Like the best superheroes, the greatest vintage watches are usually the ones with the most interesting origin stories. Unfortunately, the better the story, the more people you’ll be competing against to score your grail. (See: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, designed by the late great Gerald Genta and considered the first high-end steel sports watch, or the Rolex “Comex” Submariner, which was field-tested by French scuba divers in the ‘70s.) In the case of the Vaer A12 Dirty Dozen, however, you can add a true superhero watch to your wrist as easily as ordering a new pair of swim trunks—and at a significant discount to the original.
The Dirty Dozen’s origin story goes something like this: back in 1944 at the height of World War II, the British Ministry of Defence put in an order for a watch to equip its soldiers on the battlefield. The result was the WWW (which stands for Watch. Wrist. Waterproof.) a simple steel two-hander with white numerals on a black dial and a small seconds counter at six o’clock. Twelve Swiss watchmakers signed on to build it, including big names like Omega, IWC and Longines and lesser-known ones like Grana, Timor and Record. More than 140,000 watches were made and distributed to British soldiers, and somewhere down the line they earned the nickname the Dirty Dozen—after the 12 original watchmakers and the 1968 Charles Bronson Nazi revenge movie.
Much like Pokémon cards, part of the attraction to the original Dirty Dozen watches is collecting them all, and some are much rarer and more valuable than others. While Record and Timor pieces are still relatively easy to find on the secondhand market, Grana only produced about 1,000 WWWs, making theirs the most collectible of the bunch (the first-edition Charizard, if you will).
As a faithful homage to this WWII legend, the Vaer A12 keeps all of the essential details of the original, including the clean white-on-black dial, the small-seconds subdial and a period-correct 36mm case. It also adds a few subtle upgrades like a sapphire crystal (which is tougher than the original) and 100m water resistance (so you don’t need to hide it in the toe of your sneaker when you go to the beach). Like the 1945 version, it also features a Swiss-made hand-wound movement, which means you’ll have to wind it every 40 hours or so just like they did in the olden days. While the Vaer A12 comes with a choice of Horween leather straps, anyone looking for authentic wartime vibes should opt for the one made of woven khaki nylon, which is a solid stand-in for the canvas web straps of the era (and also happens to look excellent with indigo denim).
So why buy a reproduction when you can own an original? For hardcore collectors, there is really no comparison to the real thing. For the rest of us, however, there are a couple of good reasons. At $899, the Vaer is probably a third of the cost of the cheapest original Dirty Dozen, for one thing. For another, owning a 75-year-old watch is not unlike owning a 75-year old car—it requires a whole other level of care and attention. (It also may or may not contain radioactive radium.) The Vaer A12 Dirty Dozen gives you everything that made the original the icon it is, without having to worry too much about dropping it on the bathroom floor or accidentally wearing it in the pool. Charles Bronson would definitely understand.