Tag Archives: Military Watches

tomvox1’s Watches for Sale — August selection, Pt. II

I promised more watch goodies for August and here’s another honey: a late 1940s Longines Special in all-steel “Sei Tacche” case. “Sei Tacche” is an Italian term that refers to the 6 notches for opening the screwed back just as “Tre Tacche”refers to water resistant Longines cases with only 3 notches. Both are highly coveted case styles for Longines watches.

LonginesSpecial27M-bk copy

Better yet though, in my opinion, is the drop dead gorgeous gloss black military style dial with wonderfully patinated Radium numerals, minute track and nicely delineated engine turned subsidiary seconds at “6.” Though I know of no military pedigree it is easy to imagine this dial was designed with sale to the armed forces in mind or at least certainly with the memory of Longines’ excellent WWII-era watches still echoing just a few short years later.

LonginesSpecial27M-15 copy

For in fact, I’ve already had written confirmation from Longines that this watch dates from 1948 and was originally sold in Sweden. It also features one of the great movements of that immediate post-War ear, the estimable in-house caliber 27M, no doubt a direct evolution of Longines’ vaunted 12L series.

LonginesSpecial27M-move copy

Though not a big watch at around 33.5mm this Special is just that — true to its military forebears and an absolutely beautiful statement on the wrist with a primo engine under the hood. It’s got all the makings of a prime collectible. And one you can actually wear on a daily basis.

LonginesSpecial27M-wrst copy

Check out the full ad with many more picture and complete description over at the always excellent Omega Forums’ Private Sales corner. Turns out those Omega guys are nearly as gaga over vintage Longines as they are about their first true love!  SOLD

The Allure of Military Watches — The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” Bundeswehr

First off, let me say I don’t claim to be an expert on the vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” Bundeswehr-issued diver. Everything I’ve learned is from other, more knowledgeable collectors sharing their considerable expertise about this model with me. That said, I have owned two of them so I thought it would be useful to at least present what I do know about the watch, as well as what are hopefully some helpful pictures.


The issued Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” dive watches were requisitioned by the German Bundeswehr (Armed Forces) for their elite naval commando unit, the Kampfschwimmer, from around the mid-1960s until the early 1970s, when they were replaced with another model of BPFF (the big cushion shaped one with the crown at “4”, a red 3H on the dial to denote Tritium and the co-called “sterile” bezel with luminous triangle only and no numerals or hash marks). It’s no surprise that the German Navy chose Blaincpain divers for their elite frogmen forces. From its earliest conception the Fifty Fathoms was meant to be a serious purpose built diver, as proven by its legendary connection to the great Jacques Cousteau nearly from the start. The design was so good that the “No Radiations” version from the 1960s can directly trace its lineage to the models made for for the US Navy in the 1950s, the legendary MilSpec 1 and the even more uncommon Tornek-Rayville. (While the TR 900 is technically not considered a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the MilSpec & TR 900 are almost identical and certainly Allen Tornek was re-badging Rayvilles as Blancpains all along — so what is the difference between a Rayville that doesn’t have “Blancpain” on the dial and one that does really — aside from rarity, that is?).


The idiosyncratic red & yellow crossed-out trefoil badge with a tiny “No Radiations” printed within took the place of the earlier models’ moisture indicator disc above the “6” marker and made a virtue out of the new regulations regarding radioactivity on wristwatches, the famous “T<25” standard. No doubt the previous 1950s versions of Fifty Fathoms utilized highly radioactive Radium for their super luminous dials and bezels, like so many other watchmakers at the dawn of the Toolwatch era, as well as a rumored incorporation of the even deadlier Promethium. And so the “No Radiations” badge was a very overt way for Blancpain to indicate that they had broken from the use of highly radioactive lume and were now firmly on board with the “Less than 25 milicuries of Tritium maximum” mandate codified in the early 1960s. This had the added benefit of making the watch suitable for military duty, as the T<25 standards were also strictly enforced in the martial world, with older Radium-lumed watches regularly being scrubbed at service, re-lumed with Tritium and then returned to duty. And just to be certain that they were getting the message across, Blancpain still printed “T < 25 MC” at a cocky angle below the “5” marker, one of the few companies aside from Rolex to use such a clear literal notation of the radioactive content of their dial & hands.


The case of the “No Rads” Fifty Fathoms in a nicely sized 40mm across without the crown by around 50mm lug-to-lug. It has an all-steel three-piece screwed construction, more polished than a MilSpec but sharing the long sweeping lugs with squared off edges. Continue reading

Notable passings: RIP Marcello Pisani, 1956-2015

The Vintage Rolex world has lost a titan — the great Marcello Pisani has passed away. The legendary Italian collector and veritable encyclopedia of arcane Rolex knowledge made his mark with his unparalleled research into special issue watches such as COMEX and British Military-issued Submariners. His willingness to share what he’d learned with his fellow collectors great and small really set him apart and made him the go-to guy for technical and historic questions, as well as pinpointing those all-important identifiers of authenticity.

I first encountered Marcello about a decade ago as I began my obsession with Vintage Rolex. Through private emails and public interactions on the vital Vintage Rolex Forum I can honestly say that I learned more from Marci than from any other source. More importantly perhaps, I learned what questions should be asked and how to go about researching the puzzles that presented themselves, many of which have now been solved thanks in no small part to M. Pisani. To say he was a mentor to me is a great understatement and yet it’s absolutely a fact that I was but one star in a veritable constellation of questing collectors helped by Marci. So you can multiply his edifying influence on me a thousandfold to get a rough idea as to how many lives he influenced and how much knowledge he shared.

