CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

17 comments
Read More

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

17 comments
Read More
The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to...

28 comments
Read More

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to land in my collection.  Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic, but we have a special respect for Tudor, given the brand's seven-plus decade relationship with our community.  The FXD platform is the latest manifestation of this particular relationship. It’s the only modern “luxury” watch that was developed for not one, but two, modern SpecOps units. And I don’t mean a special edition made for a specific unit–the entire design, and every design decision, of the FXD stems from a particular use case in the SpecOps world.  That said, I already had the blue French “Commando Hubert” version. Was it prudent to want the same watch, just in black?   Of course. This whole passion is irrational anyway.  But if I was going to go for this watch, I wanted to do something different with it.  Over the past six months, I worked with several craftsmen to customize the FXD to make it mine, a poor man's “pièce unique”. The first thing we did was PVD’d the titanium fixed spring bar case resulting in a striking black-on-black look. This of course involves taking the whole case apart and PVDing each element, including the bezel. The PVD also has a mostly matte finish, so it matches the ceramic bezel insert well. Even though this was going to be mine, I wanted to maintain a standard that could have come from the factory. And since the caseback is sterile from the factory, we topped it off by engraving a W.O.E. insignia. Every watch has meaning, and this one commemorates the establishment of W.O.E. as a community, an accomplishment I never set out to achieve. The last step was designing a new handmade strap with our friends at Zulu Alpha, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0 (available HERE).  That’s an overview of the watch; now I’ll get into the thought process behind each detail and my philosophy behind modifying this particular piece.  The W.O.E. FXD The W.O.E. FXD (if I can be vain enough to call it that) is a homage, a term that may conjure images of Seikos modified to look like Rolex – something that I am personally not a fan of.  But it’s an homage in the true sense of the word, specifically to the SpecOps who modified their Tudor MilSubs for operational use. One popular narrative is that the Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph I was the first PVD watch. However, SpecOps personnel modified their Swiss tool watches long before that.  Most notably, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Shayetet 13 (S-13) frogmen darkened their issued Tudor Submariner 7928 in the late 1960s, crudely painting them black to prevent glare and reflection of the steel cases.  For Special Operations personnel, and particularly those in a maritime environment, the glint of a watch during an operation could have lethal consequences.  The watches were tools, and they were modified to carry out their job effectively.  While it’s nearly impossible to trace the lineage of PVD watches for every brand, military applications likely had a direct impact on this development of all PVD watches. In fact, Rolex's only known “black” dive watch was a one-off blacked out version of the MilSub Ref. 5513 for the South African Special Forces.  While Rolex didn’t roll out PVD in a commercial capacity, its sister brand, Tudor, would go on to produce PVD watches in later years, whether directly influenced by the S-13 and other military units we can only speculate.  But heritage matters; it informs every decision a brand makes. PVD: StealthMaxx DLC Finish Recalling that our friend Cole Pennington PVD’d an Arabic Seiko for a Hodinkee Magazine article, I contacted Jack at International Watch Works, a family-owned business.  When asked about the feasibility of PVD’ing the titanium case, he said it was not a problem; he had in fact just completed PVD’ing a blue Marine Nationale FXD (which turned out to be for Tom Place, a stuntman searching for his long-lost Rolex at the bottom of a lake).  The process was relatively simple.  Jack disassembled the watch and coated every bit of titanium, leaving the dial assembly and ceramic bezel insert to the side.  “PVD” is an abbreviation for Physical Vapor Deposition. It’s a process, not necessarily a coating. A solid material is selected, in this case diamond like carbon (DLC), to coat a base metal or substrate surface. That material is vaporized and deposited on the base or substrate material, bonding molecularly with the base material. The PVD/DLC coating is so fine that the serial numbers and factory engravings on the caseback are still visible even after the coating. It’s only microns thick; it’s not thick enough to obscure the characteristics of the case. Having worn the watch daily and with a lot of time in the pool and ocean, I have noticed no wear or abrasion on the coating, although I wouldn’t necessarily view scars as a bad thing.  During our conversation, Jack informed me that he has PVD’d watches for SpecOps personnel for years, which comes as no surprise given his location in North Carolina. Engraving: Always Read the Caseback The W.O.E. insignia signifies a very deep meaning for many in our community, with influence from the spearhead worn by our predecessors in the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as well as modern day intel and SpecOps units.  Today, this insignia has become an important part of my life. It’s a source of pride that I don’t share with many.  The caseback engraving is covered by the strap and that’s just how I like it. It's not for you, it’s for me.  The deep diamond tip engraving through the PVD into the titanium creates a more substantial profile and a stark contrast to the black case. It’s bold. Looking at it, it’s easy to see how much meaning comes with it.  W.O.E. - Zulu Alpha 4.0 Strap As a “fixed” springbar case, the Pelagos FXD is often called a “strap monster”-- a term so overused it’s become meaningless. Yes, any 22mm strap will work on the watch, but it’s really about finding the right strap. With a customization like this, I wanted to ensure the strap was the perfect match–subtle enough not to overshadow the watch. So I reached out to our friends at UK-based and veteran owned Zulu Alpha Straps to create a unique design that honored our ethos as a community and tapped into the traditions of those who came before us.  The result is an understated olive allied green strap with a discreet W.O.E. spearhead-only insignia applied between the strap keepers, which is covered up when worn. Again, it’s not about showing the insignia. Like the caseback, it’s obscured when the watch is worn.  The development of this strap coincided with Zulu Alpha’s latest iteration of the “OTAN” strap and significant performance enhancements.  To promote longevity, the strap has a narrower tang, round holes, and a slightly shorter length at 30 cm.  The “patch” was adhered directly to the strap with a new technology developed by ZA, resulting in a OEM feel.  While we never planned to commercialize this version, we knew we would receive many requests, so this is dubbed, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0. Photo Credit: Rob / @rw_m100 Dial Modification I have considered customizing the dial with a red W.O.E. at 6 o’clock.  That said, this would require a complete dial refinish.  While the watch is striking to those who know the FXD, when worn it's a more subtle customization as there are no visible insignias.  Discretion is a prized attribute in our field, if you know, you know is the way. Controversy of Watch Customization Customizing watches is a major point of contention in the collecting community, with many “purists” believing the watches should remain as they were originally designed.  Turning this upside-down, London-based George Bamford originally made a name for himself in the 2000s for customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands.   Bamford Watch modification (A Blog to Watch) However, times have changed, and Bamford has since been embraced by many watch houses and even has joint customizations programs with major brands including Zenith and Tag Heuer.  Further, “mod culture” as it’s known appears to have trickled into mainstream design and while the suits in Geneva would never admit it, the new Day-Date “emoji dial” is certainly reminiscent of a customized dial treatment than a traditional Rolex design.   Will we see a PVD FXD released from Tudor? Tudor’s playbook is simple.  It designs a watch, releases it to the masses and then iterates on that design with size, material, and color schemes.  This process has led some detractors to criticize the brand (Do we really need another Black Bay?)--but in the end, it works.  While selfishly I hope this remains one of the few “PVD FXDs,” it would be an easy win for Tudor to produce this design for the masses and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version become available to the public in the coming years. A Few Thoughts To the uninitiated, this article may seem like a waste of time.  So, what, you painted your watch black?  Maybe. But it’s never just a watch.  When I look at this watch, I think of the people that made both it and W.O.E. a reality, and of all the times it’s been on my wrist.  No matter where this platform goes, it will always hold a special place because it is uniquely mine. There Are No Rules We are of the strong belief that there are no rules when it comes to timepieces.  If you want to polish your Rolex every few years to keep it looking shiny, do it.  If your dream is to modify your Patek to look like a Seiko, have fun.  If you want to put aftermarket diamonds on your AP to celebrate making it out of the trap, congratulations.   Don’t let conventional wisdom and outside pressure dictate how you enjoy this passion. Life’s too short to live in a box dictated by the watch industry suits or hype collectors pushing an agenda.  Have fun, use your tools, and don't take things too seriously.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our free weekly newsletter for further updates HERE.  Sincere appreciation to my dear friend and master of his craft James Rupley for capturing these pictures of the W.O.E. FXD and really bringing it to life for the community. Read Next: James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

28 comments
Read More
A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her...

21 comments
Read More

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her timepiece is a clue to solving a complex puzzle that reads like a Hollywood thriller. 3 June 1995, Oslo Plaza Hotel, Room 2805 The woman’s body was sprawled out on the bed, a pistol lay awkwardly in her right hand with her thumb still on the trigger– a single entry wound to her forehead. An apparent suicide; but investigators quickly noticed several anomalies: the woman had no identification and the room was absent of any clues to her true identity.  In fact, she had gone to great lengths to conceal her identity, first by checking into the room in alias and paying cash, and further, she removed the labels from the limited clothing in the room and even the serial numbers on the Browning 9 mm pistol that was found with her.  There was no way of telling who she was or what she was doing, except for one obscure clue. The only item that was not modified to remove identifiers was her watch, a Citizen Aqualand worn on her left wrist. VG/Police Evidence Photo By any definition, the Aqualand is a robust tool watch and specifically a dive watch with strong military provenance with versions issued to many units including the British Special Boat Service (SBS) and Danish Frogman Corps. The clunky Aqualand was not the expected watch of a young fashionable Belgian woman; it was seemingly out of place.  Oslo Mystery Nearly three decades later, the death of “Jennifer Fairgate” is still a mystery.  Some theories about her death are certainly influenced by Hollywood's portrayal of the intelligence world–many speculate that she may have been an “operative” or “assassin.”   At W.O.E., we offer a fact-based assessment of her tradecraft (and watch) in an effort to better understand the reality of these so-called “operative” theories.  The more we explore this incident, the more we’re left with questions rather than answers. However one thing is for sure–her Citizen is a piece of the puzzle that could offer clues to her identity and trade.  Artistic rendering of “Jennifer Fairgate” (Harald Nygård) 29 May 1995, Oslo, Norway The woman checked into an upscale hotel three days prior without a credit card, using the throwaway alias “Jennifer Fergate.”  Conflicting reports indicate she may have been with a man, “Lois Fairgate'', who was later added to the room registration.  ‘Jennifer’ provided a nonexistent address in Belgium on the registration card, and she wrote down a date of birth that indicated she was 21 years old, though forensic pathologists would determine she was approximately 30 years old.  As detailed in a Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, she spent the next few days outside the room with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.   On June 3rd, a number of days after she had checked in, hotel staff knocked on room 2805 in an attempt to collect payment from Fairgate. While a member of the hotel staff was at the door, a gunshot was heard inside. The employee left the room unsupervised for 15 minutes as he retrieved the head of security.  When they returned, the room was locked from the inside.  When they entered the room they reportedly smelled gunpowder, presumably from the recent shot fired in a confined space, and saw the dead body lying on the bed, shoes still on. VG/Police Evidence Photo While Occam's razor would lead to the conclusion that this was a distraught woman set on committing suicide and disappearing forever, many have speculated that she was in fact an “intelligence operative,” maybe even an “assassin” disposed of after a failed assignment.  In the documentary, former Norwegian Intelligence Service officer Ola Kaldager assessed ‘Jennifer’ was an intelligence officer and her death was meant to look like a suicide, even though she was, according to Kaldager, executed.  Intelligence Officer Tradecraft? From a tradecraft perspective, Fairgate’s profile is potentially consistent with that of an intelligence officer.  The use of hotels for operational purposes is as old as espionage itself and is still a common practice today (though much more difficult with the rise of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance).  Based on logs from the keycard reader, she was absent from the room for extended periods of time, at one point for approximately 20 hours, which could indicate operational activity.  While at CIA, I often leveraged similar tradecraft to what was used by ‘Jennifer’ when it came to hotel meetings and operational travel.  The use of “throwaway aliases” is common, and Russian “illegals” even go as far as to assume the identity of a deceased child, the name and date of birth collected by Directorate S assets from graveyard or church registries. Another element that points to “Jennifer” having utilized tradecraft has to do with her clothing. A search of the room revealed few personal items, except for several changes of clothes for her upper body including sweaters and trenchcoats, which could be used for profile changes while operational.  While removing tags from clothes is not necessarily common, intel collectors are trained to remove all pocket litter or anything identifiable when in alias. Assassination? There was a 15-minute gap between the sound of the gunshot and the arrival of hotel security.  The room was locked from the inside, something that in theory could have been done by a professional during a hasty escape. Investigators have pointed out the awkward grip of the pistol and the fact that there was no blood splatter on “Jennifer’s” hand as possible indications that there was another shooter.  There was a second bullet hole through a pillow and into the mattress, which in theory could have been a test shot from Jennifer or a warning shot to scare the hotel attendant at the door.  Of note, many intelligence services have carried out targeted killings (assassinations) with the goal of making it look like a suicide, most notably the Russian KGB/FSB and Israeli Mossad, two services with a history of operational activity in Norway. The Watch The Citizen Aqualand is a purpose-built and robust tool watch, designed specifically for subaquatic duty, complete with a depth gauge and a no-decompression limit (NDL) chart on the strap. When it comes to tool watches, this is about as tool-like as it gets.  Various references of the Aqualand have been issued to and worn by Special Operations maritime units throughout Europe, including the Italian Navy, UK Special Operations, and notably, the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset). That the watch is issued to the Danish Frogmen Corps is noteworthy, as it neighbors Norway, where the “Jennifer” was found.  Tony, a British SBS operator, 25 November 2001, Qala-i Jangi, Afghanistan wearing a Citizen Aqualand Dive Pro Master, which was issued to SBS “Z-Squadron" which specialized in underwater attack and insertion using Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) While correlation doesn't equal causation, the Citizen Aqualand is not a watch one wears by accident and wearing it starkly contrasts the semi-fashionable outfits found with the woman.  In the intelligence business, a robust watch is a must and the dual analog/digital features would be an effective tool of espionage.  In the 1990s, the Aqualand was popular amongst divers.  It is entirely possible the woman behind Jennifer Fairgate was a diving enthusiast who lived by or traveled frequently to the coast.  As Jason Heaton, diving enthusiast and friend of W.O.E., would later say, “the Aqualand became, in effect, the last dive watch built for, and bought by, real divers who needed a tool for timing dives.” No-deco limits printed on the strap (Jason Heaton) It’s an analytical leap to conclude that because the watch has strong ties to the military and is an issued watch, that “Jennifer” was an intelligence officer.  But what can the watch tell us? To know, we have to look beyond simply the make and model of the watch. Tracing the Watch According to an investigative report by newspaper VG, the Citizen Aqualand reference CQ-1021-50 was manufactured three years prior in January 1992 with the serial number C022-088093 Y, 2010779, GN-4-S. This was confirmed by Citizen at in Japan. The watch contained three Swiss-made Renata 370-type batteries made in December 1994.  The batteries were crudely engraved “W395,” which investigators believed means they were installed March 1995 and “W'' may indicate the initials of the watchmaker.   Some online outlets have suggested the watch was purchased in Germany, but there is no substantial proof of this claim.  The watch was reportedly later sold at a police auction.  Of note, Watchmakers often record their work on the inside caseback of a watch with a light engraving, or in this case, on the battery itself with a hand-engraved note. It lets other watchmakers know in the future what’s been done and when.  Wilderness of Mirrors The intelligence world is often referred to as the “wilderness of mirrors,” a  space where the truth is complicated and nothing is as it seems.  We spoke with John Sipher, who ran the CIA’s Russia operations, for his assessment in the incident.  Sipher, who also served in Nordic countries during the 90s, explained that Norway and Scandinavian countries have long been of interest to Russia due to the proximity and strategic issues including the Baltic Sea, oil, and as an opening to Western Europe.  In fact, as recently as October 2022, Norway’s domestic security agency arrested Mikhail Mikushin, a suspected Russian GRU (military intelligence) “illegal” posing as a Brazilian academic, José Assis Giammaria. Anna Chapman, A Russian “Illegal” arrested in the US as part of the Illegals Program, a Ulysse Nardin on her wrist.   Given the information available, Sipher said that it is possible Fairgate was a Russian intelligence officer or asset, but that it’s just as likely she was involved in organized crime, and that the two were not always mutually exclusive during that period.  Russian Organized Crime Sipher explained that in the 1990s many former KGB officers had gone on to work for organized crime after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  KGB “formers'' were some of the few Russians that knew how to use international banks and could effectively carry out tasks in Europe. In fact, in the post-Cold War years there was “much more overlap of Russian organized crime and intelligence and the two were often synonymous.”  Sipher pointed us to a quote by former Director of CIA James Woolsey from 1993-1995: “If you should strike up a conversation with an articulate English-speaking Russian… wearing a $3,000 suit and a pair of Gucci loafers, and he tells you that he is an executive of a Russian trading company…then there are four possibilities. He may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover. He may be part of a Russian organized crime group. But the really interesting possibility is that he may be all three and none of those three institutions have any problem with the arrangement.” While she may fit the profile of a Russian intelligence officer, asset or “illegal,” there is a lack of indicators connecting Fairgate directly to Russia.   East German Intelligence Former East German Intelligence “Stasi” compound in Berlin. Sipher further explained a similar phenomenon with former East German intelligence officers leveraging their skills for employment after the unification of Germany and disbandment of the East German Stasi (Ministry for State Security).  Stasi officers had close contact with Soviet officials, were renowned for their sharpness and capabilities, and were often recruited by Russian services to carry out operations in Europe.  German nationals could easily move around Europe without raising suspicions. Stasi ID card used by then-KGB officer Vladimir Putin from 1985-1990 in Dresden, East Germany.  The card was found in a Stasi archive. While this is informed speculation, it’s possible that Fairgate was a former East German intelligence officer working on behalf of Russian intelligence or a criminal organization.  There are several indications that Fairgate had ties to East Germany including her accent when checking in and forensic analysis of her DNA.  Some of her clothes, including potentially her watch, originated in Germany. This links back to the theory that the watch was serviced in Germany. Mossad, Israel and The Oslo Accords The Oslo Plaza Hotel was also reportedly one of the locations of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities for the Oslo II Accord, signed a few months after Fairgate’s death.  While evidence is only circumstantial, it is possible that there is some nexus to this event and that Fairgate was an Israeli operative or the target of a Mossad assassination.  Mossad has a long history of both deep cover operations and targeted killings.  In January 2010, a team of Mossad operatives (many under European alias) assassinated Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai using an injection to make it appear to be of natural causes.  They locked the room from the inside and the body was not discovered until the following day. Israeli operative (tennis players) track Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his hotel room. In fact, Mossad has carried out at least one botched assassination in Norway: in 1973, when a hit team mistook a Moroccan waiter for that of Black September member Hassan Salameh, they shot him 13 times with a 22-caliber pistol, in what became known in intelligence circles as the “Lillehammer Affair.”  While there is nothing directly connecting Fairgate to Israel, Mossad is widely known to use dual-citizens for covert and clandestine operations.   It is important to note, while Israel has issued several dive watches to elite units, we are not aware of any direct tie between the Citizen Aqualand and Israeli Defense Forces or Mossad. Black September member Hassan Salameh, target of Israeli assassination program after Munich attack. Conclusion While we cannot say definitively, there are several anomalies with this case that suggest the woman known as “Jennifer Fairgate” may have been involved in intelligence activity. That said, it’s also entirely possible that she was involved in some other illicit activity or potentially worked as an escort.  Espionage is often referred to as the “world's second oldest profession” and at times has a similar profile to the first. The reality of the intelligence world is more mundane than portrayed in Hollywood.  That said, assassinations, deep cover, and high-stakes movie-like operations certainly do happen.  In intelligence collection, the mosaic of puzzle pieces are rarely all collected and for now the picture of this event is opaque. We’re only seeing part of the story, and perhaps it’s not even the ending.      This could have been a covert operation carried out by the Russians, Israelis or a host of other services, but it is just as likely it was the case of a desperate woman, looking to leave this world behind without a trace.  If that is the case, she certainly achieved her goal. The watch is still an outstanding clue and may be the only lead to her identity.  Somewhere there is a watch maker who installed the battery in that watch, which may provide additional information on her origin. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   *For more information on this incident, check out the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries and the comprehensive investigative report by VG, “Mystery at the Oslo Plaza”  -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

21 comments
Read More
Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the...

22 comments
Read More

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the time I was responsible for a counterterrorism Covert Action program in the Middle East and I was traveling to visit the program on a flight with other CIA officers.  (REDACTED PARAGRAPH) The atmosphere on the plane was a Star Wars bar vibe, with bearded paramilitary officers, support personnel and analysts, all dressed in civilian clothing that varied from business casual to a college campus look and of course the obligatory new camping gear from REI.  Like most things at CIA, rules were relaxed and the plane filled with professionals who didn’t need to be told which rules actually mattered. During a refuel stop in a European country, I struck up a conversation with the individual sitting next to me who I assessed (correctly) was a GRS (Global Response Staff) contractor reading a book on the Rhodesian Bush War. The conversation moved from evolution counterterrorism tactics, the ongoing conflict in our destination country and finally watches. The operator asked about the Rolex Submariner on my wrist, and was quick to interject that he used to wear his Sub during deployments but lost it in a recent divorce, so now wears a Sangin watch. He then launched into a passionate pitch for the company and an overview of what the Sangin brand represents. Sangin in the wild during Orion space capsule recovery (Sangin community photo) At the time, my interest in watches was surface level. But during that trip and following deployments I began to notice Sangin Instruments on the wrists of SpecOps personnel, CIA paramilitary officers, and other case officers.  In the business we call this a pattern. Like many watch companies, Sangin was a subculture in itself. Very much a “if you know, you know” type thing. I wanted to learn more about the watch that seemed to keep appearing on the wrist of professionals in this world. So I reached out to one of the two founders, Jacob Servantes to learn about how the company came to be.   (Sangin community photo) Sangin Instruments  Watches are a medium for stories, but for Jacob Servantes, Marine Raider and founder of Sangin Instruments, they provided even more.  “You come out of the military depressed as hell. At the professional level we were at, a lot of what you do becomes who you are. And when you leave, the machine just keeps going . . . so Sangin gave me a lot of purpose out of the military.” Servantes enlisted in 2008 as the economy was crumbling, hoping to earn some money for college on the other side of his service. The goal was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a Reconnaissance Marine.  At the time, he wasn't aware that a restructuring in 2006 would mean that elements of the Marine Corps would participate in SOCOM, resulting in MARSOC. He ended up squarely in the special operations community.  A rare photo of Jacob on deployment in Afghanistan. It was during selection that he walked away with his first lesson that he would incorporate into Sangin Instruments–become the new standard.  Become the New Standard Not much was publicly known about the Raider selection process, and that’s by design. But Servantes recounted the biggest takeaway was that the standard to be selected by the instructors only moved in one direction: it became harder and harder. When Marines rose to the standard, and exceeded it, their standard became the new standard. “We used to joke that the mattress fairy would take people away at night, because every night you would see fewer and fewer people,” Servantes recalled. In his class, a group of 120 hopeful Marines were deposited in an undisclosed location somewhere in North Carolina. 25 people were selected after a grueling three weeks and countless miles of rucking/team events. Each class sets the standard for the next class, meaning that the standard is constantly being raised. It always gets harder, and that idea is something Servantes has incorporated into the way Sangin Instruments does things, “selection is continuous.” (Sangin community photo) Sangin, Afghanistan The name of Servantes’ company comes from Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, an area along the Helmand River Valley where the Commando team he worked on spent much of their deployment. Sangin is a place that many who served during the GWOT will be familiar with, and it was known as “the most dangerous place in the world for multiple years running–the hospital on base was the busiest hospital, anywhere, at the time.” Servantes says. That’s part of why he chose the name Sangin Instruments. “Sangin is a horrible place in the world–many guys attribute awful memories to Sangin, but they’ll carry this name with them and hopefully have a positive memory about breaking down barriers, and their own sacrifices and achievements.”  (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Building a watch company is not for the fainthearted and bringing the brand to life was an achievement in itself. It almost didn’t happen. But the can-do attitude prevailed. He got back from a deployment and told his wife that he’d put in his time with special operations. During his time in the Middle East and the Philippines, he wore a M-1 Breitling Chrono Avenger (sketchy) and several Digital Tool Watches. While deployed, he'd been thinking about watch designs based on the work he was doing. He tested the market among his friends and colleagues in the military and conceptualized a watch that would be affordable and capable. A watch that would stand up to the type of work they were doing while also speaking to the community.  Watches Built For Warriors Servantes’ wife, Paris, bought the idea. This was 2017. After some help from his mentor, Bill Yao of popular watch microbrand MK II, they had a prototype. And following the evaluation of the prototype, Sangin launched a successful pre-sale that would help fund the initial batch of 250 watches called the Kinetic 1. The only problem was that Paypal held the funding without explanation and would not release it to obtain the watches. Paris reached into her savings and a small inheritance; Servantes had his bonus from his last Afghanistan deployment. Between them, they scraped together the cash and bet big on Sangin Instruments working out. They were in a squeeze, but Servantes had a steadfast partner in his wife, who learned how to do Quality Control on all the watches and packaged them up and answered customer emails while he was in business school. W.O.E.’s personal Sangin Overlord Believing in Sangin Instruments paid off, but it was never the plan–the primary objective was to take care of the community and make a product to be proud of. The first round of watches was delivered and the phones haven’t stopped ringing since.  “Part of the culture of watches in general is wanting to have a part of something you’ve done. So when these guys leave the military, they can take a piece of that experience with them,” Servantes says of his watches.  (Sangin community photo) Sangin Today  Today, Sangin boasts an impressive line of watches, from the entry level quartz Overlord to the premium newly released Hydra, Sangin’s interpretation of a mid-century compressor-style diver's watch. The community remains an important part of Sangin’s identity with customers demonstrating a near religious fervor as they wait for the next release. Sangin also offers several watches that must be earned.  The “Para” Overlord is only available to members of the airborne community and would-be customers must submit a certification verification.  The green bezel Atlas and Neptune are available only to those who have completed a SOF selection course, red for first responders and blue for law enforcement personnel.  They are tools for professionals. Jacob was mum on the ongoing special projects “unit watches” but a custom Professional made for the CIA Directors Protective Staff (DPS) was recently for sale on Ebay (but quickly disappeared without explanation).  Suffice to say, we are aware of several special projects for units in the IC and SpecOps community but cannot go into details at this time. Ebay listing of Sangin Professional for the CIA’s Directors Protective Staff. (Ebay)  Sangin Instruments - “With You” As Sangin grows, Servantes makes sure that giving back and taking care of the community he comes from is part of it. Servantes has developed watches that specifically speak to a community of men and women who serve. As he grew the business, an unlikely presence in the watch world supercharged the number of people interested in Sangin. “Rolex helped us out with their price point and availability. You have a lot of Green Berets who finally could afford a Rolex but just couldn't get them. And here we were offering something specifically for them,” he says.  Informally, many refer to Sangin watches as the “Raider Rolex.” Now Servantes will run into guys who tell him that they have a few deployments on their watch, and the memories of service are imbued into the timepiece. That’s exactly what makes Servantes and Paris continue to push Sangin forward. A part of the Sangin Instruments mission that Servantes doesn’t publicly put forward is his support of important nonprofits contributing to those in the veteran community, including HunterSeven Foundation, Special Operations Care Fund (SOC-F) and Vigilant Torch. One of the altruistic motivations of the W.O.E. platform is preserving watch culture in the NatSec community. No one has done more to further this end than the team at Sangin Instruments. Many of us came up in the GWOT days where digital watches were the norm. Sangin offers a great way for professionals to get into watches in an unpretentious manner. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Demystifying a North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded to High-Ranking Officials

22 comments
Read More
Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

3 comments
Read More

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

3 comments
Read More
Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

22 comments
Read More

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

22 comments
Read More
Covert Influence in Watch Media

Covert Influence in Watch Media

A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At...

21 comments
Read More

A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At the core of this trade is manipulating an individual to report on his or her organization and spy on behalf of the US Government.  A significant step in the “development” of a clandestine relationship is the acceptance of an expensive gift, something that will make that individual feel indebted to his “friend,” the Case Officer. As the Watches of Espionage platform has grown, we have been offered significant “gifts” and “favors” from brands and accessory companies in the form of “lending” a watch for a review, invitations to lavish parties in Geneva and even cash payments in return for coverage.  From the brand’s perspective, the goal is simple; to exploit the relationship we have developed with our community (you) to sell more products.   Like a clandestine developmental, the offers are flattering and appeal to my ego, but having spent my professional career manipulating others, I understand this is a dangerous path. How can we objectively cover the watch industry if we feel indebted to a brand?  How can we maintain our authenticity if we mislead our community in return for financial remuneration?  From experience I know a small favor can quickly develop into a dependent relationship. Nothing in life is free, and upon reflection, the marketing of watches and influence of public opinion on timepieces has more in common with the clandestine world than initially apparent. Covert Influence Covert Influence (COVIN) is the act of influencing a population’s political sentiment or public discourse, all while concealing the hand of the actor, a foreign government.  In short, it is a government’s messaging disguised as organic content intended to influence a segment to take a certain action.  All major intelligence services engage in COVIN to further their country’s political and military objectives. Photo Credit: IWC Information, Misinformation, Disinformation While there is and always will be tension between journalists and intelligence officers, the reality is the two trades have much in common. At the core of both disciplines is the process of collecting information, analyzing it, and then reporting it for the sake of decision-making. On the journalism side, the general public is the decision-maker and the decision is often simply public opinion. On the intelligence side, Intelligence Officers collect and analyze information to inform policy makers to (hopefully) make sound decisions.   According to now declassified documents, during the Cold War, some prominent journalists and media outfits were aligned with the CIA and helped carry out Agency goals in both reporting from foreign nations as well as influencing the populace through placed stories.  US Embassy, Moscow, USSR Today, claims of the CIA’s mass media control and “spooking the news” in the US have very little factual basis.  Contrary to Hollywood, CIA’s current use of the media and COVIN is heavily regulated by US law under Title 50 authorities and only occurs under significant congressional oversight, most notably that it cannot be used to influence the US public opinion. Watch Journalism: To inform or influence?   While W.O.E. is still new to the watch media landscape, it is easy to identify the same tradecraft used by intelligence services to influence you as the consumer.  There are very few impartial actors in this space and traditional marketing is supported with a sophisticated COVIN-like campaign to manipulate the consumer (you) to take a certain action (buy a certain watch).   Understanding how niche media–particularly in the watch community– works, and recognizing influence, can help identify partial and impartial actors. This isn't entirely different from what happens in the intelligence world. Intelligence agencies constantly seek to identify, analyze, and counter hostile foreign intelligence services COVIN campaigns targeting the US and our allies. sexy (Photo Credit: Tudor) Brand Capture of Enthusiast Platforms What separates “Enthusiast Media” from the typical “Fourth Estate” (media meant to hold people in power accountable, i.e., big media) is that enthusiast platforms are driven by access. And access is typically granted at the will of the subjects being covered (in the watch world, that’s the big watch companies). This Enthusiast model creates a symbiotic relationship between journalists/watch personalities and the subjects they cover, which inherently results in a bias when reporting. Like a Case Officer providing a gift to a developmental, brands provide watch influencers “gifts”, most notably in the form of access. To gain and maintain access, the published narrative must be consistent with the established communication direction of the powerful players in the watch world. This is at the core of understanding watch media: As the digital age caught up with the traditional world of watch enthusiasm and platforms started cropping up, there was a very sharp shift from scholarship and reporting to advocacy. We’ve seen this happen in mainstream media as well–and as a result, there is a growing distrust of the major news media conglomerates. Part of this change in watch media was intentional, but most of it was a byproduct of how the shifting model allowed for more participation, and in turn, more engagement of enthusiasts by brands. All the sudden there was a comment section, and consumers could openly voice their dissent or admiration directly to the brands. Tribalism–which as anyone in the IC can relate to–exists on every level. There are fewer “watch guys” and more and more “Rolex guys” or “Omega guys”, or whatever brand one developed an allegiance to. The “flame wars” erupted on comment sections and forum threads as collectors engaged in heated debates about certain elements of watch enthusiasm.  (Photo Credit: Panerai) Swiss Brands - The Puppet Masters  Watch brands, long masters at marketing, quickly figured out how to manipulate organic advocacy and create communication strategies that brought the leaders of those advocacy movements front and center. Prominent collectors and “tastemakers” were compensated to influence taste, or rather influence “mass opinion” of the watch community at large.  This led to the modern watch “influencer” model, but something even more impactful happened. The emergence of blogs that cashed in on their influence. Banner ads in the early days were commonplace, and that was the most obvious form of advertising. But the game has evolved. This is where it takes a discerning eye to distinguish what’s meant to influence–and what has roots in scholarship and enthusiasm.  Watches and Wonders (Photo Credit: Unknown) Scholarship vs Advocacy Big watch brands spend large budgets on “native content” packages that wrap up banner ads, sponsored content, and sometimes events all into one package. Absent is one line item: coverage, as in stories, on the brand’s new releases. It’s implied that the digital platform will cover the release favorably when the brand signs a six-figure ad deal. That’s how big watch platforms can technically remain “independent” while still being influenced by watch brands. It’s the same sort of “soft power” one might see in the intelligence world. There’s always a part of the deal that’s bound by an implied handshake rather than a written contract.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. To make things even more complicated, most large watch platforms now sell the very watches they cover so there’s even more opportunity for the platform to be influenced by brands (as a channel to push their watches) and to influence consumers (to sell more watches).  As a platform starts to carry more brands, there are fewer brands that would be subject to criticism–and if the platform aspired to carry a brand, of course it wouldn't be subject to criticism either. The pattern that occurs is that every article is positive and very few publications offer any earnest scholarship when it comes to a watch or watch manufacturer. (Photo Credit: Tag) If one were to look for an objective watch review–it would be notably absent from any of the big watch publications. This isn't by accident. At W.O.E., we celebrate the stories of the community–and we suggest ways to get further into watches, but we generally leave the “reviews” for the blogs. They always seem to be positive, because there is general commercial interest involved, whether overt or clandestine. We’ve looked at how the conflict in Ukraine is an information war. This ties into how we can think about media–whoever controls the narrative controls public opinion. In enthusiast media, whoever sways opinion controls the consumer purchases.  The World As it Is To be clear, we are not criticizing any major watch platform or brand for that matter.  We believe in a free market and actors should make decisions on what is best for their shareholder’s interests.  In a perfect world, all major news outlets and watch platforms would cover events in an objective manner.  That said, we observe the world as it is, not how it should be. At W.O.E., we’ve long ago established that we will not follow the model of traditional watch media in the sense that we will not take money in exchange for allowing our platform to be used as a tool to influence our community. (Photo Credit: Breitling) W.O.E. is brand agnostic.  To date, we have profiled several brands including Tudor, Casio G-Shock, Marathon and Bremont and covered examples of many more (Breitling, Seiko, Omega, Panerai etc). While these are not necessarily endorsements, each brand maintains a connection with our community and our goal is to document that history.  We plan to cover many more and we will continue to do it on our terms without a hidden hand on the libra scale. We’re not closing the door of collaborating with a major watch brand one day–but it would be for the sole purpose of designing with the scope of our very specific community in mind, and again, on our terms. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Criminal Rolex Gangs And Traveling With Watches, Part I This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

21 comments
Read More
CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

17 comments
Read More

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

17 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

10 comments
Read More

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

10 comments
Read More
The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to...

28 comments
Read More

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to land in my collection.  Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic, but we have a special respect for Tudor, given the brand's seven-plus decade relationship with our community.  The FXD platform is the latest manifestation of this particular relationship. It’s the only modern “luxury” watch that was developed for not one, but two, modern SpecOps units. And I don’t mean a special edition made for a specific unit–the entire design, and every design decision, of the FXD stems from a particular use case in the SpecOps world.  That said, I already had the blue French “Commando Hubert” version. Was it prudent to want the same watch, just in black?   Of course. This whole passion is irrational anyway.  But if I was going to go for this watch, I wanted to do something different with it.  Over the past six months, I worked with several craftsmen to customize the FXD to make it mine, a poor man's “pièce unique”. The first thing we did was PVD’d the titanium fixed spring bar case resulting in a striking black-on-black look. This of course involves taking the whole case apart and PVDing each element, including the bezel. The PVD also has a mostly matte finish, so it matches the ceramic bezel insert well. Even though this was going to be mine, I wanted to maintain a standard that could have come from the factory. And since the caseback is sterile from the factory, we topped it off by engraving a W.O.E. insignia. Every watch has meaning, and this one commemorates the establishment of W.O.E. as a community, an accomplishment I never set out to achieve. The last step was designing a new handmade strap with our friends at Zulu Alpha, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0 (available HERE).  That’s an overview of the watch; now I’ll get into the thought process behind each detail and my philosophy behind modifying this particular piece.  The W.O.E. FXD The W.O.E. FXD (if I can be vain enough to call it that) is a homage, a term that may conjure images of Seikos modified to look like Rolex – something that I am personally not a fan of.  But it’s an homage in the true sense of the word, specifically to the SpecOps who modified their Tudor MilSubs for operational use. One popular narrative is that the Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph I was the first PVD watch. However, SpecOps personnel modified their Swiss tool watches long before that.  Most notably, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Shayetet 13 (S-13) frogmen darkened their issued Tudor Submariner 7928 in the late 1960s, crudely painting them black to prevent glare and reflection of the steel cases.  For Special Operations personnel, and particularly those in a maritime environment, the glint of a watch during an operation could have lethal consequences.  The watches were tools, and they were modified to carry out their job effectively.  While it’s nearly impossible to trace the lineage of PVD watches for every brand, military applications likely had a direct impact on this development of all PVD watches. In fact, Rolex's only known “black” dive watch was a one-off blacked out version of the MilSub Ref. 5513 for the South African Special Forces.  While Rolex didn’t roll out PVD in a commercial capacity, its sister brand, Tudor, would go on to produce PVD watches in later years, whether directly influenced by the S-13 and other military units we can only speculate.  But heritage matters; it informs every decision a brand makes. PVD: StealthMaxx DLC Finish Recalling that our friend Cole Pennington PVD’d an Arabic Seiko for a Hodinkee Magazine article, I contacted Jack at International Watch Works, a family-owned business.  When asked about the feasibility of PVD’ing the titanium case, he said it was not a problem; he had in fact just completed PVD’ing a blue Marine Nationale FXD (which turned out to be for Tom Place, a stuntman searching for his long-lost Rolex at the bottom of a lake).  The process was relatively simple.  Jack disassembled the watch and coated every bit of titanium, leaving the dial assembly and ceramic bezel insert to the side.  “PVD” is an abbreviation for Physical Vapor Deposition. It’s a process, not necessarily a coating. A solid material is selected, in this case diamond like carbon (DLC), to coat a base metal or substrate surface. That material is vaporized and deposited on the base or substrate material, bonding molecularly with the base material. The PVD/DLC coating is so fine that the serial numbers and factory engravings on the caseback are still visible even after the coating. It’s only microns thick; it’s not thick enough to obscure the characteristics of the case. Having worn the watch daily and with a lot of time in the pool and ocean, I have noticed no wear or abrasion on the coating, although I wouldn’t necessarily view scars as a bad thing.  During our conversation, Jack informed me that he has PVD’d watches for SpecOps personnel for years, which comes as no surprise given his location in North Carolina. Engraving: Always Read the Caseback The W.O.E. insignia signifies a very deep meaning for many in our community, with influence from the spearhead worn by our predecessors in the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as well as modern day intel and SpecOps units.  Today, this insignia has become an important part of my life. It’s a source of pride that I don’t share with many.  The caseback engraving is covered by the strap and that’s just how I like it. It's not for you, it’s for me.  The deep diamond tip engraving through the PVD into the titanium creates a more substantial profile and a stark contrast to the black case. It’s bold. Looking at it, it’s easy to see how much meaning comes with it.  W.O.E. - Zulu Alpha 4.0 Strap As a “fixed” springbar case, the Pelagos FXD is often called a “strap monster”-- a term so overused it’s become meaningless. Yes, any 22mm strap will work on the watch, but it’s really about finding the right strap. With a customization like this, I wanted to ensure the strap was the perfect match–subtle enough not to overshadow the watch. So I reached out to our friends at UK-based and veteran owned Zulu Alpha Straps to create a unique design that honored our ethos as a community and tapped into the traditions of those who came before us.  The result is an understated olive allied green strap with a discreet W.O.E. spearhead-only insignia applied between the strap keepers, which is covered up when worn. Again, it’s not about showing the insignia. Like the caseback, it’s obscured when the watch is worn.  The development of this strap coincided with Zulu Alpha’s latest iteration of the “OTAN” strap and significant performance enhancements.  To promote longevity, the strap has a narrower tang, round holes, and a slightly shorter length at 30 cm.  The “patch” was adhered directly to the strap with a new technology developed by ZA, resulting in a OEM feel.  While we never planned to commercialize this version, we knew we would receive many requests, so this is dubbed, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0. Photo Credit: Rob / @rw_m100 Dial Modification I have considered customizing the dial with a red W.O.E. at 6 o’clock.  That said, this would require a complete dial refinish.  While the watch is striking to those who know the FXD, when worn it's a more subtle customization as there are no visible insignias.  Discretion is a prized attribute in our field, if you know, you know is the way. Controversy of Watch Customization Customizing watches is a major point of contention in the collecting community, with many “purists” believing the watches should remain as they were originally designed.  Turning this upside-down, London-based George Bamford originally made a name for himself in the 2000s for customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands.   Bamford Watch modification (A Blog to Watch) However, times have changed, and Bamford has since been embraced by many watch houses and even has joint customizations programs with major brands including Zenith and Tag Heuer.  Further, “mod culture” as it’s known appears to have trickled into mainstream design and while the suits in Geneva would never admit it, the new Day-Date “emoji dial” is certainly reminiscent of a customized dial treatment than a traditional Rolex design.   Will we see a PVD FXD released from Tudor? Tudor’s playbook is simple.  It designs a watch, releases it to the masses and then iterates on that design with size, material, and color schemes.  This process has led some detractors to criticize the brand (Do we really need another Black Bay?)--but in the end, it works.  While selfishly I hope this remains one of the few “PVD FXDs,” it would be an easy win for Tudor to produce this design for the masses and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version become available to the public in the coming years. A Few Thoughts To the uninitiated, this article may seem like a waste of time.  So, what, you painted your watch black?  Maybe. But it’s never just a watch.  When I look at this watch, I think of the people that made both it and W.O.E. a reality, and of all the times it’s been on my wrist.  No matter where this platform goes, it will always hold a special place because it is uniquely mine. There Are No Rules We are of the strong belief that there are no rules when it comes to timepieces.  If you want to polish your Rolex every few years to keep it looking shiny, do it.  If your dream is to modify your Patek to look like a Seiko, have fun.  If you want to put aftermarket diamonds on your AP to celebrate making it out of the trap, congratulations.   Don’t let conventional wisdom and outside pressure dictate how you enjoy this passion. Life’s too short to live in a box dictated by the watch industry suits or hype collectors pushing an agenda.  Have fun, use your tools, and don't take things too seriously.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our free weekly newsletter for further updates HERE.  Sincere appreciation to my dear friend and master of his craft James Rupley for capturing these pictures of the W.O.E. FXD and really bringing it to life for the community. Read Next: James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

28 comments
Read More
A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her...

