The joys of a cheap American military watch


Coming from a family in which someone from every generation served in the military, I have used and handled quite a bit of military equipment over the years, but the vintage military watch holds a special place in my heart.

What could be cooler than a mechanical object designed without any aesthetic concern that nevertheless manages to be aesthetically pleasing? There is a type of magnetic pull to unadorned military tool watches that even the civilian feels (or perhaps, particularly feels) – it doesn’t necessarily take a soldier to recognize the beauty of something designed to make one. thing, and do well and until failure.

While the prices of many military watches issued by major Swiss brands have recently crept into stratospheric territory, there is a small crop of distinctly wearable timepieces that have so far managed for some reason or another to escape this. upward trajectory: the US military in the 1950s-1990s Look. Maybe it’s because of their small case sizes, or maybe it’s been produced for so many years and often in such large quantities and therefore are readily available – no matter what. , these watches are cheap, and they are impressive.

A little background

Without going too deep into the rabbit hole (as has already been done elsewhere), military requisitions in the United States are done through a specification and a call for tenders: the military proposes a specification for a particular item that details the characteristics it should have. , at which point various manufacturers are invited to submit proposals and samples, and the military then decides which company (or companies) will be chosen to produce the finished product.

Three specs in particular, the MIL-W-6433A and MIL-W3818A specs from the late 1950s / early 1960s, and the MIL-W-3818B spec from 1962 are of note (you should get used to having to commit these obscure specs and references numbers to remember if you’re going to be looking for American military wristwatches; you should also probably refrain from poetrying about them in front of people who aren’t watching if, you know, you don’t want to be looked at in public) .

From the MIL-W-6433A specification was born the A-17A watch (the MIL-W-3818A is a very similar watch – more on this below), and from the MIL-W-3818B, several companies have designed watches either in accordance with (or which were derived from) this specification. Several updates to the MIL-W-3818B have been released since 1962, each with smaller or smaller modifications or modifications to the original design. Therefore, there are countless iterations and variations of a mass-produced watch to collect.

A Benrus DTU2A / P from the 60s and a Hamilton MIL-W-46374D from the 80s.

Equipment patrol

The A-17A and MIL-W-3818A

Although there were several military watches produced in the 10 to 15 years immediately following World War II, the MIL-W-3818A and A-17A were particularly well designed and almost identical in their specifications. Both watches feature parkerized steel cases, screw-down casebacks, oversized crowns, pierced lugs and black 24-hour dials with luminescent numerals and handsets. The handsets themselves differ slightly (as do the movements – while the A-17A uses a 15 ruby ​​hack move, there is some confusion as to whether the MIL-W-3818A was originally intended to be fitted with a 15 or 17 jewel version), but they were otherwise almost identical watches.

EBay fourth seller

Since the MIL-W-3818A and A-17A watches used many of the same parts, and the military supply chain’s primary directive regarding these watches was to return non-functioning ones to the field as soon as possible, many ‘between them can be found. on eBay with a technically “incorrect” needle or background (i.e. not “born” with the watch), but which was actually affixed to the watch while on military service (the watch in the picture of this MIL-W-3818A case back, for example, but minute and hour hands A-17A).

Despite a downright reduced case size by today’s standards (around 31.5mm without the crown), these models can be purchased between $ 300 and $ 500 in very good condition (often with a canvas strap. ‘origin or NOS), and if you can pull off a small watch with confidence, they are an incredible bargain and worth pursuing.

The DTU-2A / P and MIL-W-46374D

Although there have been countless variations of the Vietnam-era Gulf American military watch produced over a 40-year period, there are several specific references that stand out in terms of price and reliability. , the first of which is the DTU-2A. / P by Benrus.

The DTU-2A / P, produced in the mid to late 1960s, was the first manifestation of the MIL-W-3818B specification, which provided for a 17-jewel wristwatch with a parkerized steel case, a black dial with white numerals and indexes and an inner ring with military time, hands filled with green luminescent paint (tritium), an acrylic crystal and an orange tipped second hand also painted with tritium. The movement featured 17 jewels, a hack, a 36-hour power reserve and an accuracy of +/- 30 seconds per day. These are well-made, reliable watches that were meant to be usable (albeit via crystal, as they used a one-piece case), and many today abound in good condition, often with impressive patina.

Another collector’s item and one of my favorites is the MIL-W-46374D Type 1, produced (to the best of my knowledge) only in 1988. This is a screw-down watch with a steel case. made by Hamilton with a 17- jewel, hand-wound ETA movement, a thin dial font and the “H3” and radioactive symbols on the dial, indicating the presence of tritium. Because they were only produced for a year, their quantities are slightly more scarce, but they can still be purchased cheaply and they are precise and usable watches.

Analogue / Shift

The two aforementioned references are around 34mm in diameter (the DTU-2A / P is slightly wider) and feature 18mm lug widths, so you need to be able to pull out a smaller watch, but if you can. , the results are worth it. They look great on single-pass or Nato straps, of course, but they look equally good on thin two-piece leather straps, and they’re perfectly at home in the field (there are watches with sets of better and more modern features which are admittedly better choices for country watches today, but these references will always do).

Also, if you are particularly hardworking and willing to pay a little more (think $ 500- $ 700), sometimes you can find one with its original 1 piece nylon strap and cardboard box that comes with you. army, decked out in nothing. but specification numbers, date and other military markings.

At any time, even a quick eBay search for MIL-W-3818A, A-17A, DTU-2A / P or MIL-W-46374D will yield a myriad of results for used American military watches from the era of the Korean War across the Gulf War era, many of which are in working order, and most of which sell or hammer for under $ 500 (you can expand the search further and type “MIL-W-46374” or “GG-W-113” to check a few other part numbers not mentioned here – just be sure to research the features and condition of the watch in particular).

Many of these watches feature mechanical movements, radium or tritium illumination, parkerized or brushed steel cases, and plastic crystals – all hallmarks of a classic tool watch. Some featured one-piece plastic cases and inexpensive movements meant to be disposed of once broken, while others featured steel screw-down cases with 17-jewel ETA movements and still perform perfectly well today – all what it takes is a little research because what you are looking at, and you can make an informed decision and buy a working piece of military history for a few hundred dollars. What not to like?

So the next time you’re browsing eBay on one of those night watch frenzy, do yourself a favor – provided the watch ticks all the boxes, hit the “Buy Now” button or place a bid on one. of these bad boys. These are pieces of American military history, they are all “form-follow-function”, they are made in a timeless size, they look great, they are a steal …

… Oh, and they also tell the time.


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