Two British Tier One Special Operations units, the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), have a long and storied history of using high-end tool watches. While this relationship was initially established through Ministry of Defence (MoD)-issued timepieces, including the highly-collectable Rolex Military Submariners (MilSub) references, in more recent decades the relationship has evolved, and the SAS and SBS units have commissioned watches to honor their distinct heritage.
In order to document the lesser-known SBS-commissioned blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial, we spoke with Dean Stott, a former member of the SBS about his 2007 SBS Omega. After 16 years of service, Stott still boldly embodies the “use your tools” ethos. Stott wore his SBS Seamaster on combat deployments while operational and still wears it today in the next chapter of his life.
Stott during a 2009 Supervisor Forward Air Controller (SUPFAC) Course, Omega on his wrist.
Even as a patriotic, red-blooded American, I have to acknowledge that much of what we’ve come to know as “Watches of Espionage” likely originated across the pond in the United Kingdom. James Bond is an obvious example, but military “unit watches” appear to have been prevalent on the eastern side of the Atlantic before widespread popularity in the United States. Unit watches now play a significant role in the watch culture of American and international servicemen, and point to the heart of watch culture in the National Security community. A unit watch is a customized version of a standard production reference that usually includes the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or engraved on the caseback. Many of these are produced at the manufacturer and are not modified on the aftermarket.
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 their country. Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many operators choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other smart watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison.
We have written in the past about much of the aversion of part of the watch community to the military, and there is much truth to this when it comes to watch journalism and the watch elitism in the fashion capitals like New York and Los Angeles. But the watch companies themselves, the ones actually producing the timepieces in Switzerland or elsewhere, have historically been forward-leaning in supporting those who answer the call to serve. In true Swiss fashion, certain watch manufacturers value discretion on a level that rivals an intelligence service, and many of these models are not openly advertised and only known to the broader public when they leak out on the internet or watch forums years later. Gangster move for sure.
SBS OMEGA Seamaster:
W.O.E. takes a strong position on the idea that the fictitious James Bond should wear Rolex, but the connections between Omega and the British Ministry of Defence and specifically the British Royal Navy and maritime SOF units are undeniable. One recent and striking example of this relationship is the British Special Boats Service’s 2007 commission of blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial (ref. 2535.80.00).
Omega produced 500 numbered pieces exclusively for the SBS operators. According to Stott, the SBS was adamant that the watches were for the sole use of actively-serving badged SBS operators and not offered to former members or support personnel. This would also ensure that all operators, including those deployed, were able to secure a timepiece.
When worn, the watch is indistinguishable from other Seamaster GMTs from the time period, but off the wrist, the SBS insignia is visible on the sapphire caseback with the SBS motto, “'By Strength and Guile." The watches are serialized 1-500, as visible by Stott’s #263/500. Rated for 800 meters, the watch was designed for hard use and Stott put it to the test regularly. He said that while many of the operators kept the watch in the box to pass on to future generations or wore it only while back in the UK on safe soil, Stott opted to use it as it was intended: as a tool. He wore the Omega on countless operations and training missions, including operational jumps in Afghanistan at 15,000ft and combat dives.
According to Stott, the members of the SBS were aware of the 2003 SAS commission of a custom Breitling Avenger Seawolf and looked to emulate this model. Due to the aquatic nature of the Seamaster, the unit approached Omega, who readily agreed to provide the unit with a suitable watch.
Former SAS Melvyn Downes commissioned Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at the 9 o’clock on the dial, along with a D. Squadron coin. (Photo Credit: Downes, previous W.O.E. submission)
The Omega Seamaster was a logical choice for the British Maritime SOF unit. In fact, James Bond costume designer Lindy Hemming reportedly chose the Seamaster for the fictitious character due to Omega’s real connections to the British Royal Navy, including issued Seamasters in the late 1960s. While we’re skeptical of anything coming out of Hollywood and it’s tempting to discount this rationale as a justification for a marketing-driven switch from Rolex to Omega, the logic is relatively sound.
As with most people we profile at W.O.E., Stott has had an impressive career both in and outside of the military. Stott was one of the first British army members to join SBS and conducted direct action and counter terrorism operations globally.
After 16 years of military service, Stott left the military in 2016 after a horrific parachute accident. Like many former members of elite military units, Stott continued his “unrelenting pursuit of excellence.” He spent a number of years working in Private Security operating in nonpermissive environments, and the watch came with him on many of these adventures. Notably, Stott holds two world records for biking the Pan American Highway, a 14,000 mile route from Argentina to Alaska in May 2018, raising more than $1.4 million US dollars for mental health awareness charities in the process.
Stott and friend Prince Harry, 2007. Interestingly, Prince Harry is known to wear a Rolex Explorer II unit watch.
Stott’s recently released book, Relentless, shares his extraordinary, inspirational life story to date: from his courageous military service and record-setting cycling adventures to his rescue missions and friendship with Prince Harry. Stott’s watches continue to play a big role in his life. He’s now a Global Ambassador for Vertex Watch Company.