When it comes to military issued watches, there is probably no other country in the world that can match the incredible number, variety and quality of watches issued to its armed forces than Great Britain.Upon realising that I had inadvertently collected British military watches covering the period 1914-2014, it seemed an opportune time to use my collection to tell the history of timepieces issued to HM Armed Forces over the past 100 years. Sadly, I don’t own an SBS Rolex Submariner or a Royal Navy Omega Seamaster, and many of the watches in my collection are neither particularly rare or valuable. None the less, they do tell an interesting story on the evolution of watches in general, and military issued watches in particular.
So just what is it about military issued watches that consistently attracts collectors, leading them to sell for significantly higher prices compared to equivalent civilian watches?Well there are quite a few reasons that can broadly be divided into economic ie “reality”, and “fantasy” domains.From an economic perspective part of the value of military issued watches lies their relative scarcity.British military watches are usually produced in much lower numbers than commercially available watches. And, you generally can’t just walk into a shop and buy one.
Service personnel, certainly in earlier years, were only issued with a watch if their role required them to have one. When issued, they remained the property of the Crown, and were supposed to be handed back in. The fact that they are Crown property is denoted by the broad arrow, or Pheon, commonly stamped on the back of watches, or sometimes seen on the dial. This is one of the reasons british military watches have individual engraved issue numbers, so a note of which soldier was issued which watch could be taken, so that they would not “disappear”. Sometimes this would be noted in your pay book so if it was not returned your pay would be docked!