“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ “ – Sir Winston Churchill, British PM, June 18, 1940, in a speech to the House of Commons, as the UK prepared for what would become known as ‘The Battle of Britain.’
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The heroic victory that has come to be known as the Battle of Britain was in no way guaranteed when Prime Minister Churchill addressed his colleagues in the House of Commons; indeed, as the Royal Air Force prepared to defend ‘Fortress England,’ there was a terrible sense of foreboding, because the British generals and air group commanders knew they were preparing to fight against the largest and best trained air force in the world, Air Marshal Goering’s Luftwaffe. Yet, the RAF somehow prevailed, and the courage and valor they showed during that sustained air battle have become the stuff of legend.
More than 70 years after this legendary clash in the skies over England, the London Watchmaker, Christopher Ward, created his own unique tribute to the courageous RAF Airmen who fought and defeated the German Luftwaffe: the Limited Edition RAF Battle of Britain watch.* Although not an exact reproduction of the watches that would have been worn by the British aviators during that long-ago air battle in the skies over Great Britain, these Christopher Ward pieces superbly commemorate the courage and ferocity of the men who fought for and prevailed on behalf of King and Country.
*Christopher Ward donates 5% of the retail value of every watch sold to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Royal Air Force/Battle of Britain Features
RAF commissioned 1940-piece limited edition
RAF Kings crest and laurel leaf dial design
Spitfire propeller inspired hands
Air Ministry reference 6B/159 engraved back-plate
Case: 316L Marine Grade Stainless steel
Case Diameter: 38mm
Case Height: 10.8mm
Calibre: Sellita SW200-1 High Beat
Vibrations: 28,800 vph
38-hour power reserve
Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
Water Resistance: 50 metres
Strap: 18mm Italian brown leather with deployant clasp
Dial Color: “Vintage White”
I wouldn’t be trite or cliché enough to say something like ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ but what I will say is that this watch is rather plain looking, as so many montres militaires d'époque were – and still are, for that matter – but there truly is a wistful beauty in the simple Arabic hour markers, the oddly quaint RAF insignia, and the uncomplicated, comfortable lines of this watch. Put simply – and rather subjectively for what is supposed to be a review – I love the look of this purely military watch; every aspect of its appearance deftly accomplishes Mr. Ward’s goal of making us remember such an implausible victory whilst at the same time deeply honoring the courage of those who fought so bravely to bring it about.
Or, put another way, it’s something of a “plain Jane” in the looks department, but as a retired military aviator who spent the better part of 26 years in various cockpits and wearing ‘pilots watches’ with so many details that they were rendered unreadable, it is a pure joy to come around to something that is as functional as it is unostentatious. Such a shame it wasn’t around when I was honing my aircraft carrier skills and learning the fine art of flying by the seat of my pants.
Like many of us who lovingly write about the SW200-1 by the Swiss company, Sellita, it gets pretty tough after a while to come up with still more never-before-used adjectives under the self-imposed 15-letter cap I try to maintain. Nonetheless, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t say at least a few words about this remarkable movement that has won over so many of us in the watch community. So, at the risk of using still more repetitious adjectives, here goes.
The operation of this 28,800 VPH high beat movement is smooth and very accurate, coming in at right around +2 seconds/day. Like its ETA 2824-2 counterpart, it is whisper-quiet in operation, yet rapidly builds up a bit more than the advertised time reserve for extended use. What else can I say, other than it’s a first class movement in every respect? When you invest in a high quality movement, everything else just seems to fall into place, and this applies to no company moreso than Christopher Ward, LTD.
Fit, Finish and Comfort
Like a well-made attack aircraft, there are no rattles or creaks in this superb piece of watchmakers art. The join-up between the brushed-steel case and dark coffee-colored strap is all but perfect, and the strap itself is supremely comfortable, a genuine luxury in any cockpit, but most especially in the very cramped quarters of the old RAF Spitfire fighters. The kind folks at Christopher Ward, Ltd., also add a beautifully – and very cleanly – signed, dual-deployant** clasp so you won’t have to spend any real time worrying about how you’re going to find an equally-comfortable piece of watch leather to replace the original.
**For some unknown reason, the technical writers at Chr. Ward Watches insist on calling it a “dual-deployment clasp,” something that drives this old USN SLUFF Driver up the wall. Oh well, c’est le mort…
The glare-resistant sapphire crystal blends perfectly into the bezel, and is almost concave in appearance, yet the dial is easily readable in most lighting conditions. Unlike the original RAF aviator’s watch, which made use of varying amounts of phosphorus on the minute and hour hands, this modern counterpart gets its ‘lume’ from Super Luminova, placed on the four ‘compass points’ as well as the hands. To be completely honest, though, the lume barely lasts a minute before it’s gone completely, which means it does pass the Mortuus quick-glance-in-a-closed-crypt test, though it’s a close thing.
My only other ‘complaint’ of a sort is more related to my age than any real problem with the watch; the date window at 3 o’clock is normal by most objective measurements, but it’s all but invisible to these 55 year-old eyes. And, stubborn, vain bastard that I am, I still refuse to purchase even a set of drugstore reading glasses…
...okay, I’ve got a pair of readers from the neighborhood pharmacy, but I keep losing them. (No, really…)
This watch has the quality and historical significance to make it a genuine tribute piece. And unlike certain other ‘WWII homage’ watches – who shall remain nameless here so as not to sully the Chris Ward name – the materials are period correct and of high quality. Best of all, though, 5% of each watch’s retail value is donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund, a charity for both active and former members of the Royal Air Force in need of monetary assistance or morale/well-being services. Oh, and for you cynics out there, the Fund has been around since 1919, and is still going strong after 95 years.
And that sums it up for this truly significant, well-made and very comfortable watch. And yes, there are still a few in stock at the Christopher Ward USA website. Many thanks for your time and attention, and may we never forget those who served – and even gave their lives for – Old Blighty in her darkest hour.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." – Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking of the British victory in the skies over England during the Battle of Britain. A truly ‘Churchillian’ quote if there ever was one…
Many, many thanks for your time and attention; some people merely tolerate the retelling of history, while others occasionally enjoy its many tales. But for some of us, there is an insatiable thirst for the past and all that it holds for us. It is this latter group that I proudly belong to, much as it belongs to me and others like me. Be safe and well.
– CDR Mortuus Praesepultus, USN (Ret), Rancho Sante Fe, California, USA 6/13/14