This Dispatch is a continuation of our past discussions concerning both unit watches and Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s).
“Unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.” A unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military. Customizations can include the unit’s insignia or motto on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback. Occasionally markings can be applied to the side of the case as well. Some watch manufacturers and units will even go as far as to modify an existing watch with dial changes and other cosmetic or performance enhancements, but this is less common. Most unit watches simply include a visual nod to the unit’s heritage and ethos.
Issued Swiss-made timepieces are likely a thing of the past. (Photo Credit: Unknown)
Unit Watches vs Issued Watches:
In the mid-through-late 20th century, defense departments regularly procured and issued mechanical watches to service members–tool watches from the likes of Swiss big-timers like Rolex, Tudor and Omega all the way to CWC, Hamilton, and Seiko. These were crucial parts of kit, necessary for timekeeping and mission execution before electronics and satellite communication became ubiquitous. With the rapid development of Digital Tool Watches (DTWs), very few militaries issue mechanical watches today. Some limited exceptions include Elliot Brown, CWC and Marathon. By contrast, “unit watches” are special editions purchased by individual unit members, often at a discount from the manufacturer or with support from the unit’s association. While increasing in popularity, unit watches have been around for decades, with strong roots in the aviation and Special Operations communities.
SBS Omega Unit Watch on Dean Stott (Photo Credit: Dean Stott)
Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor and Rolex have long histories of military customization programs, but newcomer and UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing a unique watch to military and intelligence units. These watches are tools, but also serve as constant reminders of one's service to his or her country. While more honorific in nature, some of these watches are worn operationally, like former SBS operator Dean Stott’s commissioned blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial.
As we previously stated, many watch manufacturers have produced unit watches. We’ve covered a number of them, like the Blackwater Breitling, and this Dispatch is the first in a series exploring the unit watches produced by a specific watch manufacturer. Since we recently explored how Tudor is relevant to the military and NatSec community, it makes sense to continue the conversation by delving into the many unit-specific Tudor watches.
Unit Tudor’s of Espionage (Unit T.O.E.s):
We will do a deep dive on various unit watch programs and a guide for those looking to organize a custom watch for their organization, but in the meantime, here are a couple of cool Tudors we have seen pop up over the past few months. It appears Tudor has taken over the customization watch program from Rolex, as we have not seen a customized Rolex unit watch since 2019. Of note, these watches are not “secret,” but they are not widely advertised, especially for more specialized units. All non-public watches are published with approval from the unit members.
Pelagos- The Apex Predator:
(Photo Credit: Jams Rupley)
The Tudor Pelagos variants are popular with our community. This makes sense; as discussed in the original Tudors of Espionage Dispatch, the Pelagos is the “apex predator” (credit: Jason Heaton) of dive watches. The option for a left side crown (LHD) can also come in handy while active in shooting, diving and doing pushups, because it prevents the crown from pressing into the wrist.
Canadian JTF2 Tudor Pelagos:
JTF2 Tudor Pelagos, JTF2 coin and Dallas Alexander’s call-sign patch (Photo Credit Dallas Alexander)
Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2, Deuxième Force Opérationnelle Interarmées) is the tier one special operations force of the Canadian Armed Forces. In 2021/2022 JTF2 commissioned a Tudor Pelagos with a red maple leaf and the unit’s motto, “FACTA NON VERBA” (‘deeds not words’), on the dial. The JTF2 insignia is laser-engraved on the caseback: a globe with maple leaves and a knife. The watches were made available to all current assaulters (badged members of JTF2) and purchased with their own funds.
JTF2 Tudor Pelagos (Photo Credit Dallas Alexander)
We originally became aware of the watch when seen on the wrist of former JTF2 sniper Dallas Alexander during an appearance on the Shawn Ryan Show, a podcast run by former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Shawn Ryan. Dallas is now known for his involvement in a world record sniper shot conducted in Mosul, Iraq in 2017 at an astonishing 3,540 meters.
Alexander (left) and JTF2 members, somewhere in the Middle east (Photo Credit Dallas Alexander)
Dallas, a 14-year veteran of JTF2, was quick to say that he was “not much of a watch guy,” but found the timepiece meaningful. Dallas has since left the unit, finding a second career in country music, and the watch can be seen on his wrist regularly as he performs, a constant reminder of his past service.