21 comments
Read More

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her timepiece is a clue to solving a complex puzzle that reads like a Hollywood thriller. 3 June 1995, Oslo Plaza Hotel, Room 2805 The woman’s body was sprawled out on the bed, a pistol lay awkwardly in her right hand with her thumb still on the trigger– a single entry wound to her forehead. An apparent suicide; but investigators quickly noticed several anomalies: the woman had no identification and the room was absent of any clues to her true identity.  In fact, she had gone to great lengths to conceal her identity, first by checking into the room in alias and paying cash, and further, she removed the labels from the limited clothing in the room and even the serial numbers on the Browning 9 mm pistol that was found with her.  There was no way of telling who she was or what she was doing, except for one obscure clue. The only item that was not modified to remove identifiers was her watch, a Citizen Aqualand worn on her left wrist. VG/Police Evidence Photo By any definition, the Aqualand is a robust tool watch and specifically a dive watch with strong military provenance with versions issued to many units including the British Special Boat Service (SBS) and Danish Frogman Corps. The clunky Aqualand was not the expected watch of a young fashionable Belgian woman; it was seemingly out of place.  Oslo Mystery Nearly three decades later, the death of “Jennifer Fairgate” is still a mystery.  Some theories about her death are certainly influenced by Hollywood's portrayal of the intelligence world–many speculate that she may have been an “operative” or “assassin.”   At W.O.E., we offer a fact-based assessment of her tradecraft (and watch) in an effort to better understand the reality of these so-called “operative” theories.  The more we explore this incident, the more we’re left with questions rather than answers. However one thing is for sure–her Citizen is a piece of the puzzle that could offer clues to her identity and trade.  Artistic rendering of “Jennifer Fairgate” (Harald Nygård) 29 May 1995, Oslo, Norway The woman checked into an upscale hotel three days prior without a credit card, using the throwaway alias “Jennifer Fergate.”  Conflicting reports indicate she may have been with a man, “Lois Fairgate'', who was later added to the room registration.  ‘Jennifer’ provided a nonexistent address in Belgium on the registration card, and she wrote down a date of birth that indicated she was 21 years old, though forensic pathologists would determine she was approximately 30 years old.  As detailed in a Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, she spent the next few days outside the room with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.   On June 3rd, a number of days after she had checked in, hotel staff knocked on room 2805 in an attempt to collect payment from Fairgate. While a member of the hotel staff was at the door, a gunshot was heard inside. The employee left the room unsupervised for 15 minutes as he retrieved the head of security.  When they returned, the room was locked from the inside.  When they entered the room they reportedly smelled gunpowder, presumably from the recent shot fired in a confined space, and saw the dead body lying on the bed, shoes still on. VG/Police Evidence Photo While Occam's razor would lead to the conclusion that this was a distraught woman set on committing suicide and disappearing forever, many have speculated that she was in fact an “intelligence operative,” maybe even an “assassin” disposed of after a failed assignment.  In the documentary, former Norwegian Intelligence Service officer Ola Kaldager assessed ‘Jennifer’ was an intelligence officer and her death was meant to look like a suicide, even though she was, according to Kaldager, executed.  Intelligence Officer Tradecraft? From a tradecraft perspective, Fairgate’s profile is potentially consistent with that of an intelligence officer.  The use of hotels for operational purposes is as old as espionage itself and is still a common practice today (though much more difficult with the rise of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance).  Based on logs from the keycard reader, she was absent from the room for extended periods of time, at one point for approximately 20 hours, which could indicate operational activity.  While at CIA, I often leveraged similar tradecraft to what was used by ‘Jennifer’ when it came to hotel meetings and operational travel.  The use of “throwaway aliases” is common, and Russian “illegals” even go as far as to assume the identity of a deceased child, the name and date of birth collected by Directorate S assets from graveyard or church registries. Another element that points to “Jennifer” having utilized tradecraft has to do with her clothing. A search of the room revealed few personal items, except for several changes of clothes for her upper body including sweaters and trenchcoats, which could be used for profile changes while operational.  While removing tags from clothes is not necessarily common, intel collectors are trained to remove all pocket litter or anything identifiable when in alias. Assassination? There was a 15-minute gap between the sound of the gunshot and the arrival of hotel security.  The room was locked from the inside, something that in theory could have been done by a professional during a hasty escape. Investigators have pointed out the awkward grip of the pistol and the fact that there was no blood splatter on “Jennifer’s” hand as possible indications that there was another shooter.  There was a second bullet hole through a pillow and into the mattress, which in theory could have been a test shot from Jennifer or a warning shot to scare the hotel attendant at the door.  Of note, many intelligence services have carried out targeted killings (assassinations) with the goal of making it look like a suicide, most notably the Russian KGB/FSB and Israeli Mossad, two services with a history of operational activity in Norway. The Watch The Citizen Aqualand is a purpose-built and robust tool watch, designed specifically for subaquatic duty, complete with a depth gauge and a no-decompression limit (NDL) chart on the strap. When it comes to tool watches, this is about as tool-like as it gets.  Various references of the Aqualand have been issued to and worn by Special Operations maritime units throughout Europe, including the Italian Navy, UK Special Operations, and notably, the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset). That the watch is issued to the Danish Frogmen Corps is noteworthy, as it neighbors Norway, where the “Jennifer” was found.  Tony, a British SBS operator, 25 November 2001, Qala-i Jangi, Afghanistan wearing a Citizen Aqualand Dive Pro Master, which was issued to SBS “Z-Squadron" which specialized in underwater attack and insertion using Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) While correlation doesn't equal causation, the Citizen Aqualand is not a watch one wears by accident and wearing it starkly contrasts the semi-fashionable outfits found with the woman.  In the intelligence business, a robust watch is a must and the dual analog/digital features would be an effective tool of espionage.  In the 1990s, the Aqualand was popular amongst divers.  It is entirely possible the woman behind Jennifer Fairgate was a diving enthusiast who lived by or traveled frequently to the coast.  As Jason Heaton, diving enthusiast and friend of W.O.E., would later say, “the Aqualand became, in effect, the last dive watch built for, and bought by, real divers who needed a tool for timing dives.” No-deco limits printed on the strap (Jason Heaton) It’s an analytical leap to conclude that because the watch has strong ties to the military and is an issued watch, that “Jennifer” was an intelligence officer.  But what can the watch tell us? To know, we have to look beyond simply the make and model of the watch. Tracing the Watch According to an investigative report by newspaper VG, the Citizen Aqualand reference CQ-1021-50 was manufactured three years prior in January 1992 with the serial number C022-088093 Y, 2010779, GN-4-S. This was confirmed by Citizen at in Japan. The watch contained three Swiss-made Renata 370-type batteries made in December 1994.  The batteries were crudely engraved “W395,” which investigators believed means they were installed March 1995 and “W'' may indicate the initials of the watchmaker.   Some online outlets have suggested the watch was purchased in Germany, but there is no substantial proof of this claim.  The watch was reportedly later sold at a police auction.  Of note, Watchmakers often record their work on the inside caseback of a watch with a light engraving, or in this case, on the battery itself with a hand-engraved note. It lets other watchmakers know in the future what’s been done and when.  Wilderness of Mirrors The intelligence world is often referred to as the “wilderness of mirrors,” a  space where the truth is complicated and nothing is as it seems.  We spoke with John Sipher, who ran the CIA’s Russia operations, for his assessment in the incident.  Sipher, who also served in Nordic countries during the 90s, explained that Norway and Scandinavian countries have long been of interest to Russia due to the proximity and strategic issues including the Baltic Sea, oil, and as an opening to Western Europe.  In fact, as recently as October 2022, Norway’s domestic security agency arrested Mikhail Mikushin, a suspected Russian GRU (military intelligence) “illegal” posing as a Brazilian academic, José Assis Giammaria. Anna Chapman, A Russian “Illegal” arrested in the US as part of the Illegals Program, a Ulysse Nardin on her wrist.   Given the information available, Sipher said that it is possible Fairgate was a Russian intelligence officer or asset, but that it’s just as likely she was involved in organized crime, and that the two were not always mutually exclusive during that period.  Russian Organized Crime Sipher explained that in the 1990s many former KGB officers had gone on to work for organized crime after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  KGB “formers'' were some of the few Russians that knew how to use international banks and could effectively carry out tasks in Europe. In fact, in the post-Cold War years there was “much more overlap of Russian organized crime and intelligence and the two were often synonymous.”  Sipher pointed us to a quote by former Director of CIA James Woolsey from 1993-1995: “If you should strike up a conversation with an articulate English-speaking Russian… wearing a $3,000 suit and a pair of Gucci loafers, and he tells you that he is an executive of a Russian trading company…then there are four possibilities. He may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover. He may be part of a Russian organized crime group. But the really interesting possibility is that he may be all three and none of those three institutions have any problem with the arrangement.” While she may fit the profile of a Russian intelligence officer, asset or “illegal,” there is a lack of indicators connecting Fairgate directly to Russia.   East German Intelligence Former East German Intelligence “Stasi” compound in Berlin. Sipher further explained a similar phenomenon with former East German intelligence officers leveraging their skills for employment after the unification of Germany and disbandment of the East German Stasi (Ministry for State Security).  Stasi officers had close contact with Soviet officials, were renowned for their sharpness and capabilities, and were often recruited by Russian services to carry out operations in Europe.  German nationals could easily move around Europe without raising suspicions. Stasi ID card used by then-KGB officer Vladimir Putin from 1985-1990 in Dresden, East Germany.  The card was found in a Stasi archive. While this is informed speculation, it’s possible that Fairgate was a former East German intelligence officer working on behalf of Russian intelligence or a criminal organization.  There are several indications that Fairgate had ties to East Germany including her accent when checking in and forensic analysis of her DNA.  Some of her clothes, including potentially her watch, originated in Germany. This links back to the theory that the watch was serviced in Germany. Mossad, Israel and The Oslo Accords The Oslo Plaza Hotel was also reportedly one of the locations of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities for the Oslo II Accord, signed a few months after Fairgate’s death.  While evidence is only circumstantial, it is possible that there is some nexus to this event and that Fairgate was an Israeli operative or the target of a Mossad assassination.  Mossad has a long history of both deep cover operations and targeted killings.  In January 2010, a team of Mossad operatives (many under European alias) assassinated Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai using an injection to make it appear to be of natural causes.  They locked the room from the inside and the body was not discovered until the following day. Israeli operative (tennis players) track Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his hotel room. In fact, Mossad has carried out at least one botched assassination in Norway: in 1973, when a hit team mistook a Moroccan waiter for that of Black September member Hassan Salameh, they shot him 13 times with a 22-caliber pistol, in what became known in intelligence circles as the “Lillehammer Affair.”  While there is nothing directly connecting Fairgate to Israel, Mossad is widely known to use dual-citizens for covert and clandestine operations.   It is important to note, while Israel has issued several dive watches to elite units, we are not aware of any direct tie between the Citizen Aqualand and Israeli Defense Forces or Mossad. Black September member Hassan Salameh, target of Israeli assassination program after Munich attack. Conclusion While we cannot say definitively, there are several anomalies with this case that suggest the woman known as “Jennifer Fairgate” may have been involved in intelligence activity. That said, it’s also entirely possible that she was involved in some other illicit activity or potentially worked as an escort.  Espionage is often referred to as the “world's second oldest profession” and at times has a similar profile to the first. The reality of the intelligence world is more mundane than portrayed in Hollywood.  That said, assassinations, deep cover, and high-stakes movie-like operations certainly do happen.  In intelligence collection, the mosaic of puzzle pieces are rarely all collected and for now the picture of this event is opaque. We’re only seeing part of the story, and perhaps it’s not even the ending.      This could have been a covert operation carried out by the Russians, Israelis or a host of other services, but it is just as likely it was the case of a desperate woman, looking to leave this world behind without a trace.  If that is the case, she certainly achieved her goal. The watch is still an outstanding clue and may be the only lead to her identity.  Somewhere there is a watch maker who installed the battery in that watch, which may provide additional information on her origin. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   *For more information on this incident, check out the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries and the comprehensive investigative report by VG, “Mystery at the Oslo Plaza”  -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

21 comments
Read More
Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the...

22 comments
Read More

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the time I was responsible for a counterterrorism Covert Action program in the Middle East and I was traveling to visit the program on a flight with other CIA officers.  (REDACTED PARAGRAPH) The atmosphere on the plane was a Star Wars bar vibe, with bearded paramilitary officers, support personnel and analysts, all dressed in civilian clothing that varied from business casual to a college campus look and of course the obligatory new camping gear from REI.  Like most things at CIA, rules were relaxed and the plane filled with professionals who didn’t need to be told which rules actually mattered. During a refuel stop in a European country, I struck up a conversation with the individual sitting next to me who I assessed (correctly) was a GRS (Global Response Staff) contractor reading a book on the Rhodesian Bush War. The conversation moved from evolution counterterrorism tactics, the ongoing conflict in our destination country and finally watches. The operator asked about the Rolex Submariner on my wrist, and was quick to interject that he used to wear his Sub during deployments but lost it in a recent divorce, so now wears a Sangin watch. He then launched into a passionate pitch for the company and an overview of what the Sangin brand represents. Sangin in the wild during Orion space capsule recovery (Sangin community photo) At the time, my interest in watches was surface level. But during that trip and following deployments I began to notice Sangin Instruments on the wrists of SpecOps personnel, CIA paramilitary officers, and other case officers.  In the business we call this a pattern. Like many watch companies, Sangin was a subculture in itself. Very much a “if you know, you know” type thing. I wanted to learn more about the watch that seemed to keep appearing on the wrist of professionals in this world. So I reached out to one of the two founders, Jacob Servantes to learn about how the company came to be.   (Sangin community photo) Sangin Instruments  Watches are a medium for stories, but for Jacob Servantes, Marine Raider and founder of Sangin Instruments, they provided even more.  “You come out of the military depressed as hell. At the professional level we were at, a lot of what you do becomes who you are. And when you leave, the machine just keeps going . . . so Sangin gave me a lot of purpose out of the military.” Servantes enlisted in 2008 as the economy was crumbling, hoping to earn some money for college on the other side of his service. The goal was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a Reconnaissance Marine.  At the time, he wasn't aware that a restructuring in 2006 would mean that elements of the Marine Corps would participate in SOCOM, resulting in MARSOC. He ended up squarely in the special operations community.  A rare photo of Jacob on deployment in Afghanistan. It was during selection that he walked away with his first lesson that he would incorporate into Sangin Instruments–become the new standard.  Become the New Standard Not much was publicly known about the Raider selection process, and that’s by design. But Servantes recounted the biggest takeaway was that the standard to be selected by the instructors only moved in one direction: it became harder and harder. When Marines rose to the standard, and exceeded it, their standard became the new standard. “We used to joke that the mattress fairy would take people away at night, because every night you would see fewer and fewer people,” Servantes recalled. In his class, a group of 120 hopeful Marines were deposited in an undisclosed location somewhere in North Carolina. 25 people were selected after a grueling three weeks and countless miles of rucking/team events. Each class sets the standard for the next class, meaning that the standard is constantly being raised. It always gets harder, and that idea is something Servantes has incorporated into the way Sangin Instruments does things, “selection is continuous.” (Sangin community photo) Sangin, Afghanistan The name of Servantes’ company comes from Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, an area along the Helmand River Valley where the Commando team he worked on spent much of their deployment. Sangin is a place that many who served during the GWOT will be familiar with, and it was known as “the most dangerous place in the world for multiple years running–the hospital on base was the busiest hospital, anywhere, at the time.” Servantes says. That’s part of why he chose the name Sangin Instruments. “Sangin is a horrible place in the world–many guys attribute awful memories to Sangin, but they’ll carry this name with them and hopefully have a positive memory about breaking down barriers, and their own sacrifices and achievements.”  (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Building a watch company is not for the fainthearted and bringing the brand to life was an achievement in itself. It almost didn’t happen. But the can-do attitude prevailed. He got back from a deployment and told his wife that he’d put in his time with special operations. During his time in the Middle East and the Philippines, he wore a M-1 Breitling Chrono Avenger (sketchy) and several Digital Tool Watches. While deployed, he'd been thinking about watch designs based on the work he was doing. He tested the market among his friends and colleagues in the military and conceptualized a watch that would be affordable and capable. A watch that would stand up to the type of work they were doing while also speaking to the community.  Watches Built For Warriors Servantes’ wife, Paris, bought the idea. This was 2017. After some help from his mentor, Bill Yao of popular watch microbrand MK II, they had a prototype. And following the evaluation of the prototype, Sangin launched a successful pre-sale that would help fund the initial batch of 250 watches called the Kinetic 1. The only problem was that Paypal held the funding without explanation and would not release it to obtain the watches. Paris reached into her savings and a small inheritance; Servantes had his bonus from his last Afghanistan deployment. Between them, they scraped together the cash and bet big on Sangin Instruments working out. They were in a squeeze, but Servantes had a steadfast partner in his wife, who learned how to do Quality Control on all the watches and packaged them up and answered customer emails while he was in business school. W.O.E.’s personal Sangin Overlord Believing in Sangin Instruments paid off, but it was never the plan–the primary objective was to take care of the community and make a product to be proud of. The first round of watches was delivered and the phones haven’t stopped ringing since.  “Part of the culture of watches in general is wanting to have a part of something you’ve done. So when these guys leave the military, they can take a piece of that experience with them,” Servantes says of his watches.  (Sangin community photo) Sangin Today  Today, Sangin boasts an impressive line of watches, from the entry level quartz Overlord to the premium newly released Hydra, Sangin’s interpretation of a mid-century compressor-style diver's watch. The community remains an important part of Sangin’s identity with customers demonstrating a near religious fervor as they wait for the next release. Sangin also offers several watches that must be earned.  The “Para” Overlord is only available to members of the airborne community and would-be customers must submit a certification verification.  The green bezel Atlas and Neptune are available only to those who have completed a SOF selection course, red for first responders and blue for law enforcement personnel.  They are tools for professionals. Jacob was mum on the ongoing special projects “unit watches” but a custom Professional made for the CIA Directors Protective Staff (DPS) was recently for sale on Ebay (but quickly disappeared without explanation).  Suffice to say, we are aware of several special projects for units in the IC and SpecOps community but cannot go into details at this time. Ebay listing of Sangin Professional for the CIA’s Directors Protective Staff. (Ebay)  Sangin Instruments - “With You” As Sangin grows, Servantes makes sure that giving back and taking care of the community he comes from is part of it. Servantes has developed watches that specifically speak to a community of men and women who serve. As he grew the business, an unlikely presence in the watch world supercharged the number of people interested in Sangin. “Rolex helped us out with their price point and availability. You have a lot of Green Berets who finally could afford a Rolex but just couldn't get them. And here we were offering something specifically for them,” he says.  Informally, many refer to Sangin watches as the “Raider Rolex.” Now Servantes will run into guys who tell him that they have a few deployments on their watch, and the memories of service are imbued into the timepiece. That’s exactly what makes Servantes and Paris continue to push Sangin forward. A part of the Sangin Instruments mission that Servantes doesn’t publicly put forward is his support of important nonprofits contributing to those in the veteran community, including HunterSeven Foundation, Special Operations Care Fund (SOC-F) and Vigilant Torch. One of the altruistic motivations of the W.O.E. platform is preserving watch culture in the NatSec community. No one has done more to further this end than the team at Sangin Instruments. Many of us came up in the GWOT days where digital watches were the norm. Sangin offers a great way for professionals to get into watches in an unpretentious manner. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Demystifying a North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded to High-Ranking Officials

22 comments
Read More
Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

3 comments
Read More

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

3 comments
Read More
Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

22 comments
Read More

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

22 comments
Read More
Covert Influence in Watch Media

Covert Influence in Watch Media

A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At...

21 comments
Read More

A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At the core of this trade is manipulating an individual to report on his or her organization and spy on behalf of the US Government.  A significant step in the “development” of a clandestine relationship is the acceptance of an expensive gift, something that will make that individual feel indebted to his “friend,” the Case Officer. As the Watches of Espionage platform has grown, we have been offered significant “gifts” and “favors” from brands and accessory companies in the form of “lending” a watch for a review, invitations to lavish parties in Geneva and even cash payments in return for coverage.  From the brand’s perspective, the goal is simple; to exploit the relationship we have developed with our community (you) to sell more products.   Like a clandestine developmental, the offers are flattering and appeal to my ego, but having spent my professional career manipulating others, I understand this is a dangerous path. How can we objectively cover the watch industry if we feel indebted to a brand?  How can we maintain our authenticity if we mislead our community in return for financial remuneration?  From experience I know a small favor can quickly develop into a dependent relationship. Nothing in life is free, and upon reflection, the marketing of watches and influence of public opinion on timepieces has more in common with the clandestine world than initially apparent. Covert Influence Covert Influence (COVIN) is the act of influencing a population’s political sentiment or public discourse, all while concealing the hand of the actor, a foreign government.  In short, it is a government’s messaging disguised as organic content intended to influence a segment to take a certain action.  All major intelligence services engage in COVIN to further their country’s political and military objectives. Photo Credit: IWC Information, Misinformation, Disinformation While there is and always will be tension between journalists and intelligence officers, the reality is the two trades have much in common. At the core of both disciplines is the process of collecting information, analyzing it, and then reporting it for the sake of decision-making. On the journalism side, the general public is the decision-maker and the decision is often simply public opinion. On the intelligence side, Intelligence Officers collect and analyze information to inform policy makers to (hopefully) make sound decisions.   According to now declassified documents, during the Cold War, some prominent journalists and media outfits were aligned with the CIA and helped carry out Agency goals in both reporting from foreign nations as well as influencing the populace through placed stories.  US Embassy, Moscow, USSR Today, claims of the CIA’s mass media control and “spooking the news” in the US have very little factual basis.  Contrary to Hollywood, CIA’s current use of the media and COVIN is heavily regulated by US law under Title 50 authorities and only occurs under significant congressional oversight, most notably that it cannot be used to influence the US public opinion. Watch Journalism: To inform or influence?   While W.O.E. is still new to the watch media landscape, it is easy to identify the same tradecraft used by intelligence services to influence you as the consumer.  There are very few impartial actors in this space and traditional marketing is supported with a sophisticated COVIN-like campaign to manipulate the consumer (you) to take a certain action (buy a certain watch).   Understanding how niche media–particularly in the watch community– works, and recognizing influence, can help identify partial and impartial actors. This isn't entirely different from what happens in the intelligence world. Intelligence agencies constantly seek to identify, analyze, and counter hostile foreign intelligence services COVIN campaigns targeting the US and our allies. sexy (Photo Credit: Tudor) Brand Capture of Enthusiast Platforms What separates “Enthusiast Media” from the typical “Fourth Estate” (media meant to hold people in power accountable, i.e., big media) is that enthusiast platforms are driven by access. And access is typically granted at the will of the subjects being covered (in the watch world, that’s the big watch companies). This Enthusiast model creates a symbiotic relationship between journalists/watch personalities and the subjects they cover, which inherently results in a bias when reporting. Like a Case Officer providing a gift to a developmental, brands provide watch influencers “gifts”, most notably in the form of access. To gain and maintain access, the published narrative must be consistent with the established communication direction of the powerful players in the watch world. This is at the core of understanding watch media: As the digital age caught up with the traditional world of watch enthusiasm and platforms started cropping up, there was a very sharp shift from scholarship and reporting to advocacy. We’ve seen this happen in mainstream media as well–and as a result, there is a growing distrust of the major news media conglomerates. Part of this change in watch media was intentional, but most of it was a byproduct of how the shifting model allowed for more participation, and in turn, more engagement of enthusiasts by brands. All the sudden there was a comment section, and consumers could openly voice their dissent or admiration directly to the brands. Tribalism–which as anyone in the IC can relate to–exists on every level. There are fewer “watch guys” and more and more “Rolex guys” or “Omega guys”, or whatever brand one developed an allegiance to. The “flame wars” erupted on comment sections and forum threads as collectors engaged in heated debates about certain elements of watch enthusiasm.  (Photo Credit: Panerai) Swiss Brands - The Puppet Masters  Watch brands, long masters at marketing, quickly figured out how to manipulate organic advocacy and create communication strategies that brought the leaders of those advocacy movements front and center. Prominent collectors and “tastemakers” were compensated to influence taste, or rather influence “mass opinion” of the watch community at large.  This led to the modern watch “influencer” model, but something even more impactful happened. The emergence of blogs that cashed in on their influence. Banner ads in the early days were commonplace, and that was the most obvious form of advertising. But the game has evolved. This is where it takes a discerning eye to distinguish what’s meant to influence–and what has roots in scholarship and enthusiasm.  Watches and Wonders (Photo Credit: Unknown) Scholarship vs Advocacy Big watch brands spend large budgets on “native content” packages that wrap up banner ads, sponsored content, and sometimes events all into one package. Absent is one line item: coverage, as in stories, on the brand’s new releases. It’s implied that the digital platform will cover the release favorably when the brand signs a six-figure ad deal. That’s how big watch platforms can technically remain “independent” while still being influenced by watch brands. It’s the same sort of “soft power” one might see in the intelligence world. There’s always a part of the deal that’s bound by an implied handshake rather than a written contract.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. To make things even more complicated, most large watch platforms now sell the very watches they cover so there’s even more opportunity for the platform to be influenced by brands (as a channel to push their watches) and to influence consumers (to sell more watches).  As a platform starts to carry more brands, there are fewer brands that would be subject to criticism–and if the platform aspired to carry a brand, of course it wouldn't be subject to criticism either. The pattern that occurs is that every article is positive and very few publications offer any earnest scholarship when it comes to a watch or watch manufacturer. (Photo Credit: Tag) If one were to look for an objective watch review–it would be notably absent from any of the big watch publications. This isn't by accident. At W.O.E., we celebrate the stories of the community–and we suggest ways to get further into watches, but we generally leave the “reviews” for the blogs. They always seem to be positive, because there is general commercial interest involved, whether overt or clandestine. We’ve looked at how the conflict in Ukraine is an information war. This ties into how we can think about media–whoever controls the narrative controls public opinion. In enthusiast media, whoever sways opinion controls the consumer purchases.  The World As it Is To be clear, we are not criticizing any major watch platform or brand for that matter.  We believe in a free market and actors should make decisions on what is best for their shareholder’s interests.  In a perfect world, all major news outlets and watch platforms would cover events in an objective manner.  That said, we observe the world as it is, not how it should be. At W.O.E., we’ve long ago established that we will not follow the model of traditional watch media in the sense that we will not take money in exchange for allowing our platform to be used as a tool to influence our community. (Photo Credit: Breitling) W.O.E. is brand agnostic.  To date, we have profiled several brands including Tudor, Casio G-Shock, Marathon and Bremont and covered examples of many more (Breitling, Seiko, Omega, Panerai etc). While these are not necessarily endorsements, each brand maintains a connection with our community and our goal is to document that history.  We plan to cover many more and we will continue to do it on our terms without a hidden hand on the libra scale. We’re not closing the door of collaborating with a major watch brand one day–but it would be for the sole purpose of designing with the scope of our very specific community in mind, and again, on our terms. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Criminal Rolex Gangs And Traveling With Watches, Part I This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

21 comments
Read More
CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

17 comments
Read More

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

17 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

10 comments
Read More

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

10 comments
Read More
Diving With The Marathon Search and Rescue

Diving With The Marathon Search and Rescue

Putting One Of The Last Real Military Dive Watches To The Test In the watch world, clout is king. For brands without centuries of history...

14 comments
Read More

Putting One Of The Last Real Military Dive Watches To The Test In the watch world, clout is king. For brands without centuries of history to lean on, sales and marketing professionals are left in a mad scramble for authenticity and heritage, searching for a story that makes their watches more than the sum of their parts. These efforts become particularly transparent when those outside our community attempt to influence those within, claiming their mechanical luxury watches are the preferred option for divers, SpecOps, or intelligence professionals. The Marathon SAR was unveiled in 2001. (Photo Credit: Worn and Wound) In reality, Digital Tool Watches (D.T.W.) are most often the instrument of choice, but there is at least one analog tool watch still issued to the US Military in 2024: Marathon Watch. This isn’t the first time we’ve covered Marathon, a supplier to the US and Canadian governments since the Second World War. However, in this Dispatch, we’ll concentrate on the Search and Rescue (SAR) collection in particular, sharing its bizarre history and modern military associations before testing the watches on a dive on the California coast. It’s also a family of watches with which I have a significant history, having used both the quartz and automatic variants while serving the US Coast Guard and as a commercial diver. Beyond the utility, the Marathon SAR also has one of the more unusual origin stories in modern watchmaking. Watch Nerds Designing A Military Tool Watch For Operators RCAF SAR Techs made the initial request that led to the Marathon SAR Collection. (Photo Credit: Canadian Armed Forces) In 2000, Marathon Watch was approached by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with a request for a purpose-built dive watch capable of handling the wide range of environments encountered by Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Search and Rescue Technicians or SAR Techs. Trained in “...Arctic rescue, parachuting, diving, mountain climbing, and helicopter rescue”, the elite community of around 150 SAR Techs had a few specific requests including luminescent indices for legibility in all conditions, an automatic caliber, ample water resistance, and a bezel that could be easily operated with all manner of gloves. In designing the watch, Marathon did something all but unheard of, looking to members of the watch enthusiast community for guidance. Marathon first tapped one of its military suppliers who then got in touch with the founder of the Military Watch Resource (MWR), a niche online forum dedicated to military horology. With the help of a talented machinist, the first SAR watches came together, with input being gathered at each stage of the design process from members of the MWR forum who also coined the SAR name. The original Marathon SAR of 2001 utilized printed luminescent indices while being inspired by several great historical dive watches. (Photo Credit: Worn & Wound) With a 39mm case silhouette generally inspired by the Rolex Submariner, a dial format resembling the Benrus Type I, a distinctive knurled crown, and an overhanging 41mm bezel reminiscent of a rare East German military diver’s watch from a brand called Ruhla, Marathon delivered the first orders of its new SAR watch in late 2001. Initially, the Marathon SAR was only available through official supply channels and in limited numbers, with a few select enthusiasts getting their hands on rare contract overrun pieces. Issued not only to SAR Techs but also Clearance Divers and other amphibious members of the Canadian Forces since 2001, an important design change to a tritium gas tube illuminated dial around 2005 answered a specific request from the US Military. While they are not widely issued, the GSAR or Government Search and Rescue as it is now known, and its quartz equivalent the TSAR or Tritium Search and Rescue, can both be ordered by military procurement specialists in the United States through the GSA catalog — a sort of military and government Amazon — using unit-allocated funds. USAF Pararescuemen wearing the Marathon GSAR while conducting dive training in 2019. (Photo Credit: DVIDS)  Issued Marathon watches are not ubiquitous by any means, but it does happen. According to Marathon’s Government Contracting Officer, US Navy EOD, US Air Force Pararescue, and US Army Special Forces have all recently placed orders for watches from the SAR family. Our previous look at Marathon detailed several additional issued examples of the GSAR and TSAR. I distinctly remember seeing issued Marathon watches on the wrists of USCG Divers and select Aviators in my Coast Guard days. Over the years, Marathon has adjusted its approach to include a broader offering of watches intended for the civilian market while still doing the vast majority of its business for government contracts. Diving With The Modern Marathon SAR Collection (Photo Credit: Worn & Wound) The SAR collection has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in the early 2000s. There are three case sizes (36mm, 41mm, and 46mm), quartz and automatic options, an automatic chronograph, and several dial colors and configurations. Marathon has leaned into the rise of watch enthusiasm but without losing the core direction. To obtain feedback from end-users and get closer to the enthusiast community, Marathon invited a few interesting individuals from the military and diving communities for a dive preceding Windup San Francisco, an enthusiast-oriented event. In 55-degree water, you wear as much rubber as you can. (Photo Credit: Worn & Wound) Preparing for a shore dive in water around 55°F/13°C, most of us donned thick 7mm wetsuits with a few ziploc bag enthusiasts opting for drysuits. Once suited up, we had our pick from a slew of Marathon SAR watches including the white Arctic dial GSAR, a JDD or Jumbo Day/Date, and an Anthracite GSAR. I used an original SAR from the printed MaraGlo dial days. Discontinued in 2006, the OG Marathon SAR is, according to a source within the company, poised for a triumphant return later this year bolstered by some subtle updates. A few of us needed to swap over to nylon straps to get our watches over our variety of thick exposure suits, but we were soon ready to go. Petty Officer Second Class (ND2) Brock Stevens with a Marathon Arctic GSAR. (Photo Credit: Worn & Wound) My buddy for the dive was Navy Diver Second Class (ND2) Brock Stevens, a veteran of over four years of ships husbandry on carriers and nuclear submarines in Norfolk, Virginia. Typically diving with a Kirby Morgan helmet as opposed to open circuit scuba, Brock is a guy with well over a thousand dives and is at home in the water. After the walk from the parking lot to the beach with all of our gear, we put on our fins and waded into deeper water. California diving can be hit-and-miss. In Monterey, being cold is all but assured, but the visibility varies wildly from as much as fifty feet or more on the best days to the three to five feet we had for our dive. That said, as you’d expect, everyone’s Marathon watch worked as intended, each of us timing the dive with our rotating bezels which remained legible even in murkier conditions. I had a diving computer on my other wrist, but given our max depth of around 40 feet, we would run out of gas long before any decompression-related concerns, and I could have easily left it on the beach. The visibility left something to be desired. (Photo Credit: Brock Stevens) After descending, we finned along a submerged outfall pipe covered in growth with the odd clump of kelp running lazily from the sea bed to the surface. Given the visibility, I kept Brock just within the limits of my range of vision. Reaching the end of the pipe, we set out for a field of metridiums, an out-of-this-world underwater forest of what looked like giant cauliflower stalks, then returned to the pipe for a leisurely swim back toward the shore. A dive like this goes nowhere near the limits of these watches, which are designed for and capable of much harder use. Brock has been using his Marathon while working on submarines, and it seems to be holding up. Still, it’s nice to see a brand invite a bunch of actual divers to experience their tools in their element. Given the SAR collections’s history, we know Marathon is no stranger to taking feedback from the enthusiast community, with a slew of recent releases to support the trend. When we met with the brand after the dive, they seemed genuinely interested in our feedback, which is seldom the case with watch brands.  Brock Stevens wearing his Marathon GSAR while working as a US Navy Diver. (Photo Credit: Brock Stevens) My positive experiences with the watches aside, I would argue the modern GSAR isn’t for everyone. It’s not refined or elegant, it's a tool. Given the tall bezel, it fits poorly under shirt cuffs. But the GSAR isn’t about that. It’s a watch that was designed as a tool. While it’s true most people don’t use dive watches as the tools they once were, some still do. The entire concept of being “mil-spec” or military issue adds credibility to any piece of equipment and in the arena of dive watches in particular, Marathon’s legitimacy as a diving tool is well deserved.  If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. Now a full-time member of the W.O.E. Team, Ben splits his time between writing and product development at W.O.E. and managing Submersible Wrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers as well as the life aquatic. Thanks again to Brock Stevens for providing several of the images in this Dispatch. To learn more about Brock, check out @deepsea.edc on Instagram. READ NEXT: Watches and Commercial Espionage: Waltham Watch Company

14 comments
Read More
US Army PSYOP: Christopher Ward “Unit Watch” in Recruiting Video

US Army PSYOP: Christopher Ward “Unit Watch” in Recruiting Video

Last week, the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Group released Ghosts In The Machine 2, the second installment in a series of highly stylized...

4 comments
Read More

Last week, the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Group released Ghosts In The Machine 2, the second installment in a series of highly stylized recruiting videos supporting one of the Army’s more unusual units.

4 comments
Read More
From NASA To SpaceX - The Watches Of SpecOps Astronaut Recovery Teams

From NASA To SpaceX - The Watches Of SpecOps Astronaut Recovery Teams

The Historic Link Between The US Space Program, Special Operations Forces, & Timepieces In 2020, some 45 years had passed since a crewed US spacecraft...

9 comments
Read More

The Historic Link Between The US Space Program, Special Operations Forces, & Timepieces In 2020, some 45 years had passed since a crewed US spacecraft splashed down at sea. On 2 August, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken experienced no less than four g’s as they hurtled toward the Earth in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour. The mission, Crew Demo-2, marked historic firsts including the first crewed commercial space flight as well as the first two-person orbital space flight launched from the United States since STS-4 in 1982. Slowed by four massive parachutes, Demo-2’s Endeavour capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, just off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, at 2:48 pm. But what then? SpaceX’s Crew Demo-2, the first crewed private space flight, is towed to a support vessel after recovery at sea in 2020. (Photo Credit: NASA) The model of launch, flight, reentry, splashdown in the ocean, and recovery, was established during the earliest days of manned space flight. Considerably safer than returning to earth on land, NASA has traditionally favored a waterborne splashdown for its manned space flights, including the storied Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions as well as more recent efforts including Artemis. However, things can and have gone wrong. Assuming the capsule meets the sea as intended, it can still sink or capsize, presenting a perilous situation for any astronauts inside.  One area of space travel that goes mostly unexplored by enthusiast media is the long-standing relationship between select SpecOps units and the Space Program. Starting with US Navy Underwater Demolition Teams and Air Force Pararescue Teams in the 1960s and carrying on through modern SpaceX, Boeing, and Artemis missions, the challenging tasks of astronaut recovery and/or rescue continue to be quietly carried out with the help of specialized units from the US Department of Defense. Given the timing, early astronaut recovery teams wore some of history’s most iconic tool watches with names like the Submariner and Sea Wolf on the dial. Today, a select few still choose to wear mechanical watches for the challenging task of plucking spacemen from the ocean. Former US Air Force Pararescuemen (PJ) RJ Casey trains with NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, USMC, and the SpaceX Astronaut Rescue and Recovery Team. (Photo Credit: NASA Astronaut Anil Menon) To understand how SOF supports astronaut recovery today, we spoke with RJ Casey, who contracts as an astronaut rescue and recovery team leader at SpaceX. RJ’s history, which is deserving of a separate Dispatch, starts in Special Forces (SF) where he served as an SF Medical Sergeant and Detachment Officer (18D and 18A, respectively) assigned to 2/19th SFG in the West Virginia Army National Guard. A qualified Combat Diver, RJ picked up a Rolex Submariner in the early 2000s that he still wears today. A legendary watch in special operations, the Submariner serves as a nod to Special Forces units of the past, other more shadowy government agencies, and especially their maritime communities. RJ later joined the US Air Force’s Pararescue community where he currently serves as a reserve Combat Rescue Officer when he isn’t training and recovering astronauts at his civilian job. Today, RJ primarily wears his Bremont S502 Jet, a watch from the brand’s Military and Special Projects Division that he has used for all of his astronaut operations and training evolutions to date. RJ Casey assists NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann, USMC, and Crew-5 Commander, out of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, pictured with his Bremont S502 Jet military project watch. (Photo Credit: NASA) While space flight has come a long way, having elite rescue specialists like RJ nearby is still a requirement for manned space missions today. SpaceX and NASA’s modern capsule recovery efforts have gone largely without incident, but the involvement of units from the US Navy and Air Force as an additional layer of contingency for these missions is, like so many other lessons in space exploration, the result of a near miss that almost cost the United States the life of an astronaut. How A Near Miss Galvanized A Historic Relationship In 1961, Mercury-Redstone 4 was NASA’s second manned space flight, lasting only fifteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Astronaut Gus Grissom, a legendary member of the original Mercury Seven, would have been forgiven for thinking the hard work was behind him. After a successful trip into sub-orbit, the second American in space descended towards the Earth. Liberty Bell 7’s parachutes deployed as intended, and the capsule splashed down approximately 300 miles from its launch location in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Job done. Or so it seemed. Astronaut Gus Grissom, the second American in space. (Photo Credit: National Air And Space Museum) As Marine helicopters from the awaiting USS Randolph approached, Liberty Bell 7’s explosive hatch blew off of the capsule, almost immediately filling the spacecraft with water. A veteran of 100 combat missions in Korea, Grissom acted quickly, leaping from the open hatch to escape the sinking capsule but forgetting to close a valve on his space suit. Mistakenly thinking the astronaut was relatively safe, the crew of the primary recovery helicopter turned its attention to the rapidly sinking spacecraft. Grissom, whose suit was quickly flooded, waved and shouted as he struggled to keep his head above water. At the time, NASA procedures did not call for someone in a boat or in the water to assist with the astronaut’s egress from the capsule. Unfortunate for NASA, but lucky for Grissom, Liberty Bell 7 could not be saved. As the primary recovery helicopter battled with the weight of the sunken capsule, ultimately electing to cut it loose to the depths, the secondary helicopter swooped in to recover one very tired astronaut. One mechanical misstep and NASA very nearly lost its second man in space. After his harrowing ordeal, Grissom is lifted to safety by a Marine helicopter. (Photo Credit: National Air And Space Museum) NASA & The Frogmen Of The Underwater Demolition Teams While NASA already had ties to DOD for assistance in astronaut recovery or rescue, Grissom’s near miss illustrated the necessity of having trained personnel in the water at the splashdown location in the event of a similar mishap. Lacking such personnel, NASA looked to the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams, composed of “frogmen” with extensive experience in challenging open ocean conditions. Tracing their origins to nascent maritime special operations units established during World War II, the UDTs received specialized training in diving, ordnance disposal, beach clearance, and hydrographic reconnaissance, serving as the predecessor to the SEAL Teams which were established in 1962. A Navy frogman leaps from a recovery helicopter into the water to assist in the Gemini-12 recovery operations in 1966. (Photo Credit: NASA) From Mercury 6 onwards, recovery teams composed of specially selected members of various UDTs around the country were required on location to assist with astronaut and capsule recovery operations from the water. Along with a wide variety of specialized equipment more directly related to the mission, the frogmen used the iconic tool dive watches of the day including the Rolex and Tudor Submariner, Zodiac Sea Wolf, and others. Rather than timing dives, the operators utilized these now legendary watches to remain synchronized with the broader multi-agency recovery operation. Members of UDT 13 served as the recovery team for Apollo 12. The Tudor Submariner and Zodiac Sea Wolf can be seen on some of the frogmen. (Photo Credit: Navy Helicopter Association Historical Society) In the majority of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights, the mission of the UDT recovery teams was relatively straightforward and carefully outlined in this incredible NASA training film from the Mercury Program. After jumping into the sea from a recovery helicopter, the UDT men were tasked with making contact with the capsule before unfolding and deploying an inflatable auxiliary flotation collar intended to keep the capsule upright and high enough in the water. If the astronaut or astronauts inside elected to leave the capsule before being lifted and transferred to an awaiting support ship, typically an aircraft carrier, the UDT swimmers assisted with the exit and transfer into the helicopter’s personnel recovery sling or basket. Once the inhabitants were safe, the frogmen were then charged with assisting the helicopter in lifting the capsule and any other equipment onto the deck of the nearby carrier. Frogmen stand on the auxiliary flotation collar during recovery operations for Apollo 15 (Photo Credit: NASA) For the UDT men of the era, working with NASA to recover astronauts was, besides being extremely cool, relatively light work compared to their regular and often deadly deployments to the Vietnam War. A rarity for those within the world of SpecOps, many of the exploits of the UDT recovery teams were also broadcast live on radio and television, meaning hundreds of millions of people witnessed the typically unseen UDT’s hard work assisting in astronaut recovery, bolstering the legend that has, for better or worse, made today’s SEALs a pop culture phenomenon. Alan Buehler, a member of UDT 11, assisted with the recovery of Apollo 15 & 17. On his wrist, an OMEGA Geneve Chronostop. (Photo Credit: Alan Buehler) Getting back to watches, there are documented exceptions including the aforementioned Sea Wolf from Zodiac and the intriguing use of an OMEGA Geneve Chronostop, but in the majority of archival films and photography from these missions, UDT men are seen wearing Tudor Submariners (Reference 7928) the issue watch for Navy divers and SpecOps at the time.  WOE’s personal Tudor Submariner 7928, one of history’s most legendary military dive watches. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Eventually earning its own NSN or NATO Stock Number in 1978 (6645-01-068-1088), the Tudor Submariner saw extensive and well-documented service in Vietnam, during astronaut recovery and rescue operations, and even with other specialized units outside of the US Navy. It appears the phenomenon of Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.) is nothing new. Bob Coggin of UDT 12 leans against the Apollo 8 Capsule with a Tudor Submariner Ref. 7928 on the wrist. (Photo Credit: NASA) US Air Force PJs & Astronaut Recovery NASA augmented its UDT recovery force with US Air Force Pararescuemen or PJs, combat search and rescue specialists who became legendary for their efforts in saving downed pilots in Vietnam. In addition to emergency medicine, technical rescue, parachuting, mountaineering, small unit tactics, and more, PJs were also trained in diving and ocean swimming, making them another excellent option for spacecraft recovery. In essence, the UDT was the recovery team in the event everything went as planned where the PJs served as the global rescue element in case of an emergency that caused a space flight to land somewhere other than on the X. US Air Force Pararescuemen before and after recovering Gemini VIII. In both images, the PJ on the right is wearing a USAF-issued Tudor Submariner 7928. (Photo Credit: NASA) And that is exactly what happened in 1966 when Gemini VIII entered a potentially deadly spiral in Earth’s orbit. Astronauts David Scott and some guy named Neil Armstrong managed to correct the spin, but the unplanned fuel expenditure meant the mission had to be scrapped. Given the spontaneous nature of the recovery and unplanned splashdown location, the job went to three on-duty US Air Force Pararescuemen out of Okinawa: Larry Huyett, Eldridge Neal, and Glenn Moore. In photos taken both before and after the operation, one of the PJs is seen wearing yet another Tudor Submariner Ref. 7928, a watch that was also commonly issued to PJs during the era. LTJG David R. Kohler of the Apollo-Soyuz Recovery Team with a Tudor Submariner on the wrist. (Photo Credit: Navy SEAL Museum) Jumping ahead, UDT Frogmen were in the water for the recovery of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Flight in 1975, the first manned space flight carried out jointly between the United States and the Soviet Union. Soon after, the United States shifted its focus to the Space Shuttle Program. For the first time, a spacecraft could re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, fly to its destination, and land like a traditional aircraft, obviating the need for water landings and recovery teams from the SpecOps community, at least for the next few decades. Commercial Space Travel Pararescuemen assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron conduct water jumps in support of astronaut rescue operations for SpaceX in 2021. (Photo Credit: US Air Force) The rise of privatized commercial space travel has changed the picture for DOD’s involvement in astronaut recovery and rescue operations. For private space flights, the companies themselves are responsible for their recovery operations. For anything NASA-related and/or taxpayer-funded including the upcoming Artemis missions, the US Navy again serves as the primary recovery force, typically utilizing a blend of Navy Divers, SAR medics, and EOD Technicians. For anything requiring rescue, again more so in the event of an emergency, US Air Force Pararescue Teams also receive specialized training for capsule operations and are strategically located around the globe. Members of the 308th Rescue Squadron (RQS) “Guardian Angels” train with the Department of Defense's Human Space Flight Support Office, the only full-time organization that coordinates and trains personnel to support human spaceflight contingencies. (Photo Credit: US Air Force) Just as space flight has advanced technologically in leaps and bounds, watches have also progressed, much to the chagrin of die-hard mechanical timekeeping enthusiasts. Feature-rich digital watches from brands like G-Shock and Garmin now account for the majority of wrists in these specialized military communities. That said, there are plenty of watch enthusiasts in the military, the intelligence community, among astronauts, and even within the Pararescue community associated with SpaceX as we saw with RJ Casey. RJ Casey, pictured with his Rolex Submariner, and Louie Haus diving with the 308 RQS. (Photo Credit: PJ Ricky Dunn) While it’s difficult to compare the Space Program of the 1960s to today, the importance of safeguarding those who have recently returned to Earth remains all but unchanged. Highly skilled amphibious operators still stand at the ready to jump into the sea to assist astronauts in peril. Despite being overshadowed by sexier aspects of space travel that tend to garner the limelight, these complex, multifaceted recovery operations are a key component of what has made and continues to make space exploration possible. When men or women go into the sea to recover astronauts, whether it’s a Tudor Submariner or Zodiac Sea Wolf of old or a modern G-Shock, Garmin, or Bremont, the importance of a precision watch remains a critical instrument for human space flight rescue and recovery teams. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. Read Next: An Exploration of “Unit Watches” from the Special Operations Community: Tudor To learn more about RJ Casey, check out his Instagram. About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. Now a full-time member of the W.O.E. Team, Ben splits his time between writing and product development at W.O.E. and managing @SubmersibleWrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers as well as the life aquatic.

