If you think about it, Blighty, Britannia or England — otherwise known as the United Kingdom, a name that dates back to the 1707 Acts of Union that declared the kingdoms of England and Scotland united into one entity known as Great Britain — is renowned for three things.

The first is the unwavering stiff upper lip, no matter what the seemingly unsurmountable odds, heroically displayed during the horrors of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring’s Blitz on London. The second is the genuinely astonishing genetic ability to create many of history’s hottest women from Jane Birkin to Jane Seymour to Jacqueline Bisset to Jean Shrimpton to Kiera Knightley to Kate Moss, the latter who, despite her unremitting penchant of sybaritism, is still, well really, really hot; in a charmingly sexy, disastrous way. The third is of course the most revered, documented and rich history with military timepieces.

1940s — The “Dirty Dozen”

The most famous of England’s military watches include the Dirty Dozen, the Mark 11 Pilot’s Watch, the legendary Rolex MilSub and the W10 Army watch. The Dirty Dozen refers to the 12 contractors that supplied the British Army with functional, highly robust, legible and luminous tool watches that were distributed to its troops during the Second World War.

These brands were — in no particular order — Vertex, Timor, Lemania, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cyma, Buren, Eterna, Record, Grana, IWC, Longines and Omega. Collectively they forged the genetic blueprint of what a military watch should be. A stealthy and strong brushed steel case, a matt black dial featuring large luminous Arabic numerals, completed by additional luminous indexes around the cardinal points of the dial. And a hacking seconds hand at 6 o’clock. And, for the large part, long easy-to-read baton-shaped hands.

The “dirty dozen” issued to the Army in the Second World War
The “dirty dozen” issued to the Army in the Second World War

1948 — The IWC Mark 11

The legend of the Mark 11 began in the mid ’40s when the British Ministry of Defence sent out a tender for the creation of a watch for its pilots. The requirements of the watch were as follows: it had to have a black iron dial marked with full Arabic numerals, from 1 to 12, and the dial had to be “luminized,” at the four cardinal indices.

It had to have a 12-ligne movement, capable of -4/+4 accuracy, with hacking. It had to be waterproof to 20 feet. It have a Faraday/anti-magnetic cage, hence the iron dial. Finally, its crystal had to be retained by a screw, to prevent detachment during decompression.

Watch brands IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre both answered the call though eventually JLC would be dropped as a supplier because the brand did not incorporate a shock absorption system into its movement. The result was the IWC Mark 11 watch, which was issued to various branches of the RAF from 1949. The movement was the Caliber 89.

IWC Mark 11
IWC Mark 11

All watches had to be regulated at the Greenwich observatory and had to be retested there every year. In 1952 the dial was endowed with its now iconic diamond shaped index at 12 o’clock. IWC was supplier to the RAF with their Mark 11 from 1949 all the way to 1981 and was the sole supplier from the early ‘60s onward.

1957 — The Rolex MilSub

Then there is of course the Rolex MilSub. Rolex’s history with the Royal Navy starts as of 1957 when the Ministry of Defence received a special Big Crown Submariner designated the A/6538. This timepiece — worn with aplomb by none other than Sean Connery as ex-navy officer, Commander James Bond — was distinguished from the civilian timepiece with soldered spring bars, the addition a nylon NATO strap and a special bezel with a serrated edge that could be more easily manipulated with gloves. The initial order for these watches was a mere 21 pieces.

Rolex ref. A/6538
Rolex ref. A/6538

This Big Crown Submariner was superseded by two crown guard models, the 5513 and the 5517. They are distinguished from civilian watches by their fixed spring bars, dials stamped with the T logo referencing the presence of radioactive tritium used for the luminous markers, special sword-shaped hour hand that could be more easily distinguished from the minute hand in the dark, and bezels with full 60-minute markers to more accurately read dive time. Interestingly, while both the Dirty Dozen watches and the Mark 11 featured the Ministry of Defence’s Broad Arrow logo on the dial, MilSubs have a similar logo engraved on the casebacks.

1973 — From Smiths to Hamilton, the W10

Created concurrently with the Mark 11 and the MilSub was perhaps the true workhorse of the British Army, the Smiths W10 watch. In the ’60s the Ministry of Defence reached out to Smiths, an industrial conglomerate famous for producing the gauges on British performance cars and motorcycles, to create a reliable handsome watch that was completely made in England.

The result was the Smiths W10. Smiths had previously demonstrated its unflappable reliability as the watch strapped to Sir Edmund Hilary’s wrist when he summited Everest in 1953. It was actually Sherpa Tenzig Norgay that was wearing a precursor to the Rolex Explorer. However, by the ’70s England’s industrial sector was badly hit by foreign competition and the Ministry of Defence had to turn to another supplier – the Hamilton watch company.

