Without a doubt the rarest and most desirable of all the watches supplied to the British forces during WW II was the IWC MK X. The IWC cal 83 WWW was supplied to soldiers in the British Army during WWII, it was NOT a pilot’s watch.
The nonclemature “WWW” stands for “Wrist Watch Waterproof” and the IWC is unique in having a snap back where all the others have a screw back to provide the necessary impermeability. However the snap back on the IWC fits so tightly that its probably as waterproof as most of the watches of the time which frankly is such that I would not trust it anywhere near water in light of its value!
For a 1940s WW2 MK X (above) or a 1950s MK XI (below) expect to pay around US$7500/$8500 - £5800/£6600 - €6500/€7300 with the price varying depending on the condition of the particular watch. On average an XI seems to be a bit cheaper but not by a significant amount because it is the more sought after item of the two.
The most famous the IWC of all was the Stainless steel RAF Issue IWC Mk XI, originally issued in 1952. The IWC Mark XI is probably one of the most sought after and collectable of virtually all military watches. I think this is for a number of reasons one is that it was technically very advanced for its time, and heralded a few firsts in the watch making industry, it has hacking seconds ( which means when the winding button is pulled out to set the time it stops the second hand of the watch enabling it to be set exactly, the Mark XI also has an inner soft iron case which protects the movement from magnetic fields. The Mark XI was also tested to chronometer standard by the Ministry of Defence. Amazingly the Mk XI has lost none of its mystique over the years. In fact the mystique has been added to by IWC who have "mined" the legend and reputation of this watch to produce several recent watches that call heavily upon its design. The first was the "Fliegerchronograph", then the even more derivative Mk XII and Mk XV were produced. All of these watches have dials which are very reminiscent of the Mk XI, this in fact is quite ironic as IWC did not design the dial. It was produced by them to a British Air Ministry design and this self same design can also be seen on the Jaeger Pilot's watch produced to the same specification.
Both of these IWC watches (and the Omega which followed them) can make a claim to be the first wristwatches in the world designed from scratch to be anti magnetic. They all feature a very thick dial, which is cup shaped and so covers the side of the movement; the movement cover is similarly shaped and rises to meet the dial sides. This means that the movement is completely encased in a non magnetic "Faraday cage", thereby providing a high degree of anti magnetic shielding.
In 1948, the RAF ordered two separate batches of Mark XIs, with the calibre 89 ‘anglo’ or ‘angleterre’, without ‘Incabloc’. The ‘anglo’ designation, helped to distinguish regular Cal. 89s (with Incabloc), from those without shock-protection. At the time, the RAF believed the Cal. 89 to be more accurate without shock-protection, thus sacrificing Incabloc in favour of the most precise method of timekeeping.
The movement itself was IWC's famed calibre 89, with Breguet hairspring, incabloc shock absorbtion, 17 jewels and indirect centre seconds mechanism. The movement is rhodium plated and decorated with Geneva stripes.
Mark XIs were made for BOAC (British Overseas Airline Corporation now British Airways), the RAF (Royal Air Force). The collectibility of this timepiece is widely influenced by the Mark X. These watches are quite usable on a day to day basis and have a 36mm case.
If you don't want to pay the price for MK X or MK XI a potential compromise is the MK XII on the right which can frequently be found for around half the price of the other two and is a very desirable watch in its own right.
All IWC military watches are very desirable As in fact are many of the current remakes. The company established itself as a manufacturer of aviation watches, starting with the first watch ever developed solely for aviation, the Spezialuhr für Flieger or Special Pilot's Watch, in 1936. But as aviation became militarised, the importance of watches as navigational tools increased, and the British Ministry of Defense called upon manufacturers to design watches that could meet the rigorous standards required for military use hence the models shown on the left and right.
For anyone looking for a classic military watch keep in mind IWC recently made a very desirable watch in the spirit of the original which is pictured above. This watch is the MK XVI which can be found for around $3000 (I saw one at $2500 but they are normally more costly) so it is certainly not cheap; very nice though! And most importantly its up to modern standards for water resistance etc so well worth considering and having owned one myself for some years I can attest to the reliability. The watch which replaced MK XVI is the MK XVII which frankly I don't find desirable at all and seems to in some ways have moved away from the spirit of these watches which have always been very clearly evolutions of their predecessors.
The history of the IWC Mark XII is widely discussed on the web, but I'll give a brief rundown for those who are not familiar with the details. All collectors are acquainted with the famous Mark XI powered by the manual winding cal.89 movement. This watch was used by the military and and pilots from 1948 until the 1980’s. These watches were widely available in the 1990s but even then they were expensive and highly desirable. Although this watch was only made for the military and never sold to the public IWC clearly realised there was a massive market for this particular type of watch and in 1993 realising that there were very few original watches available and people were clamouring to get hold of them they launched this model.
