If you've been watching Analog/Shift for any period of time, you already know our affection for military-issued timepieces.
Collecting military timepieces is a niche several layers deep - first you have to have interest in watches. Then mechanical watches. Then vintage mechanical watches. And then vintage mechanical military-issued watches.
This is the sort of geekery that gets us out of bed every morning - you might know exactly what we're talking about.
Establishing provenance on your average vintage consumer-grade watch can be tough, but military watches come with an inherent story of service and action that proves to be a siren call to many. When you couple that history with the function-first design language prevalent in the military category, the results are glorious.
The Omega 'RAF-53' series, spec'd by the Ministry of Defense after the Second World War are one of the most desirable British military field watches produced, and we've had the distinct pleasure of offering a number over the years.
This particular example stands out, however, in that it features a genuine Omega service dial and handset (commonly applied to military watches under contract), but it retains the 'Thin Arrow' pheon at 6:00, whereas most would have featured the more common 'Fat Arrow' printing.
In short, this piece is for the military collector looking for a super-niche piece - but it is also just one hell of a good looking and great-wearing field watch, regardless of how geeky you actually want to admit to being!
The broad arrow, or pheon, has its roots in heraldry, when it adorned the shields of knights as they charged into battle. During the reign of Henry VIII, it was used by the Board of Ordnance to denote that whatever it adorned—be it a cannon, a nail, or a tree destined to be a ship’s mast—was paid for out of the royal coffers. To today's watch collectors, an arrow on the dial of a vintage watch signifies that the timepiece was once the property of Her Majesty’s Government.
While many pieces bear the mark, and while collectors comb through countless listings in pursuit of this little symbol, the watches produced by Omega under military contract in the 1950s command a cult following.
In 1953, Omega built timepieces under guidelines issued by British Ministry of Defense. These guidelines were strenuous and covered every component of the watch from the movement to the dial and hands. For example, the case could not have any highly polished parts, and the movement had to be protected from magnetic fields by an inner dust cover.
Over the years, several different manufacturers supplied these watches according to MOD standards, from well-known brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC, to lesser-known companies like Smiths.
But the variants produced by Omega in that single year of 1953—bearing an Omega reference number of 2777-1 and a NATO number of 6B/542—have an interesting bit of history that set them apart from the others.
When these watches left the factory, the luminescent material that adorned the indices and hands was Radium. However, sometime in the 1960s, the watches were returned to the manufacturer and the Radium dials were exchanged for tritium. When the dial was changed, the pheon was generally repainted, this time thicker, and an encircled T was painted on to show that the luminescent material was tritium.
These thicker arrows have led to the nickname “Fat Arrow” among watch collectors.
A small sample size of replacement tritium dials did not receive the "Fat Arrow" treatment, and are a truly rare find!
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