9 comments
Read More
Dear Panerai, Stop Putting the Navy SEAL Trident On Watches

Dear Panerai, Stop Putting the Navy SEAL Trident On Watches

An Open Letter to Panerai, From Watches of Espionage In 2022, Panerai released the limited-edition “Navy SEALs collection” available intended for purchase by the public,...

28 comments
Read More

An Open Letter to Panerai, From Watches of Espionage In 2022, Panerai released the limited-edition “Navy SEALs collection” available intended for purchase by the public, and not exclusively Navy SEALs.  The watches are operator-chic , complete with a Navy SEAL Trident on the dial or caseback and a “Time to Target countdown” feature. The prices range from $10,000 - $60,000, the high-end models including an invitation to a multi-day Special Operations experience (Xperience) which, according to one journalist, means the “buyer of the watch joins retired Navy SEALs on an immersive adventure that will include a rigorous training and rescue mission.” (Photo Credit: Panerai) The releases continued through 2023 and into 2024, with the latest Xperience occurring last week in Florida.  As an influential voice in the NatSec watch community, we feel compelled to comment on the matter.  To be clear, our intentions are pure. We’re apolitical and see watches as a vessel to look at the larger world of NatSec, Military, and Intelligence. We want Panerai and all watch brands to succeed and provide a service to our community and the broader public.  But we think Panerai needs a course correction when it pertains to this watch and this “Xperience.”  -- Dear Panerai, I first learned of Officine Panerai in the 2010s, sitting in a third world capital having drinks with a SEAL colleague.  My friend explained that Panerai had a strong following in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) due to the brand's lineage that can be traced to the Italian Frogmen of WWII.  Like many others, he bought his first Panerai to commemorate a deployment and the Luminor Marina was a nod to those who came before him.  In our community, history is everything. Tradition matters.  I was immediately intrigued.  The signature case shape appealed to my alpha-driven tastes and the history of the brand appealed to me.  Over the next year, I visited boutiques in London, Istanbul, and Johannesburg to try on some Panerais before ultimately making a purchase: a tobacco dial titanium Luminor Marina 8 Days PAM 00564.  I wore it throughout the next overseas tour as a CIA case officer, including during the chaotic events of a coup d'etat. While my taste in watches has shifted over time, I will never sell that watch and it’s not an understatement to say your brand has had a strong influence on my passion for timepieces. U.S. Navy SEAL on training exercise (U.S. Army  by Staff Sgt. Jacob Dunlap) Heritage Matters Several watch blogs have called into question Panerai’s claimed lineage and marketing narrative and even resorted to personal attacks on your leadership, but this discourse does not specifically interest us.  The fact is, Panerai of today does have a strong customer base in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) regardless of exactly how it was formed.  I have personally seen your timepieces on the wrists of operators overseas, at Chick’s Oyster Bar in Virginia Beach, and in SCIFs in Northern Virginia.  No matter exactly how it happened, the connection between Panerai and the SpecOps community is real.  That said, we think that your latest iteration of the “Navy SEAL” watches, and specifically the use of the SEAL Trident - an eagle clutching a U.S. Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock-style pistol - for the commercial market is a little too much- likely a well-intentioned marketing scheme gone awry. (Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch) To be clear, I do not speak for the NSW community.  I haven’t earned the Trident myself, which is why I would never wear it on a watch or t-shirt.  I have spoken with over a dozen active and former “Team Guys” and opinions vary from disgust to admiration- the majority rolling their eyes, having bigger things to worry about.  We can assume that you have support from some in the NSW leadership and have gone through the legal requirements to license the Trident.  Further, we understand that a (unspecified) portion of the proceeds benefit the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, which is fantastic.  But just because you can put the Trident on a commercially available watch, doesn’t mean you should. A Panerai purchased by SEAL Team 3 member and sold on the secondary market. (Photo Credit: Lunaroyster) The Best Things (Watches) are Earned Not Bought: The Navy SEAL Trident is earned by those who qualify for the Navy Special Warfare Operator (SO) rating after completing the arduous selection process: the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT).  The “Budweiser” is a strong source of pride and reminder of service, sacrifice, and far too many lost brothers.  Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) (Official Navy/DOD Photo)   We understand that a limited number of the watches are reserved for active and retired Navy SEALS at a steeply discounted price (~60% off retail) and an (unspecified) portion of the proceeds are donated to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum and at least one watch was auctioned for charity.  Well done.  BUD/S Phase 2 training (Official Navy/DOD Photo) Discretion is the Way There is nothing wrong with SEALs wearing a Trident on their watch and we are aware of several unit-specific watches (by Tudor and others) that incorporate the Trident into the design.  I know several SEALs purchased your Panerai and treasure the watch.  It’s the civilian versions that give me pause.  A simple solution is to reserve the Trident-laden watches for the SEALs and sell a separate “military-inspired” version without the Trident or “Navy SEALs'' on the dial.  Special Operations Experience (Xperience) (Photo Credit: Panerai Central) It’s tempting to criticize the “Navy SEAL Xperience” that comes with the $60,000+ PAM01402, and yes, it's borderline corny.  That said, anything that pushes people to better understand the commitment and sacrifice our SEALs make on our behalf is a good thing.  We understand you employ former SEALs to guide participants through this crucible and we are confident that they provide an experience that exceeds expectations.   (Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch) Assume Noble Intent - never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by naivety. To be clear, I actually don’t think this is a cash grab and I believe the “SEAL Watch” concept is likely a well-intended but naively-crafted strategy.  When it comes to the military and the broader NatSec community, watch brands are naive. They simply do not know the complexities of the community.   SpecOps personnel generally don’t seek out jobs in the marketing departments of luxury watch companies.  That said, many other watch brands get it right and there is a template for success.  Look at the special projects programs of Tudor, Omega, Bremont and your sister company IWC (also owned by Richemont) and you will find successful strategies that respectfully honor our community.   HAWKEYE Tudor Pelagos “Unit Watch” - available only to member of the Secret Service Counter Assault Team  Solution  You don’t highlight a problem without presenting a solution. The key to any successful marketing initiative is authenticity.  -Focus on Unit Watches - A unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization and can only be purchased by current or former members.  Most brands offer these at a discount.  While initially secret, inevitably pictures leak out, which is fantastic publicity that drives sales and promotes brand loyalty on the civilian side, while still remaining exclusive to the military side.  As a recent example, Omega quietly released a special Seamaster Diver 300M (with the Trident discreetly engraved on the caseback) that is available to current and former Team Guys.  There was no press release; however, they ultimately found their way onto social media, creating a positive return for marketing for the brand.  It’s a sound business decision and a win-win for everyone. Most importantly, it’s authentic. -Be transparent about donations:  Last year our small company, Watches of Espionage, donated $24,800 to Third Option Foundation.  How much did Panerai donate to NSW museums and charities as a result of sales? According to bar napkin math, if Panerai sold all of the watches in 2023, you would have generated over $30 million in revenue. How much was given to the museum or NSF?  -Be transparent about US Navy lineage:  According to a September 2022 Forbes article, “Panerai’s historic team verified the legitimacy of an order and approval dating back to 1953 for Panerai watches and diving instruments for the US Navy.”  This is a fascinating development that seems to be glossed over.  What are the details of this order and for “watches and instruments”?  Is there official documentation available? Many from the watch and NatSec community would find this fascinating. (Photo Credit: Navy SEAL Museum) -Listen to the SEALs:  Again, you have a real customer base in the NSW community.  Reach out to them, ask for their input and feedback and incorporate this into the design.  Anecdotally, I know several SEALs expressed concern about the Trident on the dial and the overall design of the watch.  Listening to the intended end user is crucial for product development. -Lastly, keep the Trident and “Navy SEALs” off commercially available watches.  It’s really that simple. (Photo Credit: Jake Witkin, aBlogtoWatch) Again, this is not meant to be a rabble rousing post–it’s quite the contrary; we want to see Panerai flourish and sell watches to the Intelligence and SpecOps community for generations to come.  With a slight azimuth adjustment we think you can get back on course.  If someone from the NSW community would like to respond to this we would be more than happy to run that article.   We all know SEALs love to write. Sincerely, -W.O.E. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our free weekly newsletter for further updates HERE. Read Next: Forget Bond, A Real CIA Spy Seiko Watch

28 comments
Read More
The Great Escape: Rolex & WWII POWs

The Great Escape: Rolex & WWII POWs

Allied Prisoners of War and Rolex Watch Co., a story of hope in the midst of a grim world conflict. As the war between Axis...

11 comments
Read More

Allied Prisoners of War and Rolex Watch Co., a story of hope in the midst of a grim world conflict. As the war between Axis and Allied forces raged on, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of the watch company named Montres Rolex SA, had a brilliant notion: Why not let these prisoners ‘purchase’ a new timepiece on the proviso

11 comments
Read More
Watches & Wheels: Pairing Military Vehicles with Timepieces

Watches & Wheels: Pairing Military Vehicles with Timepieces

Round Two of honoring the age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. We’ve done it once before–paired watches with military aircraft–and now we’re...

12 comments
Read More

Round Two of honoring the age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. We’ve done it once before–paired watches with military aircraft–and now we’re doing it again. Except this time, we’re trading wings and rotors for wheels and tracks. These watch pairings explore the world of military vehicles.  There’s no hard and fast rule that we use to come up with the pairings–the goal is to explore the world of watches–and military vehicles–in a way that’s engaging and offers some insight into both worlds. Part of this exercise is to isolate characteristics of a watch or vehicle that make it unique. It forces us to look at a watch and contextualize it using its physical character and attributes, and beyond that, the reputation of the watch that the community has created for it, or sometimes the brand themselves. Many of you will have experience with some of these vehicles–and watches– and you might even have a specific pairing you’ve found works. We’d love to hear about them.  To preempt any comments, yes, the Casio G-Shock could be paired with any and all of these vehicles, but that would be a pretty boring article. Let’s shift into low gear and roll right into it.  The Vehicle: The 464 G-Class Utility Truck Credit: Mercedes-Benz  The G-Wagon from Mercedes-Benz has been hijacked by the likes of the Kardashians and finance bros, but the roots of the truck couldn’t be further away from that specific culture. Contrary to the current reputation of the truck, it started off as an idea put forth by the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for the Iranian military. The brief was to create a reliable and capable 4WD platform that could stand up to the austere terrain the Iranian forces operated in. The Shah was an important stakeholder of Mercedes at the time, so the brief was realized in the form of the 1979 debut of the “Geländewagen,” or “G-wagon”.  Of course the modern civilian version is far from its roots, but for decades, forces around the world have used the G-Wagon to get it done. Mercedes still produces a special variant of the G-Wagon for defense and security forces. It’s called the 464 G-Class Utility Truck, and unlike the civilian version that needs 93 Octane, this version can run on poor quality diesel anywhere in the world, and sports a ladder frame, three locking differentials, and rigid axles up front and in the rear. And of course, a desert khaki paint scheme with black plastic instead of chrome.  The Watch:  IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Edition "Mojave Desert" Photo Credit: IWC This desert khaki ceramic perpetual calendar will set you back a cool 40 large. It’s the kind of watch with a case as big as its price tag at 46.5mm. But the aesthetic of the watch is its strength. It looks cool, even if you’re paying dearly for that look. IWC is based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in the German-speaking region near the German border. Underneath it all, there’s an in-house caliber that’s well engineered.  The Link: Expensive but capable is the theme here, and both of these things have a degree of unnecessary tacticool flashiness that’s earned them a legion of loyal followers, even if they’re designed with stealthiness in mind.  The Vehicle: Toyota Hi-Lux This is regarded as the most indestructible truck on the planet by most automotive enthusiasts. For better or worse, bad actors agree. That’s why you’ll often see a squad of masked goons perched in the bed alongside a shoddily mounted SALW set up ripping through the desert. We don’t get the Hi-Lux in the US, instead we get the Tacoma, which is a great truck in its own right–but not quite as tough as the Hi-Lux. It comes in a range of diesel and petrol options, 4x4 drivetrains, and the most basic features possible. Trucks modified as an “improvised fighting vehicle” are referred to as technicals. While yes, terrorists are known to employ technicals, our own Special Operations Forces have used them as well. The Toyota Hi-Lux is an absolute legend.  The Watch: Casio F-91W Speaking of legendary, Kikuo Ibe’s G-Shock is unequivocally the watch of choice for terrorists. It’s no secret that Usama bin Laden wore the F-91W. This isn’t to be taken as a knock against the watch, however. Terrorists deserve absolutely zero praise, a lot of us have dedicated our careers to mitigating their efforts.  But the truth is, the equipment that terrorists typically use has to be cheap and reliable. That’s exactly what the F-91W is.  (Read More: Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists) The Link: I’ve met a few terrorists in my life, and they come in all shapes and sizes.  The one thing they all have in common, whether in Colombia, Somalia or Afghanistan, is a love for Hi-Lux and Casio.  Indestructible, simple, easy to use, and both favorites of bad actors around the globe–and good ones, too.  The Vehicle:  Land Rover Wolf You probably know the Land Rover Defender–the boxy, no-frills 4x4 that’s earned a massive fan base around the globe for its collection of 90-degree angles, not to mention its reputation as the physical incarnation of the English can-do attitude. It’s long out of production now, but the Wolf is the Defender, mostly in OD Green, with a roll bar and soft top, and a number of fortifications that made it fit for military duty. It also used the 300Tdi engine instead of the Td5 as it was considered easier to work on in the field because of its analog properties. It was widely used by UK forces during GWOT. There were nearly 100 versions of the Wolf performing specific roles like serving as an ambulance or modified for winter-specific operations.  The Watch: Bremont Broadsword Bremont Broadsword (Photo Credit Bremont) The Broadsword is Bremont’s interpretation of a Dirty Dozen watch, and it’s settled into the line-up as a GADA model that’s closely associated with Bremont’s military program. It’s simple, it’s tough, and has a touch of elegance. Just like its country of origin. It’s got small seconds at 6 just like the original Dirty Dozen watches, but now it’s joined by a date window. The font is modern, and it’s been endorsed by the MoD. That means Bremont has the rights to revive the Broad Arrow markings and put it on this very model. (See our profile: Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division) The Link: Strong ties to heritage and made in England with English pride is the theme here.  The Vehicle: MRZR 4x4 You’ve either driven a Polaris RZR or know someone who has one. They’re everywhere outside major cities in the US. The MRZR isn’t all that different, but it runs on diesel and includes strategic protection for use in conflict zones. The strength of the vehicle remains the same between the civilian and military variant: being able to rip through rough terrain quickly and reliably. The MRZR is designed to be transported in the V-22, H-53, and H-47.  The Watch: Pelagos 39 Photo Credit: James Rupley Rendered in titanium with the same legible dial layout as the apex predator dive watch, the Tudor Pelagos, the Pelagos 39 is slightly downsized for a perfect fit. Some folks don’t like the brushing on the dial or bezel, but it’s hard to deny how well this watch wears and how legible it is. (Read More: Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Link: Light and nimble. Pared down. Easy to use. Their perfect size is their strength.  The Vehicle: High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV; Humvee) SOCOM Modified HUMVEE as a part of the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) program. (Photo Credit: DOD) The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, otherwise known as the Humvee, entered service in the late ‘80s, just as tensions were heating up around the globe. Developed for large scale Cold War-level conflicts, it quickly became a central figure in TV reportage of the Persian Gulf War. Meanwhile it served in Just Cause, Somalia, and the conflicts of the time in Bosnia and Kosovo. Its early success cemented its reputation as reliable and effective, and it went on to become known as the most successful light military truck in modern history. Where the Willys Jeep is a symbol of American mid-century might, the Humvee stands in for the military role the US has played in modern times. In fact, the vehicle was so beloved by the Americans that AM General produced a civilian version of it, the Hummer.  The Watch: Panerai Submersible PAM02973 (Photo Credit: Panerai) Panerai (in some fashion) was one of the original suppliers to Italian Frogmen. The brand’s signature svelte Italian curvy case and sandwich dial might have been relegated to the more style-oriented subset of watches today, but there’s certainly bonafide military history in Panerai’s past. The watches are chunky and oversized. The Submersible adds the functionality of a rotating bezel and is engineered for diving. What many people forget is just how desirable Panerais were in the ‘90s and early 2000s. There were waiting lists and you had to “be someone” to get an allocation long before the modern hype watch phenomena. While many watch blogs continue to debate (hate on) Panerai’s marketing, the fact is it does have a strong following in the NatSec space, particularly with the Naval Special Warfare community.  The Link: Both the Humvee and the Submersible are built like tanks and were true kings of the ‘90s and 2000s. Back then, many people were probably into both. The brawny draw of both captured the same sort of enthusiast, though it may not remain so today.  The Vehicle: Soviet/Russian MAZ-7917 With a 14x12 drivetrain and the ability to obliterate nations with ICBM launching capabilities, the MAZ-7917 is a force to be reckoned with. If you see MAZ-7917 movements on intelligence reports it gets attention. It transports, erects, and launches the Topol-M missile. The 54th Guards Order of Kutuzov Rocket Division is reported to oversee the Topol-M program. MAZ (Minsk Automobile Plant) manufactures the MAZ-7917 in Belarus, and is state-run. In addition to military vehicles, they produce vehicles like city buses for Eastern European nations.  The Watch: Seiko Astron The 1969 Quartz Astron 50th Anniversary Limited Edition (Photo Credit: Seiko) In 1969, Seiko unveiled the first quartz watch, and set off what would come to be dubbed the “quartz crisis” by the watch industry. The Astron relied on electronics to tell the time rather than traditional watchmaking know-how that Switzerland specialized in. Quartz watches were cheaper and more accurate, and Japan’s trio of Citizen, Seiko, and Casio owned the market. The Astron was the watch that started this trend. We all know how the story went–Quartz had a moment but certainly did not completely stamp out the Swiss mechanical watch industry. But it was the Astron that sounded the alarms.  The Link: Both the MAZ-7917 and the Seiko Astron have the potential to set off catastrophic chain reactions. And one–the Astron–did in 1969.  The Vehicle: Bradley Fighting Vehicle The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is named for General Omar Bradley, made by British BAE Systems, and operated by Croatia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and of course, the US. It’s one of the most widely used tracked armored vehicles by the US and has been in service since 1981. As a tank, it’s a popular fixture in Hollywood military movies, and that’s for good reason: there are around 4,500 being actively used by the US military, and roughly 2,000 in storage. There are two versions, the M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. It’s still being delivered to this day, at roughly 160 units per year.  The Watch: Omega PloProf Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M (Photo Credit: Omega) This is the ultimate dive watch from Omega. It’s waterproof to a staggering 1200 meters and originally used a monobloc case design which means the movement is loaded through the front and then a crystal is pressed into the case. In short, again, it’s built like a tank. There isn't an obvious curve on the case, either. The crown guard and bezel lock mechanism are actually part of the case, lending to a very functional design.   The Link: Both of these things are built in the same way–like tanks. One is actually a tank (well, a tracked armored fighting vehicle), and the other is as close as a watch can get to a tank.  The Vehicle: Type-10 Snow Vehicle Photo Credit: Military Today This vehicle is relatively obscure for a reason. Japan has a self-defense force (as opposed to an expeditionary force) and only recently has it moved towards exporting any sort of defense machinery. This means that most Japanese-developed military vehicles have stayed inside Japan, like the Type-10. It’s made by the company Ohara, which specializes in supporting civilian operations with vehicles in snowy environments, like Antarctica, where Japan maintains Syowa Research Station. The Type 10 is designed to carry 8 soldiers with gear and runs with a crew of 2.  The Watch: Seiko SPB297 Photo Credit: Seiko In 1965, Seiko came out with the 62MAS, their very first dive watch. It was well-received for the time, and Seiko took testing and quality control very seriously. The watch was issued to the 8th Antarctic Research Expedition team that stayed on the ice from 66-69. This visual language and case shape laid the foundation for plenty of Seiko’s dive watches since, and in the last five years Seiko has released a bevy of watches directly paying homage to this model. The SPB297 is one of them, and it features an icy dial to establish the link.  Showa Station, home of Seiko 62MAS testing. Credit: Antarctic Journal of the United States, 1967-68 The Link: We’ve said before that Seiko is the Toyota of Watches, but in this case it is the Ohara of watches.  Seiko might still issue watches to Japanese Antarctic teams (it’s known that Seiko made watches for JARE47 and JARE49), and if they do, it should be the SPB297. And you might find a Type-10 at Japan’s Antarctic station Showa as well.  The Vehicle:  BTR-80 - Soviet Union The Soviet-Afghan War is often overlooked, but some of the equipment that took part in the conflict certainly isn’t. The BTR-80 is one of the most striking symbols of the Soviet Union’s military might. It’s often depicted rolling through the Red Square with its crew popping out the hatches in the front of the vehicle during military parades. Most recently, the BTR-80 played an important role in the War in Ukraine. Both sides operate the BTR-80, and both sides have lost a number of them in the conflict. They’re still being produced to this day. The Watch: Vostok Amphibia Steve Zissou wore this watch in the movie The Life Aquatic, but that’s not why we think it’s interesting. The Amphibia is probably the most recognized example of a “Russian” watch. Although it should really be known as a Soviet watch, since it’s been around since ‘67 and Vostok as a company has been around since ‘42. Some collectors have a fascination with Russian/Soviet watches because of their prevalence in the current conflict in Ukraine. The Link: Both are instantly recognizable Soviet designs.  The Vehicle:  Jeep Willys MB Part of Roosevelt’s plan to emerge victorious during WWII included “out-producing the enemy” and this meant that the military industrial complex was spun up to full force. It resulted in an economic miracle, and one singular byproduct of that is the Willys Jeep. Roughly 600,000 of these light and capable 4x4 vehicles were produced, and they were shipped to every theater that the US was operating in. The vehicle went on to play a role in just about every conflict immediately following for a few decades; it was prominently featured in the show M*A*S*H, a comedic illustration of life soldiers’ lives during the Korean War. Of course, the platform evolved into an automotive smash hit in the civilian world with the Jeep Wrangler, but it started off as a humble git ‘er done piece of machinery serving on the battlefield.  The Watch: Hamilton Khaki Field Photo Credit: Hamilton We’re talking about an entire family of watches here, but if we want to get down to a specific reference, it would be the GG-W-113.  This watch was produced by many manufacturers, including Hamilton, to a US Gov spec (and that spec is GG-W-113, hence the name of the watches it spawned). That spec came out in 1967, and has since been replaced. But the modern, non-gov spec Hamilton Khaki field is the spiritual reincarnation of those Vietnam-era watches. The Link: Hamilton is now owned by the Swatch group, but it was once a truly American company that gave the US a lot of pride. The Jeep is another American icon. Both the Khaki Field and the Jeep spin off very successful civilian products that have become icons in their own right from a military specification.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.     Read Next: SEAL Team Six and a U.S. Navy-Issued Seiko Turtle

12 comments
Read More
Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the...

22 comments
Read More

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the time I was responsible for a counterterrorism Covert Action program in the Middle East and I was traveling to visit the program on a flight with other CIA officers.  (REDACTED PARAGRAPH) The atmosphere on the plane was a Star Wars bar vibe, with bearded paramilitary officers, support personnel and analysts, all dressed in civilian clothing that varied from business casual to a college campus look and of course the obligatory new camping gear from REI.  Like most things at CIA, rules were relaxed and the plane filled with professionals who didn’t need to be told which rules actually mattered. During a refuel stop in a European country, I struck up a conversation with the individual sitting next to me who I assessed (correctly) was a GRS (Global Response Staff) contractor reading a book on the Rhodesian Bush War. The conversation moved from evolution counterterrorism tactics, the ongoing conflict in our destination country and finally watches. The operator asked about the Rolex Submariner on my wrist, and was quick to interject that he used to wear his Sub during deployments but lost it in a recent divorce, so now wears a Sangin watch. He then launched into a passionate pitch for the company and an overview of what the Sangin brand represents. Sangin in the wild during Orion space capsule recovery (Sangin community photo) At the time, my interest in watches was surface level. But during that trip and following deployments I began to notice Sangin Instruments on the wrists of SpecOps personnel, CIA paramilitary officers, and other case officers.  In the business we call this a pattern. Like many watch companies, Sangin was a subculture in itself. Very much a “if you know, you know” type thing. I wanted to learn more about the watch that seemed to keep appearing on the wrist of professionals in this world. So I reached out to one of the two founders, Jacob Servantes to learn about how the company came to be.   (Sangin community photo) Sangin Instruments  Watches are a medium for stories, but for Jacob Servantes, Marine Raider and founder of Sangin Instruments, they provided even more.  “You come out of the military depressed as hell. At the professional level we were at, a lot of what you do becomes who you are. And when you leave, the machine just keeps going . . . so Sangin gave me a lot of purpose out of the military.” Servantes enlisted in 2008 as the economy was crumbling, hoping to earn some money for college on the other side of his service. The goal was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a Reconnaissance Marine.  At the time, he wasn't aware that a restructuring in 2006 would mean that elements of the Marine Corps would participate in SOCOM, resulting in MARSOC. He ended up squarely in the special operations community.  A rare photo of Jacob on deployment in Afghanistan. It was during selection that he walked away with his first lesson that he would incorporate into Sangin Instruments–become the new standard.  Become the New Standard Not much was publicly known about the Raider selection process, and that’s by design. But Servantes recounted the biggest takeaway was that the standard to be selected by the instructors only moved in one direction: it became harder and harder. When Marines rose to the standard, and exceeded it, their standard became the new standard. “We used to joke that the mattress fairy would take people away at night, because every night you would see fewer and fewer people,” Servantes recalled. In his class, a group of 120 hopeful Marines were deposited in an undisclosed location somewhere in North Carolina. 25 people were selected after a grueling three weeks and countless miles of rucking/team events. Each class sets the standard for the next class, meaning that the standard is constantly being raised. It always gets harder, and that idea is something Servantes has incorporated into the way Sangin Instruments does things, “selection is continuous.” (Sangin community photo) Sangin, Afghanistan The name of Servantes’ company comes from Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, an area along the Helmand River Valley where the Commando team he worked on spent much of their deployment. Sangin is a place that many who served during the GWOT will be familiar with, and it was known as “the most dangerous place in the world for multiple years running–the hospital on base was the busiest hospital, anywhere, at the time.” Servantes says. That’s part of why he chose the name Sangin Instruments. “Sangin is a horrible place in the world–many guys attribute awful memories to Sangin, but they’ll carry this name with them and hopefully have a positive memory about breaking down barriers, and their own sacrifices and achievements.”  (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Building a watch company is not for the fainthearted and bringing the brand to life was an achievement in itself. It almost didn’t happen. But the can-do attitude prevailed. He got back from a deployment and told his wife that he’d put in his time with special operations. During his time in the Middle East and the Philippines, he wore a M-1 Breitling Chrono Avenger (sketchy) and several Digital Tool Watches. While deployed, he'd been thinking about watch designs based on the work he was doing. He tested the market among his friends and colleagues in the military and conceptualized a watch that would be affordable and capable. A watch that would stand up to the type of work they were doing while also speaking to the community.  Watches Built For Warriors Servantes’ wife, Paris, bought the idea. This was 2017. After some help from his mentor, Bill Yao of popular watch microbrand MK II, they had a prototype. And following the evaluation of the prototype, Sangin launched a successful pre-sale that would help fund the initial batch of 250 watches called the Kinetic 1. The only problem was that Paypal held the funding without explanation and would not release it to obtain the watches. Paris reached into her savings and a small inheritance; Servantes had his bonus from his last Afghanistan deployment. Between them, they scraped together the cash and bet big on Sangin Instruments working out. They were in a squeeze, but Servantes had a steadfast partner in his wife, who learned how to do Quality Control on all the watches and packaged them up and answered customer emails while he was in business school. W.O.E.’s personal Sangin Overlord Believing in Sangin Instruments paid off, but it was never the plan–the primary objective was to take care of the community and make a product to be proud of. The first round of watches was delivered and the phones haven’t stopped ringing since.  “Part of the culture of watches in general is wanting to have a part of something you’ve done. So when these guys leave the military, they can take a piece of that experience with them,” Servantes says of his watches.  (Sangin community photo) Sangin Today  Today, Sangin boasts an impressive line of watches, from the entry level quartz Overlord to the premium newly released Hydra, Sangin’s interpretation of a mid-century compressor-style diver's watch. The community remains an important part of Sangin’s identity with customers demonstrating a near religious fervor as they wait for the next release. Sangin also offers several watches that must be earned.  The “Para” Overlord is only available to members of the airborne community and would-be customers must submit a certification verification.  The green bezel Atlas and Neptune are available only to those who have completed a SOF selection course, red for first responders and blue for law enforcement personnel.  They are tools for professionals. Jacob was mum on the ongoing special projects “unit watches” but a custom Professional made for the CIA Directors Protective Staff (DPS) was recently for sale on Ebay (but quickly disappeared without explanation).  Suffice to say, we are aware of several special projects for units in the IC and SpecOps community but cannot go into details at this time. Ebay listing of Sangin Professional for the CIA’s Directors Protective Staff. (Ebay)  Sangin Instruments - “With You” As Sangin grows, Servantes makes sure that giving back and taking care of the community he comes from is part of it. Servantes has developed watches that specifically speak to a community of men and women who serve. As he grew the business, an unlikely presence in the watch world supercharged the number of people interested in Sangin. “Rolex helped us out with their price point and availability. You have a lot of Green Berets who finally could afford a Rolex but just couldn't get them. And here we were offering something specifically for them,” he says.  Informally, many refer to Sangin watches as the “Raider Rolex.” Now Servantes will run into guys who tell him that they have a few deployments on their watch, and the memories of service are imbued into the timepiece. That’s exactly what makes Servantes and Paris continue to push Sangin forward. A part of the Sangin Instruments mission that Servantes doesn’t publicly put forward is his support of important nonprofits contributing to those in the veteran community, including HunterSeven Foundation, Special Operations Care Fund (SOC-F) and Vigilant Torch. One of the altruistic motivations of the W.O.E. platform is preserving watch culture in the NatSec community. No one has done more to further this end than the team at Sangin Instruments. Many of us came up in the GWOT days where digital watches were the norm. Sangin offers a great way for professionals to get into watches in an unpretentious manner. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Demystifying a North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded to High-Ranking Officials

22 comments
Read More
Omega's Modern Unit Watch Program - Frogmen, SEALs and the Secret Service

Omega's Modern Unit Watch Program - Frogmen, SEALs and the Secret Service

Omega has a long history of producing watches for the military, most notably the classic Seamaster 300 made for the British Royal Navy.  Today the...

15 comments
Read More

Omega has a long history of producing watches for the military, most notably the classic Seamaster 300 made for the British Royal Navy.  Today the company is continuing that history with special production “unit watches,” and appears to have standardized its program, offering a unique Seamaster Diver 300M solely to military and law enforcement units.  The options for customization include the unit insignia on the caseback as well as a name/call sign or other identifier associated with the individual. Submission from the W.O.E. community. Omega and the Military: While Omega watches are no longer issued to UK military units, we see them regularly on the wrist of operators as private purchases. The connections between Omega and the military, in particular maritime SOF units, are undeniable.  We previously profiled the watch of the British Special Boat Service (SBS), a 2007 commission of the Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial with a blue dial. It appears that Omega has revived this practice of creating a unit-specific Seamaster. Unit Watches: Unit Watches are at the core of modern day watch culture in the military, intelligence, and law enforcement community. We've seen a significant uptick in unit-specific customization programs by major brands in recent years.  In contrast to other special projects programs, which provide significant customizations to their range of watches for military units, Omega appears more restricted in their offerings, potentially to streamline the process.  (Omega marketing document) To review, a unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization.  Customizations can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback.  Unit watches are generally private purchases, paid for by the individual operator.  We have profiled several unit watch programs, including Bremont and Tudor. Omega Unit Watches: We are aware of at least four confirmed recent configurations of this Seamaster made for units: the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset), the US Secret Service, the US Navy SEALS, and a US Special Operations unit (name withheld).  All watches appear to have the same dial and bezel, a matte version not available on the public market and the watches are customized with the organization's insignia engraved on the caseback. (Omega marketing document) Watch Specifications: The watch is a no date Seamaster Diver 300M with blackened skeleton hands, beige indices with blue lume on the hour & second hands and green lume on the minute hand.  The movement is the Omega Calibre 8806, Co-Axial Master Chronometer.  The preferred pricing is $5,100 (before taxes), discounted from the MSRP of $5,900 for a standard Seamaster at any AD.  The Seamaster has a steel bracelet and an extra rubber strap.  The watch comes in a waxed canvas travel pouch from British Millerain (sounds fancy!), and the unit's insignia is embossed on the pouch. (Omega marketing document) Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset): The Danish Frogman Corps is the premier maritime special operations force of the Danish Armed Forces and is a rough equivalent to the Navy SEALs/SBS and appears to be the first unit to receive this custom version of the Seamaster. (Photo: @fkp_froemandskorpset) Pictured is a Danish Frogman wearing the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M “unit watch” during a training exercise.  It was reportedly available for private purchase by current and former members of Frømandskorpset. After completing their service, the Frogmen can join “Conventus Ranae” (“a gathering of frogs”), which is the Frogmen’s association aimed at strengthening the bond between active and retired Frogmen. The Omega was available to anyone in that association. Submission from the W.O.E. community. This week, then-Danish Crown Prince Frederik X was proclaimed King of Denmark after his mother Queen Margrethe II abdicated the throne.  King Frederik X served in the Frogmen Corps and when he took the throne, he wore his “unit watch” Omega Seamaster Diver 300M . . . on a tan Omega fabric strap.  We always choose our most meaningful watches for big events and to the King, this appears to be his.  Any watch brand would be thrilled to give him any allocation he wants–but instead he chose to wear the watch he served in. It doesn’t get any better.  Navy SEALs: We have extensively profiled Tudor’s long time association with the SEAL Teams but watch culture in Naval Special Warfare extends to other brands, including Omega.  The Omega Seamaster (and other references) has long been a favorite of the SEALs, due to its history as a dive tool watch, and of course, Bond, James Bond.  While these were never issued to Naval Special Warfare units, they can be seen on the wrists of Team guys deployed and while at home. (See our previous profile of former Navy SEAL Dave Hall). Omega Seamaster Chronograph on the wrist of former Navy SEAL Rob Huberty during BUD/S graduation of class 259 (Photo Credit: Huberty)  The SEAL version is the same as the Danish Frogman one, except the caseback displays the Navy SEAL Trident, an eagle clutching a U.S. Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock-style pistol, also known as the “Budweiser” given the similarity to the (former) American beer company. We are told that the SEAL version of the Omega Seamaster is currently in production and has not been delivered.  Current and former members of a Navy SEAL team can submit orders and expected orders are somewhere between 150 and 200 units.  In contrast to Panerai’s commercialization of the “SEAL Trident,” this watch is (reportedly) only available to SEALS . . . the way it should be. (Omega marketing document) United States Secret Service: The Secret Service is the US federal law enforcement agency responsible for conducting criminal investigations surrounding financial systems and protecting U.S. political leaders, most notably the President and Vice President.  We have previously profiled the US Secret Service Counter Assault Team (C.A.T. aka Hawkeye) commissioned Tudor Pelagos LHD and it appears others wanted in on the action.   In December 2023 USSS Special Agents began taking delivery of the custom Omega Seamaster.  Each watch is similar to the SEAL/Danish versions and the caseback contains the Secret Service star and “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.”  At the bottom of the dial is the Special Agent’s commission book number or something else unique to them.  Approximately 182 were produced, the second batch set to deliver at the end of January 2024. W.O.E. community Submission. A Few Thoughts: We applaud Omega and The Swatch Group for offering this resource to men and women who answered the call to serve around the globe.  These watches will no doubt remain a talisman of their service to their nation and heirlooms for generations to come.  We expect several other units to adopt the Omega Seamaster as a unit watch over the coming months.   While other brands appear to offer more customization options, the simple design and limited options for customization (insignia on the caseback) likely make this a more streamlined process which can result in more watches.   Our hope is that this specific design is not released to the broader public as many have called for.  The best things in life are earned, not bought. *This post is NOT sponsored by Omega, Swatch Group or anyone else.  All views and opinions are solely our own. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  -- READ NEXT: Remembering the Legacy of CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh Through His Watches  

15 comments
Read More
A Brief History Of The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch (Part Two)

A Brief History Of The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch (Part Two)

Benjamin Lowry -  If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read part one (HERE) of this two-part series where we detail the...

11 comments
Read More

Benjamin Lowry -  If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read part one (HERE) of this two-part series where we detail the history of the earliest diving-specific watches and their crucial links to military organizations including Italy’s Decima Flottiglia MAS, the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT

11 comments
Read More
Double Wristing Stormin' Norman

Double Wristing Stormin' Norman

No, General Schwarzkopf did not double wrist a Rolex and Seiko Despite What You’ve Read. Pictured is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf wearing two watches. Read...

