The Dirty Dozen. During the 40s, towards the tail-end of World War II, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) made custom orders from 12 manufacturers in Switzerland for military spec watches to equip its soldiers. Amongst them, were brands such as IWC, Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre and they had to follow the strict specifications set out by the MoD.
The watches needed to have a black dial with Arabic numerals, to be waterproof and luminous, regulated to a chronometer level and composed of a rugged stainless steel case. Furthermore, they had to have fixed bars, have a broadarrow on the dial, signifying that it was property of the government and also on the caseback which included other government serial numbers. Nicknamed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ by collectors, they were officially set out by the MoD as W.W.Ws, standing for ‘Watch, Wristlet, Waterproof’. The result was a group of 12 watches, that embodied the very idea of ‘purpose-built’, and it doesn’t get any more utilitarian than this.
Without a doubt, the favourite amongst collector’s is the Longines WWW. Perhaps due to its large 37.5mm stainless steel stepped case and stylised design (larger minute track, cathedral hands), I must say that it is also one of my favourites. On the wrist, the proportionality of the watch and the way it sits is really nice- it’s one of those things where you have to try one on to really know what I’m going on about.
It is estimated that around 5000-8000 pieces were made, making it one of the rarer Dirty Dozen pieces. Furthermore, Longines was one of the few brands that practised engraving both the lug and caseback with case numbers and when these WWWs came back to the MoD watchmakers they were often changed around depending on the parts available, resulting in most examples in the market with mismatched numbers. Remember it was not in their interest to maintain originality, but instead to repair and send these pieces back out.
This example though, is made even rarer as it has matching numbers on the lug and caseback. As with all WWWs, I always say that it is not a matter of finding one, but finding one in top condition.