It’s true that in recent years we fell out somewhat, mainly due to our disagreements over the meaning of the appearance of the Underline on Rolex dials circa 1963. Continue reading

The Allure of Military Watches — IDF Eterna KonTiki Super

One of my favorite MilWatches is the early 1970s Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Eterna KonTiki Super, which was issued to Israel’s elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13, some really hardcore Special Forces operatives and essentially Israel’s version of our SEALs. You can read about S’13 history here but suffice to say they were in the thick of it during very perilous and conflict-filled times for Israel and many of these watches have seen genuine naval special forces combat.


Although the tonneau-style case is not everyone’s cup of tea, I really like it and you can find similar typically ’70s shapes on several other dive watches of the period, including the Aquastar Benthos divers’ chronographs. At 41mm wide x 45mm long x 14mm thick this is definitely a man-sized timepiece and the super-chunky uni-directional elapsed time bezel is easy to get a grip on in wet conditions and when wearing dive gloves.


Obviously, as with so many military watches, what differentiates the IDF KonTiki Super from its civilian brothers are the issue marks engraved on the back by the quartermaster. In this case, the engravings are primarily in Hebrew, as well as containing the general spec & unique issue number of each individual watch in Roman numerals. Despite the exotic look, the Hebrew writing is essentially standard information translating to “catalogue number” and the “ע” (Tzade) symbol standing in as an abbreviation for IDF (“Tzahal”) (h/t milspectime.com).


I suggest doing your homework on the correct font and style of these engravings, because like a lot of other valuable commodities in the military watch world the IDF KonTiki is faked and faked often .

With its heavy steel screwed-back construction, screw down crown and high-pressure mineral crystal, the KonTiki Super is tough as nails and was ultra-water resistant in its day. Continue reading

The Allure of Military Watches — Dodane Type 21

Aviator’s chronographs are among the most attractive of vintage military watches, as they tend to come in larger cases and have distinctive dial configurations for easy reading during missions. And hey, who doesn’t like a chronograph, right? Among the most storied pilot’s chronos are the Type XX and Type XXI, originally designed by Breguet in the 1950s for the French naval and air forces. Today, issued versions of those original watches, which Breguet produced in very limited numbers despite over a decade of manufacture, are among the most highly prized MilWatches out there and can routinely fetch $20k or more.

But the “Type 20” and “Type 21” designations were more of a military specification than a proprietary one, so Breguet was not the only manufacturer to produce these watches for the French armed forces. Which is a good thing for the collector because the “off brands” that were supplied are just about as attractive and can be found in the $2500-3500 range give or take, a helluva lot easier on the wallet. Among the other suppliers (or at least producers) of “Type” aviator cronographs were Auricoste, Vixa and Dodane (Mathey-Tissot also produced what is essentially a Breguet clone but these are both super scarce and damn expensive in their own right). Click here for an excellent overview of French Military Type chronographs hosted over at FinerTimes.com.


Since I am the proud owner of a Dodane Type 21, I figure I’ll show it off and go into detail on this model in particular, although it is no better or worse a choice than any of the others in its price range. First off, one of the things that makes a Type 20 or 21 is a flyback feature added to the chronograph mechanism. Continue reading

The Allure of Military Watches (an occasional series)


Military-issued wristwatches are one of the hottest categories of collectible vintage watches out there. When we talk about Mil-Watches we are speaking for the most part about timepieces that have been officially issued to a given country’s armed forces as an essential part of a soldier, airman, marine or sailor’s equipment. For example, navy divers may require a dive watch to aid in timing their decompression intervals and pilots may require a chronograph to record mission flight time or monitor gas consumption. Back in the pre-quartz days, these watches were all analog mechanical watches that possessed certain high standards of durability and functionality as required by the needs of a particular branch of the service. Therefore, these older Mil-Watches not only have the standard charm of vintage watches in general but also the mystique of possibly having seen combat or other rigorous military action. It’s no wonder that not only veterans but also those of us who have not been in the military are drawn to the vicarious thrill that an issued military watch can convey, as well as a sense of paying homage to the warriors of days past by the mere act of strapping it on. There’s something about a vintage object with a tale to tell and with the high price of many Mil-Watches nowadays, it’s clear that these special timepieces are telling a very appealing one across a wide spectrum of collectors. Better yet, genuine military watches are immune from the normal aesthetic standards of most other collectible timepieces where Mint Condition is generally the highest standard and finding a desirable watch that has never been worn is akin to finding a Grail. With Mil-Watches, the collector wants to see the use in the watch, the nicks and scars that could well denote combat and adventure. Up to a certain point, the more WABI the better!

It’s not possible to go into every Milwatch out there in in these posts, nor do I have the specific expertise required to do so. Not even close. For that I would recommend starting out with something basic and general like the Concise Guide to Military Timepieces, which, while not the world’s greatest reference book, will give you a general overview of what constitues a Mil-Watch and what’s out there in terms of variety. Even better would be a visit to the Military Watch Resource Forum where everyday you can find informative and spirited conversation on all things Mil-Watch great and small. They also have an excellent sales corner (membership required) where some of the most fantastic pieces crop up in all price ranges.

What I will do is discuss some of the Mil-Watches I have been lucky enough to own to give a small taste of their appeal and hopefully show what makes them special.

Benrus Type II

Benrus Type II, ca. 1977

Benrus Type II, ca. 1977

Continue reading