8 comments
Read More

No, General Schwarzkopf did not double wrist a Rolex and Seiko Despite What You’ve Read. Pictured is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf wearing two watches. Read any story on Schwarzkopf and watches and you’ll learn that it’s a Rolex Day-Date and a Seiko diver. There’s just one problem–he didn’t wear a Rolex. The truth is just as interesting, however. Both watches are Seikos, aka the Toyota of Watches. Thanks to research by our friend @niccoloy, we’d like to set the record straight, and while we’re at it, we’ll dig into the idea of “double wristing”, or simply put–wearing two watches at once. “Double Wristing” -Bravado vs practical utility: Double wristing can be understood today as somewhat of a “flex”, done by celebrities, athletes and rappers as an ostentatious display of wealth, an indication one has “f*ck you money.”  But wearing two watches before the era of smartphones meant something different. Keep in mind, watches were largely used for their intended purpose - to tell time. Wearing two watches meant that you probably had a reason to.  While the GMT complication has allowed a single watch to track two time zones at once, several historical figures have worn multiple watches. Most notable among them is Four Star General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, aka Stormin’ Norman, who wore a watch on each wrist during the First Gulf War. There’s undeniably an element of projecting a certain image, but here’s the reason in his own words: "I always wore two watches during the war. The one on my left arm was set on Saudi Arabian time and the Seiko on my right arm was set on Eastern Standard Time. That way I could quickly glance at my watches and instantly know the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C.”  Then commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and head of coalition forces against Saddam Hussein, Schwarzkopf was pictured regularly wearing the two timepieces, a supposed two tone "Rolex" and a Seiko diver on a rubber strap.   Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh The dressier watch is regularly reported in watch media as a two tone Rolex Day-Date, which is incorrect.  According to expert historical watch spotter @niccoloy, both watches are actually Seikos.  Niccoloy looked through scores of pictures to find this relatively obscure photo of General Schwarzkopf on a helicopter, the signature Seiko clasp clearly visible on the inside of the wrist. Practicality vs Imagery, Bravado, Perceptions: Did the General really need two watches to track the time in DC and Saudi Arabia?  Probably not, a simple GMT function would have sufficed. Or a quick calculation.  While we will not outright question Schwarzkopf’s claimed utility of the two timepieces, we can also assume that the watches also served as a tool in the information war. In Diplomacy, Military, and Intelligence, imagery and perception matters.  Modern day Generals are just as much politicians and diplomats as they are warfighters.  Schwarzkopf was the face of the Gulf conflict to the American people, allies, and Iraqis. He likely spent considerable time thinking about how he was perceived by each constituent.  While it seems comical now, thirty-plus years ago, the “double wristing” arguably supported his persona as someone in charge, someone who valued time and someone intensely focused on accomplishing his mission.  The contrast of the two watches, one a riff on the watch par excellence, and the other a known tool watch, mirrored his position as warrior-diplomat. An effective General can get his hands dirty during the day and stroll right into a state dinner at night looking the part.  Our assessment is that these two accessories were intended as a physical display of this dichotomy.  The watches were tools–each one for a different job. Interestingly, General Schwarzkopf appears to periodically switch wrists throughout the conflict, the reasoning behind this is purely speculation.  While the two tone dress Seiko is unidentified, the blue and red “Pepsi” bezel Seiko on a rubber strap was auctioned in the 1990s at Antiquorum for $11,000.  The Seiko diver is often listed as a Seiko SKX009, but according to the 1999 auction description, it was quartz so it is likely something a Seiko reference 7548. Havana - Moscow - Washington D.C. The General is by no means the first notable historical figure to wear two watches at once. Fidel Castro routinely wore multiple watches, sometimes on the same wrist, including during a 1963 meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin.  There are some indications he set the watches to Havana, Moscow, and Washington DC (The third utilizing the GMT function).   Similar to Schwarzkopf, we can assume this was just as much a strategic decision as it was practical. We can only speculate what a socialist and Marxist-Leninist leader was trying to accomplish with this display, but we can assume it was no accident.  (Today Washington D.C. and Havana are in the same time zone -UTC -5-, but between the years 1960 and 1964 Havana used the time zone UTC -4.)   Modern Day Double Wristing - Is it acceptable? In general, we do not judge people for how or why they wear their watches.  Anything that lets one enjoy their timepieces is a good thing.  It appears that double wristing is having a renaissance with the advent of the smart watch.  This may seem overboard, but the use case of wearing a high tech Apple Watch and a traditional timepiece seems to make complete sense.  Recently, former Delta Officer and JSOC Commander, Four Star Gen. Scott Miller was seen double wristing an Omega Seamaster 300M and smart watch while meeting with some former Afghan partners in Texas.  It's hard to judge a man like Scotty Miller. READ NEXT: The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military

8 comments
Read More
The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch

The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch

by Benjamin Lowry On a moonless night, gently rolling waves reflect only the faintest shimmer of starlight. Fully submerged well up the beach by way of...

10 comments
Read More

by Benjamin Lowry On a moonless night, gently rolling waves reflect only the faintest shimmer of starlight. Fully submerged well up the beach by way of a spring tide, a team of commandos peer down at their synchronized mechanical dive watches, counting down the seconds before their waterside assault will begin in earnest. Eight pairs of eyes, hidden behind rubber diving masks, are just able to discern the time thanks to luminescent material applied to the dial and hands of their watches. Rotating bezels manage the elapsed time from when the combat swimmers emerged unseen from the torpedo tubes of a specially outfitted submarine further offshore. Mission time is elapsing, and the action is just about to start. Each operator’s head, mask, muzzle, and watch slowly break the surface on a pitch-black beach in a faraway land. It’s zero hour; time to put in the work.  W.O.E. Personal US Navy Issued Tudor 7928 (Photo Credit: James Rupley) While we’re all familiar with the imagery so often celebrated in watch campaigns and marketing materials, few understand the extent to which the dive watch owes its very existence to amphibious military organizations. Despite the lack of popularity of scuba diving and the pervasive use of diving computers that has rendered the traditional mechanical watch all but unnecessary, the dive watch remains the most popular watch today. In other words, many SCUBA divers wear a wristwatch, but very few people who wear a dive watch actually SCUBA dive. As a category, the dive watch boasts an impressive array of executions and designs that rose in status to become culturally relevant, including the Rolex Submariner, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and OMEGA Seamaster, to name a few. But how can this be the case? If no one cares about diving in 2023 and no one really wears a dive watch for diving, why are watches like the Submariner and Seamaster some of the most iconic luxury watches on the market?  Tudor's recent Pelagos FXD was one of the more recent collaborations between a military organization and a major watchmaker, but far from the first. (Photo Credit: Tudor Marketing) The truth is that these legendary names could never have ascended to their premium luxury positions without first descending on the wrists of a select few military divers and elite special operations units. Units like the US Navy SEALs and French Commandos Marine are as relevant to the dive watch as we understand it today as any Swiss executive chain smoking cigarettes in a leather-bound boardroom. To understand how yesterday’s diving tool, intended for wear alongside a mask, fins, and oversized dive knife, transformed into today’s luxury jewel, often sported by hypebeasts with Gucci slides and a Supreme hoodie, we’ll shine an underwater flashlight on the military’s role in shaping what has become history’s most impactful sports watch. Like pasta and fashion, the history of the dive watch starts with Italy.  An Entirely New Form Of Warfare & The Need For Water-Resistant Timekeeping  Early operators from the Decima Flottiglia MAS utilized the Siluro a Lenta Corsa or "slow-running torpedo" along with Panerai dive watches. Starting in 1935, the Royal Italian Navy or Reggia Marina established one of the first dedicated undersea warfare units. Known as the Decima Flottiglia MAS, the unit was tasked with infiltrating Allied harbors and sinking ships by attaching explosive charges to their hulls. Given the complexity of these burgeoning maritime missions and the importance of careful coordination in any situation where things blow up, the need for a capable water-resistant watch emerged. Already a respected supplier of instruments to the Italian military, G. Panerai & Figlio of Florence stepped up, developing the reference 2533 around 1936 and later the reference 3646 with no small amount of help from Rolex SA across the border in neutral Switzerland.  Panerai's pioneering Radiomir reference 2533 from 1936. With a massive 47mm case, multi-layered “sandwich” dial construction, and hand-winding pocket watch calibers, the “Radiomir”, as it came to be known for its radium-based luminescent material, finds its place in history as the first watch developed specifically for underwater use by divers.  The earliest watches intended for underwater use by divers were from Panerai, with the tender in this legendary image wearing one of the earliest Radiomir references. Equipped with water-resistant luminescent watches and rudimentary pure oxygen rebreathers, as well as submersible “human torpedoes” to cover greater distances, the Royal Italian Navy’s novel diving commando unit was incredibly successful for its size and age, sinking or disabling some 200,000 tons of Allied war and merchant ships while establishing new modalities in naval warfare that would influence virtually all maritime special operations units to follow. And so their success would influence the use and design of watches as well. Seen as more of an outsider with their simple, rotating bezel-free format, Panerai’s WWII-Era creations are perhaps less impactful for the dive watch genre compared to some of the icons we’ll cover but do garner a place in history both for demonstrating the value of luminescence for underwater legibility as well as the need for direct feedback from military operators in influencing the development of diving-specific watches.  (Photo Credit: Navy SEAL Museum) Across the pond, the United States Military was developing its own amphibious warfighters, initially known as the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) and later the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). These early United States maritime units gained notoriety for successful beach reconnaissance and explosive clearance operations in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. One of the earliest watches created for these maritime units was the Hamilton “Buships”, short for Bureau of Ships. Nicknamed the “Canteen”, Hamilton’s Buships secured its water resistance by way of a cap that was attached to the watch by a short chain and screwed over an inner push-pull crown for a watertight seal. Looking more like a field watch adapted to the sea than a true diver’s watch, the Hamilton is also a bit of an outlier but did help to bolster the case for submersible timers for amphibious military units.   Hamilton's earliest military dive watches were designed for Underwater Demolition Teams and utilized a screw-down cap to create a watertight seal over the top of the standard crown. underneath. (Watch Image Source: Craft & Tailored) The Mid-Century - The Dive Watch Comes Into Its Own  Without the advent of scuba diving and especially Jacques Cousteau's influence in popularizing recreational diving, the dive watch could never have become what it is today. However impactful, Panerai and Hamilton’s World War II and early post-war efforts in watch design didn’t make their way into watches designed for public consumption, and recreational scuba diving didn’t really take off until Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan’s Aqualung became more widely available starting around 1950. As scuba diving as a recreational pursuit grew, so too did the military’s adoption of scuba as opposed to the much older “deep sea” mode of diving undertaken by way of a brass helmet, rubberized canvas drysuit, and virtually unlimited breathing gas supplied through an umbilical. Given the limited gas supply inherent in diving with a tank on your back, as well as the life-and-death gravity of managing decompression-related issues, simply knowing the time of day underwater was no longer as important as tracking elapsed time. Starting in 1953, the dive watch as we know it today was born.  Omega Seamaster- The transition from primarily hard hat diving to scuba required a closer watch on elapsed time in order for a diver to track their breathing and avoid decompression-related issues.  The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms - Created For Combat Divers   Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms was designed in direct response to a request from the French Navy's nascent combat diving corps, changing the history of dive watches forever. (Source: French Government Archives) The conversation about which dive watches were developed and actually released to the public first is nuanced, spicy, and not really why we’re here. That said, two important names officially hit the market in 1953, the Zodiac Sea Wolf and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, with the latter having been developed in direct response to a request from the French Military. Of course there’s also the Rolex Submariner, first released in ‘54. There’s even an ongoing discussion around when the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms hit the scene–whether it was ‘53 or ‘54. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter who was first; it matters more how they all came to be. Modern tribalism is far less interesting than the genesis story of these legendary watches.  The story of the Fifty Fathoms goes that Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier, a wartime espionage legend, and Lieutenant Claude Riff were charged with creating a French Navy commando diving unit modeled after Britain’s Special Operations Executive which was itself in part inspired by the aforementioned Italian frogmen of World War II. Disappointed by then-commercially available water-resistant watches, none of which were actually designed for underwater operations, Maloubier and Riff set out to find a manufacturer willing to create a watch to their own unique specifications. Turned down by Lip, a business decision the brand likely later regretted, it was Jean-Jacques Fiechter, longtime CEO of Blancpain and a passionate scuba diver, who took up the challenge, changing the future of dive watches forever.  1953 saw the arrival of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, a watch often credited as the first modern diving watch. Source: Blancpain Unveiled to the public at Basel Fair in 1953 after extensive testing with the French Navy’s combat divers, the new watch was dubbed the “Fifty Fathoms” in a nod to its water resistance as well as a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Galvanizing the basic silhouette that now embodies the dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms was housed within a then-gigantic 42mm case and offered a suite of newly-patented features including a rotating push-to-turn bezel for tracking elapsed time, a dual-gasket crown system, and a novel screw-down case back system in addition to a soft iron inner cage safeguarding the caliber from magnetic fields.  The TR 900 from Tornek Rayville was a subtly modified Fifty Fathoms intended to subvert the Buy American Act and make the watch available to US Military divers. Source: Revolution Watch Immediately catching on with military divers around the world, a subtly modified version of the Fifty Fathoms known as the Tornek-Rayville TR-900 was later conceived by US Blancpain distributor Allen Tornek in an effort to subvert the Buy American Act of 1933. Now one of the rarest –and most expensive– military dive watches, the TR-900 was issued to US Military divers, Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, and other maritime special operators starting in 1963. Despite a cooler reception from the mass market upon release, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms leaped into the mainstream with both fins thanks to its inclusion in 1956’s The Silent World, Jacques Cousteau’s epic diving documentary. Now rightly considered among the heights of luxury watchmaking with starting prices around $15,000, it’s important to remember the Fifty Fathoms would never have existed at all without its basic design parameters coming from a detailed request from an elite military diving unit.  French combat divers pictured in 1956. A big shoutout to the French military for helping to create the dive watch as we know it today. The Curious Case Of The Zodiac Sea Wolf  Offering a smaller 35mm case and more colorful options compared to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or Rolex Submariner, the Zodiac Sea Wolf also deserves its place in dive watch history. Source: Benjamin Lowry While Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms receives the majority of the kudos for its 1953 release date, the humble Zodiac Sea Wolf was also right there and is deserving of its place in both military and recreational dive watch history. Where the Blancpain eschewed trends, instead leaning into pure utility with its oversized 42mm case diameter, Zodiac’s Sea Wolf stayed closer to the sizing norms of the day with a 35mm diameter and abbreviated 43mm lug-to-lug measurement. Looking beyond its smaller stature, which no doubt aided in the Sea Wolf’s Mid-Century market appeal, Zodiac’s purpose-built diver was no less an aquatic tool, offering a rotating elapsed time bezel, luminescent indices, and optional expanding bracelets intended to work with a variety of diving suits. Though the Sea Wolf wasn’t necessarily ideated with the military in mind, instead capitalizing on the rapid growth of hobby scuba diving, the watch became a regular choice for US Military divers and special operations forces, commonly spotted on the wrists of US Navy SEALs during the Vietnam Era.  Favored by early UDTs and the SEAL Teams to follow, the Zodiac Sea Wolf is commonly associated with service members from the Vietnam War Era. Source: Navy Helicopter Association Historical Society In comparison to the Blancpain and Rolex’s Submariner which we will of course address in detail shortly, the Sea Wolf was smaller and offered a more comprehensive array of more colorful dial and bezel options, traits that likely limited its appeal to military divers in particular, especially as preferred sports watch sizes gradually began to increase. In the ensuing decades, brands like Blancpain and Rolex effectively scaled the luxury ladder. In contrast, Zodiac, which was imperiled along with much of the Swiss watchmaking industry during the Quartz Crisis, changed hands several times, losing elements of its core design ethos in the process. With that being said, modern Zodiac, today a part of the Fossil Group, offers a much more attainable pathway to heritage diving legitimacy with its current collection as well as relatively reasonable prices for vintage Sea Wolf references, both attributes that cannot be claimed by the final missing piece of the OG dive watch trio, Rolex’s world-beating Submariner.  A Zodiac Sea Wolf on the wrist of a US Special Forces solider. Source: The Dive Watch Connection In part two of this article, we’ll take a closer look at more of the most significant instances of military organizations influencing the history and design of diving watches including the Rolex Military Submariner, Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E) both old and new, the OMEGA Seamaster, and a whole lot more.  As a note before the keyboard commandos attack, this piece is intended as only the most abbreviated overview of some of the most prominent and impactful instances of the military’s role in shaping the dive watch as we know it today. There are numerous other important military dive watches we simply couldn’t cover in this piece including brands like IWC and Benrus that you will hopefully be inspired to discover. If you’re interested in additional coverage of other important military diving watches and their unique histories, you know where to find us.  READ PART II HERE Read Next: Read Next: Demystifying A North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded To High-Ranking Officials About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. These days, Ben splits his time between writing and video production in the watch industry and managing @SubmersibleWrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers as well as the life aquatic.

10 comments
Read More
SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

Detailing the Lesser Known Fourth CISO-Issued “SOG Seiko” By Nick Ferrell - Watches of Espionage previously covered a trio of vintage Seiko dive watches worn...

9 comments
Read More

Detailing the Lesser Known Fourth CISO-Issued “SOG Seiko” By Nick Ferrell - Watches of Espionage previously covered a trio of vintage Seiko dive watches worn by the U.S. Military’s ultra-secretive Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observat

9 comments
Read More
Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group

Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group

Travel Pouch And Challenge Coin - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group and Watches of Espionage Collaboration  We have...

4 comments
Read More

Travel Pouch And Challenge Coin - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group and Watches of Espionage Collaboration  We have written extensively about the history of Navy SEALs and watches.  From Tudor Submariner 7928’s issued in Vietnam and Seiko 6309-7049’s during the Cold War days to the modern day Digital Tool Watches of the legendary G-Shock.  In present day Naval Special Warfare, watch culture is strong and many “Team Guys” have high end tool watches, including Rolex, Breitling, Panerai, Tudor, Omega, Bremont and various other timepieces. The reason is simple.  Many of the modern day “tool watches” were originally designed for maritime use, and specifically as military dive watches.  The predecessors of the modern Frogmen were the intended end user for the tool watches of the mid-20th century. Wearing these pieces in the present day is a nod to those who came before, the forefathers who developed the fieldcraft and tactics employed today. In the culture of Intelligence and Special Operations heritage and history is important.  We honor those who paved the way for our trade. Original UDT/SEAL issued Tudor Submariner ref. 7928 (James Rupley) To the outsider, modern day SEAL watch culture can be difficult to comprehend.  Why would a SEAL with a limited government salary spend that much money on a watch?  The idea seems to contradict the practical nature of SOF, which favors function over everything else.  In preparation for the GBRS-W.O.E. fundraiser for Third Option Foundation, we asked former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley to give a Rundown of their personal experience with watches and watch culture in the SEAL Teams. As stated by former Navy SEAL and co-founder of GBRS Group:  “It’s a part of the culture and tells a lot about the wearer of that particular piece.  The cost isn’t as important as the backstory or the sentimental value of a piece and the story you both share together.In the military you are issued particular watches, most get a standard watch like a G-Shock, easy to operate and can withstand almost anything that the user can.  As we got older it became custom to upgrade your issued watch for a more luxury watch as a statement piece.As you hit certain goals and milestones in life, you would add a timepiece to remember the occasion or that period in your life.  It was customary in the SEAL Teams to wear a Rolex at a certain stage in your career, you treated that watch just like it was a hundred dollar G-Shock, you did everything in it.It was always a funny sight in a chow hall overseas, all the guys have long hair and beards, covered in dust from the helicopters, absolutely filthy and still have on a Rolex. There is a cult following around watches that plagues a lot of us.” W.O.E.-GBRS Group Collaboration - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Earlier this year we approached GBRS Group about a possible collaboration for charity.  Cole and DJ agreed without hesitation and were eager to support Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  The relationship between Naval Special Warfare and the CIA is close, particularly for the paramilitary officers who recruit heavily from the SEAL Teams. “TOF provides funding to the Agencies Paramilitary officers, a lot are former colleagues, and suffer severe injuries while working with that organization.  The Third Option Foundation bridges the gap and supports those still in the shadows that never receive recognition for their sacrifices.  As a small way to say thank you, we donated the last of our AOR1 uniforms to be used in making these travel cases.  The funds raised support a fantastic group of people who truly deserve it. If you’re a watch enthusiast, you’re gonna want this for your collection.” Thank you to everyone who made this possible.  Please consider a donation to Third Option Foundation to support the men and women at the tip of the spear. For additional information on Navy SEAL Watches: A Navy SEAL’s Rolex Submariner On The Osama Bin Laden Raid SEAL Team Six And A U.S. Navy-Issued Seiko Turtle The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The Pragmatic Journey Of A SEAL Through Watch Collecting

4 comments
Read More
Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic. The watches we cover are dictated by the community and one brand that consistently pops up is Breitling....

19 comments
Read More

Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic. The watches we cover are dictated by the community and one brand that consistently pops up is Breitling. There are few truths in the world of intelligence, but one of them is Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling. Before the Breitling fan clubs take out their pitchforks and start a bonfire, we want to be clear that this phrase is neither a commendation nor a criticism. It’s an observation that, while it remains relevant today, particularly applies to the 1990s and 2000s when Breitling was the adventure watch for unapologetic men focused on aviation and diving. Breitling was a signal that the wearer is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince in Afghanistan wearing a custom Breitling Emergency. (Photo Credit: Vogue) Breitling - Tools For Professionals While likely an unintended consequence of marketing watches as “tools for professionals”, the brand developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community with both good and bad actors. Breitling watches can be found on the wrists of many gray area operators — from CEO of Blackwater Erik Prince’s Breitling Emergency (READ HERE), former Soviet arms dealer Viktor Bout’s Breitling B-1, and Director of CIA George Tenet’s Breitling Aerospace. When Leonardo DiCaprio played Danny Archer, a former Rhodesian smuggler turned mercenary in the movie Blood Diamond, he wore a Breitling Chrono Avenger. All of these men are sketchy, some good sketchy, some bad sketchy, but sketchy nonetheless.  Then Director of CIA wearing Breitling Aerospace while testifying for the 9/11 Commission. (Credit: AP) Breitling - A (Very Brief) History Lesson Breitling SA was founded in 1884 by Leon Breitling and passed down through his bloodline until 1979 when the brand was purchased by Ernst Schneider, a professional soldier turned watch executive. Under the leadership of Ernst and later his son, Théodore Schneider (an aviation enthusiast and helicopter pilot), Breilting found its niche manufacturing “tools for professionals”, developing several partnerships with military aviation units including the Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force. Breitling Jet Team (MigFlug) Sketchy Breitling References While collectors value several vintage Breitling references, including the iconic Navitimer 806 and Cosmonaute 809, several analog-digital models cemented Breitling’s role as a leader in producing practical tool watches built for adventure. Breitling Aerospace: W.O.E.’s Jordanian Breitling Aerospace. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) While we are certainly biased, the Breitling Aerospace maintains legendary status in our community because, at its core, it is a highly functional tool. The dual digital screens of the chronometer-certified "SuperQuartz" have practical features including a digital chronograph, a second-time zone, day and date, an alarm, and a countdown timer. The combination of a well-finished titanium case and bracelet with traditional analog hands results in a robust piece that can be worn to a black tie dinner in Mayfair or the cockpit of a Caravan on a dirt strip in Mozambique. The Aerospace was introduced in 1985, more than a decade after the “Quartz Crisis,” where many consumers moved to cheaper, more accurate timepieces, resulting in a dramatic decline in the mechanically-driven Swiss watch industry.   As previously documented, I was gifted a Breitling Aerospace with a gold Royal Crown of Jordan on the dial from King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein and wore it for much of my career while operational at CIA. The Aerospace’s technical complications were legitimately useful for conducting clandestine operations where time matters. The Aerospace as we knew it was quietly discontinued, the recent release of the updated but likely-limited Aerospace B70 Orbiter indicates more is on the horizon for one of the brand’s sketchiest model families. Breitling Emergency: Perhaps the best example of Breitlings legendary tool watch status is the Breitling Emergency. Developed in 1995 in partnership with French aviation manufacturer Dassault Electronique, the original Emergency contained a beacon that transmits a signal on the international distress frequency of 121.5 MHz. In an emergency, the wearer unscrews the cap at four o’clock and extends a thin wire antenna which automatically activates the signal. Commercial and military aircraft monitor the frequency and are able to alert search and rescue teams of an individual's location, anywhere in the world. The watch was specifically marketed to the military and aviation sectors and, according to Breitling, has been used to rescue individuals including in 1997 when a reed boat was blown off course while sailing from Easter Island to Australia. Breitling Emergency Catalog (1985) The Breitling Emergency would go on to be favored by those who operated on the fringe of nonpermissive environments including several specialized aviation units, Blackwater personnel, and former SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann. Today, the Breitling Emergency is still available at a massive 51mm diameter and complete with dual frequency distress beacons at 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz, both of which are monitored through the international Cospas-Sarsat system and based on a network of satellites in low-altitude earth orbit (LEOSAR). Breitling - The Unit Watch Pioneer Breitling Avenger Seawolf commissioned by Breitling SAS D Squadron in 2003/2004. We have covered modern “unit watches” extensively and much of what we see today implemented by Tudor, Bremont, IWC, and others was originally pioneered by Breitling in the 1990s and 2000s. This was a core aspect of Breitling's sketchiness, and the close relationship between Breitling and several elite units made it a prized possession for many operating at the tip of the spear. Originally focused on aviation squadron watches, Breitling branched out to Special Operations Forces, including US Army Delta Force and the British Special Air Service in the early 2000s. British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. (Photo Credit: Richard Williams) Breitling's customization program was not limited to the military or governments but extended to commercial entities. In 2010, Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich commissioned 50 Breitling SuperOcean automatics with "Eclipse" on the dial, the name of one of his 533 ft super yachts, pretty sketchy if you ask me . . . (Photo Credit: Chiswick Auctions) Hollywood:   Breitling’s sketchiness also extends to the silver screen with several W.O.E. characters wearing the legendary tool watches in major Hollywood productions. Blood Diamond (2006) - Breitling Chrono Avenger In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a dreamy Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond amid the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger with a black dial and a solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap. A Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy so this watch is on point. The movie takes place in 1999 when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators and real mercenaries. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout wearing a Breitling B-1 after his arrest in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo Credit: DEA) Thunderball (1965) - Breitling Top Time While Bond is known for Rolex and Omega, several other brands have graced the wrist of the world's most famous spy. In 1965’s Thunderball, the real OG Bond, Sean Connery, was outfitted with a Breitling Top Time that Q modified to include a Gieger counter to track down missing nuclear warheads… as sketchy as it gets.  Point Break (1991) - Breitling Navitimer Quartz As mentioned in a recent “Hollywood Watches of Espionage,” Breitling featured in Point Break on the wrist of bank robber/surf bro Bodhi, portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze. The Breitling Navitimer Quartz is shown in the scene leading up to a specific robbery where Bodhi ceremoniously declares: “The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.” Very sketchy indeed. Breitling Of Today The past few years have seen massive changes for Breitling. In the early 2000s, the brand prospered in an era defined by massive case diameters and a masculine customer base. However, in many ways galvanized by the release of the Tudor Black Bay in 2012, the industry began to shift in favor of “vintage-inspired” styling, more attainable in-house calibers, and restrained dimensions.  "Arabic Breitling" -  Aviator 8 Etihad Limited Edition. Limited edition of 500 pieces and features stylized Arabic numerals on the dial, as is the norm with most Middle East editions. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Breitling was admittedly slow to catch up but has made impressive improvements in its direction and product offering since being acquired in 2017 and appointing industry legend Georges Kern as CEO. Some enthusiasts still take issue with some of Breitling's price points or styling, however, it’s clear the brand is moving in the right direction in 2024, jumping from its 2017 $950M acquisition price to a 2022 valuation of $4.5Bn. The brand’s recent acquisition of Universal Genève is another intriguing development. It’s unclear what Breitling will do with the enthusiast-favorite vintage name, but we’re excited to see where it goes. Breitling CEO Georges Kern (Photo Credit: WatchPro) Is Breitling Still Sketchy? The question then becomes, is the kinder gentler Breitling of today as sketchy as it once was, especially as the brand enjoys a broader appeal and newfound level of mass market success? Yes and no. The brand’s long-standing military unit watch program is still active but appears to have waned, leaving the door ajar for brands like Bremont and Tudor. Producing military-specific personalized watches is likely not a key driver of revenue, but it is a central aspect of what has made Breitling one of the watches of choice for sketchy dudes.  While we are supportive of these changes at Breitling, and the strategy is clearly working, we hope the brand will continue to be inspired by its roots producing tool watches for those that operate on the fringes of sketchiness. With rumors of a new incoming Aerospace, our fingers are crossed for a return to Breitling’s legendary levels of sketchiness. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

19 comments
Read More
Watches And Wonders Releases For The W.O.E. Community

Watches And Wonders Releases For The W.O.E. Community

Last week was Watches and Wonders, a trade show in Switzerland where watch brands showcase their latest releases. Journalists, tastemakers, and watch enthusiasts flock to...

8 comments
Read More

Last week was Watches and Wonders, a trade show in Switzerland where watch brands showcase their latest releases. Journalists, tastemakers, and watch enthusiasts flock to Geneva to see and photograph new timepieces, meet with brand representatives, and drink no shortage of champagne and Negronis. Watches and Wonders is a masterclass in marketing, also known as the mass manipulation of consumers. We have previously written about covert influence in watch media (READ HERE) and this event is the Superbowl or, if you will, the Fashion Week. Propelled by the rise of digital media, what was once a straightforward industry trade show has been catapulted into the feeds of even the most basic enthusiast, with extensive coverage across all forms of social media, podcasts, and legacy watch publications.  Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders For weeks leading up to the event, the internet has been rife with “Watches and Wonders Predictions,” an organic marketing exercise that benefits both brands and content creators. The most influential tastemakers are invited to Switzerland as guests of the trade show, with hotels and other expenses covered either by the Watches and Wonders foundation or the brands. Lavish parties are thrown to showcase the watches but more importantly to woo the journalists, who are then expected to (objectively) cover the new watches, often simply regurgitating press releases with brand-approved language. Whether or not they are invited back next year is implied in part on their coverage of the event or the particular brand that sponsored their attendance. It’s brilliant.    Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders Don’t Hate The Player Or The Game To be clear, we don’t hate the players or the game. On the contrary, we admire the masterclass that is Watches and Wonders. It’s a fascinating exercise in human psychology, consumer behavior, and marketing. As enthusiasts, the releases are exciting, the speculation and leaks are admittedly fun, and the grand reveals offer the age-old intrigue of the unknown. While we normally don’t cover new releases, we want to highlight several watches that speak specifically to our community and our “Use Your Tools” ethos.  Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders We originally planned to cover 10-12 timepieces, but frankly struggled to identify more than a handful that met our criteria. The industry is trending towards high fashion and this seemed to be the year of dress watches and precious metals, which needless to say is not really within our wheelhouse. These are by no means endorsements, but here are a few that caught our eye. Rolex GMT-Master II Grey-Black Bezel Price: $10,900 (In Theory) A CIA Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win in a bar fight”, and that fictional person would (traditionally) wear a Rolex GMT.  Whether the updated grey and black bezel on the newest GMT Master II is to your taste is up to you, but we would argue it gives the watch a modern look that is also more subtle than something like the legendary Pepsi bezel. For the traditionalists, the Pepsi is still available and was not discontinued as indicated by the rumor mill.  It’s an easy win and we like it. Cons: The days of a Case Officer or SpecOps operator walking into a boutique on R&R and walking out with a Rolex GMT are over. Given the astronomical secondary market prices (at times over double retail for certain references), it’s hard to say a new Rolex GMT is a true tool watch with a straight face. Modern Rolex models tend to be pretty shiny and this new GMT is unfortunately no exception. It can and will still be used as a tool by a select few, but the modern GMT Master II lacks much of its original tool watch feel. Also, good luck getting one at retail. Doxa Sub 200T Price: $1,550 - $1,590 For both the military and recreational diving communities, Doxa is a legendary name, having famously been worn by Dirk Pitt, Clive Cussler’s fictional undersea hero, and in the US Navy’s pioneering SEALAB experiments. Better known for their storied salvaging efforts, US Navy Divers also have been at the pointy end of the espionage spear, responsible for developing and executing a daring mission to tap Soviet undersea communication cables in the 1970s on Operation Ivy Bells. Jumping ahead to 2024, Doxa sneaked in just ahead of the Watches and Wonders releases, unveiling the Sub 200T about a week ahead of the big show. Providing a smaller alternative to the established Sub 300 and 300T, the 200T comes in with a 39mm diameter and more slender case while maintaining much of the Doxa Sub design language. Available in a staggering array of colors and matte or sunray dial finishes, the Sub 200T seems poised to provide a smaller-wearing alternative for those who have traditionally considered Doxa’s chunky cushion case to be a bit too much. Cons: Most Doxa Sub models wear considerably smaller than their stated diameter, meaning this 39mm Sub 200T might wear more like 36 or 37mm on the wrist, pretty small. Tudor Black Bay 58 GMT “Coke” Price: $4,400 - $4,600 While they may not have the historic caché offered by Rolex’s GMT Master models, Tudor’s GMT watches have come a long way since the release of the Black Bay GMT in 2018. However, from that 41mm wide by 15mm thick model’s inception, many were quick to call for a smaller and thinner option. But what most enthusiasts wanted was a Black Bay 58 GMT, and that’s exactly what we got in 2024. At this point, Tudor’s relationship with our community is well-established. Still producing unit watches for some of the world’s most elite military operators, Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.) are very much a thing. That said, the new Black Bay 58 GMT feels like more of a vintage throwback than a modern practitioner's watch, but still offers its own play on the desirable “Coke” format along with the best set of dimensions thus far for a Tudor GMT, measuring 39mm wide and under 13mm thick. Cons: The new BB58 GMT relies heavily on “gilt” gold-tone markings that aren't for everyone. The faux rivets on the bracelet have to go and it’s really hard to understand why they use them on new designs. There is no utility to this feature and it crosses the line of homage-corny. The nicest thing we have heard about faux rivets is, “...they don’t bother me that much.” Bremont Terra Nova Price: $2,850 - $4,250 We are big fans of Bremont and we've previously covered the UK brand’s intriguing relationships with intel and military units around the globe (READ HERE). It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the new Terra Nova collection of field watches “inspired by military pocket watches of the early 20th century”. That said, it’s hard to sugarcoat this one. To use a cricket metaphor, it was a swing and a miss. The rebranding fell flat with both enthusiasts and Bremont traditionalists.   Prior to the event, newly appointed Bremont CEO Davide Cerrato (formerly of Tudor, Montblanc, and Panerai) foreshadowed a pivot to a lower price point and we were genuinely excited about these releases. The strategy was sound but the implementation was flawed. The Terra Nova and the redesigned Bremont Supermarine are a stark departure from what makes Bremont loved by many, standing out as classy and refined aviation-inspired watches. Cons: The list is unfortunately long. The new logo, font, and overall design and manufacturing quality fall well short of expectations. To make matters worse, the price range places it squarely in competition with the likes of Tudor and many others. On the bright side, the brand appears to still offer the previous models (with original branding) and Special Projects appear unchanged. Understanding that a full pivot like this is bold, and takes a lot of time, effort, and money, we would love to see Bremont bounce back from this and return to its roots. Tudor Black Bay Monochrome Price: $4,225 - $4,550 We didn’t set out to profile two watches from the same brand, but Tudor came in with another solid (though predictable) win, not our fault. A follow-up to last year’s redesigned 41mm Black Bay Burgundy that added additional strap and bracelet options as well as METAS certification, the new Black Bay Monochrome makes one of Tudor’s single strongest arguments for a vintage-inspired sports watch to wear every day. Though we’ve often argued the Pelagos 39 is the modern Tudor-Sub, the Black Bay Monochrome is now right up there with a slimmer case design compared to previous iterations and more subtle looks than something like a ceramic Rolex Submariner. In our opinion, this is a major step up from the Black Bay 58, which we also love. Cons: If forced to nitpick a great watch, again enough with the faux rivets.  Fortunately, this watch is also available with a “Five-Link” (Jubilee) or an integrated rubber strap, both of which feel like better moves. Zenith DEFY Revival A3648 Price: $7,700 It’s not a name we talk about all the time in our shadowy corner of the watch world, but Zenith is a brand we respect and is also doing some very interesting things in 2024. Better known for its contributions to the world of chronographs, having unveiled one of the automatic chronographs in 1969 with the El Primero, modern Zenith balances a collection of up-to-date designs and heritage. This particular inclusion in this list is slightly less about being an ideal watch for Intel/Spec Ops and more about simply being a great new luxury tool watch. Completely overshadowed by the collection of chronographs, Zenith also produced several chunky yet capable dive watches in the late 1960s and 1970s including the rarely-seen Defy A3648. It’s not going to be for everyone, but the modern DEFY Revival A3648 is a near 1:1 of the original with a 37mm case and a very old-school feeling bracelet. With no less than 600 meters of water resistance, it’s also as capable a dive watch as you could ever want while offering a serious splash of orange on the bezel, dial, and hands that will speak to dive watch enthusiasts. Cons: It’s awesome they made this thing 37mm, but a lot of modern-day collectors might not be able to handle the lack of girth. Bright colors on watches are not for everyone (myself included), and a more subtle option might be cool to see in the future. Grand Seiko SBGJ277 Price: $6,800  Like Zenith, we seldom talk about Grand Seiko, instead concentrating on Seiko’s well-established and legendary historical associations with military special operations. With that in mind, Grand Seiko has operated as a separate brand for years now and provides some of the best watchmaking in its price category. The newly-released SBGJ277 leans into Grand Seiko’s history with high-beat mechanical calibers, in this case operating at 5 hz or 36,000 VPH. In addition, this new member of the brand’s Sport collection offers 100 meters of water resistance and a 55-hour power reserve, more than enough to suit the average Case Officer while differentiating from the established Rolex and Tudor crowds. Cons: While the finishing on this SBGJ277 is impressive for the dollar amount, the additional polished elements and textured dial both serve to create a more refined and therefore less utilitarian look. It’s not to say you couldn’t “Use Your Tools” with this watch but rather that it doesn’t look or feel the part as much as some others on this list. Again, we are not necessarily endorsing these watches, but each of them caught our eye and calls for a closer look. We understand that these watches are not cheap and if you’re interested in learning more about entry-level options that are well-suited to our community, check out “Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts.” Next week we will resume our regular programming.  *sponsored by Rolex, Doxa, Tudor, Zenith, Bremont, and Grand Seiko (Just Kidding) -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches

8 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage, Part II

Hollywood Watches of Espionage, Part II

Sketchy Surfers, Intelligence Officers, And A Dictator – Timepieces Add Depth To Characters While Entertaining Watch Nerds As we established in our first installment of...

14 comments
Read More

Sketchy Surfers, Intelligence Officers, And A Dictator – Timepieces Add Depth To Characters While Entertaining Watch Nerds As we established in our first installment of this series (READ HERE), watches play a significant role in film and television, particularly as it relates to the world of espionage. Watch enthusiasts can’t help but notice when a propmaster or costume designer has absolutely nailed the watch or in some cases, missed the mark entirely. Portrayals of watches on the wrists of characters representing the military and intelligence communities are often particularly challenging, with factors like paid product placement further complicating the issue. In the vast majority of films or TV shows, watches play little to no role in the overall plot, instead serving as a minor detail representing at times incredible attention to detail on behalf of the filmmakers. However, here and there, watches add something to a film as a whole, adding depth to a character or acting as a plot element. For intelligence officers and special operations, the tiniest details matter, and, if nothing else, watch spotting within the context of our community is an old-fashioned good time. In this piece, we’ll take a look at five additional examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character. Point Break - A Sketchy Breitling Navitimer Quartz (Pluton) Starting with one of history’s finest action films, Point Break is the improbable story of undercover FBI Agent Johnny Utah, played by Keanu Reeves, infiltrating a band of surfers with a penchant for bank robbery led by the charismatic Bodhi, portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze. While Bodhi is much too laid back and cool to wear a watch in much of the film, he does wear a Breitling Navitimer Quartz (also sometimes known as the Pluton) when it’s bank robbing time, even going so far as to say “little hand says it’s time to rock and roll” after a full-screen watch shot that we will attempt to recreate here. (Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox) It’s unclear whether Breitling’s early 90s marketing budget played a role in making the Navitimer Quartz Bodhi’s watch of choice, but it’s tough to argue with their decision-making process. Essentially the same watch as the Chronosport UDT, which was produced by Breitling and favored by Navy SEALs and other special operations forces of the day, the Navitimer Quartz provided 200 meters of water resistance and a slew of digital functions on top of its basic timekeeping abilities, exactly the kind of specs you need when you’re surfing in the morning and making tactical withdrawals in the afternoon. We don’t make the rules, sketchy dudes wear Breitling.  Jack Ryan - Hamilton Khaki Field Auto Chrono Inspired by Tom Clancy’s best-selling series of books, Jack Ryan stars John Krasinski as a CIA analyst turned special operator, almost single-handedly saving the world from certain doom at least once in each of the show’s four seasons. While any number of inexpensive digital watches from brands like G-Shock might have made even more sense given Ryan’s Global War On Terror Marine Corps background, the analyst of action opted for a Hamilton Khaki Field Auto Chrono Automatic for the first couple of seasons. Stemming from Hamilton’s Khaki collection, which is inspired by the brand’s history of producing field watches for military forces as far back as the First World War, the Khaki Field Auto Chrono opts for a tacti-cool all-black treatment from the PVD-coated stainless steel case to the hands and indices. Conceptually, an automatic chronograph with 100 meters of water resistance checks out for Ryan’s character, but we can’t help but wonder if the watch might be a little bit hard to read given the almost total lack of contrast. Overall, it’s not a terrible choice, and at just under $2,000 would be affordable for the presumed GS-13. Spy Game - Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884 In Spy Game, Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a seasoned CIA Case Officer on the cusp of retirement tasked with freeing his former protégé Tom Bishop, portrayed by Brad Pitt, from imprisonment in China. Released in 2001, this film inspired a generation of post -9/11 Case Officers and is a relatively accurate (though Hollywoodized) portrayal of the business of intelligence. On Redford’s wrist throughout the film is a Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884. Victorinox is of course better known for its ubiquitous Swiss Army collection of knives and has also been a major producer of Swiss watches since at least the early 90s. While many watch snobs might turn up their noses at a brand like Victorinox, the watch makes perfect sense in this instance. Serving as the prototypical career C/O, Redford’s character is a gray man, blending in and avoiding auspicious clothing or luxury items that might solicit further questions about his background or occupation. As much as many within the CIA appreciate and use watches from luxury brands including Rolex, Tudor, or Breitling, certain circumstances require a more subtle approach. The straightforward white dial and stainless steel format of the Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884 does exactly that, providing reliable quartz timekeeping and the additional functionality provided by a secondary 24-hour scale without attracting the type of undue attention that can get you killed and, perhaps more importantly, prevent you from rescuing Brad Pitt.  The Dictator - Cartier Pasha  Revered for his seminal work Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator is the (true) story of General Aladeen, leader of oil-rich nation called Wadiya. After the assassination of yet another body double, Gen. Aladeen opts to travel to the relative safety of New York City with a Cartier Pasha on his wrist. So named for Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh, the internet claims the Pasha was a special design dating back to the early 1930s and intended for the Pasha’s sporty lifestyle. Whether that’s true or not is another matter, but the story does lend itself to the inclusion of the modern Pasha, which was unveiled in 1985 and famously designed by Gerald Genta, in this film.  Still, despite the supposed history of being designed for a fabulously wealthy Middle Eastern governing figure, we can’t help but wonder whether something even more ridiculous might have been a better fit for General Aladeen’s character and lifestyle. Just to throw a few ideas out there, what about a diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe or even an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak? That said, the Pasha’s historical tie-in demonstrates great care on behalf of either Sacha Baron Cohen himself or perhaps a particularly astute wardrobe designer. The watch might even be the least ridiculous part of the entire film. Argo - Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea 116660 In Argo, based on the real story of CIA technical officer Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, is tasked with extracting six Americans holed up with the Canadian ambassador in Tehran, Iran after militants stormed the US Embassy on November 4th, 1979, taking 66 American diplomats hostage. Disguised as a film producer scouting locations for a science fiction film in Tehran, Affleck’s character wears a Rolex, which would theoretically be right in keeping with his cover assuming the Rolex in question was period correct. No joy, however, as the Rolex worn by Affleck in Argo was a decidedly modern Sea-Dweller Deepsea reference 116660, a watch released by the Crown in 2008.  How this came to pass is anyone’s guess. In 2022, Hodinkee reported an urban legend that the prop department provided a replica of a period-correct Rolex Submariner for Affleck to wear, but the actor preferred a genuine Rolex. Any Rolex from the era, but perhaps especially the Submariner, would have made perfect sense. A posh Hollywood producer wearing a rugged luxury watch intended for diving for his adventurous location-scouting trip to Tehran? Hell yes. Instead, a modern 44mm Rolex theoretically designed for saturation diving time traveled to 1979 to assist Affleck on his personnel extraction adventure, once again proving that details matter in espionage as well as filmmaking.  If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Bond: A Case for Omega

14 comments
Read More
Coming Soon - W.O.E. Collaboration With Tactile Turn

Coming Soon - W.O.E. Collaboration With Tactile Turn

Pen, Flashlight, Knife, Watch - The Essentials “If you didn’t write it down, it didn't happen” is a common saying in the intelligence business.  In...

