My time with the new Vertex M100 prompted me to investigate the famous “Dirty Dozen” watches a little further. Fortunately, the information is really easy to find.
Despite none of these watches being from British brands and them being made in Switzerland I feel justified in writing about them on this blog as the watches were ordered and specified by the British government.
During the Second World War the British armed forces, like their equivalents in other nations, needed reliable watches for their service people. The British industry was converted to the production of war materials, so the War Department placed an order for custom-built wristwatches with twelve Swiss manufacturers, Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex. These needed to be accurate, reliable and durable, which meant they had to be regulated to chronometer standards, and also be waterproof and shockproof. More specifically the watches also had to have a black dial, arabic numerals, luminous hour and minute hands, luminous hour markers, a railroad minute track, a shatterproof crystal, and a stainless-steel case. Powered by a 15-jewel movements. This specification was known as WWW – watch, wrist, waterproof.
The different manufacturers delivered different quantities. The rarest being Grana with between 1,000 to 5,000 pieces whilst the numbers for Omega and Record reached 25,000 each.
Production numbers based on estimates published by Konrad Knirim’s in his book entitled “British Military Timepieces”
I will now be keeping my eyes open for a Grana or failing that a nice Vertex which would give me the opportunity to also buy one of the new M110s.
Vertex is not the only British brand to make their watches in Switzerland, but when I was thinking of a watch that would make the perfect companion on my family ski trip, it was the first watch that came to mind.
The first reason being the new M100 is clearly a watch made to wear when doing stuff , a robust military style tool watch. Secondly, I liked the idea of taking the watch back home. Fortunately, Don Cochrane, the founder of the brand, was happy to lend me one.
Founded over a century ago by Claude Lyons in London’s jewellery heartland, Hatton Garden, Vertex quickly grew to become one of the most successful watch companies in Great Britain.
During the Second World War the British Military selected Vertex, along with eleven other leading watchmakers, to supply the army with a new watch built to an exacting bespoke design. The specifications were precisely what you would expect of a military watch – waterproof, luminous, regulated to chronometer level and rugged. On top of that, the dial needed to be black with arabic numerals to maximise legibility. This select group have became known as the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and are highly collectable.
Don Cochrane is the great-grandson of Claude Lyons and proud owner of Vertex Watches. His passion is to continue his great-grandfather’s legacy and pay tribute to these watches through the new Vertex M100, produced in Switzerland with significantly more attention paid to their manufacture than their predecessors made for the Ministry of Defence.
The details of the new watch are:
Custom ETA 7001 mechanical movement with rhodium finish and Cotes de Geneve decoration.
Moulded Super-LumiNova ® dial
Brushed steel case, box crystal glass, waterproof to 100m.
Hand wound with 42 hour reserve.
Black dial with arabic numerals to maximise legibility, in homage to the Vertex W.W.W watch of 1944.
Packaged in a Peli case with two straps – a black leather two-piece strap, with contrasting red lining and a bespoke nylon NATO-style strap in Admiralty Grey.
An attractive package, but there is a catch, to be able to buy one of these watches you either have to be the owner of one of the original watches or be referred.
The first time I actually saw and touched one of these rare watches was at the pre-Salon QP Watchmakers Club evening. Once over the initial excitement of seeing and handling one, the next thing you cannot fail to notice is the amazing lume on the numerals on the face, it is really very thick.
The M100 comes in a distinctly non-retro box, a Peli case, which you could realistically use as a travel case.
The watch arrives with two straps, a grey Nato and a more conservative black leather.
When I first discussed the watch with Don the first point we discussed was the 40mm case size, would a smaller case not be a more faithful reproduction of the orginal watch ? Maybe, was Don’s reply. Though as you will see from the images above the the more “modern” size wears well even on my scrawny wrist.
For a bit of variety Don also gave me a choice of a couple of their accessory nato straps. I picked one green and one a steel grey. These straps are made of nice thick fabric with Vertex branding on the keepers.
Unfortunately, for me I found these really nice straps too long for me. Which left me using the standard issue nato strap.
Thanks to its manual movement the M100 rewards the wearer with the opportunity for a moments contemplation when you reach for it in the morning to wind the mechanism. One of the reasons many of us enjoy owning a mechanical watch. Before leaving for Switzerland I wore the watch every day on the nato strap and could easily imagine being my “one watch”.
Whilst packing my bags for the week I wondered how the watch would suit my MN strap, after all both the watch and the strap are “military” style.
I think it worked really well, so kept it like that for a week. This combination proved to be the perfect companion on the ski trails; this week I was trying Nordic skiing for the first time. The watch being being really legible in all conditions. The “not huge” case allowing the watch to slip easily inside the different layers of winter clothing and elastic of the strap meaning I never had the crown digging into my wrist.
The style of the watch does not give the wearer the opportunity to show the world how wealthy/macho they are like some more instantly recognisable brands. The wearer does though get the satisfaction of being “in the know” being part of the Vertex community.
This “community” is the clue to Vertex brand. When I returned the watch to Don he explained this was how he wanted people to experience the brand, he did not want people to buy into the brand just by writing a big cheque. He wants people to have to make an effort to get one of his watches. This brings me back to why I started writing my blog in the first place. Why do people buy one watch rather than an other? As I have commented previously there are companies like Bremont that are constructing heritage through their various special editions and military collaborations. The Vertex approach is a more subtle, slow burn strategy. It will take longer to see whether it is a successful strategy, but assuming the watches Don produces are well accepted by the watch buying public and people do actual bother to make the effort required to possess one he could up with a solid brand based entirely on its own products; with a strong community of fans. From a purely business/marketing point of view I wonder what the numbers might need to be to make this strategy sustainable . It is however a very interesting approach that you could easily applied to other product categories.
So it was with some regret I gave the watch back, I had already been doing the “man-maths” to work out how to pay for this addition to my collection.
The good news is that Vertex are working on some further launches, which will enable a few more people to join the community. Watch this space if you can excuse this pun.
To find out more you can visit the Vertex website.