True military watches exude a kind of toughness that's hard to replicate. These watches--with their black dials, easy-to-read numerals, 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 or 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. The uni-body case, in a corrosion-resistant steel, was designed to protect the movement from the debris, moisture, and shock that it would withstand 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 the other manufacturers cast their cases in plastic, 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.
The dial--Spartan and stark in black and white--was meant to ensure maximum legibility. The numerals and hands were coated in tritium. The 17-jewel, manual wind movement was 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 to incredible accuracy for elite operations and coordinated maneuvers. Despite the compact size of 34mm, this watch was designed to take a beating.
This particular GI watch dates from February 1981, as stamped on the original case back. The tritium on the hands and hour plots has aged to an awesome even patina, and the case shows 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.
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