3 comments
Read More

Pen, Flashlight, Knife, Watch - The Essentials “If you didn’t write it down, it didn't happen” is a common saying in the intelligence business.  In a digital era, there is something satisfying about staying old school, and a custom pen, built to last a lifetime, is a must. Custom Tactile Turn X W.O.E. Titanium Pen TENTATIVE RELEASE DATE 16 APRIL View Here For CIA Case Officers, a quality pen and 3x5 cards are essential aspects of everyday carry and they are still items I carry religiously to this day. Despite rapid advancements in note-taking devices, I still defer to a pen and paper regularly. As a part of our ongoing effort to produce the best possible custom tools, we set out to design a purpose-built writing instrument fit for our community. Enter the W.O.E. Custom Tactile Turn Bolt Action Pen. Milled from a solid block of titanium in the United States, our pen is lightweight and durable. For a premium feel, we opted for Tactile Turn’s Bolt Action construction, which extends or retracts the refill with one smooth, spring-loaded motion, more satisfying than the hollow click from your drugstore ten-pack of pens. Inspired by our love for PVD-coated watches, we PVD’d the inside of the bolt and the clip, adding a subtle “Tactile Turn X WOE” engraving on the clip’s underside. Most importantly, the bolt is operated by way of a unique watch-style crown with a spearhead engraving. Details matter. It is so often the little things that have the greatest impact. To be clear, this is by no means a “tactical pen”. Our titanium pen is a TSA-approved item primarily intended for writing, though we admit it may have other uses. We’ll leave it at that. Far from inexpensive perishable pens, our Bolt Action Pen is designed to last a lifetime and utilizes readily available Pilot G2 0.7mm refills. For the complete specifications, read HERE. Product Development At W.O.E. At Watches of Espionage, our product development model is to partner with true professionals – masters of their craft – to develop distinct and highly functional products that honor our community and our core belief that you should “use your tools.” In creating our ideal Everyday Carry (EDC) pen, we reached out to Tactile Turn because they are the best in the business at creating high-quality writing tools, hand-machined in Texas, right here in the United States. As a company, we seek to partner with US manufacturers and use our platform to promote their craftsmanship. Working with Tactile Turn has been a pleasure, and it is no surprise that there is a significant crossover between the watch and EDC communities. The good people at Tactile Turn are industry leaders for a reason, doing incredibly detailed and consistent work machined by hand. They are also true innovators and were able to prototype the watch-style crown to produce a unique product for our community. Further, they stand behind their work with a lifetime warranty for all of their products including our W.O.E. Bolt Action Pen. About Tactile Turn Tactile Turn was founded in 2012 by Will Hodges who happens to be a watch guy with Tudor, Sinn, and OMEGA in the collection. Frustrated by the disconnect between the things we buy and how they’re made, Will took things into his own hands, purchasing a WWII-era lathe and producing his first 1000 pens completely by hand. Things have taken off since then, and Tactile Turn now operates a serious 48,000-square-foot production facility in Dallas, Texas where a small team of machinists produce every single pen by hand. Will is still at the helm and still obsessed with producing quality pens in the United States that will probably outlive their owners. At W.O.E., we only work with suppliers who understand the "use your tools" ethos, and Tactile Turn is an excellent example. TENTATIVE RELEASE DATE 16 APRIL View Here All photos are courtesy of Ed Jelley.

3 comments
Read More
The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to...

28 comments
Read More

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to land in my collection.  Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic, but we have a special respect for Tudor, given the brand's seven-plus decade relationship with our community.  The FXD platform is the latest manifestation of this particular relationship. It’s the only modern “luxury” watch that was developed for not one, but two, modern SpecOps units. And I don’t mean a special edition made for a specific unit–the entire design, and every design decision, of the FXD stems from a particular use case in the SpecOps world.  That said, I already had the blue French “Commando Hubert” version. Was it prudent to want the same watch, just in black?   Of course. This whole passion is irrational anyway.  But if I was going to go for this watch, I wanted to do something different with it.  Over the past six months, I worked with several craftsmen to customize the FXD to make it mine, a poor man's “pièce unique”. The first thing we did was PVD’d the titanium fixed spring bar case resulting in a striking black-on-black look. This of course involves taking the whole case apart and PVDing each element, including the bezel. The PVD also has a mostly matte finish, so it matches the ceramic bezel insert well. Even though this was going to be mine, I wanted to maintain a standard that could have come from the factory. And since the caseback is sterile from the factory, we topped it off by engraving a W.O.E. insignia. Every watch has meaning, and this one commemorates the establishment of W.O.E. as a community, an accomplishment I never set out to achieve. The last step was designing a new handmade strap with our friends at Zulu Alpha, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0 (available HERE).  That’s an overview of the watch; now I’ll get into the thought process behind each detail and my philosophy behind modifying this particular piece.  The W.O.E. FXD The W.O.E. FXD (if I can be vain enough to call it that) is a homage, a term that may conjure images of Seikos modified to look like Rolex – something that I am personally not a fan of.  But it’s an homage in the true sense of the word, specifically to the SpecOps who modified their Tudor MilSubs for operational use. One popular narrative is that the Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph I was the first PVD watch. However, SpecOps personnel modified their Swiss tool watches long before that.  Most notably, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Shayetet 13 (S-13) frogmen darkened their issued Tudor Submariner 7928 in the late 1960s, crudely painting them black to prevent glare and reflection of the steel cases.  For Special Operations personnel, and particularly those in a maritime environment, the glint of a watch during an operation could have lethal consequences.  The watches were tools, and they were modified to carry out their job effectively.  While it’s nearly impossible to trace the lineage of PVD watches for every brand, military applications likely had a direct impact on this development of all PVD watches. In fact, Rolex's only known “black” dive watch was a one-off blacked out version of the MilSub Ref. 5513 for the South African Special Forces.  While Rolex didn’t roll out PVD in a commercial capacity, its sister brand, Tudor, would go on to produce PVD watches in later years, whether directly influenced by the S-13 and other military units we can only speculate.  But heritage matters; it informs every decision a brand makes. PVD: StealthMaxx DLC Finish Recalling that our friend Cole Pennington PVD’d an Arabic Seiko for a Hodinkee Magazine article, I contacted Jack at International Watch Works, a family-owned business.  When asked about the feasibility of PVD’ing the titanium case, he said it was not a problem; he had in fact just completed PVD’ing a blue Marine Nationale FXD (which turned out to be for Tom Place, a stuntman searching for his long-lost Rolex at the bottom of a lake).  The process was relatively simple.  Jack disassembled the watch and coated every bit of titanium, leaving the dial assembly and ceramic bezel insert to the side.  “PVD” is an abbreviation for Physical Vapor Deposition. It’s a process, not necessarily a coating. A solid material is selected, in this case diamond like carbon (DLC), to coat a base metal or substrate surface. That material is vaporized and deposited on the base or substrate material, bonding molecularly with the base material. The PVD/DLC coating is so fine that the serial numbers and factory engravings on the caseback are still visible even after the coating. It’s only microns thick; it’s not thick enough to obscure the characteristics of the case. Having worn the watch daily and with a lot of time in the pool and ocean, I have noticed no wear or abrasion on the coating, although I wouldn’t necessarily view scars as a bad thing.  During our conversation, Jack informed me that he has PVD’d watches for SpecOps personnel for years, which comes as no surprise given his location in North Carolina. Engraving: Always Read the Caseback The W.O.E. insignia signifies a very deep meaning for many in our community, with influence from the spearhead worn by our predecessors in the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as well as modern day intel and SpecOps units.  Today, this insignia has become an important part of my life. It’s a source of pride that I don’t share with many.  The caseback engraving is covered by the strap and that’s just how I like it. It's not for you, it’s for me.  The deep diamond tip engraving through the PVD into the titanium creates a more substantial profile and a stark contrast to the black case. It’s bold. Looking at it, it’s easy to see how much meaning comes with it.  W.O.E. - Zulu Alpha 4.0 Strap As a “fixed” springbar case, the Pelagos FXD is often called a “strap monster”-- a term so overused it’s become meaningless. Yes, any 22mm strap will work on the watch, but it’s really about finding the right strap. With a customization like this, I wanted to ensure the strap was the perfect match–subtle enough not to overshadow the watch. So I reached out to our friends at UK-based and veteran owned Zulu Alpha Straps to create a unique design that honored our ethos as a community and tapped into the traditions of those who came before us.  The result is an understated olive allied green strap with a discreet W.O.E. spearhead-only insignia applied between the strap keepers, which is covered up when worn. Again, it’s not about showing the insignia. Like the caseback, it’s obscured when the watch is worn.  The development of this strap coincided with Zulu Alpha’s latest iteration of the “OTAN” strap and significant performance enhancements.  To promote longevity, the strap has a narrower tang, round holes, and a slightly shorter length at 30 cm.  The “patch” was adhered directly to the strap with a new technology developed by ZA, resulting in a OEM feel.  While we never planned to commercialize this version, we knew we would receive many requests, so this is dubbed, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0. Photo Credit: Rob / @rw_m100 Dial Modification I have considered customizing the dial with a red W.O.E. at 6 o’clock.  That said, this would require a complete dial refinish.  While the watch is striking to those who know the FXD, when worn it's a more subtle customization as there are no visible insignias.  Discretion is a prized attribute in our field, if you know, you know is the way. Controversy of Watch Customization Customizing watches is a major point of contention in the collecting community, with many “purists” believing the watches should remain as they were originally designed.  Turning this upside-down, London-based George Bamford originally made a name for himself in the 2000s for customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands.   Bamford Watch modification (A Blog to Watch) However, times have changed, and Bamford has since been embraced by many watch houses and even has joint customizations programs with major brands including Zenith and Tag Heuer.  Further, “mod culture” as it’s known appears to have trickled into mainstream design and while the suits in Geneva would never admit it, the new Day-Date “emoji dial” is certainly reminiscent of a customized dial treatment than a traditional Rolex design.   Will we see a PVD FXD released from Tudor? Tudor’s playbook is simple.  It designs a watch, releases it to the masses and then iterates on that design with size, material, and color schemes.  This process has led some detractors to criticize the brand (Do we really need another Black Bay?)--but in the end, it works.  While selfishly I hope this remains one of the few “PVD FXDs,” it would be an easy win for Tudor to produce this design for the masses and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version become available to the public in the coming years. A Few Thoughts To the uninitiated, this article may seem like a waste of time.  So, what, you painted your watch black?  Maybe. But it’s never just a watch.  When I look at this watch, I think of the people that made both it and W.O.E. a reality, and of all the times it’s been on my wrist.  No matter where this platform goes, it will always hold a special place because it is uniquely mine. There Are No Rules We are of the strong belief that there are no rules when it comes to timepieces.  If you want to polish your Rolex every few years to keep it looking shiny, do it.  If your dream is to modify your Patek to look like a Seiko, have fun.  If you want to put aftermarket diamonds on your AP to celebrate making it out of the trap, congratulations.   Don’t let conventional wisdom and outside pressure dictate how you enjoy this passion. Life’s too short to live in a box dictated by the watch industry suits or hype collectors pushing an agenda.  Have fun, use your tools, and don't take things too seriously.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our free weekly newsletter for further updates HERE.  Sincere appreciation to my dear friend and master of his craft James Rupley for capturing these pictures of the W.O.E. FXD and really bringing it to life for the community. Read Next: James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

28 comments
Read More
South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making...

1 comment
Read More

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making Time” podcast.  We plan to do a complete W.O.E. Dispatch on South African MilSubs in the future but this is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Tudor and various military watches from the expert.  South African MilSubs are controversial pieces given the ties to the South African Defence Force, but they are fascinating snapshots into that period of history.   Pictured above is a black 7016 from approximately 1974.  I acquired this piece from Ross when I visited Zulu Alpha in Liverpool last year and it is the crown jewel of my collection.  There are fewer than 10 confirmed pieces.  As many of you know, I have spent much of my life living and working in Africa and this piece has long been a “grail” watch for me.  It’s an honor to be the custodian today.  See above for the story of the watch and how W.O.E. became the lucky owner.

1 comment
Read More
Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

8 comments
Read More

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can – and probably will at some point–serve as stand alone stories, but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we’ll address them in a following article. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” and “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part II” 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at 9 o'clock. (Courtesy SAS Melvyn Downes) W.O.E. recently posted a SAS Breitling Avenger with the Special Air Services (SAS) insignia on the dial, do unit watches cause OPSEC issues? We have extensively covered “Unit Watches” from various Intelligence and Special Operations organizations and profiled programs from Tudor, Bremont and Omega.  To summarize, a unit watch is one that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military. Civilian organizations inside the NatSec space can also receive these watches, but the term “Unit Watch” almost exclusively applies to military units. Customizations to the watch can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or a custom engraving on the caseback.  While more honorific in nature, we have documented many instances of these watches worn operationally overseas.  This has caused many to question if the watch itself is an “Operational Security” (OPSEC) vulnerability.  If an individual is captured, wouldn't the “bad guys” know he was a member of the SAS? British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that most elite units (even Tier One SpecOps) operate overtly most of the time.  While deployed to a War Zone, they’re generally wearing uniforms with their nation’s flags on their plate carriers and are not “under cover.”  While elite units and intelligence organizations certainly have operations where they operate under some form of cover, including posing as businessmen, most of the time this isn’t the case for someone in an “assaulter” role or even CIA Paramilitary Officer.  If an individual is operating under a “Non-Official Cover” (i.e. not a government official) then they certainly would not wear a Unit Watch.  They would pick a watch to match their persona.  Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many “operators” choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other digital watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison. What was the most dangerous thing you did at CIA?  The job of a Case Officer is to collect intelligence– to steal secrets through recruiting and running human assets (“spies”).  It's more dangerous than the average trade, but it's certainly not like it is in the movies. I never got into a fistfight in an elevator, a high-speed chase through a European capital, or performed a risky surreptitious entry into a Russian oligarch's dacha.  Most of my work was discreetly meeting with assets and liaison services in cafes, back alleys, and hotel rooms to collect intelligence. W.O.E. in Afghanistan, early 2000s.  W.O.E. in Sudan, early 2000s, Breitling Aerospace on the wrist. The easy answer to this question would be “warzone” assignments, where during the Global War on Terror, IEDs, shootings, and kidnappings were a real and present threat.  That said, in a warzone, Case Officers carry guns, wear body armor and generally operate alongside GRS and/or paramilitary officers.  The most dangerous thing I did was operate alone in Africa, and in one specific capital where crime, terrorism, and counterintelligence risks from the local service were deemed “critical.”  During this assignment, I did my cover job during the day and then at night went out on the street alone and without a phone (read CIA Officers and Apple Watches).  After a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route, I met developmentals and recruited assets in hotels, bars, dark alleys, and cars hunkered down in low-trafficked areas of town.  Most of the time I was unarmed, as being caught with a firearm would have posed significant problems for my cover (see CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC).  The risk from terror groups and the local intelligence service was significant, but the constant exposure to the streets, and everything that comes with that, night after night over a multi-year assignment dramatically increased the probability of carjacking and violent crime, something that can generally be avoided for the average tourist or business traveler. Do you only wear your watches on straps?  How do you feel about bracelets? (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It is no secret that W.O.E. loves straps. This has led our own line of leather and nylon straps that we designed. I constantly rotate my watches through a plethora of straps and it’s a great way to change up the look and feel of a watch.  That said, it is hard to beat a well-designed bracelet and I wear my watches regularly on the original bracelet.  Rolex Oyster and Jubilee bracelets are incredibly comfortable and are probably my favorite.  Most of the watches in my collection, including Tudor, IWC, and Breitling also all come on great bracelets.  The one exception is Seiko and particularly the Arabic Seiko: the bracelet feels cheap and I threw that one in the trash as soon as I got it.  So in short, yes, I am a big fan of bracelets.  After wearing a watch on a nylon or leather strap for a while, it is always refreshing going back to the original bracelet. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) How do you store watches and do you use a watch winder? If you have more than two to three watches of value, you need to invest in a safe that is mounted to the wall or floor.  Frankly, no matter what, it is worth acquiring a fireproof safe for valuables, firearms, and important documents.  For years I have kept my watches in affordable (read cheap) plastic cases and put them inside the safe.  Like all of our designs, I have made them for myself and the 6 Watch Storage & Travel Case is exactly the type of case I have used for years (but much better quality than the ones I used to purchase off Amazon).   There are some fantastic high-end watch cases and watch boxes (like Bosphorous Leather) that are true works of art, but it is hard for me to justify spending that type of money on something that will mostly sit in a safe.  There are also some really cool “display cases” on the market, but unless you have a walk-in safe, this is a sign to the goons that reads “take me.” Bosphorus Leather “Watch Collector Case” (Photo Credit: Bosphorus Leather) I have never used a watch winder.  There is conflicting information on whether a watch winder is good or bad for watches but it generally seems like if you have new watches you should be okay.  That said, many of my watches are vintage and I would not want to keep them winding every day. It’s simply not necessary.  However, the main reason I do not use a watch winder is cost.  A 4 Piece Wolf watch winder starts at over $2,000.  I would much rather use that money to purchase a pre-owned Breitling or Tudor or multiple Seikos.  Additionally, I actually enjoy setting the time on my watch each time I pick one up to wear it.  It’s something of a ritual to take a few minutes to wind the watch and set the time.  And yes, I always set the correct time on my watches. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) In purchasing a pre-owned Rolex, do "Box and Papers" matter? Vintage watch dealer Eric Wind has famously said that, "Saying you only want to buy a vintage watch if it has the original box and papers is the equivalent of walking around a high school with a ‘Kick Me’ sign taped to your back—except it says, ‘Rip Me Off.’ ”  Given his breadth of experience, I will take this at face value. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) That said, I do enjoy having a “full set” when possible because it’s a neat historical addition to the watch, but I would not necessarily pay the extra premium for a piece of paper that can easily be forged.  A few years ago I purchased an early 1980s “Root Beer” Rolex GMT Master 1675/3 with the original box and papers from the original owner.  The receipt shows the exact day and store where he purchased the watch in the Caribbean.  It’s a piece of living history and part of the story of that watch.  While I rarely look at the paperwork, it is a something I treasure because it’s part of the ephemeral nature of ownership and a sign that the watch has seen plenty before–and hopefully after me.  One of these boxes is fake, can you tell which?  “Box and papers” can add $1,000-2,000+ to the price of a pre-owned watch, and for me, this is simply not worth it.  Of all the things to fake, the papers are the easiest to forge, and boxes are often paired with pre-owned watches and it’s difficult to determine originality. What are some good fiction spy books? There are plenty of great classic espionage fiction authors a la John le Carre and Rudyard Kipling; however, if you are looking for contemporary works, my favorite authors are Jason Matthews (former Case Officer and Breitling owner), David McCloskey (former CIA Analyst), Jack Carr (former Navy SEAL) and David Ignatius (journalist and columnist with Washington Post).  With the exception of Ignatius, all of these authors come from the IC/SpecOps and have real world experience.   (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It’s impossible to write about our community with authority if you have not lived it, and each one of these pieces contain little “if you know, you know” nuggets that cannot be faked.  Further, the fiction genre often allows the authors to include details that otherwise would have been removed by the CIA’s publication review. (there have been multiple items in the above books that were removed from my work because they were considered “classified.”) Movie adaptation of Red Sparrow Additionally, it will come as no surprise that watches are mentioned and often play a central role in all/most of these pieces. Red Sparrow trilogy- Former CIA officer Jason Matthews Agents of Innocence - David Ignatious  Damascus Station- Former CIA Analyst David McCloskey Terminal List series- Former Navy SEAL For military fiction and the future of warfare, check out 2034 and Ghost Fleet.  What do you think about the recent Moonswatch/Blancpain releases? I don’t think about them. Why has the W.O.E. platform been so successful?  What advice do you have for growing my Online Journal/Instagram page? W.O.E.’s “quick” growth and high engagement is largely due to the fact that it’s such a niche topic, with broad appeal.  But the real “secret” is authenticity.  This is a passion and a hobby and I never set out for this to be a business.  I genuinely enjoy researching topics and creating products for our community.  In fact, I don’t post on topics that will get high engagement, instead I write about things that I find interesting.  A successful article is one that I enjoyed researching and writing, not one that gets a lot of likes and comments.  The community (you) is not stupid and can see through anything that is artificial, fabricated, or click bait. If you are interested in launching a podcast, newsletter or social media page, my advice is to identify a niche topic that you are passionate about and have a unique perspective on and double down on that. Lastly, this takes time.  While W.O.E. might seem like an overnight success, I have put a lot of effort into cultivating this content to provide this resource to our community. Like with anything, consistency is key. Would you wear a fake watch/Rolex? I can think of very few instances where wearing a fake Rolex is acceptable. In response to “Trading A Rolex To Get Out Of A Sticky Situation - Myth Or Reality?” several commenters suggested traveling with a fake Rolex for bartering.  The logic may be sound, but if you are really at the point where you have decided to part with a $5-10k watch, your life is likely on the line and the cost is trivial.  Further, whoever you are giving the watch to is presumably in a position of power and likely someone you do not want to piss off should they determine the watch is fake. Seized fake Rolex by US Customs and Border Protection I have heard of some people with expensive watch collections that have “dummy” displays in their house, the idea being that if someone breaks in to steal their collection, they would take the fake watches without realizing the real collection is hidden in a safe.  This is something that could potentially make sense, but is not necessarily something I would advise.  If someone goes the distance to specifically target you for your watch collection, they are likely going to be pissed to find out they stole fake watches, and may come back for retribution.  No watch is worth your life. All that said, I do have a fake Rolex Submariner that I received as a gag gift from a wealthy friend in Dubai.  I have never worn it or even taken out the links to fit it to my wrist.  Who knows, maybe it will come in handy one day. How accurate is your portrayal of your life and W.O.E.? When it comes to long-form writing, all of my stories and personal anecdotes are 100% accurate.  I have several friends from the community that read the Dispatch regularly and my Signal messages would immediately light up if I started making up there I was stories for clout.  Of course, I do change times/dates/locations and minor details for the sake of anonymity (or if the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board advises I do so). In many ways, being anonymous allows me to be more honest in my writing.  I recently posted a picture of my entire watch collection.  This could easily be construed as bragging about material possessions and is something I would never do on a personal social media account.  In fact, most of my close friends don’t even know about the number of watches I own or the value of my watch collection.  Anonymity permits me to engage in a form of honesty that would otherwise be self-corrected.  While my portrayal of my life and thoughts are genuine, I do think a lot of people interpret this as a persona of something I am not.  I am not a commando or Jason Bourne.  I am a (relatively) normal guy who is fortunate enough to do some abnormal things with extraordinary people.  For that I am very grateful. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence, and NatSec content and products as it relates to timepieces. Long-form written articles are our main product, and we intend to keep this free and open for everyone to learn from. In 2023, we set the foundation for this expansion with the establishment of the website, development of some incredible products, and expansion of written form content. We raised $24,800 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. We have resisted offers from advertisers so that we can maintain complete editorial control of our content.  Remaining authentic and representing our community respectfully is key to our past and future success and we will not sell out for a quick buck.  W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform solely for our community, and it's not for everyone. Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are happy to now have W.O.E. products in stock and we are working on some new and exciting projects for 2024, including some EDC items.  We are also still in the initial stages of producing W.O.E. content in a print medium, something that we are being methodical about to make sure we get it right. We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E., as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content and products. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Stay tuned, -W.O.E. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

8 comments
Read More
Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

3 comments
Read More

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

3 comments
Read More
Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture...

17 comments
Read More

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture and forms the pillars of our community. And during the Holiday season, tradition means appreciating the cinematic masterpiece that is Die Hard. As usual, we’ll look at the movie–and a couple other Christmas movies– through the lens of watches and national security. Die Hard- “It’s the greatest Christmas story ever told”  Inside the wrist- tacticool style There are people out there that might tell you Die Hard is not a Christmas Movie. The debate has been going on for over 30 years. We’re not going to take a position on the matter other than saying that the movie is playing theaters right now. You can go see the movie, in 2023, during the holiday season. It doesn't matter what naysayers think. It’s a Christmas movie. A family comes together, a Christmas holiday is saved, and everything is merry and bright in the end. Re-creation Die Hard layout using a Tag model 932.206 from our friend @movementsofaction With that being said, let’s get into why the TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph is a fitting watch for protagonist John McClane, masterfully played by Bruce Willis. McClane is a NYC cop, and in 1988 when the movie came out, the city was grappling with a massive crack cocaine problem and a record number of homicides–1,842 in total. The streets were tough. McClane was tougher. He’s a little rough around the edges, and that unpolished element of his character was exacerbated by his newly-estranged wife moving his family to Los Angeles. While visiting her for her company’s holiday Christmas party, all hell breaks loose as a group of German terrorists hold the entire party hostage, killing a few employees in the process. With his skills learned from being a cop on the mean streets of New York and his knack for improvisation, McClane jumps into action…and you know the rest. Yippee Ki Yay, motherf*cker! TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph - worn inside the wrist allows McClane to check the time while putting in work. Worn inside the wrist in true tacticool fashion is a TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph. It’s the perfect watch for McClane. The NYPD isn’t issuing watches, so this is a private purchase–or a gift from his ex-wife. It has a blue-collar character to it, and it’s the sort of watch that’s charming because it isn’t really a watch guy watch. It’s exactly the kind of watch you wear if you don’t care about watches. For McClane, it was a tool.  The Actual Tag worn by John McClane (Photo Credit: PropstoreAuction) If McClane wore a Rolex or Patek, it wouldn’t telegraph the right message. McClane is effortlessly cool because he just doesn’t give a damn. In a world where we fetishize what watches are worn on screen, there’s a certain charm to a guy wearing a quartz TAG Heuer while using a Beretta 92F/S and a Heckler & Koch MP5 (actually a modified HK94s) acquired from the terrorists he eliminated to eventually get to Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman–his breakout role. In addition to McClane’s TAG, Watches play a significant role in the plot. In fact, one crucial W.O.E.-related scene was reportedly left on the cutting room floor. In the original script, the members of the terrorist group synchronized their own black TAGs prior to entering Nakatomi Plaza. McClane would go on to remove one watch from the body of a dispatched terrorist, and use this small detail to identify Gruber as the leader of the group when he pretended to be a hostage. McClane’s ex-wife Holly wears a Rolex DateJust, a gift from her coworker and a not-so-subtle signal that she has moved on from the more “common” lifestyle of the wife of a cop. Gruber’s Cartier Tank says everything you need to know about him–he has good taste and wealth to match. And he probably didn’t earn it the right way. After all, how do you fund a massive “terrorist plot” to kill innocent Americans? Lethal Weapon - A Christmas Story Speaking of guns and TAG Heuers in the late ‘80s, there’s another Christmas Movie that showcases a law enforcement officer showing us how to make an otherwise mundane watch cool. Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson in all four Lethal Weapon movies, wears a black plastic TAG Heuer Formula One. It’s 35mm, minuscule by today’s standards. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the man that makes the watch. (Photo Credit Unknown) Riggs is a former Army Green Beret turned cop, and that explains the spec of the Formula One on his wrist. It’s black on black on black–black dial, case, and plastic strap. The color echoes his inconsolable attitude after the death of his wife. The plastic Formula One was incredibly popular in the era, almost like the Moonswatch of today. It was cheap, it was relatively cool, and it was ubiquitous. It was launched in 1986, one year before Lethal Weapon was released. We also have credible intelligence that the Formula One will be making a comeback in the not-too-distant future as well. Home Alone - Rolex the Escape and Evasion Tool And of course a look at Christmas movies through the scope of W.O.E. wouldn’t be complete without a mention of one key moment that we’ve discussed before: trading a Rolex to get out of a sticky situation. Kevin at high port practicing questionable trigger discipline, Breitling concealed under the Christmas sweater cuff. In Home Alone, Kate McAllister, mother to the protagonist of the movie, 8 year-old Kevin, needs to get back to Chicago from Paris as quickly as she can after realizing she forgot him at home. At the airport she barters with an elderly couple for a seat on the plane back to CONUS with two first class tickets, $500, gold jewelry…and most relevant to W.O.E., a watch. But not just any watch, a Rolex. The elderly woman asks Kate if it’s a real Rolex and she’s met with Kate’s non-answer “Do you think it is?” immediately followed with “But who can tell, right?” The interaction points to the nature of Rolex watches as universal currency- a tool. In this case it’s to get out of France, but a Rolex will most likely work as a bartering chip just about anywhere. It’s not just a tactic for those in SpecOps and the intelligence community. But of course, the repercussions of someone finding out it’s fake could be much more dire in that line of work. Luckily for Kate, she found her way back to the US and lived to fight another day. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to the W.O.E. community.  Get out there and use your tools. Read Next: Hollywood Watches of Espionage

17 comments
Read More
W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but...

15 comments
Read More

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but will be back next year with some exciting tools for our community.  Please sign up for “Notify Me When Available” for anything that interests you.  In the meantime, check out the following items as gifts for loved ones, friends or yourself.  There are no affiliate links or discount codes.  We are highlighting these tools because we believe in them, not for financial gain.  None of these are sponsored products. Please highlight any other gift ideas in the comment section.  We are always in the market for new tools and specifically love support small businesses and people doing innovative things. Watches We chose three watches at different price points.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best Watches Under $1,000” for a more comprehensive list. Seiko: SEIKO 5 Sports- SRPG35 - $210 A simple field watch and perfect first mechanical watch for yourself or a friend.  Purchasing a watch for a father/son/daughter or nephew?  The Seiko 5 Sports line is a great place to start. Elliot Brown - HOLTON: 101-001  - $511 The Holton Professional was developed in response to a request from a specialist branch of the UK military who demanded a fit-for-purpose professional watch capable of a life in the field.  We will do a more thorough write up on EB at some point, lots of history here! Omega Seamaster Diver 300M - Green - $5,600 The Omega Seamaster has a long history with our community, as we have documented with the British Special Boat Service (SBS) Seamaster.  Since 1993, the Seamaster Professional Diver 300M has enjoyed a legendary following. Today’s modern collection has embraced that famous ocean heritage and updated it with OMEGA’s best innovation and design. This 42 mm model is crafted from stainless steel and includes a green ceramic bezel with a white enamel diving scale.  Gear and Community The Grey NA TO - Supporter Subscription  - $100 year TGN is a community of like-minded individuals who believe in using their tools.  Hosts Jason Heaton and James Stacey break down their love for adventure, their addiction to watches, and also discuss travel, diving, driving and gear.  A subscription to The Grey NA TO includes a NA TO strap (grey, of course), stickers and access to additional content.  At $100 a year, a unique gift for someone who has everything. Field Ethos - Magazine Subscription - $15.00 - quarterly  The premier lifestyle publication for the unapologetic man is here. Enjoy a mix of modern adventure, historical context, and perspectives forged through global travel while staying current with the latest products that elevate an unapologetic life. Eagles and Angels Ltd - Signature Hats & Tools - $39.00 and up We salvage the old uniforms of our brave men and women, transforming them into high-end accessories to be proudly worn by those who support our troops. Each piece is beautifully crafted in the US and carries the story of the soldier who wore it first. Each purchase helps support the families of fallen heroes. The Observer Collection - Piecekeeper - $30.00 The Piecekeeper is designed to halt hostilities between your watch and laptop. The same natural dyed Italian suede used in the Observer Collection bags creates a comfortable barrier between watch bracelet and workspace preventing scratches to both watch and laptop. Leather Works Minnesota - No. 9 Wallet - "Coral" Mahogany - $110 So named for the number of pockets this wallet has, the No. 9 boasts the most capacity out of any wallet in our line. It’s easy to see why it immediately became one of our best sellers. This is the wallet for the ultra-organized, the one who needs to keep it all with them, or the person who has a card for everything. Art Ad Patina - The best in the game when it comes to vintage watch advertisements.  Prices vary.  Bad Art Nice Watch - Custom Print Commission a piece on your favorite watch.  North Carolina artist, Bryan Braddy, combines his passion for watches with his love for art.  What started as a doodle at his kitchen table with his daughters has blossomed from a hobby into a business. Embracing the concepts of wabi-sabi, the acceptance, and contemplation of imperfection, guide the principles of his style. “I want you to see my artistic choices, good or bad, with the pen or the brush.” King Kennedy Rugs - Driver Rug-  prices vary We have no idea who runs this company, but his rugs are incredible. Check out these “Vintage Rolex Hand Woven Rugs” rugs from Pakistan. $325  Prairie Fire Art Company - "The Professional" Billy Waugh MACV-SOG Art Print - $65.00 Billy Waugh had a 50 year career in Army Special Forces and as a paramilitary officer.  He patrolled the jungles of Laos and Vietnam. He hunted down Carlos the Jackal. He was the first to put sights on UBL and he invaded Afghanistan when most said he was too old for the mission. "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young". Knives Winkler Knives, WK Huntsman - $300.00 The Huntsman is an adaptation of a Small Hunting Knife I made back in the 1990’s. Perfect for hunting and everyday carry. This model is fast becoming one of our most recommended designs. Sangin Knives - Carbon Fiber Corsair - $699 Sangin is known for their watches, but they also recently stepped into the knife game with a premium blade, the Corsair.   The Corsair is a 9.0” blade, made from premium Crucible Metals CPM M4. The blade is finished in an ultra-corrosion resistant black KG Gunkote. The Corsair is fitted with premium Camo Carbon Fiber handles, giving it a unique design with a sturdy feel, ready to be used in any scenario. With precision-turned titanium tubing, we can hold incredibly tight tolerances which allow our handles to be press fitted and secured using friction. This is a significant upgrade, solving the issue of handle scale fracturing and separation from the steel. Half Face Blades, Brad Cavner signature series - $375 Half Face Blades was founded by Andrew Arrabito, Navy SEAL (ret.), to meet the need for high-quality, “go-to” knives and axes – usable, personalized, functional, versatile tools that work for every person in every walk of life.  Toor Knives - Field 2.0 - $295.00 Toor designed the Field 2.0 with every day use in mind and it has quickly become known as the workhorse of our Outdoor Series. Its small size allows for all day carry comfort, while having the capability to handle almost any task out on the trail. Tools Soturi - The ‘Diplomat’ Strap - $185 Our most refined Cordura strap, The Diplomat is a tailored addition to our lineup that is just at home in the field as it is the office. Featuring a fully rolled edge, tapered design, and supple nubuck leather lining; it’s built to suit your every endeavor. Bergeon - 7825 Spring Bar Tweezer Spring Bar Removal Fitting Tool - $170 Bergeon 7825 is a tweezers, special watchmaker tool for inserting and removing spring bars in difficult to access end links and the short spring bars in the inner link.  Jack Carr - Signature Whiskey Glass - $23.00 Handblown by Mexican Artisans and made from recycled glass Coca-Cola bottles.  Crossed Hawks etched emblem on front of glass. Ball and Buck - Arthur Zippo - Brushed Brass - $68.00 Originally made in 1941, Zippo served as an essential accessory to American soldiers fighting in World War II and on. Their heralded tradition continues wherever men roam, igniting in every condition it encounters; the lighter's metal ring sweetly sounding in an American echo. With The Arthur Zippo, you can proudly display your support of American quality and manufacturing. Whether you're enjoying a smoke or building a fire in the woods, the Ball and Buck Zippo lighter is sure to become a staple for your everyday carry. Books G-SHOCK 40th Anniversary Book - $65 Celebrating the story of G-SHOCK, a truly unique watch whose pioneering innovation, function, and versatile design has made it a cult-collectible worn by devoted fans across the globe as well as by cultural icons in the worlds of fashion, sports, music, and popular culture for the past forty years. The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal - $15.99 It was the height of the Cold War, and a dangerous time to be stationed in the Soviet Union. One evening, while the chief of the CIA’s Moscow station was filling his gas tank, a stranger approached and dropped a note into the car. In the years that followed, that man, Adolf Tolkachev, became one of the most valuable spies ever for the U.S. But these activities posed an enormous personal threat to Tolkachev and his American handlers.  Watchistry  - Marine Nationale Book - $77.00 An exploration of a collection of 34 watches and instruments issued to the French Navy. 224 pages of photos and text cover vintage military watches from Tudor, Omega, Longines, Breguet, Auricoste, Doxa, Triton and others are featured, along with detailed provenance and commentary. It represents an unprecedented look at the nuance and breadth of the pieces used by the Marine Nationale. A Die Hard Christmas - $19.99 True story.  All John McClane wants for Christmas is to reunite with his estranged family. But when his wife’s office holiday party turns into a deadly hostage situation, he has to save her life before he can get home in time for Christmas!  The unconventional fan-favorite movie Die Hard is now an illustrated storybook- complete with machine guns, European terrorists, and a cop who’s forced to rely on all his cunning and skills (and the help of a fellow officer) to save the day.  Small Arms of WWII: United States of America, James Rupley, Ian McCollum-  $98.00 The Second World War was a fascinating and dynamic time in the history of firearms – a period that began with revolvers and bolt-action weapons, and ended with the first generations of modern select-fire combat rifles. We detail these developments in Small Arms of WWII, discussing not just what the weapons were, but why they were developed and how they performed in the field. If you want to get a better understanding of how these weapons changed warfare and were in turn themselves changed by warfare, this is the book series for you!  A Man & His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them, Matt Hranek - $28.49 Paul Newman wore his Rolex Daytona every single day for 35 years until his death in 2008. The iconic timepiece, probably the single most sought-after watch in the world, is now in the possession of his daughter Clea, who wears it every day in his memory. Franklin Roosevelt wore an elegant gold Tiffany watch, gifted to him by a friend on his birthday, to the famous Yalta Conference where he shook the hands of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. JFK's Omega worn to his presidential inauguration, Ralph Lauren's watch purchased from Andy Warhol's personal collection, Sir Edmund Hillary's Rolex worn during the first-ever summit of Mt. Everest . . . these and many more compose the stories of the world's most coveted watches captured in A Man and His Watch.  The Wrong Wolf, Chris Craighead and Matthew Klein $19.99 From the very start, the Wrong Wolf knew he was different. Over the course of a journey marked by loss, mercy, courage and self-sacrifice, he learns that where and how you are born does not always determine where you end up. Sweetwater - Jason Heaton - $14.99 With an American presidential election looming, a decades-old plane crash is once again thrust into the news. Old secrets threaten to expose dangerous truths and underwater archaeologist Julian "Tusker" Tusk finds himself at the center of a mystery with the highest of stakes. With time running out, Tusker is forced to come to terms with not only his own past, but that of his father, in an adventure that spans two generations and hits close to home in more ways than one.  Moscow X, David McCloskey - $25.49 CIA officers Sia and Max enter Russia under commercial cover to recruit Vladimir Putin’s moneyman. Sia works for a London law firm that conceals the wealth of the superrich. Max’s family business in Mexico―a CIA front since the 1960s―is a farm that breeds high-end racehorses. They pose as a couple to target Vadim, Putin’s private banker, and his wife, Anna, who―unbeknownst to CIA―is a Russian intelligence officer under deep cover at the bank. Clothes Relwen - Quilted Insulated Tanker Jacket - $318  This will be your go-to, so don’t fight it. Our Tanker is that one jacket that fills all the voids, whether tailgating, going out for dinner, or off to work. The soft peached nylon/cotton shell utilizes a water-resistant polyurethane coating, ideal for all weather conditions. Lightweight quilting provides warmth across temperate conditions making for highly pragmatic style. Clarks, Desert Boot Suede - $150 Cultural cachet and design DNA: no shoe is quite like the Clarks Originals Desert Boot. Nathan Clark’s 1950 design was inspired by a rough boot from Cairo’s Old Bazaar, and its minimal, progressive style sparked a worldwide footwear revolution GBRS Group - Set Point Flannel - $75.00 The Set Point by GBRS Group MD Approach Flannel is a multi-purpose flannel for everyday use. Combining the crisp look of a heavier flannel with the comfort of a lighter one makes this flannel resourceful on any occasion. Vuori- Strato Tech Tee - $54 The Strato Tech Tee is the softest piece of workout apparel on the planet, doubling as your go-to t-shirt. With next-level comfort, our softest performance knit is quick drying and moisture wicking. Goodr - Bosley's Basset Hound Dreams - $25 Tortoiseshell sunglasses? More like houndshell shades. These sunnies were named in honor of Bosley, king of the basset hounds. So every time you wear these no slip, no bounce brown frames with non-reflective polarized brown lenses, you’ll be in the presence of royalty. Hot sauce Tabasco: Priceless, available at your local convenience store, this delicious nectar of the gods.  Tabasco. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.   -- *W.O.E. has received no financial compensation for the above products and these are NOT/NOT sponsored.  Please do your own research before making any purchases.

15 comments
Read More
Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

22 comments
Read More

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

22 comments
Read More
What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from...

