The Brief History Of The Dirty Dozen

The Brief History Of The Dirty Dozen

As a watch collector, you may have heard of the Dirty Dozen. No, this doesn’t relate to some crime drama but instead to a family of military watches that were commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense in 1945. A lot has been written about the Dirty Dozen already so I won’t be revealing many lost secrets here. I just like these watches and what they have meant for many brands and collectors since they were first introduced. So, without further ado, let’s jump in! 

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What Existed Before the Dirty Dozen 

Before that the Dirty Dozen came to be, the British military used other watches. Even back during World War I, soldiers (not all of them) would wear what is now known as Trench Watches. These particular watches had a skeletonized metal apparatus affixed to the crystal to protect the latter from shocks. Fast forward to World War II, soldiers from both the Axis and Alliance were given field watches that varied in style and size. But when it came to the MOD, soldiers used what is referred to as the A.T.P. (which stands for Army Trade Pattern). 

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A.T.P. watches were produced by a dozen Swiss watch manufacturers (like it would be the case for the Dirty Dozen) and all shared common characteristics. But the MOD decided it needed better watches, built to even higher standards and that were more legible. That’s when the MOD commissioned a new watch to meet certain criteria from another dozen Swiss watchmakers that each designed a watch based on another set of requirements. 

The MOD’s Commission to Swiss Watchmakers

Although the new watches came at the end of 1945, once the war was over, they became iconic for the fact that they were more refined versions of the A.T.P. watches to the point of becoming iconic in their own right. Just like a Rolex Submariner became iconic and set the stage for how many dive watches would look like since the 1950s and through today. The main requirements were as follows: black dial, Arabic numerals, nighttime legibility; a shatterproof crystal; and a railroad minute track. 

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The brands that answered the call were: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-Lecoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex. You may be familiar with all of these names as some are still in existence today. Other brands like Buren have recently been brought back to life. Alas and as mentioned above, the watches were delivered after World War II had ended. It is estimated that 150,000 of these watches were produced with some brands producing more than others. (Omega and Record produced 25,000 each.) 

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Key Common Characteristics 

Although each brand took some liberties with the final design, any of the Dirty Dozen ended up being a highly legible, super functional timepiece. Some came with Sword hands and others with Cathedral hands, some cases were 32mm in diameter while others were 38mm. But to achieve peak utility, each brand had to meet the criteria listed earlier in this article. The combination of large hands with Arabic numerals and a central seconds hand register at the 6 o’clock is clean and easy to read. These watches had to be so in order to be easy to use in combat. (Although none of them saw any battlefield.) 

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One of perhaps the most important features of these watches were the movements. They had to be reliable and hack so that soldiers could sync their watches with one another in order to plan and lead targeted and well-choreographed attacks. These features are still sought-after nowadays with those of us collectors who like precision and ease of use. More importantly, many military watches that followed borrowed the same design language and still do to this day. Vertex is a good example as the brand has been passed down from generation to generation and still produces highly functional field watches. 

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Final Thoughts 

As indicated in the introduction, this was a brief history of the Dirty Dozen. There are many details I skipped over and I encourage you to dig deeper to know more about the brands involved, how many units they produced, and what differentiates each model. With that said, all 12 models constituting the group of the Dirty Dozen was a proper field watch which have had a profound impact on collectors from all around the world and from brands that have worked on replicating the essence of the Dirty Dozen. 

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