Smiths W10 (Image: Mr Jones Watches)
Smiths W10 (Image: Mr Jones Watches)

When Hamilton took over the production of the legendary W10, in 1973, it did so with a major technical advancement. The watch, rather than follow the traditional iconography of the round soldier’s watch, was a daringly modern tonneau or barrel shape. This made for a far stronger watch as its lugs were much shorter and thicker, and therefore much less of a vulnerability.

In addition, the Hamilton W10 was created with a kind of monocoque case so that the movement was placed into the watch and fixed in place from the front of the case. Made from 1973 to 1976 to my mind the Hamilton W10 is one of the coolest vintage military watches for several reasons.

Hamilton W10
Hamilton W10

The W10 Returns: Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical

First, it is totally unique looking and represents a major design departure from the entire pantheon of British military watches. Second, its tonneau shape is both functional in terms of offering a stronger more compact case, and somehow extremely elegant. Note that unlike the Smiths W10 watch, the Hamilton used a sword-shaped hour hand to aid visibility and also to provide an additional design flourish. Third, I like the fact that the Hamilton W10 was used ubiquitously by every branch of the British armed forces, such was its popularity.

The way to tell which branch a vintage watch was commissioned for was to look at the back. W10 denotes British Army issue. 0552 refers to the Royal Navy, 0555 refers to the Royal Marines and 6BB means that the watch was issued to the Royal Airforce. All watches used the Hamilton manual wind calibre 649 hacking movement — important for coordinating watches before missions —based on an ETA 2750 movement. Unfortunately, Hamilton had to cease production in 1976 as all of the Swiss watch industry came face-to-face with the destructive reality of the Quartz Crisis. However, so revered was the Hamilton watch that a British Hamilton executive took over production of these watches under the name Cabot Watch Company or CWC.

So what was the purpose for this retrospective on British military watches? Well, we at Revolution are pleased to announce that Hamilton has for the very first time since 1976 brought back its W10 tonneau shaped military watch, in almost identical spec to the original timepiece, in particular related to the size of its 33 x 35 mm case. And we are even more pleased to announce that Revolution has been selected to be Hamilton’s exclusive e-commerce partner for a selected period, meaning that if you would like to get one of these spectacular timepieces, you can only get it here for now.

Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical (Image © Revolution)

OK, so let’s begin with what I think is the most incredible element of this handsome timepiece, which relates to its jaw-dropping value at just US$850. I mean, how refreshing is it that a totally authentic Swiss watch brand is able to deliver a watch that by any price category would be attractive, that is this accessible? It’s just kind of bonkers and kind of awesome at the same time.

I recall when I first strapped on a Hamilton Khaki Field watch and casually asked for its price and did a massive double take. I genuinely thought someone had left a zero out. Says my friend Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla, “We took a conscious decision to create watches that anyone would love but that represented the single greatest value in the market, hands down.

“We are able to do this only by planning our industrial process incredibly accurately. For example, for the movement in this watch, or the Khaki Field Mechanical, we had to take a very strong position on when we ordered them. When our partners at ETA called me and said, ‘Are you sure? No one orders this many movements at one time!’ I replied, ‘Yes, because then I can pass on the savings to the consumer.’”

Dolla adds, “To me it is incredibly important to have really compelling and handsome watches like this, which is essentially a re-edition of our legendary W10, come in at a price point that is below US$800. Because that way, I can have a real possibility to connect mechanical watchmaking to the next generation of consumers. I cannot overstate the importance of this, to bring tomorrow’s consumer to real watchmaking today.”

Beyond that, the styling of the Hamilton W10 is absolutely fantastic. The case at 33 x 35 mm is perfect for today’s vintage obsessed young collectors, who might wear this watch with a field jacket, an aviator jacket or a tailored blazer with equal stylistic aplomb.

The quality of the case as well, as its brushed finish is beyond reproach. Holding it in your hand and running your fingers over all its surfaces and edges, you’ll find every area smooth to the touch. The dial is a masterpiece of retro modernism with a matt black faded just the right touch to make it feel as if it’s been affected by long exposure to sunlight in the field. All luminous markers have been rendered in caramel SuperLuminova to replicate the look and emotional feel of vintage aged tritium. And the timepiece comes in an array of different NATO strap choices. The thing is this: we are now amid a period where it pays to be a little discreet, what with the rash of violent watch robberies happening in the UK and across Europe.

Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical (Image © Revolution)
Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical (Image © Revolution)

And I for one have been searching for an accessibly priced, smaller sized military styled watch that is equally at home on my wrist when I’m riding one of my vintage British bikes or in a suit. The new Hamilton ticks all those boxes and more. It’s not just a great watch for the price. It’s a great watch, period. With an incredible and iconic history. Add the fact that the price of the watch is US$850 and suddenly to me buying one is no longer a choice, it’s a moral imperative.