True military watches exude a kind of toughness that's hard to replicate. These watches--with their black dials, easy-to-read indices, and luminescent hands--pack a punch in a deceptively compact package. No watches exemplify this toughness more than the General Issue watches manufactured from the Vietnam War to the early 1980s.
The Department of Defense first ordered General Issue (GI) watches in 1964, to outfit soldiers in the years leading up to the conflict in Vietnam. Like the 'Dirty Dozen', the GI watches were made to resist exposure in inhospitable environments. Corrosion-resistant steel cases were utilized to protect the movement from debris, moisture, and shock that it would encounter in the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of the Middle East.
The DoD contracted GI watches from many manufacturers, the most notable among them being Hamilton and Benrus. While other manufacturers cast their cases in plastic or fiberglass, Hamilton--the first manufacturer to receive the contract in 1964--cast theirs in steel throughout the entire 30 years of production. The look of these watches remained more or less the same during this interval, in keeping with the utility of their design and construction.
Their dials were spartan, and featured printed Arabic indices for both 12- and 24-hour graduations with luminous plots at each interval, with matching luminous 'syringe' hands and a 'spear' central seconds hand which was coated with a healthy dollop of Tritium to ensure maximum legibility. The 17-jewel, manual wind movements fitted were equipped with a hacking feature: a mechanism that stops the second hand from moving when setting the time. This enabled soldiers to synchronize their timepieces for maximum accuracy during elite operations and coordinated maneuvers. Despite the compact size of 34mm, these watches were designed to take a beating.
This particular example has a contract date of March 1983, as stamped on the case back. The luminous elements on the hands and indices have aged to an awesome even patina, and the case shows only light traces of the wear that the watch has seen over the years. It combines a sturdy construction with a respectable history of use by American service members, a true testament to the versatility and timeless appeal of the GI watch.
NOTE: This special watch comes from the collection of a wristwatch obsessed 30-year veteran of the US Military who saw combat in Iraq, and served at the Pentagon and for the United Nations and US Department of Defense. His badges, awards, and decorations include The Combat Action Badge, The Parachutist Badge, The Legion of Merit, The Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.
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