific, detailed requirements. While the watches look identical with a cursory examination, tiny variations such as the shapes of the hands, the sizes of the crowns and other aspects of each manufacturer’s preferences – not least being the movements.
Overall, though, they were ostensibly the same watch – but then they had to be, because they were M.O.D. issue. Among the specifications were small seconds display at 6 o’clock, highly legible dials with white numerals on a black background with a “broad arrow” insignia, water-resistance (acknowledged by the W.W.W. designation, for “Wrist Watch Waterproof”), and 15-jewel manually-wound calibres with Breguet overcoils.
All save for IWC’s featured screw-in backs. The cases had fixed bars for their straps; they were supplied with cloth or canvas straps but the nature of fixed bars has added to the appeal of surviving examples of the Dirty Dozen because of the rise of the over-under fabric strap.
Among the Dirty Dozen was one maker that was actually British: Vertex. A family-owned company, this Newbury-based watch brand established to sell Thommen watches in the UK, eventually producing its own-labelled timepieces. Facilitating its suitability to respond to the call from the M.O.D., Vertex used Swiss movements in British cases from suppliers such as Dennison.
It is believed that Vertex produced around 15,000 W.W.W.s. Inside was the Calibre 59 made by Thommen, which they then fitted to a 35mm steel case. The Vertex featured pencil hands, while the seconds dial used a non-rail track chapter ring with full 60-second gradation, rather than the minimalist style on NATO re-dials. In all other respects, this is a classic W.W.W., with no quirks to confuse the matter.
For decades, Vertex W.W.W.s were simply part of the pack. Prices were as low as £25 for most W.W.W.s in the 1960s-1970s, but the revival of the mechanical wristwatch saw them increase gradually to an average of £200-£400 for the majority. Certain models — notably from IWC and Longines — commanded more, but overall the Dirty Dozen pricing was consistent for a decade or two. Then something happened.
In 2016, the great-grandson of Vertex’s founder, Don Cochrane, discovered his family’s history. Inspired to revive the brand, dormant since 1972, he realised that the W.W.W. had a desirability factor that would prove a perfect vehicle. Balancing the need to modernise it with the need to remain faithful to the original, he devised the manually-wound M100 up-scaled to feature a 40mm brushed steel case, Swiss movement, water-resistance to 10ATM and a design detail that has lifted its desirability beyond the cult: ultra-bright moulded Super-LumiNova® numerals and indices.
Response was immediate and overwhelming: not only did his reissue re-establish the family brand, it re-ignited interest in the Dirty Dozen. Overnight, values trebled, to a level where price tags have shot up from £250 to £1500.
Supplied with a black leather and Admiralty Grey over-under straps, the M100 is delivered in a military-spec “Peli Case.” Consumer demand being what it is, the M100 has been followed by the M100B with satin-y black DLC finish, of which only 150 will be produced. Revolution is privileged to offer our readers five pieces of these, through shop.revolution.watch, and we know they will disappear in rapid order.
As a bonus incentive, each purchaser will receive a copy of British Military Timepieces by Konrad Knirim. The definitive work on the subject, this astounding 800-page volume contains the full story of the Dirty Dozen, making perfect reading for the lucky five who will by the M100B through Revolution.