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The First Military Wrist Watches


World War 1 was the start point for military timepieces to become prevalent on the battlefield, in the air and at sea.
With men being mobilised to fight on a huge scale there was a definite need for some sort of organisation related to timings being required. A good example of this was a coordinated attack after an artillery barrage to avoid any “friendly fire” casualties.
Historically pocket watches were used, and these were often modified so that they could be adapted to be put on the wrist. The issue of pocket watches in general was that they had to be removed from a pocket and then viewed. A simple enough action perhaps in peacetime, but when under fire from an enemy not an easy task.
Early wrist watches or wristlets were merely adapted pocket watches, as previously mentioned. The downside to these included easily damaged movements via water/dirt ingress, or poorly manufactured wire lugs attached to the watch case.
Very quickly the commercial value of wrist watches that had luminous (radioactive) dials and hands so that time could be read at night and poor light, combined with a case and dust cover that prevented water or dirt to get into the movement; was fully understood.
The wristlets proved popular and differences in dial layouts, dial colours, case metals (gold, silver, and alloys), movement quality exist. In addition a complementary market started in mesh guards that were added to the front of the timepiece to prevent the watch glass breaking. All wristlets issued to British army staff were marked with a “broadarrow” or phenon (typically called a crowsfoot). This was designed to signify military issue, and if lost the cost of replacement would normally be borne by the individual that lost it, as well as preventing theft. Many military wristlets, pocket watches, wrist watches and clocks can be seen with just traces of the broadarrow where they have become “removed” by their owners.

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