This watch is a lot more practical than the original military models because whereas the Mark XI like all watches at the time used a a manual winding movement, the Mark XII uses an automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre called the cal.884, but it’s based on the JLC 889/2. The movement is ideal for the watch, it hacks and is a 36-jewel unit that runs at a robust 28,800 bph and is adjusted to 5 positions.
All considered this watch checks a lot of boxes, the face whilst looking very similar to the old military issue watches does have a few distinct differences, for example It has the name IWC in more modern text and also underneath Schaffhausen so it does differ from the originals but it's close enough and is very much in the spirit of the older watches and is an excellent bye when you factor in its low maintenance and day to day usability.
The British Army Omega was known colloquially as the "Thin Arrow"; these watches are now one of the most collectable of British Military watches. Although it was always overshadowed by its contemporaries the IWC & Jaeger le Coultre Mark XI's, the Omega is now recovering its rightful place. Compared to the Mk XIs, it is a much larger, more substantial watch and obviously more in tune with today when Panerai's are considered daily wear.
This was the last Military watch to use the classic Omega 30mm movement, by this time it was called cal 283 and had 17 jewels, incabloc shock protection and indirect sweep seconds drive. The movement is contained in a full soft iron cage with the dial forming the top and a substantial movement ring providing the sides, whilst a removable cap covers the back of the movement.
The dials were produced with radium figures and hands and in the early 1960s it was decided that all British Military watches must have tritium, the watches were withdrawn from service & the dial reprinted in the UK in a much more amateurish fashion than the originals. For this reason the value is much higher if you can find a rare original dial retaining the high gloss black finish with cream full Arabic numerals and large luminous bars at the quarter hour divisions and dots for the remainder, on most originals the 12 mark has 2 dots and a bar on the repainted watches this is usually missing.
These watches measure 37mm Diameter, 48mm lug to lug and is 13mm high; it takes an 18mm strap and a new NATO strap is fitted to the watch.
Expect to pay around US$9800 / £7500 / €8400 this is one particular model which has massively increased in price within the last 5 years
Of the many WWW watches made for use by the British armed forces during WWII, the Omegas are one of the nicest of the whole bunch. These watches are now very rare and it is believed under 6000 were manufactured and issued to the RAF in May 1953, hence they are referred to today as the “53 Omegas”.
The movement is Omega’s classic 30mm cal 30T2, with 15 jewels.
The case has the broad arrow logo & WWW are stamped on both the inside & outside surfaces of the screwed case back; the outside is also marked with the broad arrow & the hand stamped number with the serial number.
The 30mm calibre was one of Omega's most famed calibres, introduced in the 1930s and used in all the WWII military watches supplied to the British armed forces. These watches played such a significant role that Field Marshal Montgomery visited Omega's Geneva offices after the war to thank the company.
The original black dial had full white Arabic numerals with luminous dots on the circumference and luminous spade hands. It had the largest subsidiary seconds dial that it is possible to fit on a watch face, and like all of the other printing on the dial it is in white.
The watch measures 35mm Diameter, 45mm lug to lug and is 10mm thick; it takes an 18mm strap.
Expect to pay around of US$5000 / £3900 / €4300
Of all the watches made that are still very affordable (and there are quite a few options) an example is the GG-W-113 above which you can find for $300 / £240 / €260 in sound condition, these have an interesting history but be cautious because companies such as MWC make reproductions which I have seen at watch fairs being passed off by sellers as originals and in fairness they look pretty close because there are lots of GG-W-113 models out there.
When I spoke to Dieter at MWC they pointed out that their current models are automatic with the facility to be hand wound and the originals are hand winding only so that is one way to determine for certain, also the current MWC production models whilst looking very similar to the originals are larger so that is another way to determine the position. Keep in mind MWC also make quartz/mechanical hybrid models of these too. Dieter at MWC pointed out that there 100 meter water resistant watches of this type are quite different to these watches so there's very little chance of one of those being mistaken for an original even the models which they make with plexiglass crystal could not easily be mistaken even by someone without much experience because they are larger than the originals. I suppose the risk is someone could buy, one rough it up a bit and then try to pass it off, probably not that likely though because the price of the watches is such it doesn't justify the effort but in the future who knows?
There are also two other related collectable models, both are predecessors to this watch, one is the A-11 of WW2 vintage and the other is the A-17 from the Korean war, finding an A-11 in good condition is very difficult because these World War II issue watches were made when the quality of the materials was not very good so A-11's in good condition are rare, as regards the A-17 if you find one they generally fine.
For comparison the MWC remake can be seen here https://www.mwcwatches.com/products/gg-w-113-us-1960s-pattern-military-watch-automatic?_pos=1&_sid=e83d0ef2c&_ss=r
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