16 comments
Read More

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from in-depth profiles of impactful Intelligence Community and military practitioners to breaking down geopolitical conflicts through the lens of watches. Today, however, we figured we’d go a little lighter and engage in an age-old tradition that, while slightly more juvenile than most of our content, continues to be relevant and just plain fun. Just about every watch platform has matched up the Rolex Submariner with the perennial watch-guy favorite–the air cooled Porsche 911. But we’ll leave that to the popular watch style blogs. We’re here to talk about metal with a purpose beyond simply looking cool. We’re going to match up iconic watches with well-known aircraft. Many of you will be intimately familiar with both of these subjects, and finding the intricacies and characteristics that tie a watch to an airplane and vice versa is an exercise in diving deep into the engineering characteristics, legacy, and function of both the plane and the watch.  Tom Cruise wearing Porsche Design Chronograph 1 (Photo Credit: Paramount) Before we apply full nose down inputs and dive in, we’d like to acknowledge that folks will have very serious opinions about these pairings, and that this list is just a starting point. If you disagree, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. We eschewed the traditional “rules” for pairings using things like country of origin or physical appearance to pair watches and cars and instead focused on the core ethos of each piece of equipment and the character and reputation it has developed in both aviation and horology circles. Now let’s roll, pitch, and yaw right into it: The Plane: Lockheed C-130 Hercules The “SUV of the sky” is ubiquitous and tough as nails. It’s been in service since 1956 and the fundamental design of the aircraft hasn’t changed much over more than half a century. It can land and take off from unprepared airstrips, it can operate in hot and high environments, it can be fitted with skis to land on ice, it can use JATO (jet assisted take off), it can act as an aerial refueling platform, it can serve as a command and control platform, it can even be kitted out for long-range search and rescue, and maybe most importantly, the AC-130, the gunship version known as the Angel of Death, can absolutely rain down hell on the enemy. The Watch: Seiko SKX007  You won’t find this steadfast tool watch on the wrist of anyone wearing a suit. It’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not known for superior fit and finishing, either. But it’s where a lot of us started our watch interest, and it’s where it can end, too. You don’t need another watch. This one is tough as hell and just keeps on running. Like the C-130, it’s spawned a bunch of variants.  The Link: The same places you’ll find the SKX007 being worn, you’ll find the C-130 being used. They’re both the standard unit of toughness that all other watches and utility aircraft are measured against. The Plane: Boeing C-32A  This is the plane that the highest officials in the US Government use for executive transport. You’ll typically find the Vice President (Air Force Two) and the Secretary of State aboard. It can also serve as Air Force One when the President’s 747 is considered overkill for a specific destination. It’s a symbol of American might and democracy that you’ll find all over the world. The Watch: Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Photo Credit: James Rupley The Case Officer’s watch. It can get dirty and take a beating, but has a certain polished cache that’s elevated it to iconic status. It can tell time in three different time zones at once; and the design hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first worn by Pan-Am pilots. The model became popular with military pilots and was even famously worn by Chuck Yeager.  The GMT-Master II serves as a stand-in for worldliness The Link: Both of these at first appear polished and proper, but they’re also some of the most capable and bad-ass platforms around. The C-32A has a whole host of classified defense systems. And the guy wearing a GMT-Master probably isn’t a stranger to doing what it takes to get it done. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-16 For the last 30 years, when someone says “fighter jet”, it’s most likely the F-16 that many people–familiar with military aircraft or not–think of. It’s the most widely operated fighter in the world. In other words, it’s the OG fighter aircraft of the modern era. It’s a multi-role aircraft, and there’s even a project led by the US Air Force, Project Venom, to operate F-16s autonomously. The F-16 has come a long way since its first flight in 1973. The US Air Force had once said that it would be retired in 2025, but then signed on to keep the F-16 flying for another 20 years. It’s not going anywhere just yet. And that’s a great thing. If it ain't broken, don’t fix it.  The Watch: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Actual military pilots wear all sorts of watches. Everything from Garmins to Bremonts. But there’s such a thing as a prototypical “pilot’s watch” and it’s the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, the 43. It’s the watch that some real fighter pilots wear, but that many, many more people who wish to be a fighter pilot wear. It’s become an icon for what it represents, not necessarily for what it actually is. But what it is, is a watch that’s been at the center of the military aviation scene since before World War II.  IWC has a long history with aviation, and continues to produce Unit/Squadron watches for many aviators. The Link:  The link here is obvious–these are both the icons of their type. They’re what first comes to mind when thinking of fighter jets and pilots watches. They’re also sort of the most basic iterations of their forms as well. The Plane: A-10 Warthog  This aircraft’s primary role is CAS (close air support) and it absolutely excels at it thanks to its twin-turbofan, straight wing setup. It frequently gets “down in the dirt” and you’ve almost certainly seen memes or videos of the infamous “BBRRRRRTTTTT” that’s emitted from the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon affixed to the nose of the airplane. It crushes tanks, lights up enemies, and emerged as an absolute icon after Desert Storm. BBBBRRRRTTTT. The Watch: Tudor Ranger The Ranger is mostly considered a field watch, not necessarily a pilot’s watch. Its simple, stripped-down nature is where its beauty lies. Consider it the modern version of what the Rolex 1016 was (or the vintage Tudor Ranger)–a simple-as-hell time only tool watch that was indestructible and somewhat of an everyman’s watch. You have 3, 6, and 9, and nothing much else except fantastic legibility. It just gets the job done and doesn’t cost too much. The Link: The A-10 is cheap as chips to operate and consistently crushes the competition when it comes to fixed-wing CAS. The Ranger embodies the same ethos–value-forward, reliable, and has a “git ‘er done” way about it. They’re both simple. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-35 The F-35 was delivered ten years late and went 1.7 trillion USD over budget, but it’s the most technologically advanced plane that has ever existed. It’s over the top in every single way, not to mention it costs $41,986 an hour to fly. But trying to find anything that rivals it. You won’t China’s J-20? Nope. Russia’s Su-57? Negative. The aircraft defines air superiority through its host of technical features, many of which are still classified (on the US-operated variants, of course). The Watch: RM 39-01 Richard Mille marketing shot If you want one of these, it’ll set you back about 150K. But you’ll also have the most feature-rich, tech-forward analog pilot’s watch that exists. A titanium case and a skeletonized carbon fiber dial characterize the watch, along with the signature Richard Mille lightweight technical look. Richard Mille is the epitome of technical mastery in watchmaking, and the RM 39-01 is the brand’s foray into pilot’s watches. It’s the opposite of legible and robust, but sometimes the most technically advanced things are just that way. The Link: The amount of engineering that goes into these two things– and the price tag– are both superlative. The Aircraft: UH-60 Black Hawk You’ve seen Black Hawk Down. Hell, we know some of you even fly the Black Hawk, which is operated in a branch-specific variant by the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The design dates back to 1974 with Sikorsky, and now the US military operates over 2,000 Black Hawk helicopters. Roughly 30 other countries around the world also operate the UH-60 in some form or another, not to mention civilian operators that use it for firefighting, cargo transport, to search and rescue. It’s a ubiquitous helicopter when it comes to roles in the defense sector. Anyone who flies the Black Hawk knows that when it stops leaking hydraulic fluid, that’s when you have to worry. It can carry between 12 and 20 soldiers into battle and can lift 22,000 lbs. It was first used operationally in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and it’s been going strong ever since. The Watch: Marathon TSAR Cheap, chunky, and indestructible, the TSAR has been a mainstay in the inventory of issued watches of US forces over the past decade. Many models even feature the “US Government” markings on the dial in addition to the nuclear regulatory commision designation on the caseback. The watch has earned a stellar reputation by those to whom it has been issued to. It’s designed solely for utility, not looks. The tall case is meant to make it easy to operate the bezel with gloves on, and tritium tubes are employed for superior legibility and visibility in the dark. In short, it’s been a longstanding fixture in the military watch scene for good reason–it just works. The Link: The TSAR, like the Black Hawk, isn’t going to win any awards for looking good or being a hero. Neither draw a crowd. But those in the know will always choose these tools over the more sexy options.  (Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military) The Aircraft: Lun-class Ekranoplan What makes this craft different from most on this list is that even though it has “wings”, it’s not an airplane, or airship even. It’s technically still just a standard maritime ship, because it only lifts about 13 feet off the water and flies in “ground effect”, meaning it takes advantage of reduced drag flying close to a fixed surface. In this case, the surface is the surface of the ocean. It’s essentially just a massive flying boat powered by eight turbofans mounted to canards near the bow of the ship. Flying in ground effect meant that unless the surface of the sea was steady, it simply couldn't fly, and that ultimately led to its demise. It’s an incredibly neat idea that’s also very Soviet–and it can certainly be debated whether or not it’s a good-looking craft or not.  The Watch: Hublot Big Bang  This is the model that’s most typically associated with Hublot, the brand that everyone loves to hate–and by most engineering and mechanical accounts, the watch is pretty strong. But most people agree–it has a very specific type of culture attached to it. The Link: Both the Ekranoplan and Hublot are loved by Russians, but that’s not all. They both had their mainstream time to shine decades ago, but still both have a small legion of loyal followers today that still live like it’s the heyday of the Ekranoplan and Hublot. But hey, they like what they like. SHOP NOW:  Five Eye Nylon Watch Strap

16 comments
Read More
U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

14 comments
Read More

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

14 comments
Read More
"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone,...

14 comments
Read More

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” Remembering the heroes of September 11th Attacks: On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old Account Manager at Oracle, rose early to catch United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco for a business trip. As part of his morning routine, he snapped the clasp shut on the two-tone jubilee bracelet of his 36mm Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph before heading out the door at 6:15 am, leaving his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children at home.  After a 42 minute delay, he boarded Flight 93; it departed from Gate 17 at Newark Liberty International Airport and took off at 8:42 am. At 9:28 am, the calm Tuesday morning flight was interrupted when Al Qaeda hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, used box cutters and a supposed explosive device to take control of the plane and divert the aircraft back east towards Washington D.C. The hijackers moved Beamer and the other 43 passengers to the rear of the plane. Using cellphones and seatback phones, the passengers contacted loved ones and airport officials and learned that three other aircraft were weaponized and deliberately crashed into some of our nation’s most important buildings: the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Beamer and other passengers acted fast and stormed the cockpit in an effort to take back the aircraft. Beamer’s last words were recorded through the seatback phone. If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them...Are you ready? Okay, Let's roll. At 10:03 am, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes flying time from the terrorists’ intended target: the U.S. Capital. Beamer and a number of other passengers had thwarted Al Qaeda’s plans.  Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” His watch is a two-tone 18k yellow gold Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, likely reference 16263, with a champagne tapestry dial. Despite the use of precious metal, the watch was originally developed as a tool watch in the early 1950s with a bidirectional bezel for timing. Nicknamed the “Thunderbird,” it was issued in the late 1950s to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron pilots, with the famed unit’s insignia on the dial. Late 1950s Rolex advertisement. Hanging on the wall of my office is an old Rolex advertisement that I see everyday. The copy, in bold, reads, “Men who guide the destinies of the world wear Rolex Watches.” The ad is clearly meant to conjure up images of Presidents, Generals and Diplomats– but what Beamer did that day is exactly what the ad says: he changed the course of history. Had he and the other brave passengers on the plane not acted, the aircraft would have continued to Washington D.C. and likely inflicted significant harm on the U.S. Capitol, the heart of American democracy. Beamer was an ordinary American who showed extraordinary courage during a time of need. He was a man of action. Like most great men, the man made the watch, not the other way around. The fact that he was wearing a Rolex is insignificant, but the watch lives on as a memorial to him and his fellow passengers that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Beamer’s legacy lives on beyond his parting heroic action. Let's Roll became a unifying command, a battle cry for America in the Post-9/11 era. Troops deploying to Afghanistan months later would use this as a motivational phrase to bring the fight to the enemy. Years later when I traveled to war zones, “Let’s Roll” was still commonly heard before departing on an operation or seen painted on a gym wall at remote U.S. Government outposts. Today, Beamer’s mangled Rolex is on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, along with an Oracle business card discovered in the wreckage, both donated by his wife, Lisa, to honor his sacrifice and legacy. The date window still chillingly displays the day that the world changed forever; “11.” Let's Roll - CIA in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks. Beamer’s father, David Beamer, would later remark to the New York Times, “The function of the watch is supposed to be to tell time. What it doesn’t tell is what time it is anymore. What it does tell is what time it was. It marks the time that a successful counterattack on Flight 93 came to an end.” There are few actions more selfless than sacrificing your life for another, and that’s exactly what the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did. Had the airplane continued to Washington D.C. and struck the U.S. Capitol, scores of elected officials, civil servants, and innocent civilians would have perished.  Like Beamer on the morning of September 11th, 2001, countless men and women would choose to roll into action and answer the call to serve in the wake of 9/11.  This Dispatch is in honor of the 2,977 people who died on September 11th, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, and their three children.   Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

14 comments
Read More
Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing...

12 comments
Read More

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing the watch in my studio, I was surprised to see a production error that I had never seen before. In the “8” in the “18” on the bezel, the top circle is blue, while the bottom is black.

12 comments
Read More
CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

17 comments
Read More

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

17 comments
Read More
Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

44 comments
Read More

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can even serve as stand alone stories– and probably will at some point–but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we will address next time. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” What advice do you have for buying watches? There are more resources than ever before on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re pretty far down the rabbit hole.  Here are a few tips below for those looking to get into watches.  Also check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” as a good starting point. Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford, as “buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the hobby. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. How do I organize Unit watch? After our “Tudors of Espionage” piece, we received a lot of queries on how to organize a “unit watch” for a specific military, law enforcement or intelligence organization.  We have heard from our industry contacts that companies across the board have received an increase in these requests.  This is cool, because “unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.” To review, 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.   We will continue to go deeper on various unit watch programs (like Bremont Military and Special Project's Division) and guide those looking to organize a custom watch for their organization, but in the meantime, here are some initial steps: Do it: To accomplish anything in the government, you need an internal champion.  Be that champion. Nothing will happen otherwise. Build Internal Support:  For most custom watch programs, you need a minimum of 50 pieces. It needs to make sense for a manufacturer to tool up to produce a custom watch, which incurs a significant cost on their end.  Start building support within the organization and gauge interest from other unit members.  Take the opportunity to educate non-watch members why a watch is a great way to commemorate a moment in time and one's service.  Seek approval from the unit/command leadership if needed. Explore Brands: There are some great brands that provide unit watches. Each one has its pros and cons.  Decide on 3-4 that work for your unit's culture. As a starting point, look at Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor, Bremont Watch Company, Elliot Brown, CWC, Seiko, and Sangin Instruments. Contact the brands:  For larger brands (Tudor, IWC, Omega, etc) visit a local boutique/Authorized Dealer and explain what you're looking to accomplish.  You need someone on the inside to help shepherd you through the process, as it can often be opaque.  For smaller brands (Elliot Brown, CWC, Sangin) you should reach out directly through the website.  Some companies like Bremont have formal “Special Projects” programs and make it seamless; others are more based on personal relationships.  Ideally, have a specific idea of what you are looking for, i.e. a specific reference and design/location of the insignia. Be Patient:  These things take time.  Having spoken with some of the individuals who have shepherded Tudor pieces, these projects can take over a year for delivery. Automatic vs Quartz? There is nothing wrong with quartz movements, and anyone who says otherwise is a nerd.  Not a good “watch nerd,” just a nerd.  In general I prefer an automatic timepiece because I appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce an automatic movement.  Operationally, there is a strong argument for an automatic movement, as batteries will always die at the wrong time.   That said, some of the greatest military watches are quartz: CWC, Elliot Brown, and Marathon, not to mention the venerable Breitling Aerospace.  A quartz movement is likely more accurate than an automatic movement and some of these pieces are just as fashionable and robust.  There is something satisfying about picking up a watch and knowing that the date and time are set. They both have their place in the watch world.  Again, these are tools and you choose the right tool for the task. Does the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) censor your writing? The CIA does not “censor” my writing when it comes to beliefs, opinions, or watch content.  It does review my writing (including this piece) to ensure that it does not contain classified information.  All current and former CIA officers have a lifelong obligation to protect classified national security information, and one aspect of this lifelong commitment is submitting writing to the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB).  This is a good thing, as it protects every party involved.  Overall, I have found the review process relatively smooth.  Like most “formers” who write about the intelligence field, I have a general understanding of what we can and cannot say and there have been no major issues with the PCRB.  There are occasionally times when the PCRB will remove a location, word, or sentence, but overall it has not impacted the core points of any of the stories I’ve written. As a private citizen, I am free to express my own opinions about the government, CIA, or watches, and I have not heard of any cases where a former CIA officer’s opinions or writings were “censored” in the traditional sense.  It appears as though the CIA has made a conscious decision to be forward-leaning by allowing formers to write (relatively) openly about their experiences.  This is also a good thing.  My personal opinion is that the Intelligence Community should protect secrets, but should also be open in educating the public on what we do.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the CIA and we are in a position to dispel those myths and educate people on the reality. By writing semi-openly, we can achieve that.  Do you sleep with your watch on? (We have received this question a lot.) I do not. Does anyone? That's weird.  I actually find myself taking my watch off often when I am at home, when typing on the computer, doing chores etc.  I haven't really put much thought into why this is but I have never slept with a watch on, and I don’t even put it on my bedside table unless traveling.  Generally, I take my watch off in the bathroom or office and have been using a W.O.E. EDC Valet in both. If anyone does sleep with their watch on, I would love to hear their rationale in the comments. Thoughts on tactical micro-brands?  Are you a poser if you did not serve in the military? When you buy a watch–any watch– you are buying into that brand and the community and reputation the brand commands.  This is especially true with micro brands/tactical brands. There are some great micro brands/tactical brands out there and several were highlighted in the “Best Watches Under $1,000” Dispatch.  That said, I do not have much first hand experience with them, so I will reserve judgment.  If you are interested in a tactical brand, I encourage you to really do your research.   In my opinion, Sangin Instruments is one of, if not the, leader in this space.  Started by a Marine Raider, they make great watches but perhaps more importantly, they’ve built a true community around the brand.  Though largely driven by the active duty military and veterans, one does not have to be a veteran to take part and you are by no means a poser if you support this brand. One other that I have also personally owned is RESCO Instruments, which was started by a former SEAL. Similar to Sangin, they have strong support from the active duty military and make a robust toolwatch. Starting a watch company is hard, really hard.  There is a reason the top watch brands have been around for over a century.  Do your research: many of these companies have good intentions, slick websites and lots of tactical dudes wearing them, but actually building a company like Sangin and RESCO is not easy or for the faint hearted. Final thought, any brand that gets you interested in watches is a good thing.  If you like the aesthetic of a watch and the guys building a brand, buy one. Try it out.  It’s all just a part of the larger process of going deeper into the hobby.  Favorite city to visit? Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Cape Town, South Africa. If you had to choose only one watch to keep forever, what would it be? From an emotional standpoint, it would likely be the titanium Royal Jordanian Breitling Aerospace, a gift from His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, but from a purely aesthetic and functional perspective, it would be my Rolex GMT-Master II, an early 2000s black and red “Coke” ref 16710. For years, I have said that the Rolex GMT–any execution of the watch– is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. A Case Officer has been described as a “PhD that can win in a bar fight,” and that fictional person would wear a Rolex GMT.  While this is less true today with the astronomical prices of “new” pre-owned models, there is still a lot of truth to it.  When traveling, the quick-change date and GMT functionality are useful for telling the time back home, and a simple wrist check is easier than pulling out a phone. The watch also captures the spirit of the often-romanticized ‘50s Rolex GMT, originally developed in the 1950s for commercial Pan Am pilots. I have an old “Root Beer” ref 16753, but the newer model is more robust and still maintains some of the vintage aspects, including drilled lug holes and the aluminum bezel.  The “Pepsi” of course is a classic, but there is something about the red and black that I have always gravitated towards.  It is just different enough to make it stand out but still retains that timeless appeal of the classic bi-color bezel formula.  How has your interest in watches evolved over time? My personal interest in watches has evolved greatly over the past year as my collection has expanded. My collection and my interest grew together in tandem.  I’m still interested in modern tool watches, but have gone down the vintage military-issued watch rabbit hole.  I recently acquired a South African issued Tudor Milsub ref 7016 and a US Navy UDT/SEAL-issued Tudor 7928.  Both of these watches are “grail” pieces for me, and for the time being I am satisfied and have so much history to learn and uncover when it comes to the pieces I already own.  I will continue to be on the lookout for unique watches with military provenance.  There is something special about owning a piece of history and being able to wear it on your wrist. What are your thoughts on watch modifications? I have never modified a watch before, but this is something I would really like to explore in the future.  The idea of taking a Tudor Black Bay 58 or an Arabic Seiko as a blank canvas and personalizing it is incredibly intriguing.  This is still a controversial practice for much of the traditional watch community.  George Bamford originally made a name for himself by customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands. Customized “Commando” Rolex Submariner (Bamford Watch Department) That said, I am not attracted to customizing a timepiece to look like another timepiece, aka a “Homage” customization.  If this makes you excited, then I am happy for you, but it is not for me. Before selling out and going corporate, our friend and spiritual mentor Cole Pennington wrote a piece for Hodinkee defending homage pieces.  I generally agree with everything Cole writes, but when it comes to this topic I respectfully disagree.  Cole points out that there is a “big difference” between homage pieces and counterfeits, but in reality whether produced by a manufacturer or individually customized, the difference is often not that big.  I would rather purchase (and wear) a Seiko that looks like a Seiko, than a Seiko that has been retrofitted to look like a Rolex. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? What new products and will they be in stock? W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform.  The reason we are successful is that we are passionate about watches (and espionage) and that’s our core fundamental driving force–not profiting from the watch community.  Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence and national security content as it relates to timepieces.  We have just scratched the surface and have a lot more to explore. We have made a lot of progress over the past year, with the launch of the website and initial W.O.E. products.  Our main focus is building a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate history and an interest in timepieces.  Content will continue to be our main focus and our intention is to keep this free and open to everyone.   Much of the watch industry works on a “pay to play” model where brands sponsor content or invite journalists to “exclusive” press trips which inevitably influences any potential watch review. Our goal is to avoid this model and remain an impartial third party in the watch industry. We will support brands and people who are doing good things.  If we enter into a partnership with a brand, it will be on our terms and will not be just a transaction for cash to exploit our relationship with the community. Obviously this takes significant time and money and will only increase as we continue to expand.  After thoughtful consideration, we moved into the product space, and have found this equally fulfilling to create novel and exciting products for our community.  We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E.-- as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content.  Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are working on some new and exciting projects and hope to have some in stock at all points.  We are in the initial steps on a coffee table book that we hope to be available in 2024. This year, we have raised over $23,000 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Read Next: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight *Unless otherwise noted, pictures are of W.O.E.'s personal collection by James Rupley.

44 comments
Read More
Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We...

6 comments
Read More

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We have previously profiled Tudor’s unit watch program and plan to cover all of the major players in this space.    UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing unique watches to military and intelligence units, including the highest tiers of the US Intelligence, Aviation and Special Operations community. In order to document a first hand perspective, we asked Nic, an Australian military pilot, to write a Dispatch on his experience organizing a custom Bremont for his squadron. As always, this content is not sponsored and the views and perspectives are of the author.  At W.O.E., we are brand agnostic but do support any brand that supports our community. Aviation Unit Watch Case Study: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division The EA-18G Bremont U-2 on the wrist of a Growler pilot (Photo Credit: @outboundcourse)  In the world of horology, Bremont is a relative newcomer, having been founded by brothers Nick and Giles English in 2002. The siblings, inspired by their father’s passion for both aviation and mechanical devices, merged their interests to design, manufacture and release their first pilot's watch in 2007. Bremont arrived on the scene as a fresh contender at a time when established players were coincidently shifting their focus away from the aviation and military markets towards more mainstream celebrity brand ambassadors. In 2009, U-2 spy plane pilots from Beale Air Force Base, California contacted Bremont to see if the brand would be willing to create a bespoke watch for their squadron. Bremont subsequently produced and delivered the watch as its first ever military project in 2010. The following year, they launched a partnership with ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker and started to garner interest from the global military aviation community. Bremont was then approached by the US Navy Test Pilot School, USAF C-17 Globemaster community and US Navy VFA-81 Sunliners Squadron and asked to produce special military watches for their members. The Military and Special Projects Bremont made for U-2 spy plane pilots was the brand’s first custom military watch. (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) Once the custom C-17 watch appeared on social media in 2012, the brand received significantly more attention from potential military clients. To cater for this increase in queries and requests for projects, Bremont’s Military and Special Project Division was established by Catherine Villeneuve. Over ten years later, Catherine – who is also Nick English’s wife – leads a sizable and dedicated team as Bremont’s Head of Military and Special Projects. The C-17A Bremont ALT1-WT (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) I first heard about Bremont from a friend who had run his own project and so got in touch with the brand’s Military and Special Projects team in 2016 to enquire about developing a watch for my Australian squadron of KC-30A air-to-air refueling aircraft. Once I’d established contact the process was straight forward. Due to the expeditionary nature of our work, I chose the Bremont World Timer as a base model and then started the back-and-forth with the Bremont design team to determine how to make the project unique and meaningful to those of us who would eventually wear it. This mainly consisted of me sending poorly constructed Microsoft Paint pictures of airplanes and crests pasted onto watches and them responding with high quality renderings of potential design options. As the military traditionally offers limited opportunities for creative expression within its ranks, I really enjoyed the opportunity to play designer with the guidance from Bremont’s professionals. Catherine explains that “The design focus is to base the client’s idea around an existing model, staying true to our brand DNA and then elegantly and subtly integrating design details within the watch dial and sometimes other watch parts, to best identify the military squadron, unit or community”. The “triple seven," an Afghan unit trained/mentored by Americans for air lift assets, most notably the Russian built Mi-17.  This watch was produced by Bremont for the American servicemen supporting that unit. Bremont distinguishes itself from many competitors’ military offerings by allowing extensive customisation options. Beyond simply featuring aircraft silhouettes on the dial or unit crests on the case back, clients can opt for a variety of modifications, depending on the size of their order. For example, the C-130J Hercules project features a small seconds hand shaped like the aircraft’s six-blade propellers; the F-14 Tomcat project has hands coloured to match the jet’s tailhook; and the movement rotors of the A-10C project are carved into the shape of the Hawg’s iconic 30mm autocannon. For our project we were able to use a GMT hand coloured to match our refueling boom and a bespoke time zone bezel that showed the ICAO codes of our frequently visited airports and air bases. The C-130J Bremont ALT1-Z (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) There are still some design rules to adhere to – Catherine notes “We have detailed documents regarding specific Terms and Conditions when it comes to designing and purchasing a Bremont Military and Special Project watch”. However, IYKYK acronyms sometimes appear on project dials that may skirt some of the restrictions (see: USAF KC-135’s “NKAWTG”, F-16CJ Super Weasel’s “YGBSM” and RAAF 75SQN’s “YKYMF”). Custom Bremont MBIIIs for F-16CJ Super Weasels and RAAF 75SQN (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Once our design was finalized and eligibility criteria set, it was time for me to collect orders from my colleagues to meet the minimum number requirements. The amount of emotional energy invested during the design phase made this portion of the process particularly stressful. For many at military units, this is their first foray into the world of luxury mechanical watches so justifying the price tag can be a difficult feat but to help with this, Bremont offers significant discounts to it’s military customers. Once the minimum numbers were met and deposits paid, production began with the final product being delivered about nine months later. While the completion of production and delivery marks the end of the journey for most customers, a significant number of us choose to maintain a connection with the brand by engaging through social media, sharing photos of watches in action (use your tools!) or by dropping into local boutiques to share a story and enjoy a drink. It’s also worth noting the project leader can decide whether the project is a limited run or not. Even years after the first batch of deliveries, latecomers such as new squadron members or people who didn’t have the funds at the time can still get on board as Bremont maintains contact with the original project leader to ensure accurate verification of eligibility. Bremont's Military and Special Projects Division has become a pillar of the brand's success, accounting for almost 20% of its total sales. Interestingly, design ideas incubated by military projects can also overflow to Bremont’s core range. For example, the ALT1-WT was inspired by the C-17 Globemaster watch, the ALT-1B from a B-2 bomber project and the U-22 from an F-22 Raptor project. The purple, bronze and titanium-colored barrels across the MB range were all first featured on military projects. The F-22 Bremont U-22. The exposed date wheel was first for the brand and went on to inform the design of the civilian U-22 model. (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) The Bremont Military Instagram account showcases a myriad of professional and user-submitted photos, providing a glimpse into the vast number of individual projects the Military and Special Projects Division have produced with many more discreet projects remaining unseen by the public and unspoken about by the brand. When asked which projects were her personal favorites, Catherine responded “There are so many I could mention. Over the last 13 years Bremont has created and delivered almost 500 different military and special projects. Some of them are incredibly exciting but sadly the details of many projects cannot be shared. Design-wise, I would say the F-35 collection (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35 Dambuster) is very cool, the RAF Lancaster Bomber, HSM-85 Squadron, 89th Airlift, Grim Reapers 493rd Fighter Squadron, RSAF Tornado, the Royal Marine 350th, the new Royal Navy Submariners and of course the Australian KC-30A are personal favorites.” The KC-30A Bremont ALT1-WT on the beaches of Diego Garcia (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Although military projects account for about 80% of the timepieces produced by the Military and Special Projects Division, watches are also made for civilian organizations. These clients have included BAE Systems, Oxbridge alumni, Rapha, FedEx pilots, Aston Martin Owners’ Club, Heathrow Air Traffic Controllers, REORG veterans’ charity, as well as rugby and cricket clubs. Moving forward, we can expect to see (or maybe only hear rumors of) many more bespoke Bremont Military and Special Projects watches that not only tell the time, but also tell the stories of the elite units, squadrons, ships and regiments that they have been created for.  READ NEXT: Marathon, Watch Maker For The Modern Military Author: Nic is an Australian military pilot that has been a follower of W.O.E. since the early days. He has a particular interest in custom military watch projects having designed and produced timepieces with multiple brands

6 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

10 comments
Read More

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

10 comments
Read More
Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed...

2 comments
Read More

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by GBRS co-founders and former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley.  Each order includes a W.O.E.-GBRS challenge coin.  $40 of every purchase will be donated directly to Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  We expect to raise over $20,000 and will provide proof of the donation once the fundraiser is complete. Cole and DJ with donated uniforms, Panerais on the wrist. Overview:  This release is an updated version of one of our best selling products, the W.O.E. Travel Pouch and challenge coin.  Made in the USA, the single watch case is durable, compact and functional, and honors our community with subtle accents. Like a great watch, the case is a tool, made to be used and to last decades. The GBRS AOR-1 case has an updated card with red trim and the GBRS Old-English “g” is on one side of the watch card and the back of the watch case. AOR-1:  The case flap keeper is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by Cole and DJ.  AOR-1 was introduced in 2010 for Navy Special Operations and was developed for desert/arid environments.  The pattern has been used widely throughout the Middle East and Africa. DJ wearing AOR-1 camouflage during free fall training. GBRS Group:  GBRS Group is a veteran-owned, Tier 1 training and services organization committed to imparting critical skills and real-world experiences to end-users in military, federal, state and local special operations units.  GBRS Group was founded by Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley, two former Navy SEALs who served in NSW Development Group, the Navy’s Tier 1 Special Mission Unit. Cole deployed overseas with NSW. As previously discussed in the Dispatch, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has a long history with timepieces.  Since the early 1960’s, frogmen have utilized tool watches including Tudor, Seiko, G-Shock and various other dive watches.  Today, NSW continues this tradition with a strong culture of high end tool watches, including Panerai, Rolex, Tudor, Bremont and various other timepieces. Third Option Foundation:  The name refers to the motto of CIA's Special Activities Center: Tertia Optio, the President’s third option when military force is inappropriate and diplomacy is inadequate. Third Option Foundation is dedicated to providing comprehensive family resiliency programs, working behind the scenes to quietly help those who quietly serve. “You will probably never know the names of these silent heroes who defend our safety and freedoms in the most distant corners of the world. They’re often the first in and the last to leave many conflicts around the globe. For decades, the operators of CIA's Special Operations units have served and sacrificed in quiet anonymity.  Particularly in the years since 9/11, this small group, along with their families, has borne an unprecedented burden in the fight to protect our nation. The nature of their service means they and their loved ones cannot seek the support or relief available to military service members and their families. Third Option Foundation is the only organization that fills this gap, by providing crucial survivorship assistance and resiliency programs to heal the wounded, help the families of those we have lost, and support those who are still serving. “I was the commander of a unit that, within the span of about 18 months, sustained a number of casualties of operators killed in action overseas. There were more than a dozen children who were suddenly without fathers, and wives who had lost their husbands. As we were flying across the country notifying the families, we saw just how significant the need was for those family members for a safety net, for support and understanding. We decided to create an organization to address the really unique needs of our agency’s Special Operations community that weren’t being met. — Anonymous, Co-Founder of Third Option Foundation” At W.O.E., we are passionate about serving those who serve us and this is at the core of who we are as a business and community. We believe that doing good is good business and it would be hypocritical of us to not give back to our community. We will continue to be transparent about our support.   *Photos by James Rupley and GBRS. **W.O.E. has no affiliation with Third Option Foundation and this fundraiser is not officially endorsed by Third Option Foundation.   THIRD OPTION FOUNDATION IS A 501(C)(3) TAX-EXEMPT NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

2 comments
Read More
Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling - We Don’t Make The Rules

Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic. The watches we cover are dictated by the community and one brand that consistently pops up is Breitling....

19 comments
Read More

Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic. The watches we cover are dictated by the community and one brand that consistently pops up is Breitling. There are few truths in the world of intelligence, but one of them is Sketchy Dudes Wear Breitling. Before the Breitling fan clubs take out their pitchforks and start a bonfire, we want to be clear that this phrase is neither a commendation nor a criticism. It’s an observation that, while it remains relevant today, particularly applies to the 1990s and 2000s when Breitling was the adventure watch for unapologetic men focused on aviation and diving. Breitling was a signal that the wearer is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince in Afghanistan wearing a custom Breitling Emergency. (Photo Credit: Vogue) Breitling - Tools For Professionals While likely an unintended consequence of marketing watches as “tools for professionals”, the brand developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community with both good and bad actors. Breitling watches can be found on the wrists of many gray area operators — from CEO of Blackwater Erik Prince’s Breitling Emergency (READ HERE), former Soviet arms dealer Viktor Bout’s Breitling B-1, and Director of CIA George Tenet’s Breitling Aerospace. When Leonardo DiCaprio played Danny Archer, a former Rhodesian smuggler turned mercenary in the movie Blood Diamond, he wore a Breitling Chrono Avenger. All of these men are sketchy, some good sketchy, some bad sketchy, but sketchy nonetheless.  Then Director of CIA wearing Breitling Aerospace while testifying for the 9/11 Commission. (Credit: AP) Breitling - A (Very Brief) History Lesson Breitling SA was founded in 1884 by Leon Breitling and passed down through his bloodline until 1979 when the brand was purchased by Ernst Schneider, a professional soldier turned watch executive. Under the leadership of Ernst and later his son, Théodore Schneider (an aviation enthusiast and helicopter pilot), Breilting found its niche manufacturing “tools for professionals”, developing several partnerships with military aviation units including the Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic team of the Italian Air Force. Breitling Jet Team (MigFlug) Sketchy Breitling References While collectors value several vintage Breitling references, including the iconic Navitimer 806 and Cosmonaute 809, several analog-digital models cemented Breitling’s role as a leader in producing practical tool watches built for adventure. Breitling Aerospace: W.O.E.’s Jordanian Breitling Aerospace. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) While we are certainly biased, the Breitling Aerospace maintains legendary status in our community because, at its core, it is a highly functional tool. The dual digital screens of the chronometer-certified "SuperQuartz" have practical features including a digital chronograph, a second-time zone, day and date, an alarm, and a countdown timer. The combination of a well-finished titanium case and bracelet with traditional analog hands results in a robust piece that can be worn to a black tie dinner in Mayfair or the cockpit of a Caravan on a dirt strip in Mozambique. The Aerospace was introduced in 1985, more than a decade after the “Quartz Crisis,” where many consumers moved to cheaper, more accurate timepieces, resulting in a dramatic decline in the mechanically-driven Swiss watch industry.   As previously documented, I was gifted a Breitling Aerospace with a gold Royal Crown of Jordan on the dial from King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein and wore it for much of my career while operational at CIA. The Aerospace’s technical complications were legitimately useful for conducting clandestine operations where time matters. The Aerospace as we knew it was quietly discontinued, the recent release of the updated but likely-limited Aerospace B70 Orbiter indicates more is on the horizon for one of the brand’s sketchiest model families. Breitling Emergency: Perhaps the best example of Breitlings legendary tool watch status is the Breitling Emergency. Developed in 1995 in partnership with French aviation manufacturer Dassault Electronique, the original Emergency contained a beacon that transmits a signal on the international distress frequency of 121.5 MHz. In an emergency, the wearer unscrews the cap at four o’clock and extends a thin wire antenna which automatically activates the signal. Commercial and military aircraft monitor the frequency and are able to alert search and rescue teams of an individual's location, anywhere in the world. The watch was specifically marketed to the military and aviation sectors and, according to Breitling, has been used to rescue individuals including in 1997 when a reed boat was blown off course while sailing from Easter Island to Australia. Breitling Emergency Catalog (1985) The Breitling Emergency would go on to be favored by those who operated on the fringe of nonpermissive environments including several specialized aviation units, Blackwater personnel, and former SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann. Today, the Breitling Emergency is still available at a massive 51mm diameter and complete with dual frequency distress beacons at 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz, both of which are monitored through the international Cospas-Sarsat system and based on a network of satellites in low-altitude earth orbit (LEOSAR). Breitling - The Unit Watch Pioneer Breitling Avenger Seawolf commissioned by Breitling SAS D Squadron in 2003/2004. We have covered modern “unit watches” extensively and much of what we see today implemented by Tudor, Bremont, IWC, and others was originally pioneered by Breitling in the 1990s and 2000s. This was a core aspect of Breitling's sketchiness, and the close relationship between Breitling and several elite units made it a prized possession for many operating at the tip of the spear. Originally focused on aviation squadron watches, Breitling branched out to Special Operations Forces, including US Army Delta Force and the British Special Air Service in the early 2000s. British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. (Photo Credit: Richard Williams) Breitling's customization program was not limited to the military or governments but extended to commercial entities. In 2010, Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich commissioned 50 Breitling SuperOcean automatics with "Eclipse" on the dial, the name of one of his 533 ft super yachts, pretty sketchy if you ask me . . . (Photo Credit: Chiswick Auctions) Hollywood:   Breitling’s sketchiness also extends to the silver screen with several W.O.E. characters wearing the legendary tool watches in major Hollywood productions. Blood Diamond (2006) - Breitling Chrono Avenger In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a dreamy Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond amid the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger with a black dial and a solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap. A Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy so this watch is on point. The movie takes place in 1999 when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators and real mercenaries. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout wearing a Breitling B-1 after his arrest in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo Credit: DEA) Thunderball (1965) - Breitling Top Time While Bond is known for Rolex and Omega, several other brands have graced the wrist of the world's most famous spy. In 1965’s Thunderball, the real OG Bond, Sean Connery, was outfitted with a Breitling Top Time that Q modified to include a Gieger counter to track down missing nuclear warheads… as sketchy as it gets.  Point Break (1991) - Breitling Navitimer Quartz As mentioned in a recent “Hollywood Watches of Espionage,” Breitling featured in Point Break on the wrist of bank robber/surf bro Bodhi, portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze. The Breitling Navitimer Quartz is shown in the scene leading up to a specific robbery where Bodhi ceremoniously declares: “The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.” Very sketchy indeed. Breitling Of Today The past few years have seen massive changes for Breitling. In the early 2000s, the brand prospered in an era defined by massive case diameters and a masculine customer base. However, in many ways galvanized by the release of the Tudor Black Bay in 2012, the industry began to shift in favor of “vintage-inspired” styling, more attainable in-house calibers, and restrained dimensions.  "Arabic Breitling" -  Aviator 8 Etihad Limited Edition. Limited edition of 500 pieces and features stylized Arabic numerals on the dial, as is the norm with most Middle East editions. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Breitling was admittedly slow to catch up but has made impressive improvements in its direction and product offering since being acquired in 2017 and appointing industry legend Georges Kern as CEO. Some enthusiasts still take issue with some of Breitling's price points or styling, however, it’s clear the brand is moving in the right direction in 2024, jumping from its 2017 $950M acquisition price to a 2022 valuation of $4.5Bn. The brand’s recent acquisition of Universal Genève is another intriguing development. It’s unclear what Breitling will do with the enthusiast-favorite vintage name, but we’re excited to see where it goes. Breitling CEO Georges Kern (Photo Credit: WatchPro) Is Breitling Still Sketchy? The question then becomes, is the kinder gentler Breitling of today as sketchy as it once was, especially as the brand enjoys a broader appeal and newfound level of mass market success? Yes and no. The brand’s long-standing military unit watch program is still active but appears to have waned, leaving the door ajar for brands like Bremont and Tudor. Producing military-specific personalized watches is likely not a key driver of revenue, but it is a central aspect of what has made Breitling one of the watches of choice for sketchy dudes.  While we are supportive of these changes at Breitling, and the strategy is clearly working, we hope the brand will continue to be inspired by its roots producing tool watches for those that operate on the fringes of sketchiness. With rumors of a new incoming Aerospace, our fingers are crossed for a return to Breitling’s legendary levels of sketchiness. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

19 comments
Read More
Watches And Wonders Releases For The W.O.E. Community

Watches And Wonders Releases For The W.O.E. Community

Last week was Watches and Wonders, a trade show in Switzerland where watch brands showcase their latest releases. Journalists, tastemakers, and watch enthusiasts flock to...

