As introduced in episode one, this series aims to be an educational insight into how collections can be inspired, and then curated. Episode two delves into the story behind one of the most unassumingly difficult to achieve collections – the Dirty Dozen. To collect all twelve watches that the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) commissioned for the brave men and women who fought during World War II; the idea is simple, but the reality is anything but.
The story of the Dirty Dozen was born out of the MoD’s need for watches. As Britain’s manufacturing sector was focused solely on military machinery, they turned to the Swiss and requested watches that fit specific specifications. The watches were marked WWW for Wrist, Watch, Waterproof. They were to have three hands, a black dial with Arabic numerals, and luminous hands and hour markers. The movements included at least 15 jewels, be manually wound and the cases were to be stainless-steel and feature a shatterproof crystal. In the end twelve watchmakers were up the the challenge, despite the list of strict requirements. Now these weren’t just no-name companies that took on this contract, amongst the 12 were heavy-hitters IWC, JLC, Omega and Longines. What makes this collection so special is that you pick up, for just a few thousand dollars, a big brand name watch, with such a remarkable and significant history.
Each brand brought their own unique flare and style to the challenge, whether it be the unique case of the Longines, or the IWC’s superior movement. Some, such as JLC and the Longines, chose to be more ornate while others chose to be more practical, such as IWC, Record and Vertex. My personal favourite is arguably the most unique of the group, the JLC. It is the only one without a 5 and 7 to avoid cutting the numbers, and to increase legibility helping it stand out both aesthetically and practically. A Close runner up is the IWC which is the only to feature a conventional crystal giving it a thinner and more rounded case.
While there are 144,500 examples, finding any of the dozen in complete original condition is a difficult search. The reason being, the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers who fixed these watches in wartime, did what was necessary to repair the watch, including chopping and changing parts without regard to manufacturer. This is was one of the main reasons behind requiring all the manufacturers to make the watches to the same specifications, in order to make the repair process simpler.
The ultimate question for me was, if you’re not a perfectionist, how hard can finding them all be? The answer I found was that I may get stuck at eleven. Over the past month I searched auctions, forums, and online stores, and was able to find one currently available example of every watch, except for the Grana. As I searched, I collated the cheapest examples and the result is the table below.
You’ll likely find that the cheapest place to start this collection is with a Timor. It was the best value (based on circulating stock) and also one of the three that can be had for just $1,000. The Grana, on the other hand, most recently sold for $15,250, and this is no surprise as there were only 1500 produced in total. In my opinion a Grana, if available, is a great investment should you have the means to outbid the other avid collectors.
For example, If someone asked me if I would rather a JLC Master Control Perpetual ($30,000 – $40,000) or a complete set of the dirty dozen ($38,850), I wouldn’t think twice about my decision to pick the set. This collection will only continue to appreciate in value and captivate the minds of collectors around the world. It is truly remarkable piece of history, and a fun challenge for any watch geek.
If you’re looking to delve deeper into the history behind this collection, Hodinkee’s article was the one that initially caught my eye. For those interested in trying their hand at nabbing a few in the collection, Watches of Knightsbridge normally has a few for sale, including nine examples in their upcoming auction on the 16th of September.
You can follow Adam’s horological hypothesis’ on Instagram @watchrally.