Watches labelled as ‘NOS’ (new old stock) are oft prized. For watches, as it is for books or many other collectables, the idea of something that has been untouched, especially vintage watches, is tantalising. The words ‘new unissued in box’ were enough to draw me into the unknown world of vintage military watches. The lure of an untouched 1945 watch was too great.
The watch? A Waltham Navigation Hack type A-11. Brand new in the original government issue box and packaging with matching serial numbers. It has been stored since 1945, and never used.
Although nowhere near as well-known as its German WWII milwatch counterparts, the A-11 was the most commonly issued US military watch of the WWII era, issued to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Airforce (as 6B/ 234 designation) and even the Soviet Air Force. Their production started in 1941, the USAAF’s version marked with the U.S. Army Specification No. 94-27834, or its subsequent iterations No. 94-27834-A (2 November 1942) and No. 94-27834-B (22 February 1943).
The watches were intended to provide auxiliary aircraft navigation use for Master Navigation Watches AN-5740. Although primarily issued to Air Corps and Navy aviators for navigational purposes, many were also issued to ground forces and Navy personnel.
The specification stated that the movement was to run not less than 30 hours and not more than 56 hours on one winding, that it be no larger than 4/0 size and have a minimum of 15 jewels with a daily accuracy rare of +/- 30 seconds. Hacking was described as a suitable second setting feature.
Thus, the A-11 was not a specific watch model but a production standard used by a number of watch companies (Elgin, Bulova and Waltham). It came in numerous case and dial/ hand variations on a basic theme of black dial, manual wind hacking movement with centre seconds hand, white hour/ minute hands, and white second markers in increments of 10 on the outside edge of the dial. Several A-11 versions featured a coin-edge bezel and caseback, some were dustproof, some waterproof, but there were really only two core criteria: the sweep second hand and the hacking mechanism.
This Waltham is a No. 94-27834-B specification, one of the dustproof models which came after the waterproof version. It has a threaded bezel, stainless threaded back, and waterproof winding crown. The crystal was required to be unbreakable, and made from acrylic. The strap is also waterproof, and attached via spring bars.
The Waltham A-11 used a 6/0 size movement based on a 15-jewel movement. The ‘hacking’ component referred to above means that when the winding stem is pulled out, the sweep second hand stops moving. It starts moving again when the stem is pushed back to the case. The hack feature also means that the seconds hand jumps from one second mark to the next, rather than moving smoothly.
The serial numbers were assigned by the manufacturer and included a prefix made up of ‘AF’, followed by two numerals designating the fiscal year during which the instrument was procured, and a dash.
Although you can see some evidence of age on its sides, this watch is in remarkable condition, the strap unworn and the original pouch still in the box. Short of finding a watch still in a sealed pouch (and thus unchecked/ unserviced), this is about as good as it gets.
Am I going to wear it? Of course not. Who would wear a new unissued in box watch? I will take it out occasionally for some air though …
For those of you who are interested or into milwatches, here are the A-11 specifications.
SPECIFICATION NO. 94-27834-B, dated FEBRUARY 22, 1943 – WATCH, NAVIGATION, TYPE A-11 (HACK):
F. METHOD OF INSPECTION AND TESTS:
F-5. Individual Tests.- Each watch shall be subject to the following tests:
F-5a. Room Temperature Rate Test – Horizontal Position. – The watch shall be fully wound and run for one day to allow it to settle down. The daily rate of the watch then shall be determined for a period of 3 consecutive days with the watch in a horizontal position with the dial up and with a daily winding. The average of the daily rates during the test period shall not exceed 30 seconds.
F-5b. Room Temperature Rate Test – Vertical Position. – The daily rate of the watch shall be determined for a period of 3 consecutive days with the watch in a vertical position, with the pendant down and with daily winding. The average of the daily rates during the test period shall not exceed 30 seconds. The difference between the average daily rate obtained in this test, and in the test specified in Paragraph F-5a, shall not exceed 45 seconds.
F-6. Routine Type Test. – The following tests, in addition to those specified in Paragraph F-5, shall be applied to not less than 5 watches selected at random from each hundred or fraction thereof that are contracted for. F-6a. Plus 35 Degrees Centigrade (Plus 95 Degrees Fahrenheit) Temperature Rate Test – Pendant Down Position.- The watch shall be fully wound and then subjected to a temperature of plus 35 degrees Centigrade (plus 95 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of 5 hours. During this period, the daily rate of the watch shall not differ more than 20 seconds from the average daily rate obtained in the test specified in Paragraph F-5b. (In order to arrive at the correct figure for the rate allowance for the temperature test, the error noted for the 5-hour period shall be multiplied by 4.8 in order to determine the rate for 24 hours).
F-6b. Zero Degrees Centigrade (Plus 32 Degrees Fahrenheit)- Temperature Rate Test – Pendant Down Position. – The watch shall be tested as descrived in Paragraph F-6a, except that the watch shall be at a temperature of zero degrees Centigrade (plus 32 degrees Fahrenheit). The daily rate of the watch shall not differ more than 40 seconds from the daily rate obtained in test specified in Paragraph F-5b.
F-6c. Waterproof Test. – The watch shall be suspended above a beaker of water placed in a vacum chamber which shall be evacuated to 5 1/2 inches of mercury (to simulate a condition of 72 inches of water), then the watch shall be immersed for a period of 15 seconds. There shall be no evidence of leakage of water into the watch during the test period. Leakage will appear as bubbles emanating from the back, crystal, or stem of the watch.