JTF2 Tudor Pelagos(Photo Credit: Dallas Alexander)
Secret Service HAWKEYE Tudor Pelagos LHD:
Secret Service CAT Pelagos LHD (Photo Credit: Anonymous)
In 2022/2023, the US Secret Service Counter Assault Team (C.A.T. aka Hawkeye) commissioned a custom Tudor Pelagos LHD with a red HAWKEYE on the dial and the Team’s insignia of a CAT's paw around a Secret Service Star on the caseback. There were approximately 50 produced. The CAT is the elite unit that provides tactical support to the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service
This “Left Hand Drive” Pelagos differs from the “regular” Pelagos in that the crown is at the 9 o'clock position and the roulette date wheel alternates between red and black.
According to the Secret Service, “the Counter Assault Team (CAT) provides direct, tactical support to Secret Service protective details, including those of the president and vice president of the United States. CAT personnel receive advanced training in weapons handling, tactics and decision making. CAT’s primary function is to divert, suppress and neutralize an organized attack against a protectee, motorcade or supported location.”
"The Shield Protects The Crown." We cannot think of a more poetic real life representation of this saying. The Secret Service is an honorable and difficult trade, especially in this hyper political time. Few callings are more noble than laying your life on the line for another and the selfless sacrifice of these men and women should be recognized.
UK Royalty and Specialist Protection Unit Tudor Black Bay:
The Royalty and Specialist Protection Unit (RaSP) is the branch of the London Metropolitan Police Service responsible for the protection of the UK Royal Family and Prime Minister. In 2017/2018 the unit commissioned 75 Tudor Black Bay Blues for current and former members of the unit through Watches of Switzerland. The unit’s insignia, a Tudor rose with a crown on top, is on the dial and the caseback is engraved with “ROYALTY & SPECIALIST PROTECTION”, an individual's identification number Pxxxx and serialized 1/75.
(Photo Credit: Ross Povey, Tudor Collector)
Several of these watches have been sold in recent years through auction or second hand websites, which is unfortunate, however, given the premium some of these unit watches command, this is an inevitable byproduct of the program. A discussion for another time.
(Photo Credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Again, this is an even more literal example of “the Shield protects the Crown.” In the business, we call this a pattern. Of note, we previously discussed Prince Harry’s Rolex and military inspired watch collection, but we aren’t sure if he is even a part of the Royal family anymore.
(Photo Credit: Ross Povey, Tudor Collector)
32 (The Royal) Squadron Black Bay:
(Photo Credit: Christie's)
Prior iterations of The No. 32 (TR) Squadron have been involved in both WWI and WWII by supplying fighter aircraft, and then later in ‘69 the unit merged with the The Metropolitan Communications Squadron, a unit that was previously tasked with a VIP transport role. Nowadays the unit is responsible for air transport of the British royal family and government. The two known aircraft types the unit operates are the Dassault Falcon 900 and the AgustaWestland AW109. It should be noted, however, that the needs of the military come before that of VIP transport. Should there be an operational task that the assets of the unit are suited for, the aviation assets will be reassigned to perform that role and VIP transport becomes secondary. The unit’s aviation assets have been involved in a number of recent conflicts, including the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. 32 examples of the Black Bay Blue were made with the first line of text, where 200m:660ft usually is, deleted and replaced with “32 (THE ROYAL) Squadron.
French Commandement des Opérations Spéciales Black Bay:
(Credit: RustyBin5 on Timezone UK forums)
The Commandement des Opérations Spéciales was formed on June 24, 1992 as a result of the French military’s learning from the Gulf War. The operational command is structured in a similar fashion to the US SOCOM model, with participation from the Army, Navy, Air and Space force. The joint command is responsible for directing and coordinating missions for SF units across all branches of the military. The text at 6 o’clock is reminiscent of the colors of the French flag. The militia that stormed the Bastille and initiated the French revolution flew under a Blue and Red flag, and later, once the monarchy was conquered, white was added. Today the French flag is flown when the French President, Emmanuel Macron, is addressing the nation. The Commandement des Opérations Spéciales is under his direct authority. 112 examples were made in 2017, and a few have surfaced on the secondary market. The others thankfully reside with the individuals who they were initially awarded to.
"It's better to be a pirate than join the navy"
Apple “Pirate Flag” Tudor, (Anonymous submission from the W.O.E. community)
Tudor’s customization program is not limited to military units. The above Black Bay was commissioned by employees of Apple with a “Jolly Roger” flag, a not so subtle nod to founder Steve Jobs’ quote; "it's better to be a pirate than join the navy."
Additional recent “commercial” examples include a custom Black Bay Heritage for those who worked on Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour, a Black Bay 36 “Instagram” version for employees and even a relatively obscure watch club in North Carolina with a custom Tudor Pelagos. These are cool I guess, but they sure as hell ain’t T.O.E.s.