8 comments
Read More

Last week was Watches and Wonders, a trade show in Switzerland where watch brands showcase their latest releases. Journalists, tastemakers, and watch enthusiasts flock to Geneva to see and photograph new timepieces, meet with brand representatives, and drink no shortage of champagne and Negronis. Watches and Wonders is a masterclass in marketing, also known as the mass manipulation of consumers. We have previously written about covert influence in watch media (READ HERE) and this event is the Superbowl or, if you will, the Fashion Week. Propelled by the rise of digital media, what was once a straightforward industry trade show has been catapulted into the feeds of even the most basic enthusiast, with extensive coverage across all forms of social media, podcasts, and legacy watch publications.  Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders For weeks leading up to the event, the internet has been rife with “Watches and Wonders Predictions,” an organic marketing exercise that benefits both brands and content creators. The most influential tastemakers are invited to Switzerland as guests of the trade show, with hotels and other expenses covered either by the Watches and Wonders foundation or the brands. Lavish parties are thrown to showcase the watches but more importantly to woo the journalists, who are then expected to (objectively) cover the new watches, often simply regurgitating press releases with brand-approved language. Whether or not they are invited back next year is implied in part on their coverage of the event or the particular brand that sponsored their attendance. It’s brilliant.    Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders Don’t Hate The Player Or The Game To be clear, we don’t hate the players or the game. On the contrary, we admire the masterclass that is Watches and Wonders. It’s a fascinating exercise in human psychology, consumer behavior, and marketing. As enthusiasts, the releases are exciting, the speculation and leaks are admittedly fun, and the grand reveals offer the age-old intrigue of the unknown. While we normally don’t cover new releases, we want to highlight several watches that speak specifically to our community and our “Use Your Tools” ethos.  Photo Credit: Watches and Wonders We originally planned to cover 10-12 timepieces, but frankly struggled to identify more than a handful that met our criteria. The industry is trending towards high fashion and this seemed to be the year of dress watches and precious metals, which needless to say is not really within our wheelhouse. These are by no means endorsements, but here are a few that caught our eye. Rolex GMT-Master II Grey-Black Bezel Price: $10,900 (In Theory) A CIA Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win in a bar fight”, and that fictional person would (traditionally) wear a Rolex GMT.  Whether the updated grey and black bezel on the newest GMT Master II is to your taste is up to you, but we would argue it gives the watch a modern look that is also more subtle than something like the legendary Pepsi bezel. For the traditionalists, the Pepsi is still available and was not discontinued as indicated by the rumor mill.  It’s an easy win and we like it. Cons: The days of a Case Officer or SpecOps operator walking into a boutique on R&R and walking out with a Rolex GMT are over. Given the astronomical secondary market prices (at times over double retail for certain references), it’s hard to say a new Rolex GMT is a true tool watch with a straight face. Modern Rolex models tend to be pretty shiny and this new GMT is unfortunately no exception. It can and will still be used as a tool by a select few, but the modern GMT Master II lacks much of its original tool watch feel. Also, good luck getting one at retail. Doxa Sub 200T Price: $1,550 - $1,590 For both the military and recreational diving communities, Doxa is a legendary name, having famously been worn by Dirk Pitt, Clive Cussler’s fictional undersea hero, and in the US Navy’s pioneering SEALAB experiments. Better known for their storied salvaging efforts, US Navy Divers also have been at the pointy end of the espionage spear, responsible for developing and executing a daring mission to tap Soviet undersea communication cables in the 1970s on Operation Ivy Bells. Jumping ahead to 2024, Doxa sneaked in just ahead of the Watches and Wonders releases, unveiling the Sub 200T about a week ahead of the big show. Providing a smaller alternative to the established Sub 300 and 300T, the 200T comes in with a 39mm diameter and more slender case while maintaining much of the Doxa Sub design language. Available in a staggering array of colors and matte or sunray dial finishes, the Sub 200T seems poised to provide a smaller-wearing alternative for those who have traditionally considered Doxa’s chunky cushion case to be a bit too much. Cons: Most Doxa Sub models wear considerably smaller than their stated diameter, meaning this 39mm Sub 200T might wear more like 36 or 37mm on the wrist, pretty small. Tudor Black Bay 58 GMT “Coke” Price: $4,400 - $4,600 While they may not have the historic caché offered by Rolex’s GMT Master models, Tudor’s GMT watches have come a long way since the release of the Black Bay GMT in 2018. However, from that 41mm wide by 15mm thick model’s inception, many were quick to call for a smaller and thinner option. But what most enthusiasts wanted was a Black Bay 58 GMT, and that’s exactly what we got in 2024. At this point, Tudor’s relationship with our community is well-established. Still producing unit watches for some of the world’s most elite military operators, Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.) are very much a thing. That said, the new Black Bay 58 GMT feels like more of a vintage throwback than a modern practitioner's watch, but still offers its own play on the desirable “Coke” format along with the best set of dimensions thus far for a Tudor GMT, measuring 39mm wide and under 13mm thick. Cons: The new BB58 GMT relies heavily on “gilt” gold-tone markings that aren't for everyone. The faux rivets on the bracelet have to go and it’s really hard to understand why they use them on new designs. There is no utility to this feature and it crosses the line of homage-corny. The nicest thing we have heard about faux rivets is, “...they don’t bother me that much.” Bremont Terra Nova Price: $2,850 - $4,250 We are big fans of Bremont and we've previously covered the UK brand’s intriguing relationships with intel and military units around the globe (READ HERE). It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the new Terra Nova collection of field watches “inspired by military pocket watches of the early 20th century”. That said, it’s hard to sugarcoat this one. To use a cricket metaphor, it was a swing and a miss. The rebranding fell flat with both enthusiasts and Bremont traditionalists.   Prior to the event, newly appointed Bremont CEO Davide Cerrato (formerly of Tudor, Montblanc, and Panerai) foreshadowed a pivot to a lower price point and we were genuinely excited about these releases. The strategy was sound but the implementation was flawed. The Terra Nova and the redesigned Bremont Supermarine are a stark departure from what makes Bremont loved by many, standing out as classy and refined aviation-inspired watches. Cons: The list is unfortunately long. The new logo, font, and overall design and manufacturing quality fall well short of expectations. To make matters worse, the price range places it squarely in competition with the likes of Tudor and many others. On the bright side, the brand appears to still offer the previous models (with original branding) and Special Projects appear unchanged. Understanding that a full pivot like this is bold, and takes a lot of time, effort, and money, we would love to see Bremont bounce back from this and return to its roots. Tudor Black Bay Monochrome Price: $4,225 - $4,550 We didn’t set out to profile two watches from the same brand, but Tudor came in with another solid (though predictable) win, not our fault. A follow-up to last year’s redesigned 41mm Black Bay Burgundy that added additional strap and bracelet options as well as METAS certification, the new Black Bay Monochrome makes one of Tudor’s single strongest arguments for a vintage-inspired sports watch to wear every day. Though we’ve often argued the Pelagos 39 is the modern Tudor-Sub, the Black Bay Monochrome is now right up there with a slimmer case design compared to previous iterations and more subtle looks than something like a ceramic Rolex Submariner. In our opinion, this is a major step up from the Black Bay 58, which we also love. Cons: If forced to nitpick a great watch, again enough with the faux rivets.  Fortunately, this watch is also available with a “Five-Link” (Jubilee) or an integrated rubber strap, both of which feel like better moves. Zenith DEFY Revival A3648 Price: $7,700 It’s not a name we talk about all the time in our shadowy corner of the watch world, but Zenith is a brand we respect and is also doing some very interesting things in 2024. Better known for its contributions to the world of chronographs, having unveiled one of the automatic chronographs in 1969 with the El Primero, modern Zenith balances a collection of up-to-date designs and heritage. This particular inclusion in this list is slightly less about being an ideal watch for Intel/Spec Ops and more about simply being a great new luxury tool watch. Completely overshadowed by the collection of chronographs, Zenith also produced several chunky yet capable dive watches in the late 1960s and 1970s including the rarely-seen Defy A3648. It’s not going to be for everyone, but the modern DEFY Revival A3648 is a near 1:1 of the original with a 37mm case and a very old-school feeling bracelet. With no less than 600 meters of water resistance, it’s also as capable a dive watch as you could ever want while offering a serious splash of orange on the bezel, dial, and hands that will speak to dive watch enthusiasts. Cons: It’s awesome they made this thing 37mm, but a lot of modern-day collectors might not be able to handle the lack of girth. Bright colors on watches are not for everyone (myself included), and a more subtle option might be cool to see in the future. Grand Seiko SBGJ277 Price: $6,800  Like Zenith, we seldom talk about Grand Seiko, instead concentrating on Seiko’s well-established and legendary historical associations with military special operations. With that in mind, Grand Seiko has operated as a separate brand for years now and provides some of the best watchmaking in its price category. The newly-released SBGJ277 leans into Grand Seiko’s history with high-beat mechanical calibers, in this case operating at 5 hz or 36,000 VPH. In addition, this new member of the brand’s Sport collection offers 100 meters of water resistance and a 55-hour power reserve, more than enough to suit the average Case Officer while differentiating from the established Rolex and Tudor crowds. Cons: While the finishing on this SBGJ277 is impressive for the dollar amount, the additional polished elements and textured dial both serve to create a more refined and therefore less utilitarian look. It’s not to say you couldn’t “Use Your Tools” with this watch but rather that it doesn’t look or feel the part as much as some others on this list. Again, we are not necessarily endorsing these watches, but each of them caught our eye and calls for a closer look. We understand that these watches are not cheap and if you’re interested in learning more about entry-level options that are well-suited to our community, check out “Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts.” Next week we will resume our regular programming.  *sponsored by Rolex, Doxa, Tudor, Zenith, Bremont, and Grand Seiko (Just Kidding) -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches

8 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage, Part II

Hollywood Watches of Espionage, Part II

Sketchy Surfers, Intelligence Officers, And A Dictator – Timepieces Add Depth To Characters While Entertaining Watch Nerds As we established in our first installment of...

14 comments
Read More

Sketchy Surfers, Intelligence Officers, And A Dictator – Timepieces Add Depth To Characters While Entertaining Watch Nerds As we established in our first installment of this series (READ HERE), watches play a significant role in film and television, particularly as it relates to the world of espionage. Watch enthusiasts can’t help but notice when a propmaster or costume designer has absolutely nailed the watch or in some cases, missed the mark entirely. Portrayals of watches on the wrists of characters representing the military and intelligence communities are often particularly challenging, with factors like paid product placement further complicating the issue. In the vast majority of films or TV shows, watches play little to no role in the overall plot, instead serving as a minor detail representing at times incredible attention to detail on behalf of the filmmakers. However, here and there, watches add something to a film as a whole, adding depth to a character or acting as a plot element. For intelligence officers and special operations, the tiniest details matter, and, if nothing else, watch spotting within the context of our community is an old-fashioned good time. In this piece, we’ll take a look at five additional examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character. Point Break - A Sketchy Breitling Navitimer Quartz (Pluton) Starting with one of history’s finest action films, Point Break is the improbable story of undercover FBI Agent Johnny Utah, played by Keanu Reeves, infiltrating a band of surfers with a penchant for bank robbery led by the charismatic Bodhi, portrayed by the late Patrick Swayze. While Bodhi is much too laid back and cool to wear a watch in much of the film, he does wear a Breitling Navitimer Quartz (also sometimes known as the Pluton) when it’s bank robbing time, even going so far as to say “little hand says it’s time to rock and roll” after a full-screen watch shot that we will attempt to recreate here. (Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox) It’s unclear whether Breitling’s early 90s marketing budget played a role in making the Navitimer Quartz Bodhi’s watch of choice, but it’s tough to argue with their decision-making process. Essentially the same watch as the Chronosport UDT, which was produced by Breitling and favored by Navy SEALs and other special operations forces of the day, the Navitimer Quartz provided 200 meters of water resistance and a slew of digital functions on top of its basic timekeeping abilities, exactly the kind of specs you need when you’re surfing in the morning and making tactical withdrawals in the afternoon. We don’t make the rules, sketchy dudes wear Breitling.  Jack Ryan - Hamilton Khaki Field Auto Chrono Inspired by Tom Clancy’s best-selling series of books, Jack Ryan stars John Krasinski as a CIA analyst turned special operator, almost single-handedly saving the world from certain doom at least once in each of the show’s four seasons. While any number of inexpensive digital watches from brands like G-Shock might have made even more sense given Ryan’s Global War On Terror Marine Corps background, the analyst of action opted for a Hamilton Khaki Field Auto Chrono Automatic for the first couple of seasons. Stemming from Hamilton’s Khaki collection, which is inspired by the brand’s history of producing field watches for military forces as far back as the First World War, the Khaki Field Auto Chrono opts for a tacti-cool all-black treatment from the PVD-coated stainless steel case to the hands and indices. Conceptually, an automatic chronograph with 100 meters of water resistance checks out for Ryan’s character, but we can’t help but wonder if the watch might be a little bit hard to read given the almost total lack of contrast. Overall, it’s not a terrible choice, and at just under $2,000 would be affordable for the presumed GS-13. Spy Game - Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884 In Spy Game, Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a seasoned CIA Case Officer on the cusp of retirement tasked with freeing his former protégé Tom Bishop, portrayed by Brad Pitt, from imprisonment in China. Released in 2001, this film inspired a generation of post -9/11 Case Officers and is a relatively accurate (though Hollywoodized) portrayal of the business of intelligence. On Redford’s wrist throughout the film is a Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884. Victorinox is of course better known for its ubiquitous Swiss Army collection of knives and has also been a major producer of Swiss watches since at least the early 90s. While many watch snobs might turn up their noses at a brand like Victorinox, the watch makes perfect sense in this instance. Serving as the prototypical career C/O, Redford’s character is a gray man, blending in and avoiding auspicious clothing or luxury items that might solicit further questions about his background or occupation. As much as many within the CIA appreciate and use watches from luxury brands including Rolex, Tudor, or Breitling, certain circumstances require a more subtle approach. The straightforward white dial and stainless steel format of the Victorinox Swiss Army Officer’s 1884 does exactly that, providing reliable quartz timekeeping and the additional functionality provided by a secondary 24-hour scale without attracting the type of undue attention that can get you killed and, perhaps more importantly, prevent you from rescuing Brad Pitt.  The Dictator - Cartier Pasha  Revered for his seminal work Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator is the (true) story of General Aladeen, leader of oil-rich nation called Wadiya. After the assassination of yet another body double, Gen. Aladeen opts to travel to the relative safety of New York City with a Cartier Pasha on his wrist. So named for Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh, the internet claims the Pasha was a special design dating back to the early 1930s and intended for the Pasha’s sporty lifestyle. Whether that’s true or not is another matter, but the story does lend itself to the inclusion of the modern Pasha, which was unveiled in 1985 and famously designed by Gerald Genta, in this film.  Still, despite the supposed history of being designed for a fabulously wealthy Middle Eastern governing figure, we can’t help but wonder whether something even more ridiculous might have been a better fit for General Aladeen’s character and lifestyle. Just to throw a few ideas out there, what about a diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe or even an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak? That said, the Pasha’s historical tie-in demonstrates great care on behalf of either Sacha Baron Cohen himself or perhaps a particularly astute wardrobe designer. The watch might even be the least ridiculous part of the entire film. Argo - Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea 116660 In Argo, based on the real story of CIA technical officer Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, is tasked with extracting six Americans holed up with the Canadian ambassador in Tehran, Iran after militants stormed the US Embassy on November 4th, 1979, taking 66 American diplomats hostage. Disguised as a film producer scouting locations for a science fiction film in Tehran, Affleck’s character wears a Rolex, which would theoretically be right in keeping with his cover assuming the Rolex in question was period correct. No joy, however, as the Rolex worn by Affleck in Argo was a decidedly modern Sea-Dweller Deepsea reference 116660, a watch released by the Crown in 2008.  How this came to pass is anyone’s guess. In 2022, Hodinkee reported an urban legend that the prop department provided a replica of a period-correct Rolex Submariner for Affleck to wear, but the actor preferred a genuine Rolex. Any Rolex from the era, but perhaps especially the Submariner, would have made perfect sense. A posh Hollywood producer wearing a rugged luxury watch intended for diving for his adventurous location-scouting trip to Tehran? Hell yes. Instead, a modern 44mm Rolex theoretically designed for saturation diving time traveled to 1979 to assist Affleck on his personnel extraction adventure, once again proving that details matter in espionage as well as filmmaking.  If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE. READ NEXT: Bond: A Case for Omega

14 comments
Read More
Coming Soon - W.O.E. Collaboration With Tactile Turn

Coming Soon - W.O.E. Collaboration With Tactile Turn

Pen, Flashlight, Knife, Watch - The Essentials “If you didn’t write it down, it didn't happen” is a common saying in the intelligence business.  In...

3 comments
Read More

Pen, Flashlight, Knife, Watch - The Essentials “If you didn’t write it down, it didn't happen” is a common saying in the intelligence business.  In a digital era, there is something satisfying about staying old school, and a custom pen, built to last a lifetime, is a must. Custom Tactile Turn X W.O.E. Titanium Pen TENTATIVE RELEASE DATE 16 APRIL View Here For CIA Case Officers, a quality pen and 3x5 cards are essential aspects of everyday carry and they are still items I carry religiously to this day. Despite rapid advancements in note-taking devices, I still defer to a pen and paper regularly. As a part of our ongoing effort to produce the best possible custom tools, we set out to design a purpose-built writing instrument fit for our community. Enter the W.O.E. Custom Tactile Turn Bolt Action Pen. Milled from a solid block of titanium in the United States, our pen is lightweight and durable. For a premium feel, we opted for Tactile Turn’s Bolt Action construction, which extends or retracts the refill with one smooth, spring-loaded motion, more satisfying than the hollow click from your drugstore ten-pack of pens. Inspired by our love for PVD-coated watches, we PVD’d the inside of the bolt and the clip, adding a subtle “Tactile Turn X WOE” engraving on the clip’s underside. Most importantly, the bolt is operated by way of a unique watch-style crown with a spearhead engraving. Details matter. It is so often the little things that have the greatest impact. To be clear, this is by no means a “tactical pen”. Our titanium pen is a TSA-approved item primarily intended for writing, though we admit it may have other uses. We’ll leave it at that. Far from inexpensive perishable pens, our Bolt Action Pen is designed to last a lifetime and utilizes readily available Pilot G2 0.7mm refills. For the complete specifications, read HERE. Product Development At W.O.E. At Watches of Espionage, our product development model is to partner with true professionals – masters of their craft – to develop distinct and highly functional products that honor our community and our core belief that you should “use your tools.” In creating our ideal Everyday Carry (EDC) pen, we reached out to Tactile Turn because they are the best in the business at creating high-quality writing tools, hand-machined in Texas, right here in the United States. As a company, we seek to partner with US manufacturers and use our platform to promote their craftsmanship. Working with Tactile Turn has been a pleasure, and it is no surprise that there is a significant crossover between the watch and EDC communities. The good people at Tactile Turn are industry leaders for a reason, doing incredibly detailed and consistent work machined by hand. They are also true innovators and were able to prototype the watch-style crown to produce a unique product for our community. Further, they stand behind their work with a lifetime warranty for all of their products including our W.O.E. Bolt Action Pen. About Tactile Turn Tactile Turn was founded in 2012 by Will Hodges who happens to be a watch guy with Tudor, Sinn, and OMEGA in the collection. Frustrated by the disconnect between the things we buy and how they’re made, Will took things into his own hands, purchasing a WWII-era lathe and producing his first 1000 pens completely by hand. Things have taken off since then, and Tactile Turn now operates a serious 48,000-square-foot production facility in Dallas, Texas where a small team of machinists produce every single pen by hand. Will is still at the helm and still obsessed with producing quality pens in the United States that will probably outlive their owners. At W.O.E., we only work with suppliers who understand the "use your tools" ethos, and Tactile Turn is an excellent example. TENTATIVE RELEASE DATE 16 APRIL View Here All photos are courtesy of Ed Jelley.

3 comments
Read More
The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

The W.O.E. Tudor PVD Pelagos FXD

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to...

28 comments
Read More

Customizing my dream watch, the W.O.E. PVD Pelagos FXD When Tudor released the Black Pelagos FXD last year, I instantly knew I wanted one to land in my collection.  Watches of Espionage is vehemently brand agnostic, but we have a special respect for Tudor, given the brand's seven-plus decade relationship with our community.  The FXD platform is the latest manifestation of this particular relationship. It’s the only modern “luxury” watch that was developed for not one, but two, modern SpecOps units. And I don’t mean a special edition made for a specific unit–the entire design, and every design decision, of the FXD stems from a particular use case in the SpecOps world.  That said, I already had the blue French “Commando Hubert” version. Was it prudent to want the same watch, just in black?   Of course. This whole passion is irrational anyway.  But if I was going to go for this watch, I wanted to do something different with it.  Over the past six months, I worked with several craftsmen to customize the FXD to make it mine, a poor man's “pièce unique”. The first thing we did was PVD’d the titanium fixed spring bar case resulting in a striking black-on-black look. This of course involves taking the whole case apart and PVDing each element, including the bezel. The PVD also has a mostly matte finish, so it matches the ceramic bezel insert well. Even though this was going to be mine, I wanted to maintain a standard that could have come from the factory. And since the caseback is sterile from the factory, we topped it off by engraving a W.O.E. insignia. Every watch has meaning, and this one commemorates the establishment of W.O.E. as a community, an accomplishment I never set out to achieve. The last step was designing a new handmade strap with our friends at Zulu Alpha, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0 (available HERE).  That’s an overview of the watch; now I’ll get into the thought process behind each detail and my philosophy behind modifying this particular piece.  The W.O.E. FXD The W.O.E. FXD (if I can be vain enough to call it that) is a homage, a term that may conjure images of Seikos modified to look like Rolex – something that I am personally not a fan of.  But it’s an homage in the true sense of the word, specifically to the SpecOps who modified their Tudor MilSubs for operational use. One popular narrative is that the Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph I was the first PVD watch. However, SpecOps personnel modified their Swiss tool watches long before that.  Most notably, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Shayetet 13 (S-13) frogmen darkened their issued Tudor Submariner 7928 in the late 1960s, crudely painting them black to prevent glare and reflection of the steel cases.  For Special Operations personnel, and particularly those in a maritime environment, the glint of a watch during an operation could have lethal consequences.  The watches were tools, and they were modified to carry out their job effectively.  While it’s nearly impossible to trace the lineage of PVD watches for every brand, military applications likely had a direct impact on this development of all PVD watches. In fact, Rolex's only known “black” dive watch was a one-off blacked out version of the MilSub Ref. 5513 for the South African Special Forces.  While Rolex didn’t roll out PVD in a commercial capacity, its sister brand, Tudor, would go on to produce PVD watches in later years, whether directly influenced by the S-13 and other military units we can only speculate.  But heritage matters; it informs every decision a brand makes. PVD: StealthMaxx DLC Finish Recalling that our friend Cole Pennington PVD’d an Arabic Seiko for a Hodinkee Magazine article, I contacted Jack at International Watch Works, a family-owned business.  When asked about the feasibility of PVD’ing the titanium case, he said it was not a problem; he had in fact just completed PVD’ing a blue Marine Nationale FXD (which turned out to be for Tom Place, a stuntman searching for his long-lost Rolex at the bottom of a lake).  The process was relatively simple.  Jack disassembled the watch and coated every bit of titanium, leaving the dial assembly and ceramic bezel insert to the side.  “PVD” is an abbreviation for Physical Vapor Deposition. It’s a process, not necessarily a coating. A solid material is selected, in this case diamond like carbon (DLC), to coat a base metal or substrate surface. That material is vaporized and deposited on the base or substrate material, bonding molecularly with the base material. The PVD/DLC coating is so fine that the serial numbers and factory engravings on the caseback are still visible even after the coating. It’s only microns thick; it’s not thick enough to obscure the characteristics of the case. Having worn the watch daily and with a lot of time in the pool and ocean, I have noticed no wear or abrasion on the coating, although I wouldn’t necessarily view scars as a bad thing.  During our conversation, Jack informed me that he has PVD’d watches for SpecOps personnel for years, which comes as no surprise given his location in North Carolina. Engraving: Always Read the Caseback The W.O.E. insignia signifies a very deep meaning for many in our community, with influence from the spearhead worn by our predecessors in the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as well as modern day intel and SpecOps units.  Today, this insignia has become an important part of my life. It’s a source of pride that I don’t share with many.  The caseback engraving is covered by the strap and that’s just how I like it. It's not for you, it’s for me.  The deep diamond tip engraving through the PVD into the titanium creates a more substantial profile and a stark contrast to the black case. It’s bold. Looking at it, it’s easy to see how much meaning comes with it.  W.O.E. - Zulu Alpha 4.0 Strap As a “fixed” springbar case, the Pelagos FXD is often called a “strap monster”-- a term so overused it’s become meaningless. Yes, any 22mm strap will work on the watch, but it’s really about finding the right strap. With a customization like this, I wanted to ensure the strap was the perfect match–subtle enough not to overshadow the watch. So I reached out to our friends at UK-based and veteran owned Zulu Alpha Straps to create a unique design that honored our ethos as a community and tapped into the traditions of those who came before us.  The result is an understated olive allied green strap with a discreet W.O.E. spearhead-only insignia applied between the strap keepers, which is covered up when worn. Again, it’s not about showing the insignia. Like the caseback, it’s obscured when the watch is worn.  The development of this strap coincided with Zulu Alpha’s latest iteration of the “OTAN” strap and significant performance enhancements.  To promote longevity, the strap has a narrower tang, round holes, and a slightly shorter length at 30 cm.  The “patch” was adhered directly to the strap with a new technology developed by ZA, resulting in a OEM feel.  While we never planned to commercialize this version, we knew we would receive many requests, so this is dubbed, the W.O.E.-ZA 4.0. Photo Credit: Rob / @rw_m100 Dial Modification I have considered customizing the dial with a red W.O.E. at 6 o’clock.  That said, this would require a complete dial refinish.  While the watch is striking to those who know the FXD, when worn it's a more subtle customization as there are no visible insignias.  Discretion is a prized attribute in our field, if you know, you know is the way. Controversy of Watch Customization Customizing watches is a major point of contention in the collecting community, with many “purists” believing the watches should remain as they were originally designed.  Turning this upside-down, London-based George Bamford originally made a name for himself in the 2000s for customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands.   Bamford Watch modification (A Blog to Watch) However, times have changed, and Bamford has since been embraced by many watch houses and even has joint customizations programs with major brands including Zenith and Tag Heuer.  Further, “mod culture” as it’s known appears to have trickled into mainstream design and while the suits in Geneva would never admit it, the new Day-Date “emoji dial” is certainly reminiscent of a customized dial treatment than a traditional Rolex design.   Will we see a PVD FXD released from Tudor? Tudor’s playbook is simple.  It designs a watch, releases it to the masses and then iterates on that design with size, material, and color schemes.  This process has led some detractors to criticize the brand (Do we really need another Black Bay?)--but in the end, it works.  While selfishly I hope this remains one of the few “PVD FXDs,” it would be an easy win for Tudor to produce this design for the masses and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version become available to the public in the coming years. A Few Thoughts To the uninitiated, this article may seem like a waste of time.  So, what, you painted your watch black?  Maybe. But it’s never just a watch.  When I look at this watch, I think of the people that made both it and W.O.E. a reality, and of all the times it’s been on my wrist.  No matter where this platform goes, it will always hold a special place because it is uniquely mine. There Are No Rules We are of the strong belief that there are no rules when it comes to timepieces.  If you want to polish your Rolex every few years to keep it looking shiny, do it.  If your dream is to modify your Patek to look like a Seiko, have fun.  If you want to put aftermarket diamonds on your AP to celebrate making it out of the trap, congratulations.   Don’t let conventional wisdom and outside pressure dictate how you enjoy this passion. Life’s too short to live in a box dictated by the watch industry suits or hype collectors pushing an agenda.  Have fun, use your tools, and don't take things too seriously.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our free weekly newsletter for further updates HERE.  Sincere appreciation to my dear friend and master of his craft James Rupley for capturing these pictures of the W.O.E. FXD and really bringing it to life for the community. Read Next: James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

28 comments
Read More
South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making...

1 comment
Read More

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making Time” podcast.  We plan to do a complete W.O.E. Dispatch on South African MilSubs in the future but this is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Tudor and various military watches from the expert.  South African MilSubs are controversial pieces given the ties to the South African Defence Force, but they are fascinating snapshots into that period of history.   Pictured above is a black 7016 from approximately 1974.  I acquired this piece from Ross when I visited Zulu Alpha in Liverpool last year and it is the crown jewel of my collection.  There are fewer than 10 confirmed pieces.  As many of you know, I have spent much of my life living and working in Africa and this piece has long been a “grail” watch for me.  It’s an honor to be the custodian today.  See above for the story of the watch and how W.O.E. became the lucky owner.

1 comment
Read More
Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

8 comments
Read More

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can – and probably will at some point–serve as stand alone stories, but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we’ll address them in a following article. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” and “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part II” 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at 9 o'clock. (Courtesy SAS Melvyn Downes) W.O.E. recently posted a SAS Breitling Avenger with the Special Air Services (SAS) insignia on the dial, do unit watches cause OPSEC issues? We have extensively covered “Unit Watches” from various Intelligence and Special Operations organizations and profiled programs from Tudor, Bremont and Omega.  To summarize, a unit watch is one that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military. Civilian organizations inside the NatSec space can also receive these watches, but the term “Unit Watch” almost exclusively applies to military units. Customizations to the watch can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or a custom engraving on the caseback.  While more honorific in nature, we have documented many instances of these watches worn operationally overseas.  This has caused many to question if the watch itself is an “Operational Security” (OPSEC) vulnerability.  If an individual is captured, wouldn't the “bad guys” know he was a member of the SAS? British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that most elite units (even Tier One SpecOps) operate overtly most of the time.  While deployed to a War Zone, they’re generally wearing uniforms with their nation’s flags on their plate carriers and are not “under cover.”  While elite units and intelligence organizations certainly have operations where they operate under some form of cover, including posing as businessmen, most of the time this isn’t the case for someone in an “assaulter” role or even CIA Paramilitary Officer.  If an individual is operating under a “Non-Official Cover” (i.e. not a government official) then they certainly would not wear a Unit Watch.  They would pick a watch to match their persona.  Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many “operators” choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other digital watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison. What was the most dangerous thing you did at CIA?  The job of a Case Officer is to collect intelligence– to steal secrets through recruiting and running human assets (“spies”).  It's more dangerous than the average trade, but it's certainly not like it is in the movies. I never got into a fistfight in an elevator, a high-speed chase through a European capital, or performed a risky surreptitious entry into a Russian oligarch's dacha.  Most of my work was discreetly meeting with assets and liaison services in cafes, back alleys, and hotel rooms to collect intelligence. W.O.E. in Afghanistan, early 2000s.  W.O.E. in Sudan, early 2000s, Breitling Aerospace on the wrist. The easy answer to this question would be “warzone” assignments, where during the Global War on Terror, IEDs, shootings, and kidnappings were a real and present threat.  That said, in a warzone, Case Officers carry guns, wear body armor and generally operate alongside GRS and/or paramilitary officers.  The most dangerous thing I did was operate alone in Africa, and in one specific capital where crime, terrorism, and counterintelligence risks from the local service were deemed “critical.”  During this assignment, I did my cover job during the day and then at night went out on the street alone and without a phone (read CIA Officers and Apple Watches).  After a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route, I met developmentals and recruited assets in hotels, bars, dark alleys, and cars hunkered down in low-trafficked areas of town.  Most of the time I was unarmed, as being caught with a firearm would have posed significant problems for my cover (see CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC).  The risk from terror groups and the local intelligence service was significant, but the constant exposure to the streets, and everything that comes with that, night after night over a multi-year assignment dramatically increased the probability of carjacking and violent crime, something that can generally be avoided for the average tourist or business traveler. Do you only wear your watches on straps?  How do you feel about bracelets? (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It is no secret that W.O.E. loves straps. This has led our own line of leather and nylon straps that we designed. I constantly rotate my watches through a plethora of straps and it’s a great way to change up the look and feel of a watch.  That said, it is hard to beat a well-designed bracelet and I wear my watches regularly on the original bracelet.  Rolex Oyster and Jubilee bracelets are incredibly comfortable and are probably my favorite.  Most of the watches in my collection, including Tudor, IWC, and Breitling also all come on great bracelets.  The one exception is Seiko and particularly the Arabic Seiko: the bracelet feels cheap and I threw that one in the trash as soon as I got it.  So in short, yes, I am a big fan of bracelets.  After wearing a watch on a nylon or leather strap for a while, it is always refreshing going back to the original bracelet. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) How do you store watches and do you use a watch winder? If you have more than two to three watches of value, you need to invest in a safe that is mounted to the wall or floor.  Frankly, no matter what, it is worth acquiring a fireproof safe for valuables, firearms, and important documents.  For years I have kept my watches in affordable (read cheap) plastic cases and put them inside the safe.  Like all of our designs, I have made them for myself and the 6 Watch Storage & Travel Case is exactly the type of case I have used for years (but much better quality than the ones I used to purchase off Amazon).   There are some fantastic high-end watch cases and watch boxes (like Bosphorous Leather) that are true works of art, but it is hard for me to justify spending that type of money on something that will mostly sit in a safe.  There are also some really cool “display cases” on the market, but unless you have a walk-in safe, this is a sign to the goons that reads “take me.” Bosphorus Leather “Watch Collector Case” (Photo Credit: Bosphorus Leather) I have never used a watch winder.  There is conflicting information on whether a watch winder is good or bad for watches but it generally seems like if you have new watches you should be okay.  That said, many of my watches are vintage and I would not want to keep them winding every day. It’s simply not necessary.  However, the main reason I do not use a watch winder is cost.  A 4 Piece Wolf watch winder starts at over $2,000.  I would much rather use that money to purchase a pre-owned Breitling or Tudor or multiple Seikos.  Additionally, I actually enjoy setting the time on my watch each time I pick one up to wear it.  It’s something of a ritual to take a few minutes to wind the watch and set the time.  And yes, I always set the correct time on my watches. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) In purchasing a pre-owned Rolex, do "Box and Papers" matter? Vintage watch dealer Eric Wind has famously said that, "Saying you only want to buy a vintage watch if it has the original box and papers is the equivalent of walking around a high school with a ‘Kick Me’ sign taped to your back—except it says, ‘Rip Me Off.’ ”  Given his breadth of experience, I will take this at face value. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) That said, I do enjoy having a “full set” when possible because it’s a neat historical addition to the watch, but I would not necessarily pay the extra premium for a piece of paper that can easily be forged.  A few years ago I purchased an early 1980s “Root Beer” Rolex GMT Master 1675/3 with the original box and papers from the original owner.  The receipt shows the exact day and store where he purchased the watch in the Caribbean.  It’s a piece of living history and part of the story of that watch.  While I rarely look at the paperwork, it is a something I treasure because it’s part of the ephemeral nature of ownership and a sign that the watch has seen plenty before–and hopefully after me.  One of these boxes is fake, can you tell which?  “Box and papers” can add $1,000-2,000+ to the price of a pre-owned watch, and for me, this is simply not worth it.  Of all the things to fake, the papers are the easiest to forge, and boxes are often paired with pre-owned watches and it’s difficult to determine originality. What are some good fiction spy books? There are plenty of great classic espionage fiction authors a la John le Carre and Rudyard Kipling; however, if you are looking for contemporary works, my favorite authors are Jason Matthews (former Case Officer and Breitling owner), David McCloskey (former CIA Analyst), Jack Carr (former Navy SEAL) and David Ignatius (journalist and columnist with Washington Post).  With the exception of Ignatius, all of these authors come from the IC/SpecOps and have real world experience.   (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It’s impossible to write about our community with authority if you have not lived it, and each one of these pieces contain little “if you know, you know” nuggets that cannot be faked.  Further, the fiction genre often allows the authors to include details that otherwise would have been removed by the CIA’s publication review. (there have been multiple items in the above books that were removed from my work because they were considered “classified.”) Movie adaptation of Red Sparrow Additionally, it will come as no surprise that watches are mentioned and often play a central role in all/most of these pieces. Red Sparrow trilogy- Former CIA officer Jason Matthews Agents of Innocence - David Ignatious  Damascus Station- Former CIA Analyst David McCloskey Terminal List series- Former Navy SEAL For military fiction and the future of warfare, check out 2034 and Ghost Fleet.  What do you think about the recent Moonswatch/Blancpain releases? I don’t think about them. Why has the W.O.E. platform been so successful?  What advice do you have for growing my Online Journal/Instagram page? W.O.E.’s “quick” growth and high engagement is largely due to the fact that it’s such a niche topic, with broad appeal.  But the real “secret” is authenticity.  This is a passion and a hobby and I never set out for this to be a business.  I genuinely enjoy researching topics and creating products for our community.  In fact, I don’t post on topics that will get high engagement, instead I write about things that I find interesting.  A successful article is one that I enjoyed researching and writing, not one that gets a lot of likes and comments.  The community (you) is not stupid and can see through anything that is artificial, fabricated, or click bait. If you are interested in launching a podcast, newsletter or social media page, my advice is to identify a niche topic that you are passionate about and have a unique perspective on and double down on that. Lastly, this takes time.  While W.O.E. might seem like an overnight success, I have put a lot of effort into cultivating this content to provide this resource to our community. Like with anything, consistency is key. Would you wear a fake watch/Rolex? I can think of very few instances where wearing a fake Rolex is acceptable. In response to “Trading A Rolex To Get Out Of A Sticky Situation - Myth Or Reality?” several commenters suggested traveling with a fake Rolex for bartering.  The logic may be sound, but if you are really at the point where you have decided to part with a $5-10k watch, your life is likely on the line and the cost is trivial.  Further, whoever you are giving the watch to is presumably in a position of power and likely someone you do not want to piss off should they determine the watch is fake. Seized fake Rolex by US Customs and Border Protection I have heard of some people with expensive watch collections that have “dummy” displays in their house, the idea being that if someone breaks in to steal their collection, they would take the fake watches without realizing the real collection is hidden in a safe.  This is something that could potentially make sense, but is not necessarily something I would advise.  If someone goes the distance to specifically target you for your watch collection, they are likely going to be pissed to find out they stole fake watches, and may come back for retribution.  No watch is worth your life. All that said, I do have a fake Rolex Submariner that I received as a gag gift from a wealthy friend in Dubai.  I have never worn it or even taken out the links to fit it to my wrist.  Who knows, maybe it will come in handy one day. How accurate is your portrayal of your life and W.O.E.? When it comes to long-form writing, all of my stories and personal anecdotes are 100% accurate.  I have several friends from the community that read the Dispatch regularly and my Signal messages would immediately light up if I started making up there I was stories for clout.  Of course, I do change times/dates/locations and minor details for the sake of anonymity (or if the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board advises I do so). In many ways, being anonymous allows me to be more honest in my writing.  I recently posted a picture of my entire watch collection.  This could easily be construed as bragging about material possessions and is something I would never do on a personal social media account.  In fact, most of my close friends don’t even know about the number of watches I own or the value of my watch collection.  Anonymity permits me to engage in a form of honesty that would otherwise be self-corrected.  While my portrayal of my life and thoughts are genuine, I do think a lot of people interpret this as a persona of something I am not.  I am not a commando or Jason Bourne.  I am a (relatively) normal guy who is fortunate enough to do some abnormal things with extraordinary people.  For that I am very grateful. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence, and NatSec content and products as it relates to timepieces. Long-form written articles are our main product, and we intend to keep this free and open for everyone to learn from. In 2023, we set the foundation for this expansion with the establishment of the website, development of some incredible products, and expansion of written form content. We raised $24,800 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. We have resisted offers from advertisers so that we can maintain complete editorial control of our content.  Remaining authentic and representing our community respectfully is key to our past and future success and we will not sell out for a quick buck.  W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform solely for our community, and it's not for everyone. Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are happy to now have W.O.E. products in stock and we are working on some new and exciting projects for 2024, including some EDC items.  We are also still in the initial stages of producing W.O.E. content in a print medium, something that we are being methodical about to make sure we get it right. We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E., as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content and products. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Stay tuned, -W.O.E. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

8 comments
Read More
Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

3 comments
Read More

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

3 comments
Read More
Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture...

17 comments
Read More

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture and forms the pillars of our community. And during the Holiday season, tradition means appreciating the cinematic masterpiece that is Die Hard. As usual, we’ll look at the movie–and a couple other Christmas movies– through the lens of watches and national security. Die Hard- “It’s the greatest Christmas story ever told”  Inside the wrist- tacticool style There are people out there that might tell you Die Hard is not a Christmas Movie. The debate has been going on for over 30 years. We’re not going to take a position on the matter other than saying that the movie is playing theaters right now. You can go see the movie, in 2023, during the holiday season. It doesn't matter what naysayers think. It’s a Christmas movie. A family comes together, a Christmas holiday is saved, and everything is merry and bright in the end. Re-creation Die Hard layout using a Tag model 932.206 from our friend @movementsofaction With that being said, let’s get into why the TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph is a fitting watch for protagonist John McClane, masterfully played by Bruce Willis. McClane is a NYC cop, and in 1988 when the movie came out, the city was grappling with a massive crack cocaine problem and a record number of homicides–1,842 in total. The streets were tough. McClane was tougher. He’s a little rough around the edges, and that unpolished element of his character was exacerbated by his newly-estranged wife moving his family to Los Angeles. While visiting her for her company’s holiday Christmas party, all hell breaks loose as a group of German terrorists hold the entire party hostage, killing a few employees in the process. With his skills learned from being a cop on the mean streets of New York and his knack for improvisation, McClane jumps into action…and you know the rest. Yippee Ki Yay, motherf*cker! TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph - worn inside the wrist allows McClane to check the time while putting in work. Worn inside the wrist in true tacticool fashion is a TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph. It’s the perfect watch for McClane. The NYPD isn’t issuing watches, so this is a private purchase–or a gift from his ex-wife. It has a blue-collar character to it, and it’s the sort of watch that’s charming because it isn’t really a watch guy watch. It’s exactly the kind of watch you wear if you don’t care about watches. For McClane, it was a tool.  The Actual Tag worn by John McClane (Photo Credit: PropstoreAuction) If McClane wore a Rolex or Patek, it wouldn’t telegraph the right message. McClane is effortlessly cool because he just doesn’t give a damn. In a world where we fetishize what watches are worn on screen, there’s a certain charm to a guy wearing a quartz TAG Heuer while using a Beretta 92F/S and a Heckler & Koch MP5 (actually a modified HK94s) acquired from the terrorists he eliminated to eventually get to Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman–his breakout role. In addition to McClane’s TAG, Watches play a significant role in the plot. In fact, one crucial W.O.E.-related scene was reportedly left on the cutting room floor. In the original script, the members of the terrorist group synchronized their own black TAGs prior to entering Nakatomi Plaza. McClane would go on to remove one watch from the body of a dispatched terrorist, and use this small detail to identify Gruber as the leader of the group when he pretended to be a hostage. McClane’s ex-wife Holly wears a Rolex DateJust, a gift from her coworker and a not-so-subtle signal that she has moved on from the more “common” lifestyle of the wife of a cop. Gruber’s Cartier Tank says everything you need to know about him–he has good taste and wealth to match. And he probably didn’t earn it the right way. After all, how do you fund a massive “terrorist plot” to kill innocent Americans? Lethal Weapon - A Christmas Story Speaking of guns and TAG Heuers in the late ‘80s, there’s another Christmas Movie that showcases a law enforcement officer showing us how to make an otherwise mundane watch cool. Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson in all four Lethal Weapon movies, wears a black plastic TAG Heuer Formula One. It’s 35mm, minuscule by today’s standards. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the man that makes the watch. (Photo Credit Unknown) Riggs is a former Army Green Beret turned cop, and that explains the spec of the Formula One on his wrist. It’s black on black on black–black dial, case, and plastic strap. The color echoes his inconsolable attitude after the death of his wife. The plastic Formula One was incredibly popular in the era, almost like the Moonswatch of today. It was cheap, it was relatively cool, and it was ubiquitous. It was launched in 1986, one year before Lethal Weapon was released. We also have credible intelligence that the Formula One will be making a comeback in the not-too-distant future as well. Home Alone - Rolex the Escape and Evasion Tool And of course a look at Christmas movies through the scope of W.O.E. wouldn’t be complete without a mention of one key moment that we’ve discussed before: trading a Rolex to get out of a sticky situation. Kevin at high port practicing questionable trigger discipline, Breitling concealed under the Christmas sweater cuff. In Home Alone, Kate McAllister, mother to the protagonist of the movie, 8 year-old Kevin, needs to get back to Chicago from Paris as quickly as she can after realizing she forgot him at home. At the airport she barters with an elderly couple for a seat on the plane back to CONUS with two first class tickets, $500, gold jewelry…and most relevant to W.O.E., a watch. But not just any watch, a Rolex. The elderly woman asks Kate if it’s a real Rolex and she’s met with Kate’s non-answer “Do you think it is?” immediately followed with “But who can tell, right?” The interaction points to the nature of Rolex watches as universal currency- a tool. In this case it’s to get out of France, but a Rolex will most likely work as a bartering chip just about anywhere. It’s not just a tactic for those in SpecOps and the intelligence community. But of course, the repercussions of someone finding out it’s fake could be much more dire in that line of work. Luckily for Kate, she found her way back to the US and lived to fight another day. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to the W.O.E. community.  Get out there and use your tools. Read Next: Hollywood Watches of Espionage

17 comments
Read More
W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but...

