It’s become apparent that people are aware that I like watches and have started approaching me to fix and appraise timepieces. It doesn’t really matter to me what it is – I find almost everything interesting and in almost all cases the item holds some sentimental value. However I was approached by one person who had found something ‘interesting‘ whilst at a charity shop.

I think there’s something special about finding a hidden gem. Something that has been lying dormant for decades without stating it’s true identity or being treated properly. You often hear stories of people picking up prestige watches at carboot sales and finding them in old drawers of handed down furniture.

This individual proceed to present me with an old pocket watch. The dial was sterile and free from a manufacturer logo. The arabic numerals and hour markers were clearly designed for ease of reading and use. The front wasn’t very telling but the back had an engraving.


General Standard Trade Pattern. During World War 2 the British army were in dire need of time pieces and were unable to provide military specified designs/equipment. These pocket watches came with simple 15 jewel watches or less if you weren’t lucky. Shortage meant that any movement could be sourced for these GSTP pocket watches ranging from Rolex to Helvetia.

This particular piece has a generic movement without markings – however it is incredibly clean and is working perfectly. Incredible considering the area it was designed for.


Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It has a few notable properties but the main being self-luminous paints for use on dials, aircraft switches and watch components. Absolutely fantastic for being able to read your watch at night – however the long term effects were not realised with it being used commercial until the 60s. With a half life of 1600 years it really hangs about and the effects can be seen on this pocket watch.

White dials really highlight the presence of Radium. Seen in these photos the radioactive luminous paint used on the hands and hour markers has physically burnt the dial and crystal. This effect has not happened overnight – the hands staying in one location over a long period with the gamma radiation burning the dial area under the hand.

The chrome plated case has seen some action and the crystal is damaged internally – not by scratches on the outside. This piece has obviously been out and about and provided a service during the war time period. As with a lot of things once it has served its purpose it’s been put in a drawer and forgotten about.

W.W.W. (Watches, Wristlet, Waterproof)

“That’s not all – there’s all this…”

It’s not often when you can just be handed something you have no real experience in and state what it is. I had seen things just like this before – with a similar design and case shape. It’s a Dirty Dozen watch.

In 1945 the British Ministry of Defence issued the manufacture of wrist watches for it’s servicemen. They requested a watch for special units and tasks – and as they weren’t expecting a rattrapante chronograph the following was requested:

  • Black dial with Arabic numerals, subsidiary seconds at 6 o’clock and railroad-style minutes
  • Luminous hour and minute hands plus luminous hour markers
  • Movements with 15 jewels
  • Shatterproof Perspex crystal
  • Waterproof to the standards of the era
  • Precision movements that had to be regulated to chronometer criteria in a variety of conditions
  • Rugged case capable of diminishing the impact of shocks
  • Water-resistant crown of good size

The request was placed to Swiss companies as Britain was already very tied up manufacturing munitions and weapons of war. The MOD settled on 12 to 13 manufacturers depending on what you believe – they were:

  • Buren – producing 11,000
  • Cyma – producing 20,000
  • Eterna – producing 5,000
  • Grana – producing 1,000 to 5,000
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre- producing 6,000
  • Lemania – producing 10,000
  • Longines – producing 8,000
  • IWC – producing 5,000
  • Omega – producing 25,000
  • Record – producing 25,000
  • Timor – producing 13,000
  • Vertex – producing 15,000
  • Enicar (official store number provided by MOD however they never actually provided any) – producing 0?

I anticipate the total number was defined by what they actually committed to producing with the larger houses churning out far more than others. As with all group projects some suppliers stuck hard to the brief and produced watches as expected and the more creatives added flourishes. Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre including cathedral hands. Case sizes ranged from 35 to 38mm.

The upwards pointing arrow on the dial and caseback is the British military broad arrow or Pheon. This marking has been used since the 14th century to indicate government ownership. It has been used on ammunition cases, rifles, bayonets and prison uniforms. It is currently a criminal offence in the United Kingdom to reproduce the broad arrow without authority.

This particular piece is not in great shape however it does look to be entirely original. It was not uncommon for the watches to be serviced by the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers whereby any components that would fit would have been used to repair these watches. A large selection were also destroyed during the 1970s over the concerns regarding the radioactive lume.

At some point the crystal has received some mistreatment – it looks like a combination of years of abuse and a significant burn mark. I would love to think this had been caused by a tired soldier enjoying a cigarette and gently resting it down – only to realise it had singed his military issue watch. The hole to the atmosphere has had an adverse effect on the hand lume turning it puffy and white.

Calibre 520

The Calibre 520 was the first movement produced by Eterna for men’s wrist watches. It beats at 18,000 BPH and had a power reserve of 42 hours. This service watch is still beating accurately even through all it’s time out in the field.

How much?

When valuing items like this condition and history is everything. These Eterna are incredibly rare and the condition is relatively poor – but the condition is honest and true. There has never been any case polishing here and considering being exposed to the atmosphere the dial is in remarkably good shape.

As with all things – it’s what somebody is willing to pay. So if you’re interested this will soon be for sale in the current condition.

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