There’s something irresistible about military watches. The combination of toughness, clarity, accuracy and no-nonsense design is given additional weight by the incredible histories many have.

And now Christopher Ward has produced a range that combines the styles of the 1960s with contemporary watchmaking techniques.

The watches are the result of a partnership between the company and Britain’s Ministry of Defence. Representing the Royal Navy, there’s the C65 Dartmouth; representing the British Army, the C65 Sandhurst; and representing the Royal Air Force (RAF), there’s the C65 Cranwell. Each is named after the three services’ training academies.

“These watches have been created with approval from the Ministry of Defence, and they’re licensed to carry the insignia of the three services,” says Christopher Ward co-founder Mike France. “We’re one of just five brands approved to do this, and the design for each takes heavy influence from iconic British military watches of the post-World War II era. That look and feel, however, has been channelled through modern Christopher Ward sensibilities to create three unique, affordable and highly desirable pieces.”

The three Ministry of Defence watches come at the same accessible price – a touch under £800 – and use a version of the well-regarded C65 stainless steel ‘light-catcher’ case, containing the reliable, highly accurate, chronometer-certified version of Sellita’s SW200 movement. With Christopher Ward, it’s often about going the extra mile, which is why these more expensive and accurate movements power the watches.

“The greatest accuracy available was a prerequisite of any MOD watch of the past,” Mike says. “When we were working on this project, I kept thinking of all those classic war films with a military team synchronizing their watches. It seemed important that we fitted as accurate a movement as we could.” In terms of design, the three speak the same no-nonsense language. The Navy version references the classic Omega Seamaster 300 ‘Big Triangle’ of the 1960s, the Army version the Smiths W10 from a few years later, and the RAF version two near-identical watches made in the late ’40s by Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC – both called the Mark XI. All are finished to modern-day standards and are slightly larger than the originals, reflecting contemporary tastes.

The greatest accuracy available was a prerequisite of any MOD watch of the past

There’s no badge on the faces – just the Christopher Ward logotype at 12 o’clock – and they come on a variety of straps and bracelets; all quick-change. In many ways, though, the most important thing about them is to the rear. “The watches each have a deep-stamped MOD insignia on the backplate, polished on the upper surfaces until it gleams,” says CW head of product design Adrian Buchmann.“We pulled out all the stops to make sure they look their very best, and the polishing gives the casebacks a detailed, three-dimensional look that brings them alive.”

Three great watches, then, but which are the team’s favourites? Adrian won’t be drawn, and Mike, too, admits that he keeps changing his mind. “My favourite is currently the Cranwell, but I expect the Dartmouth to be the best-seller,” he says. “There’s a wonderful story associated with each, though, and they represent the Services they were each made for perfectly.”

C65 Dartmouth

The Omega Seamaster 300 was launched in 1957 and is an important watch in its own right. The sought after ‘Big Triangle‘ version, with the distinctive wedge of lume at 12 o’clock, was introduced during the 1967 production run to meet new MOD specs for military SM300s, but looked so good the design soon found itself into a small proportion of civilian versions too. “As soon as I saw the Omega Big Triangle I fell in love with it,” Mike France says, “and it’s a real favourite amongst military watch collectors. It’s that large chunk of lume at 12 o’clock that makes it so distinguished, so that became the key feature of our design. Our C65 Dartmouth uses the C65 Trident Diver case in its 41mm form with a modified unidirectional bezel, and takes some design cues from our C65 Diver and C60 Trident too – notably the large triangular hour hand.”

C65 Dartmouth in black

This Omega Big Triangle was initially created to comply to MOD diver’s watch specification 0552, and other brands executed versions too – notably Rolex – but it’s the Big Triangle that captures the imagination. “I love it,” says Adrian Buchmann, “but I also love that we’ve added design elements of our own to the Dartmouth too. The dark blue face, for one thing, gives it a different feel to the original while, on the rear, there’s the crown insignia of the Royal Navy.”

Case: C65 Diver 41mm with bezel
Movement: Selitta SW-200 COSC
Prices from £795

C65 Sandhurst

Just before Smiths – the last surviving British volume watchmaker of the era – shifted its entire operation into the more lucrative world of aerospace instruments, it made one last watch for the British Army: the 35mm stainless steel W10 general service field watch, manufactured from 1967-1970. Hamilton and others would also make W10s, but the Smiths is the one to have. “The story of this watch really grabbed me,” Mike France says. “We’ve got a great affection for Smiths, and it’s sad they abandoned creating watches so soon after making this.”

C65 Sandhurst

The Christopher Ward version is slightly larger than the original at 38mm, using the new C65 Vintage ‘light-catcher’ case without a bezel. “Smiths was British and so are we. That’s why it was great to be able to reference the long tradition of watchmaking in the UK,” says Adrian. “This is the epitome of the simple, handsome three-hand watch. It has Arabic numerals, no date and a clean face; on the back, there’s the Army’s heraldic badge.”

Case: C65 Vintage 38mm
Movement: Selitta SW-200 COSC
Prices from £795

C65 Cranwell

Just after the World War II, the MOD – keen to improve the accuracy of RAF raids – set a new specification for military aviator’s watches aimed at bomber navigators, and commissioned two Swiss manufacturers to make them: Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. Both 6B/346 watches look near identical and are stone-cold classics, but while the IWC Mark XI is well regarded, the JLC Mark XI is even more so. Why? For a triple-whammy of reasons: it was made in much smaller numbers (under 3,000), it was never sold to the public, and it used the classic Caibre 488/SBr, a chronometer-quality movement with few contemporary peers.

C65 Cranwell

“Both Mark XI watches are highly sought after,” Mike France says, “and though I’ve always been a sucker for any good-looking aviation watch, these really are something. It’s no surprise they’ve become perhaps the most collectable British Forces watches there’s ever been.”

Though it shares some of its aesthetic with the much later Smiths W10, the CW Army and Air Force watches are actually quite different in the flesh, not least that RAF watch is larger, at 41mm. “And,” says Adrian Buchmann, “because it has no bezel it wears even larger than that, giving you a supremely graphic and legible face. On the back is the RAF’s heraldic badge.”

Case: C65 Diver 41mm without bezel
Movement: Selitta SW-200 COSC
Prices from £795

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