Vertex W.W.W ‘Dirty Dozen’ watch

12 Brands, 12 watches, 1 purpose

The story of the so-called Dirty Dozen begins in 1939, just at the start of World War 2. At this time, British manufacturing efforts were concentrating on producing components and machinery for the military, and without a large reserve of timepieces, the MOD were in need of wrist watches suitable to equip their troops with. The answer to their problem would come from 12 different Swiss watchmakers in 1945; each produced similarly styled, manually wound time-only pieces that were up to the task of handling the everyday rigors of military use.

A full Dirty Dozen Set, photo courtesy of Siewming-Malaysia Watch Forum

The, 12 Swiss manufacturers-Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, IWC, Jaeger LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex, were tasked with producing the W.W.W (Wrist, Watch, Waterproof), with specifications for a watch between 35 and 38 millimeters in diameter (not including the crown); a black dial with luminous hour markers, hands and railroad minute track; a 15-jewel movement between 11.75 and 13 lignes in size; a shatterproof crystal; and a chrome or stainless steel case. The watches were to be waterproof, and movements were to be of chronometer grade. Case backs (all screw-back with the exception of the IWC, which had a snap-back) were engraved with the Broad Arrow (mark of HM Government’s property), “W.W.W,” and two numbers: one was the manufacturer’s unique identifying number, and the second, beginning with a letter, was the military store number.

My Vertex

I acquired the piece in question by way of carrying out a good deed, I had done a couple of small repair jobs for a family member who in turn gifted me a box of old, in the main, unsalvageable watches, but he had mentioned that there was a dirty dozen piece in there. It was in a sorry state though

Cracked crystal, no crown, poorly re-lumed hands and pitted case, this was a particularly dirty one of a dozen
Broad Arrow marking on caseback denoting property of HM Govenment

Before receiving this particular watch military pieces weren’t really on my radar, but upon doing some research into the history of the dirty dozen, my interest was piqued. How could it not be, imagining what sort of life a watch like this may have had. A watch built to serve the sole purpose of telling the time accurately under the duress of war. I felt it was my duty to bring the watch back as close to its former glory as I could.

It took me a little time and some patience, but I eventually found all the bits that I knew the watch needed, these being a crystal, a crown and stem and a new hand set. The new parts that I acquired also had the advantage of being genuine, new old stock parts, it was starting to look like I was on the way to getting this old work horse ticking once more.

New parts acquired, ready for action

After sending the watch and newly acquired parts away for the delicate touch of a watch maker, it looked like my good fortune had come to an end, with the watch being diagnosed as not currently running because the lower pivot on the balance staff had broken off. Even if a replacement staff could be sourced, replacing a balance staff is not a routine job and especially not on a 1940’s screwed bi-metallic balance. The old staff would have be cut out, the new one fitted, riveted into the balance wheel and then the whole balance has to be poised both with and without the hairspring fitted to ensure there is are no heavy spots. 

As the watch maker in question is well regarded and extremely busy, and especially with this job not being his ‘bread and butter’ sort of work, I completely understood his reasoning behind sending me the watch back ‘as is’.

Little did I know what problems laid beneath the caseback

Upon receiving the watch and parts back, I contacted the source of the replacement parts to ask his advice on who I should contact to have the watch repaired, it was only then that I found out that the source of the parts was a watch maker who specialised in military watches, although he has officially retired, he agreed to take a look at the watch for me.

Another trip to the post office ensued, followed by another few weeks of waiting for news on this small piece of horological history until I had confirmation that the watch was ready to go. It needed a fair bit of overhauling though, a full service, the fitting of the new crown/stem/crystal and hand set, the balance had no pivots at all, a new main spring and balance staff were also fitted. The dial was quite grotty and whilst some may think that these things should be left as original as possible, I wanted the watch to look as good as could be so decided on a sympathetic re-lume of the dial to match as best as could be expected with the NOS hand set.

When the watch arrived back to me I was astonished at the transformation, I couldn’t be more pleased with how this one panned out, and what started out as a piece I had planned on flipping immediately, it has made me rethink the direction that my collection/fascination/addiction/hobby or whatever you want to call it is heading in.

That’s enough from me, I’ll sign off with the ‘after’ photos and a reminder that you can join my private Facebook group here