Technology and war go hand-in-hand, and nothing illustrates that more than China Lake. From the 1940s to the present day, nearly every piece of airborne ordnance used by the U.S. military—and scores of other weapons we can only speculate about, from drones to bioweapons—was developed in the 19,600 square mile facility known as the Secret City. Along with these commonly-used instruments of destruction, China Lake also developed equipment for more covert warfare.
Since the First World War, Hamilton had provided wristwatches and other timekeeping instruments to the U.S. military. Aside from the watches strapped to the wrists of the soldiers and the instruments mounted in the cockpits of their fighters, Hamilton also developed top-secret “bomb timers." One of these was the 308 Bomb Timer, developed for China Lake.
The 3801-308 device was developed in the 1960s under a classified contract with the U.S. Navy. This device was used (in ultimate James Bond fashion) to detonate covert explosive devices. It was used most extensively by the SEALS in the Vietnam War.
According to recently unclassified documents, the 308 Bomb Timer was part of a series of 308 “remote firing device models” whose purpose was “to provide stand-off capability in the firing of explosive charges.” Anything could be an explosive device—from binoculars to canteens to flashlights and even cameras.
When looking at it front-on, there’s nothing to distinguish it from other 24-hour military watches of the period (aside from the open worked dial, of course - the only other example of which we've seen in the brand's museum!). The back of the case, too, looks relatively harmless—but the plastic covering on the case-back conceals two electrical contacts. According to the Hamilton Museum website, an electrical charge is created to these contacts when the hands reached 24:00, and when wired up to your favorite high explosive...just think of your favorite Michael Bay movie.
Very few of these watches have surfaced on the market, due to the fact that not many were produced, and those that were used in warfare were no doubt blown up!
We count ourselves very fortunate that we were able to get our hands on one that’s completely intact.
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