Three of a Kind: Military Watches

By Sotheby's

S otheby’s is delighted to offer a selection of three fascinating military timepieces in the upcoming Watches Online sale. These purpose-built wristwatches were designed to survive in the harshest environments and were issued to active or retired soldiers as reliable and robust equipment. Such pieces are, first and foremost, extremely hard to come by as they are only issued to military personnel. They are also difficult to find in good condition as most of them have been worn during military missions, and therefore bear the inevitable scars of war.

Collectors nowadays also value vintage military watches for the stories they tell, as tangible and unique testimonies of human history. Any additional document, image and story are all the more important, and give the watch its unique heroic context. Modern military wristwatches are usually modified production models, bearing the owner’s own unique military code name and the emblem of the military regiment.

The present selection is comprised of two modern military watches offered on behalf of the original SAS soldier owners as well as a wonderfully preserved 1940s Panerai / Rolex. Whether modern or vintage, military watches are highly collectible and purveyors of great emotion.

1. Rolex For Panerai: Radiomir, Reference 3646 Military Stainless Steel Diver's Watch, circa 1943

Panerai developed the reference 3646 in collaboration with Rolex for the Royal Italian Navy, in particular for their Frogmen who needed a reliable and legible watch in extreme conditions during long and deep water diving. The reference 3646 was a testament to ingenuity and technological advancements, remaining legible in pitch black darkness. Rolex provided their calibre 618, which insured precision timekeeping, and also helped with the initial waterproofing of the cases, by having the type B produced under the Oyster Watch Co.

According to academics, the present lot is an early type D as the inner caseback is stamped with the Rolex signature, the serial and reference number. It is well-preserved and in original condition, with the original plexiglass, dial and hands. The movement has just been carefully restored by a specialized watchmaker.

Until today, the timepiece was preserved within the family of Sergeant H. Fisher, N.C.O, a member of the 5th British Infantry Division, B.A.O.R. (British Army of the Rhein), where he was a German-English interpreter during war crime tribunals after the Second World War. This lot includes several letters of recommendation of Sargent Fisher, where his superiors, such as his Captain and Colonel speak in the highest term of his person. In these raving recommendations, Sargent Fisher is said to have a pleasant personality that makes him easy to work with his peers and his superiors. He is an excellent interpreter that has no issues to handle situations well under pressure.

This lot not only includes these letters of recommendations, but also original transcripts of the defendant’s pleas. Most of the pleas are about alleged assault or murder cases that happened in prison- or concentration-camps, such as Auschwitz or Mittelbau-Dora.

2. Rolex Explorer II, 22 Special Air Service, Reference 216570 Military Stainless Steel Dual-time Wristwatch with Date and Bracelet, circa 2012

The British Special Air Service (SAS) was founded in 1941 as a Special Operations division of the British Army, and has remained one of the most respected military organizations in the world ever since. In spite of its absolute secrecy, the unit is rumoured to employ 500 active soldiers who undergo extreme recruitment and training programs.

Perpetuating their long-lasting relationship with Military forces, in 2012, Rolex offered SAS soldiers the opportunity to acquire a highly personal and exclusive example of the Explorer II, reference 216570. While most of the known SAS Rolex Explorer II watches bear a black dial, the present wristwatch was fitted with a white, maxi dial.

Property of the original owner, the present limited-edition timepiece is preserved in like-new condition, retaining its original protective stickers. On the side of the case, the motto of the SAS ‘Who Dares Wins’ is engraved. Furthermore, the case back is decorated with the illustrious SAS emblem (a dagger with wings) and bears the SAS soldier’s initials within a unique serial number.

This very rare and increasingly collectible white dial example comes with its original Guarantee and presentation case.

3. Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Xl, 22 Special Air Service, Reference 22005200 Stainless Steel Wristwatch with Date, Helium Escape Valve and Bracelet, circa 2011

In addition to the SAS Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570, Sotheby’s is delighted to include in this sale an equally elusive Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean reference 22005200, delivered to an SAS member in 2011. The present watch is part of the confidential run sold to both enlisted and former members of the Special Air Service’s 22nd Regiment. The indestructible 45.5mm stainless-steel case is designed to withstand the most hostile activities, whether in the air or under the sea, thanks to its helium escape valve and antimagnetic properties. Its profile bears the fascinating quote “Always A Little Further”, from ‘The Golden Journey to Samarkand’, a poem written by James Elroy Flecker, which the 22nd regiment members learn and retain during the selection process. This inspiring piece of literature is inscribed on the Clock Tower in Hereford and is of great emotional importance to the regiment.

The back of the timepiece bears the Winged Dagger, emblem of the SAS, juxtaposed by the moto “Who Dares Wins”. However, the most important element remains the personal military number, identifying the actual owner. Regiment members refer to this serial number as the “Zap”. It is described as every recruit’s new identity, as these reference codes are used in all communications, allowing the soldiers to remain anonymous to the outside world.

This SAS Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean XL stands in exceptional and unworn condition, still bearing some of its original protective stickers. Furthermore, the watch is sold on behalf of its original owner, translating into collector vocabulary as the most direct and fascinating provenance one could wish for.

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