CWC at Silverman's, London

These Vintage Military Watches Were Issued to British Forces

October 8, 2019 Watches By Photo by Oren Hartov

Cabot Watch Company, though perhaps not a household name, has a storied place in the annals of military watches. CWC was founded in 1972 by Ray Mellor, a WWII veteran and Merchant Marine sailor who had previously served as Hamilton Watch Company’s Managing Director for the U.K. When Hamilton decided that military contracts were no longer lucrative enough to warrant taking them, Mellor struck out on his own, taking the name of explorer John Cabot for his new company. Military contracts from the Ministry of Defense soon poured in, and CWC was in business.

In 1996, Mellor sold the company to Silvermans Ltd, a famed London-based supplier of military kit and surplus established in 1946. Silvermans had previously been buying CWC and retailing them to the public, and their purchase of the company allowed CWC to live on past Mellor’s retirement. Though CWC still produces watches that are up to MoD spec, budget cuts from the MoD mean that the watchmaker doesn’t secure as many MoD contracts as it used to — notably, however, they still have a contract for the SBS diver watch that’s also current issue to certain units of the Royal Marines, which has an ongoing requirement for the next two years. Also, many CWC watches are still in service, and the company continues to produce watches for the civilian market.

Recently, we were able to visit Silverman’s and check out their store of vintage and modern CWC watches, some of which have seen service with U.K. forces, from infantry to special operations personnel such as the Special Boat Service. Sadly, Ray Mellor passed away several months ago, but his watches live on under the care of Silverman’s, enjoyed by servicemen and the general public alike.

Military Stopwatch

This stopwatch from the 1970s is a military timer that also saw service in television production, having been used in the cutting room for timing news features. It was used by the BBC and ITV, the two main news channels in the UK, which purchased several hundred units over the years and evidently still use them to time 60-second and 60-minute segments. The same model was also used by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Fallout last year, and are made to order to customer’s requirements.

Military Stopwatch, DHSS-Issued

This military-issued stopwatch, which features 60-second and 30-minute timers, was issued to the Department of Health and Social Security. This particular model is no longer in production.

CWC Harrier Cockpit Clock

This cockpit clock was used in a Harrier jump jet, and replaced the Heuer Monte Carlo. Featuring a 60-second counter and a jumping hour disk, the clock was in service on Harriers when they were in use on U.S. aircraft carriers. This model, too, is no longer in production.

Original CWC Royal Navy Diver, Automatic

CWC recently reissued this watch, a highly rare automatic issued to the Special Boat Service from 1980-1981, just before production switched over to quartz. Pictured above right is an issued original (next to a modern version, left), complete with 45mm steel case, tritium dial, fully graduated bezel, fixed spring bars and sword hands. CWC took over the SBS contract from Rolex, which had been previously supplying the MoD with its Submariner, now dubbed the Mil-Sub. The CWC version is ostensibly even rarer than the Rolex. (See below for the modern, commercially available CWC.)

1980 CWC Royal Navy Diver

The modern reissue of the above watch, which debuted in 2017. The new timepiece’s resemblance to the original is uncanny, even down to the “circle T” on the dial (the modern version does not use tritium, however, but modern lume available in Dark Vintage, Light Vintage or C3). Use of the ETA 2824-2 movement is the other notable concession to modernity, but other than that, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between an original and a reissue, which retails for ~$2,496.

CWC Asymmetrical Chronograph

Issued in the 1970s to the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy, these asymmetric chronos were produce by four companies: CWC, Hamilton, Precista and Newmark. The watches were functionally identical with the exception of branding, and were based on the workhorse Valjoux 7733 movement with 30-minute totalizer at 3 o’clock and running seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. The asymmetric case protected the crown and pushers, and fixed spring bars necessitated the use of single-pass straps, making it more difficult for the watch to be lost should one of the bars break. The modern version uses the Valjoux 7760 and retails for ~$2,766.

1981 G10 “Fat Boy”

After production moved to quartz in 1980, CWC began production of the G10 spec, which utilized a battery-powered no-date movement and a tritium dial. The old CWC logo was used until 1982, when production changed to the modern oval logo (these older models are affectionately named the “Fat Boy” due to the deeper case necessary to house the older, larger movements). Water resistant to 50m, 38mm wide and featuring fixed, 18mm spring bars, over 200,000 CWC are estimated to have been issued by the MoD. Over 20,000 were issued to the Royal Navy in 1991 alone. Modern G10s are available for ~$245.

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Oren Hartov

Oren Hartov is Gear Patrol's watches editor. He knows what time it is, and one or two other things.

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