Of all the watch brands out there, few have quite as many major affiliations as Omega. From being the official time-keeper of the Olympics for close to 100 years, to adorning the wrists of the astronauts who walked on the face of the Moon in 1969, Omega has rightly earned a special reputation among collectors and enthusiasts. In recent years, the ever-rising interest in vintage watches has sky rocketed, particularly watches with military affiliation, or in the case of the following three examples, watches which were designed with the purpose of being issued to military personnel. The first example of wristwatches designed for military use dates to 1880, when Girard Perregaux made a series for the German Navy. The production of military watches became common practice during the First World War, with brands like Omega and Longines producing enamel dialled watches with radium luminescent hands. These pieces were made available through Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company Ltd. in London, who sold them for four pounds five shillings, which translates to roughly £900 in today’s money. We decided to pop by the Omega Museum, to take a look at three very special issued Omega references.
The first example we are taking a look at is the Omega reference 6W/16 mono-pusher chronograph, which was produced in the 1960s for the Royal Canadian Airforce. Military watches, being a tool like any other issued item, have to meet very specific needs for use in the field. In the case of pilots watches, these needs are somewhat more specific, largely due to the unique lighting environments they find themselves in. Legibility and ease of use are the primary issues to address, and typically speaking, the watch company will receive specifications as detailed as the overall diameter of the watch, the functionality and even how the dial should display certain elements. With that in mind, it’s quite understandable that the choice of a mono-pusher chronograph was selected for pilots, as there can be no confusion as to how the function is activated, stopped and reset while in a high-pressure environment.
The movement for this watch was provided by Lemania, who were also fulfilling military contracts in their own right during the same period, however, it wasn’t uncommon for multiple brands to receive the same specifications. The most prominent of which was the WWW specification, which was received by twelve brands during WWII, each brand bringing a small variant to each design. These watches, nicknamed the 'Dirty Dozen', have now become highly sought after, with varying production numbers and case sizes dictating their value. Omega would ultimately produce the highest volume of 25,000 pieces versus the rarest, Grana, who produced roughly 1500.
The next piece is the Omega CK-2129 6B/159 ‘Weems’ which was produced for use during WWII by both navigators and pilots in the early days of the Battle of Britain. According to Omega, around 2000 of this version of the 6B/159 were ordered and issued, after it was decided that a rotating bezel would make calculations significantly easier during flights. The piece would features two crowns, the upper to adjust the time, while the lower is used to rotate the bezel. The decision to use a crown operated bezel was to reduce the likelihood of navigational mistakes being made, if the bezel were to be knocked out of place unknowingly.
The case-back of the piece features the crown of the Air Ministry, along with A.M., the retailer it was issued through, the Mk number and specification number. The scarcity of these pieces, due to accidents and planes being shot down during the conflict, cannot be underestimated, let alone finding one in an acceptable and original condition. The piece has received additional publicity in recent months, due to its featuring on the wrist of actor Tom Hardy, who played a Spitfire pilot in Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk.
The last piece we are taking a look at has a much more personal history and significance, particularly regarding the time displayed on the dial. This piece belonged to Flying Officer, Alan Leslie Ricalton, and appears to have been presented to the young pilot after the occasion of his promotion to Flying Officer in 1940. On October 17th of the same year, Ricalton’s squadron were scrambled to intercept a formation of German Luftwaffe over Kent, heading for central London. The 11 British Spitfire pilots climbed to 26,000ft to take the German pilots out, but unfortunately, Ricalton would be shot down at 3:41pm; the very same time displayed on the watch in question, signifying the exact moment of Ricalton’s fatal collision with the ground. While this might be just one story of the millions of soldiers who lost their lives in WWII, it signifies the sacrifice this brave man made, standing as an enchanting monument to that. For a large part, the stories attached to military watches are what makes them so appealing to collectors, and while it might be rare to find such a complete story, often the mysterious lack thereof can be equally appealing.
We would like to extend a thank you to the Omega Museum for granting us access to these historically important pieces, and would greatly recommend a visit.