15 comments
Read More

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but will be back next year with some exciting tools for our community.  Please sign up for “Notify Me When Available” for anything that interests you.  In the meantime, check out the following items as gifts for loved ones, friends or yourself.  There are no affiliate links or discount codes.  We are highlighting these tools because we believe in them, not for financial gain.  None of these are sponsored products. Please highlight any other gift ideas in the comment section.  We are always in the market for new tools and specifically love support small businesses and people doing innovative things. Watches We chose three watches at different price points.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best Watches Under $1,000” for a more comprehensive list. Seiko: SEIKO 5 Sports- SRPG35 - $210 A simple field watch and perfect first mechanical watch for yourself or a friend.  Purchasing a watch for a father/son/daughter or nephew?  The Seiko 5 Sports line is a great place to start. Elliot Brown - HOLTON: 101-001  - $511 The Holton Professional was developed in response to a request from a specialist branch of the UK military who demanded a fit-for-purpose professional watch capable of a life in the field.  We will do a more thorough write up on EB at some point, lots of history here! Omega Seamaster Diver 300M - Green - $5,600 The Omega Seamaster has a long history with our community, as we have documented with the British Special Boat Service (SBS) Seamaster.  Since 1993, the Seamaster Professional Diver 300M has enjoyed a legendary following. Today’s modern collection has embraced that famous ocean heritage and updated it with OMEGA’s best innovation and design. This 42 mm model is crafted from stainless steel and includes a green ceramic bezel with a white enamel diving scale.  Gear and Community The Grey NA TO - Supporter Subscription  - $100 year TGN is a community of like-minded individuals who believe in using their tools.  Hosts Jason Heaton and James Stacey break down their love for adventure, their addiction to watches, and also discuss travel, diving, driving and gear.  A subscription to The Grey NA TO includes a NA TO strap (grey, of course), stickers and access to additional content.  At $100 a year, a unique gift for someone who has everything. Field Ethos - Magazine Subscription - $15.00 - quarterly  The premier lifestyle publication for the unapologetic man is here. Enjoy a mix of modern adventure, historical context, and perspectives forged through global travel while staying current with the latest products that elevate an unapologetic life. Eagles and Angels Ltd - Signature Hats & Tools - $39.00 and up We salvage the old uniforms of our brave men and women, transforming them into high-end accessories to be proudly worn by those who support our troops. Each piece is beautifully crafted in the US and carries the story of the soldier who wore it first. Each purchase helps support the families of fallen heroes. The Observer Collection - Piecekeeper - $30.00 The Piecekeeper is designed to halt hostilities between your watch and laptop. The same natural dyed Italian suede used in the Observer Collection bags creates a comfortable barrier between watch bracelet and workspace preventing scratches to both watch and laptop. Leather Works Minnesota - No. 9 Wallet - "Coral" Mahogany - $110 So named for the number of pockets this wallet has, the No. 9 boasts the most capacity out of any wallet in our line. It’s easy to see why it immediately became one of our best sellers. This is the wallet for the ultra-organized, the one who needs to keep it all with them, or the person who has a card for everything. Art Ad Patina - The best in the game when it comes to vintage watch advertisements.  Prices vary.  Bad Art Nice Watch - Custom Print Commission a piece on your favorite watch.  North Carolina artist, Bryan Braddy, combines his passion for watches with his love for art.  What started as a doodle at his kitchen table with his daughters has blossomed from a hobby into a business. Embracing the concepts of wabi-sabi, the acceptance, and contemplation of imperfection, guide the principles of his style. “I want you to see my artistic choices, good or bad, with the pen or the brush.” King Kennedy Rugs - Driver Rug-  prices vary We have no idea who runs this company, but his rugs are incredible. Check out these “Vintage Rolex Hand Woven Rugs” rugs from Pakistan. $325  Prairie Fire Art Company - "The Professional" Billy Waugh MACV-SOG Art Print - $65.00 Billy Waugh had a 50 year career in Army Special Forces and as a paramilitary officer.  He patrolled the jungles of Laos and Vietnam. He hunted down Carlos the Jackal. He was the first to put sights on UBL and he invaded Afghanistan when most said he was too old for the mission. "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young". Knives Winkler Knives, WK Huntsman - $300.00 The Huntsman is an adaptation of a Small Hunting Knife I made back in the 1990’s. Perfect for hunting and everyday carry. This model is fast becoming one of our most recommended designs. Sangin Knives - Carbon Fiber Corsair - $699 Sangin is known for their watches, but they also recently stepped into the knife game with a premium blade, the Corsair.   The Corsair is a 9.0” blade, made from premium Crucible Metals CPM M4. The blade is finished in an ultra-corrosion resistant black KG Gunkote. The Corsair is fitted with premium Camo Carbon Fiber handles, giving it a unique design with a sturdy feel, ready to be used in any scenario. With precision-turned titanium tubing, we can hold incredibly tight tolerances which allow our handles to be press fitted and secured using friction. This is a significant upgrade, solving the issue of handle scale fracturing and separation from the steel. Half Face Blades, Brad Cavner signature series - $375 Half Face Blades was founded by Andrew Arrabito, Navy SEAL (ret.), to meet the need for high-quality, “go-to” knives and axes – usable, personalized, functional, versatile tools that work for every person in every walk of life.  Toor Knives - Field 2.0 - $295.00 Toor designed the Field 2.0 with every day use in mind and it has quickly become known as the workhorse of our Outdoor Series. Its small size allows for all day carry comfort, while having the capability to handle almost any task out on the trail. Tools Soturi - The ‘Diplomat’ Strap - $185 Our most refined Cordura strap, The Diplomat is a tailored addition to our lineup that is just at home in the field as it is the office. Featuring a fully rolled edge, tapered design, and supple nubuck leather lining; it’s built to suit your every endeavor. Bergeon - 7825 Spring Bar Tweezer Spring Bar Removal Fitting Tool - $170 Bergeon 7825 is a tweezers, special watchmaker tool for inserting and removing spring bars in difficult to access end links and the short spring bars in the inner link.  Jack Carr - Signature Whiskey Glass - $23.00 Handblown by Mexican Artisans and made from recycled glass Coca-Cola bottles.  Crossed Hawks etched emblem on front of glass. Ball and Buck - Arthur Zippo - Brushed Brass - $68.00 Originally made in 1941, Zippo served as an essential accessory to American soldiers fighting in World War II and on. Their heralded tradition continues wherever men roam, igniting in every condition it encounters; the lighter's metal ring sweetly sounding in an American echo. With The Arthur Zippo, you can proudly display your support of American quality and manufacturing. Whether you're enjoying a smoke or building a fire in the woods, the Ball and Buck Zippo lighter is sure to become a staple for your everyday carry. Books G-SHOCK 40th Anniversary Book - $65 Celebrating the story of G-SHOCK, a truly unique watch whose pioneering innovation, function, and versatile design has made it a cult-collectible worn by devoted fans across the globe as well as by cultural icons in the worlds of fashion, sports, music, and popular culture for the past forty years. The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal - $15.99 It was the height of the Cold War, and a dangerous time to be stationed in the Soviet Union. One evening, while the chief of the CIA’s Moscow station was filling his gas tank, a stranger approached and dropped a note into the car. In the years that followed, that man, Adolf Tolkachev, became one of the most valuable spies ever for the U.S. But these activities posed an enormous personal threat to Tolkachev and his American handlers.  Watchistry  - Marine Nationale Book - $77.00 An exploration of a collection of 34 watches and instruments issued to the French Navy. 224 pages of photos and text cover vintage military watches from Tudor, Omega, Longines, Breguet, Auricoste, Doxa, Triton and others are featured, along with detailed provenance and commentary. It represents an unprecedented look at the nuance and breadth of the pieces used by the Marine Nationale. A Die Hard Christmas - $19.99 True story.  All John McClane wants for Christmas is to reunite with his estranged family. But when his wife’s office holiday party turns into a deadly hostage situation, he has to save her life before he can get home in time for Christmas!  The unconventional fan-favorite movie Die Hard is now an illustrated storybook- complete with machine guns, European terrorists, and a cop who’s forced to rely on all his cunning and skills (and the help of a fellow officer) to save the day.  Small Arms of WWII: United States of America, James Rupley, Ian McCollum-  $98.00 The Second World War was a fascinating and dynamic time in the history of firearms – a period that began with revolvers and bolt-action weapons, and ended with the first generations of modern select-fire combat rifles. We detail these developments in Small Arms of WWII, discussing not just what the weapons were, but why they were developed and how they performed in the field. If you want to get a better understanding of how these weapons changed warfare and were in turn themselves changed by warfare, this is the book series for you!  A Man & His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them, Matt Hranek - $28.49 Paul Newman wore his Rolex Daytona every single day for 35 years until his death in 2008. The iconic timepiece, probably the single most sought-after watch in the world, is now in the possession of his daughter Clea, who wears it every day in his memory. Franklin Roosevelt wore an elegant gold Tiffany watch, gifted to him by a friend on his birthday, to the famous Yalta Conference where he shook the hands of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. JFK's Omega worn to his presidential inauguration, Ralph Lauren's watch purchased from Andy Warhol's personal collection, Sir Edmund Hillary's Rolex worn during the first-ever summit of Mt. Everest . . . these and many more compose the stories of the world's most coveted watches captured in A Man and His Watch.  The Wrong Wolf, Chris Craighead and Matthew Klein $19.99 From the very start, the Wrong Wolf knew he was different. Over the course of a journey marked by loss, mercy, courage and self-sacrifice, he learns that where and how you are born does not always determine where you end up. Sweetwater - Jason Heaton - $14.99 With an American presidential election looming, a decades-old plane crash is once again thrust into the news. Old secrets threaten to expose dangerous truths and underwater archaeologist Julian "Tusker" Tusk finds himself at the center of a mystery with the highest of stakes. With time running out, Tusker is forced to come to terms with not only his own past, but that of his father, in an adventure that spans two generations and hits close to home in more ways than one.  Moscow X, David McCloskey - $25.49 CIA officers Sia and Max enter Russia under commercial cover to recruit Vladimir Putin’s moneyman. Sia works for a London law firm that conceals the wealth of the superrich. Max’s family business in Mexico―a CIA front since the 1960s―is a farm that breeds high-end racehorses. They pose as a couple to target Vadim, Putin’s private banker, and his wife, Anna, who―unbeknownst to CIA―is a Russian intelligence officer under deep cover at the bank. Clothes Relwen - Quilted Insulated Tanker Jacket - $318  This will be your go-to, so don’t fight it. Our Tanker is that one jacket that fills all the voids, whether tailgating, going out for dinner, or off to work. The soft peached nylon/cotton shell utilizes a water-resistant polyurethane coating, ideal for all weather conditions. Lightweight quilting provides warmth across temperate conditions making for highly pragmatic style. Clarks, Desert Boot Suede - $150 Cultural cachet and design DNA: no shoe is quite like the Clarks Originals Desert Boot. Nathan Clark’s 1950 design was inspired by a rough boot from Cairo’s Old Bazaar, and its minimal, progressive style sparked a worldwide footwear revolution GBRS Group - Set Point Flannel - $75.00 The Set Point by GBRS Group MD Approach Flannel is a multi-purpose flannel for everyday use. Combining the crisp look of a heavier flannel with the comfort of a lighter one makes this flannel resourceful on any occasion. Vuori- Strato Tech Tee - $54 The Strato Tech Tee is the softest piece of workout apparel on the planet, doubling as your go-to t-shirt. With next-level comfort, our softest performance knit is quick drying and moisture wicking. Goodr - Bosley's Basset Hound Dreams - $25 Tortoiseshell sunglasses? More like houndshell shades. These sunnies were named in honor of Bosley, king of the basset hounds. So every time you wear these no slip, no bounce brown frames with non-reflective polarized brown lenses, you’ll be in the presence of royalty. Hot sauce Tabasco: Priceless, available at your local convenience store, this delicious nectar of the gods.  Tabasco. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.   -- *W.O.E. has received no financial compensation for the above products and these are NOT/NOT sponsored.  Please do your own research before making any purchases.

15 comments
Read More
Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

22 comments
Read More

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

22 comments
Read More
What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from...

16 comments
Read More

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from in-depth profiles of impactful Intelligence Community and military practitioners to breaking down geopolitical conflicts through the lens of watches. Today, however, we figured we’d go a little lighter and engage in an age-old tradition that, while slightly more juvenile than most of our content, continues to be relevant and just plain fun. Just about every watch platform has matched up the Rolex Submariner with the perennial watch-guy favorite–the air cooled Porsche 911. But we’ll leave that to the popular watch style blogs. We’re here to talk about metal with a purpose beyond simply looking cool. We’re going to match up iconic watches with well-known aircraft. Many of you will be intimately familiar with both of these subjects, and finding the intricacies and characteristics that tie a watch to an airplane and vice versa is an exercise in diving deep into the engineering characteristics, legacy, and function of both the plane and the watch.  Tom Cruise wearing Porsche Design Chronograph 1 (Photo Credit: Paramount) Before we apply full nose down inputs and dive in, we’d like to acknowledge that folks will have very serious opinions about these pairings, and that this list is just a starting point. If you disagree, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. We eschewed the traditional “rules” for pairings using things like country of origin or physical appearance to pair watches and cars and instead focused on the core ethos of each piece of equipment and the character and reputation it has developed in both aviation and horology circles. Now let’s roll, pitch, and yaw right into it: The Plane: Lockheed C-130 Hercules The “SUV of the sky” is ubiquitous and tough as nails. It’s been in service since 1956 and the fundamental design of the aircraft hasn’t changed much over more than half a century. It can land and take off from unprepared airstrips, it can operate in hot and high environments, it can be fitted with skis to land on ice, it can use JATO (jet assisted take off), it can act as an aerial refueling platform, it can serve as a command and control platform, it can even be kitted out for long-range search and rescue, and maybe most importantly, the AC-130, the gunship version known as the Angel of Death, can absolutely rain down hell on the enemy. The Watch: Seiko SKX007  You won’t find this steadfast tool watch on the wrist of anyone wearing a suit. It’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not known for superior fit and finishing, either. But it’s where a lot of us started our watch interest, and it’s where it can end, too. You don’t need another watch. This one is tough as hell and just keeps on running. Like the C-130, it’s spawned a bunch of variants.  The Link: The same places you’ll find the SKX007 being worn, you’ll find the C-130 being used. They’re both the standard unit of toughness that all other watches and utility aircraft are measured against. The Plane: Boeing C-32A  This is the plane that the highest officials in the US Government use for executive transport. You’ll typically find the Vice President (Air Force Two) and the Secretary of State aboard. It can also serve as Air Force One when the President’s 747 is considered overkill for a specific destination. It’s a symbol of American might and democracy that you’ll find all over the world. The Watch: Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Photo Credit: James Rupley The Case Officer’s watch. It can get dirty and take a beating, but has a certain polished cache that’s elevated it to iconic status. It can tell time in three different time zones at once; and the design hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first worn by Pan-Am pilots. The model became popular with military pilots and was even famously worn by Chuck Yeager.  The GMT-Master II serves as a stand-in for worldliness The Link: Both of these at first appear polished and proper, but they’re also some of the most capable and bad-ass platforms around. The C-32A has a whole host of classified defense systems. And the guy wearing a GMT-Master probably isn’t a stranger to doing what it takes to get it done. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-16 For the last 30 years, when someone says “fighter jet”, it’s most likely the F-16 that many people–familiar with military aircraft or not–think of. It’s the most widely operated fighter in the world. In other words, it’s the OG fighter aircraft of the modern era. It’s a multi-role aircraft, and there’s even a project led by the US Air Force, Project Venom, to operate F-16s autonomously. The F-16 has come a long way since its first flight in 1973. The US Air Force had once said that it would be retired in 2025, but then signed on to keep the F-16 flying for another 20 years. It’s not going anywhere just yet. And that’s a great thing. If it ain't broken, don’t fix it.  The Watch: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Actual military pilots wear all sorts of watches. Everything from Garmins to Bremonts. But there’s such a thing as a prototypical “pilot’s watch” and it’s the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, the 43. It’s the watch that some real fighter pilots wear, but that many, many more people who wish to be a fighter pilot wear. It’s become an icon for what it represents, not necessarily for what it actually is. But what it is, is a watch that’s been at the center of the military aviation scene since before World War II.  IWC has a long history with aviation, and continues to produce Unit/Squadron watches for many aviators. The Link:  The link here is obvious–these are both the icons of their type. They’re what first comes to mind when thinking of fighter jets and pilots watches. They’re also sort of the most basic iterations of their forms as well. The Plane: A-10 Warthog  This aircraft’s primary role is CAS (close air support) and it absolutely excels at it thanks to its twin-turbofan, straight wing setup. It frequently gets “down in the dirt” and you’ve almost certainly seen memes or videos of the infamous “BBRRRRRTTTTT” that’s emitted from the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon affixed to the nose of the airplane. It crushes tanks, lights up enemies, and emerged as an absolute icon after Desert Storm. BBBBRRRRTTTT. The Watch: Tudor Ranger The Ranger is mostly considered a field watch, not necessarily a pilot’s watch. Its simple, stripped-down nature is where its beauty lies. Consider it the modern version of what the Rolex 1016 was (or the vintage Tudor Ranger)–a simple-as-hell time only tool watch that was indestructible and somewhat of an everyman’s watch. You have 3, 6, and 9, and nothing much else except fantastic legibility. It just gets the job done and doesn’t cost too much. The Link: The A-10 is cheap as chips to operate and consistently crushes the competition when it comes to fixed-wing CAS. The Ranger embodies the same ethos–value-forward, reliable, and has a “git ‘er done” way about it. They’re both simple. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-35 The F-35 was delivered ten years late and went 1.7 trillion USD over budget, but it’s the most technologically advanced plane that has ever existed. It’s over the top in every single way, not to mention it costs $41,986 an hour to fly. But trying to find anything that rivals it. You won’t China’s J-20? Nope. Russia’s Su-57? Negative. The aircraft defines air superiority through its host of technical features, many of which are still classified (on the US-operated variants, of course). The Watch: RM 39-01 Richard Mille marketing shot If you want one of these, it’ll set you back about 150K. But you’ll also have the most feature-rich, tech-forward analog pilot’s watch that exists. A titanium case and a skeletonized carbon fiber dial characterize the watch, along with the signature Richard Mille lightweight technical look. Richard Mille is the epitome of technical mastery in watchmaking, and the RM 39-01 is the brand’s foray into pilot’s watches. It’s the opposite of legible and robust, but sometimes the most technically advanced things are just that way. The Link: The amount of engineering that goes into these two things– and the price tag– are both superlative. The Aircraft: UH-60 Black Hawk You’ve seen Black Hawk Down. Hell, we know some of you even fly the Black Hawk, which is operated in a branch-specific variant by the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The design dates back to 1974 with Sikorsky, and now the US military operates over 2,000 Black Hawk helicopters. Roughly 30 other countries around the world also operate the UH-60 in some form or another, not to mention civilian operators that use it for firefighting, cargo transport, to search and rescue. It’s a ubiquitous helicopter when it comes to roles in the defense sector. Anyone who flies the Black Hawk knows that when it stops leaking hydraulic fluid, that’s when you have to worry. It can carry between 12 and 20 soldiers into battle and can lift 22,000 lbs. It was first used operationally in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and it’s been going strong ever since. The Watch: Marathon TSAR Cheap, chunky, and indestructible, the TSAR has been a mainstay in the inventory of issued watches of US forces over the past decade. Many models even feature the “US Government” markings on the dial in addition to the nuclear regulatory commision designation on the caseback. The watch has earned a stellar reputation by those to whom it has been issued to. It’s designed solely for utility, not looks. The tall case is meant to make it easy to operate the bezel with gloves on, and tritium tubes are employed for superior legibility and visibility in the dark. In short, it’s been a longstanding fixture in the military watch scene for good reason–it just works. The Link: The TSAR, like the Black Hawk, isn’t going to win any awards for looking good or being a hero. Neither draw a crowd. But those in the know will always choose these tools over the more sexy options.  (Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military) The Aircraft: Lun-class Ekranoplan What makes this craft different from most on this list is that even though it has “wings”, it’s not an airplane, or airship even. It’s technically still just a standard maritime ship, because it only lifts about 13 feet off the water and flies in “ground effect”, meaning it takes advantage of reduced drag flying close to a fixed surface. In this case, the surface is the surface of the ocean. It’s essentially just a massive flying boat powered by eight turbofans mounted to canards near the bow of the ship. Flying in ground effect meant that unless the surface of the sea was steady, it simply couldn't fly, and that ultimately led to its demise. It’s an incredibly neat idea that’s also very Soviet–and it can certainly be debated whether or not it’s a good-looking craft or not.  The Watch: Hublot Big Bang  This is the model that’s most typically associated with Hublot, the brand that everyone loves to hate–and by most engineering and mechanical accounts, the watch is pretty strong. But most people agree–it has a very specific type of culture attached to it. The Link: Both the Ekranoplan and Hublot are loved by Russians, but that’s not all. They both had their mainstream time to shine decades ago, but still both have a small legion of loyal followers today that still live like it’s the heyday of the Ekranoplan and Hublot. But hey, they like what they like. SHOP NOW:  Five Eye Nylon Watch Strap

16 comments
Read More
U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

14 comments
Read More

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

14 comments
Read More
"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone,...

14 comments
Read More

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” Remembering the heroes of September 11th Attacks: On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old Account Manager at Oracle, rose early to catch United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco for a business trip. As part of his morning routine, he snapped the clasp shut on the two-tone jubilee bracelet of his 36mm Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph before heading out the door at 6:15 am, leaving his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children at home.  After a 42 minute delay, he boarded Flight 93; it departed from Gate 17 at Newark Liberty International Airport and took off at 8:42 am. At 9:28 am, the calm Tuesday morning flight was interrupted when Al Qaeda hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, used box cutters and a supposed explosive device to take control of the plane and divert the aircraft back east towards Washington D.C. The hijackers moved Beamer and the other 43 passengers to the rear of the plane. Using cellphones and seatback phones, the passengers contacted loved ones and airport officials and learned that three other aircraft were weaponized and deliberately crashed into some of our nation’s most important buildings: the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Beamer and other passengers acted fast and stormed the cockpit in an effort to take back the aircraft. Beamer’s last words were recorded through the seatback phone. If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them...Are you ready? Okay, Let's roll. At 10:03 am, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes flying time from the terrorists’ intended target: the U.S. Capital. Beamer and a number of other passengers had thwarted Al Qaeda’s plans.  Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” His watch is a two-tone 18k yellow gold Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, likely reference 16263, with a champagne tapestry dial. Despite the use of precious metal, the watch was originally developed as a tool watch in the early 1950s with a bidirectional bezel for timing. Nicknamed the “Thunderbird,” it was issued in the late 1950s to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron pilots, with the famed unit’s insignia on the dial. Late 1950s Rolex advertisement. Hanging on the wall of my office is an old Rolex advertisement that I see everyday. The copy, in bold, reads, “Men who guide the destinies of the world wear Rolex Watches.” The ad is clearly meant to conjure up images of Presidents, Generals and Diplomats– but what Beamer did that day is exactly what the ad says: he changed the course of history. Had he and the other brave passengers on the plane not acted, the aircraft would have continued to Washington D.C. and likely inflicted significant harm on the U.S. Capitol, the heart of American democracy. Beamer was an ordinary American who showed extraordinary courage during a time of need. He was a man of action. Like most great men, the man made the watch, not the other way around. The fact that he was wearing a Rolex is insignificant, but the watch lives on as a memorial to him and his fellow passengers that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Beamer’s legacy lives on beyond his parting heroic action. Let's Roll became a unifying command, a battle cry for America in the Post-9/11 era. Troops deploying to Afghanistan months later would use this as a motivational phrase to bring the fight to the enemy. Years later when I traveled to war zones, “Let’s Roll” was still commonly heard before departing on an operation or seen painted on a gym wall at remote U.S. Government outposts. Today, Beamer’s mangled Rolex is on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, along with an Oracle business card discovered in the wreckage, both donated by his wife, Lisa, to honor his sacrifice and legacy. The date window still chillingly displays the day that the world changed forever; “11.” Let's Roll - CIA in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks. Beamer’s father, David Beamer, would later remark to the New York Times, “The function of the watch is supposed to be to tell time. What it doesn’t tell is what time it is anymore. What it does tell is what time it was. It marks the time that a successful counterattack on Flight 93 came to an end.” There are few actions more selfless than sacrificing your life for another, and that’s exactly what the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did. Had the airplane continued to Washington D.C. and struck the U.S. Capitol, scores of elected officials, civil servants, and innocent civilians would have perished.  Like Beamer on the morning of September 11th, 2001, countless men and women would choose to roll into action and answer the call to serve in the wake of 9/11.  This Dispatch is in honor of the 2,977 people who died on September 11th, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, and their three children.   Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

14 comments
Read More
Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing...

12 comments
Read More

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing the watch in my studio, I was surprised to see a production error that I had never seen before. In the “8” in the “18” on the bezel, the top circle is blue, while the bottom is black.

12 comments
Read More
CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

17 comments
Read More

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

17 comments
Read More
Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

44 comments
Read More

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can even serve as stand alone stories– and probably will at some point–but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we will address next time. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” What advice do you have for buying watches? There are more resources than ever before on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re pretty far down the rabbit hole.  Here are a few tips below for those looking to get into watches.  Also check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” as a good starting point. Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford, as “buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the hobby. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. How do I organize Unit watch? After our “Tudors of Espionage” piece, we received a lot of queries on how to organize a “unit watch” for a specific military, law enforcement or intelligence organization.  We have heard from our industry contacts that companies across the board have received an increase in these requests.  This is cool, because “unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.” To review, 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.   We will continue to go deeper on various unit watch programs (like Bremont Military and Special Project's Division) and guide those looking to organize a custom watch for their organization, but in the meantime, here are some initial steps: Do it: To accomplish anything in the government, you need an internal champion.  Be that champion. Nothing will happen otherwise. Build Internal Support:  For most custom watch programs, you need a minimum of 50 pieces. It needs to make sense for a manufacturer to tool up to produce a custom watch, which incurs a significant cost on their end.  Start building support within the organization and gauge interest from other unit members.  Take the opportunity to educate non-watch members why a watch is a great way to commemorate a moment in time and one's service.  Seek approval from the unit/command leadership if needed. Explore Brands: There are some great brands that provide unit watches. Each one has its pros and cons.  Decide on 3-4 that work for your unit's culture. As a starting point, look at Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor, Bremont Watch Company, Elliot Brown, CWC, Seiko, and Sangin Instruments. Contact the brands:  For larger brands (Tudor, IWC, Omega, etc) visit a local boutique/Authorized Dealer and explain what you're looking to accomplish.  You need someone on the inside to help shepherd you through the process, as it can often be opaque.  For smaller brands (Elliot Brown, CWC, Sangin) you should reach out directly through the website.  Some companies like Bremont have formal “Special Projects” programs and make it seamless; others are more based on personal relationships.  Ideally, have a specific idea of what you are looking for, i.e. a specific reference and design/location of the insignia. Be Patient:  These things take time.  Having spoken with some of the individuals who have shepherded Tudor pieces, these projects can take over a year for delivery. Automatic vs Quartz? There is nothing wrong with quartz movements, and anyone who says otherwise is a nerd.  Not a good “watch nerd,” just a nerd.  In general I prefer an automatic timepiece because I appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce an automatic movement.  Operationally, there is a strong argument for an automatic movement, as batteries will always die at the wrong time.   That said, some of the greatest military watches are quartz: CWC, Elliot Brown, and Marathon, not to mention the venerable Breitling Aerospace.  A quartz movement is likely more accurate than an automatic movement and some of these pieces are just as fashionable and robust.  There is something satisfying about picking up a watch and knowing that the date and time are set. They both have their place in the watch world.  Again, these are tools and you choose the right tool for the task. Does the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) censor your writing? The CIA does not “censor” my writing when it comes to beliefs, opinions, or watch content.  It does review my writing (including this piece) to ensure that it does not contain classified information.  All current and former CIA officers have a lifelong obligation to protect classified national security information, and one aspect of this lifelong commitment is submitting writing to the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB).  This is a good thing, as it protects every party involved.  Overall, I have found the review process relatively smooth.  Like most “formers” who write about the intelligence field, I have a general understanding of what we can and cannot say and there have been no major issues with the PCRB.  There are occasionally times when the PCRB will remove a location, word, or sentence, but overall it has not impacted the core points of any of the stories I’ve written. As a private citizen, I am free to express my own opinions about the government, CIA, or watches, and I have not heard of any cases where a former CIA officer’s opinions or writings were “censored” in the traditional sense.  It appears as though the CIA has made a conscious decision to be forward-leaning by allowing formers to write (relatively) openly about their experiences.  This is also a good thing.  My personal opinion is that the Intelligence Community should protect secrets, but should also be open in educating the public on what we do.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the CIA and we are in a position to dispel those myths and educate people on the reality. By writing semi-openly, we can achieve that.  Do you sleep with your watch on? (We have received this question a lot.) I do not. Does anyone? That's weird.  I actually find myself taking my watch off often when I am at home, when typing on the computer, doing chores etc.  I haven't really put much thought into why this is but I have never slept with a watch on, and I don’t even put it on my bedside table unless traveling.  Generally, I take my watch off in the bathroom or office and have been using a W.O.E. EDC Valet in both. If anyone does sleep with their watch on, I would love to hear their rationale in the comments. Thoughts on tactical micro-brands?  Are you a poser if you did not serve in the military? When you buy a watch–any watch– you are buying into that brand and the community and reputation the brand commands.  This is especially true with micro brands/tactical brands. There are some great micro brands/tactical brands out there and several were highlighted in the “Best Watches Under $1,000” Dispatch.  That said, I do not have much first hand experience with them, so I will reserve judgment.  If you are interested in a tactical brand, I encourage you to really do your research.   In my opinion, Sangin Instruments is one of, if not the, leader in this space.  Started by a Marine Raider, they make great watches but perhaps more importantly, they’ve built a true community around the brand.  Though largely driven by the active duty military and veterans, one does not have to be a veteran to take part and you are by no means a poser if you support this brand. One other that I have also personally owned is RESCO Instruments, which was started by a former SEAL. Similar to Sangin, they have strong support from the active duty military and make a robust toolwatch. Starting a watch company is hard, really hard.  There is a reason the top watch brands have been around for over a century.  Do your research: many of these companies have good intentions, slick websites and lots of tactical dudes wearing them, but actually building a company like Sangin and RESCO is not easy or for the faint hearted. Final thought, any brand that gets you interested in watches is a good thing.  If you like the aesthetic of a watch and the guys building a brand, buy one. Try it out.  It’s all just a part of the larger process of going deeper into the hobby.  Favorite city to visit? Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Cape Town, South Africa. If you had to choose only one watch to keep forever, what would it be? From an emotional standpoint, it would likely be the titanium Royal Jordanian Breitling Aerospace, a gift from His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, but from a purely aesthetic and functional perspective, it would be my Rolex GMT-Master II, an early 2000s black and red “Coke” ref 16710. For years, I have said that the Rolex GMT–any execution of the watch– is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. A Case Officer has been described as a “PhD that can win in a bar fight,” and that fictional person would wear a Rolex GMT.  While this is less true today with the astronomical prices of “new” pre-owned models, there is still a lot of truth to it.  When traveling, the quick-change date and GMT functionality are useful for telling the time back home, and a simple wrist check is easier than pulling out a phone. The watch also captures the spirit of the often-romanticized ‘50s Rolex GMT, originally developed in the 1950s for commercial Pan Am pilots. I have an old “Root Beer” ref 16753, but the newer model is more robust and still maintains some of the vintage aspects, including drilled lug holes and the aluminum bezel.  The “Pepsi” of course is a classic, but there is something about the red and black that I have always gravitated towards.  It is just different enough to make it stand out but still retains that timeless appeal of the classic bi-color bezel formula.  How has your interest in watches evolved over time? My personal interest in watches has evolved greatly over the past year as my collection has expanded. My collection and my interest grew together in tandem.  I’m still interested in modern tool watches, but have gone down the vintage military-issued watch rabbit hole.  I recently acquired a South African issued Tudor Milsub ref 7016 and a US Navy UDT/SEAL-issued Tudor 7928.  Both of these watches are “grail” pieces for me, and for the time being I am satisfied and have so much history to learn and uncover when it comes to the pieces I already own.  I will continue to be on the lookout for unique watches with military provenance.  There is something special about owning a piece of history and being able to wear it on your wrist. What are your thoughts on watch modifications? I have never modified a watch before, but this is something I would really like to explore in the future.  The idea of taking a Tudor Black Bay 58 or an Arabic Seiko as a blank canvas and personalizing it is incredibly intriguing.  This is still a controversial practice for much of the traditional watch community.  George Bamford originally made a name for himself by customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands. Customized “Commando” Rolex Submariner (Bamford Watch Department) That said, I am not attracted to customizing a timepiece to look like another timepiece, aka a “Homage” customization.  If this makes you excited, then I am happy for you, but it is not for me. Before selling out and going corporate, our friend and spiritual mentor Cole Pennington wrote a piece for Hodinkee defending homage pieces.  I generally agree with everything Cole writes, but when it comes to this topic I respectfully disagree.  Cole points out that there is a “big difference” between homage pieces and counterfeits, but in reality whether produced by a manufacturer or individually customized, the difference is often not that big.  I would rather purchase (and wear) a Seiko that looks like a Seiko, than a Seiko that has been retrofitted to look like a Rolex. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? What new products and will they be in stock? W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform.  The reason we are successful is that we are passionate about watches (and espionage) and that’s our core fundamental driving force–not profiting from the watch community.  Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence and national security content as it relates to timepieces.  We have just scratched the surface and have a lot more to explore. We have made a lot of progress over the past year, with the launch of the website and initial W.O.E. products.  Our main focus is building a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate history and an interest in timepieces.  Content will continue to be our main focus and our intention is to keep this free and open to everyone.   Much of the watch industry works on a “pay to play” model where brands sponsor content or invite journalists to “exclusive” press trips which inevitably influences any potential watch review. Our goal is to avoid this model and remain an impartial third party in the watch industry. We will support brands and people who are doing good things.  If we enter into a partnership with a brand, it will be on our terms and will not be just a transaction for cash to exploit our relationship with the community. Obviously this takes significant time and money and will only increase as we continue to expand.  After thoughtful consideration, we moved into the product space, and have found this equally fulfilling to create novel and exciting products for our community.  We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E.-- as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content.  Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are working on some new and exciting projects and hope to have some in stock at all points.  We are in the initial steps on a coffee table book that we hope to be available in 2024. This year, we have raised over $23,000 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Read Next: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight *Unless otherwise noted, pictures are of W.O.E.'s personal collection by James Rupley.

44 comments
Read More
Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We...

6 comments
Read More

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We have previously profiled Tudor’s unit watch program and plan to cover all of the major players in this space.    UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing unique watches to military and intelligence units, including the highest tiers of the US Intelligence, Aviation and Special Operations community. In order to document a first hand perspective, we asked Nic, an Australian military pilot, to write a Dispatch on his experience organizing a custom Bremont for his squadron. As always, this content is not sponsored and the views and perspectives are of the author.  At W.O.E., we are brand agnostic but do support any brand that supports our community. Aviation Unit Watch Case Study: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division The EA-18G Bremont U-2 on the wrist of a Growler pilot (Photo Credit: @outboundcourse)  In the world of horology, Bremont is a relative newcomer, having been founded by brothers Nick and Giles English in 2002. The siblings, inspired by their father’s passion for both aviation and mechanical devices, merged their interests to design, manufacture and release their first pilot's watch in 2007. Bremont arrived on the scene as a fresh contender at a time when established players were coincidently shifting their focus away from the aviation and military markets towards more mainstream celebrity brand ambassadors. In 2009, U-2 spy plane pilots from Beale Air Force Base, California contacted Bremont to see if the brand would be willing to create a bespoke watch for their squadron. Bremont subsequently produced and delivered the watch as its first ever military project in 2010. The following year, they launched a partnership with ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker and started to garner interest from the global military aviation community. Bremont was then approached by the US Navy Test Pilot School, USAF C-17 Globemaster community and US Navy VFA-81 Sunliners Squadron and asked to produce special military watches for their members. The Military and Special Projects Bremont made for U-2 spy plane pilots was the brand’s first custom military watch. (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) Once the custom C-17 watch appeared on social media in 2012, the brand received significantly more attention from potential military clients. To cater for this increase in queries and requests for projects, Bremont’s Military and Special Project Division was established by Catherine Villeneuve. Over ten years later, Catherine – who is also Nick English’s wife – leads a sizable and dedicated team as Bremont’s Head of Military and Special Projects. The C-17A Bremont ALT1-WT (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) I first heard about Bremont from a friend who had run his own project and so got in touch with the brand’s Military and Special Projects team in 2016 to enquire about developing a watch for my Australian squadron of KC-30A air-to-air refueling aircraft. Once I’d established contact the process was straight forward. Due to the expeditionary nature of our work, I chose the Bremont World Timer as a base model and then started the back-and-forth with the Bremont design team to determine how to make the project unique and meaningful to those of us who would eventually wear it. This mainly consisted of me sending poorly constructed Microsoft Paint pictures of airplanes and crests pasted onto watches and them responding with high quality renderings of potential design options. As the military traditionally offers limited opportunities for creative expression within its ranks, I really enjoyed the opportunity to play designer with the guidance from Bremont’s professionals. Catherine explains that “The design focus is to base the client’s idea around an existing model, staying true to our brand DNA and then elegantly and subtly integrating design details within the watch dial and sometimes other watch parts, to best identify the military squadron, unit or community”. The “triple seven," an Afghan unit trained/mentored by Americans for air lift assets, most notably the Russian built Mi-17.  This watch was produced by Bremont for the American servicemen supporting that unit. Bremont distinguishes itself from many competitors’ military offerings by allowing extensive customisation options. Beyond simply featuring aircraft silhouettes on the dial or unit crests on the case back, clients can opt for a variety of modifications, depending on the size of their order. For example, the C-130J Hercules project features a small seconds hand shaped like the aircraft’s six-blade propellers; the F-14 Tomcat project has hands coloured to match the jet’s tailhook; and the movement rotors of the A-10C project are carved into the shape of the Hawg’s iconic 30mm autocannon. For our project we were able to use a GMT hand coloured to match our refueling boom and a bespoke time zone bezel that showed the ICAO codes of our frequently visited airports and air bases. The C-130J Bremont ALT1-Z (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) There are still some design rules to adhere to – Catherine notes “We have detailed documents regarding specific Terms and Conditions when it comes to designing and purchasing a Bremont Military and Special Project watch”. However, IYKYK acronyms sometimes appear on project dials that may skirt some of the restrictions (see: USAF KC-135’s “NKAWTG”, F-16CJ Super Weasel’s “YGBSM” and RAAF 75SQN’s “YKYMF”). Custom Bremont MBIIIs for F-16CJ Super Weasels and RAAF 75SQN (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Once our design was finalized and eligibility criteria set, it was time for me to collect orders from my colleagues to meet the minimum number requirements. The amount of emotional energy invested during the design phase made this portion of the process particularly stressful. For many at military units, this is their first foray into the world of luxury mechanical watches so justifying the price tag can be a difficult feat but to help with this, Bremont offers significant discounts to it’s military customers. Once the minimum numbers were met and deposits paid, production began with the final product being delivered about nine months later. While the completion of production and delivery marks the end of the journey for most customers, a significant number of us choose to maintain a connection with the brand by engaging through social media, sharing photos of watches in action (use your tools!) or by dropping into local boutiques to share a story and enjoy a drink. It’s also worth noting the project leader can decide whether the project is a limited run or not. Even years after the first batch of deliveries, latecomers such as new squadron members or people who didn’t have the funds at the time can still get on board as Bremont maintains contact with the original project leader to ensure accurate verification of eligibility. Bremont's Military and Special Projects Division has become a pillar of the brand's success, accounting for almost 20% of its total sales. Interestingly, design ideas incubated by military projects can also overflow to Bremont’s core range. For example, the ALT1-WT was inspired by the C-17 Globemaster watch, the ALT-1B from a B-2 bomber project and the U-22 from an F-22 Raptor project. The purple, bronze and titanium-colored barrels across the MB range were all first featured on military projects. The F-22 Bremont U-22. The exposed date wheel was first for the brand and went on to inform the design of the civilian U-22 model. (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) The Bremont Military Instagram account showcases a myriad of professional and user-submitted photos, providing a glimpse into the vast number of individual projects the Military and Special Projects Division have produced with many more discreet projects remaining unseen by the public and unspoken about by the brand. When asked which projects were her personal favorites, Catherine responded “There are so many I could mention. Over the last 13 years Bremont has created and delivered almost 500 different military and special projects. Some of them are incredibly exciting but sadly the details of many projects cannot be shared. Design-wise, I would say the F-35 collection (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35 Dambuster) is very cool, the RAF Lancaster Bomber, HSM-85 Squadron, 89th Airlift, Grim Reapers 493rd Fighter Squadron, RSAF Tornado, the Royal Marine 350th, the new Royal Navy Submariners and of course the Australian KC-30A are personal favorites.” The KC-30A Bremont ALT1-WT on the beaches of Diego Garcia (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Although military projects account for about 80% of the timepieces produced by the Military and Special Projects Division, watches are also made for civilian organizations. These clients have included BAE Systems, Oxbridge alumni, Rapha, FedEx pilots, Aston Martin Owners’ Club, Heathrow Air Traffic Controllers, REORG veterans’ charity, as well as rugby and cricket clubs. Moving forward, we can expect to see (or maybe only hear rumors of) many more bespoke Bremont Military and Special Projects watches that not only tell the time, but also tell the stories of the elite units, squadrons, ships and regiments that they have been created for.  READ NEXT: Marathon, Watch Maker For The Modern Military Author: Nic is an Australian military pilot that has been a follower of W.O.E. since the early days. He has a particular interest in custom military watch projects having designed and produced timepieces with multiple brands

6 comments
Read More
Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

10 comments
Read More

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

10 comments
Read More
Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed...

2 comments
Read More

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by GBRS co-founders and former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley.  Each order includes a W.O.E.-GBRS challenge coin.  $40 of every purchase will be donated directly to Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  We expect to raise over $20,000 and will provide proof of the donation once the fundraiser is complete. Cole and DJ with donated uniforms, Panerais on the wrist. Overview:  This release is an updated version of one of our best selling products, the W.O.E. Travel Pouch and challenge coin.  Made in the USA, the single watch case is durable, compact and functional, and honors our community with subtle accents. Like a great watch, the case is a tool, made to be used and to last decades. The GBRS AOR-1 case has an updated card with red trim and the GBRS Old-English “g” is on one side of the watch card and the back of the watch case. AOR-1:  The case flap keeper is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by Cole and DJ.  AOR-1 was introduced in 2010 for Navy Special Operations and was developed for desert/arid environments.  The pattern has been used widely throughout the Middle East and Africa. DJ wearing AOR-1 camouflage during free fall training. GBRS Group:  GBRS Group is a veteran-owned, Tier 1 training and services organization committed to imparting critical skills and real-world experiences to end-users in military, federal, state and local special operations units.  GBRS Group was founded by Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley, two former Navy SEALs who served in NSW Development Group, the Navy’s Tier 1 Special Mission Unit. Cole deployed overseas with NSW. As previously discussed in the Dispatch, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has a long history with timepieces.  Since the early 1960’s, frogmen have utilized tool watches including Tudor, Seiko, G-Shock and various other dive watches.  Today, NSW continues this tradition with a strong culture of high end tool watches, including Panerai, Rolex, Tudor, Bremont and various other timepieces. Third Option Foundation:  The name refers to the motto of CIA's Special Activities Center: Tertia Optio, the President’s third option when military force is inappropriate and diplomacy is inadequate. Third Option Foundation is dedicated to providing comprehensive family resiliency programs, working behind the scenes to quietly help those who quietly serve. “You will probably never know the names of these silent heroes who defend our safety and freedoms in the most distant corners of the world. They’re often the first in and the last to leave many conflicts around the globe. For decades, the operators of CIA's Special Operations units have served and sacrificed in quiet anonymity.  Particularly in the years since 9/11, this small group, along with their families, has borne an unprecedented burden in the fight to protect our nation. The nature of their service means they and their loved ones cannot seek the support or relief available to military service members and their families. Third Option Foundation is the only organization that fills this gap, by providing crucial survivorship assistance and resiliency programs to heal the wounded, help the families of those we have lost, and support those who are still serving. “I was the commander of a unit that, within the span of about 18 months, sustained a number of casualties of operators killed in action overseas. There were more than a dozen children who were suddenly without fathers, and wives who had lost their husbands. As we were flying across the country notifying the families, we saw just how significant the need was for those family members for a safety net, for support and understanding. We decided to create an organization to address the really unique needs of our agency’s Special Operations community that weren’t being met. — Anonymous, Co-Founder of Third Option Foundation” At W.O.E., we are passionate about serving those who serve us and this is at the core of who we are as a business and community. We believe that doing good is good business and it would be hypocritical of us to not give back to our community. We will continue to be transparent about our support.   *Photos by James Rupley and GBRS. **W.O.E. has no affiliation with Third Option Foundation and this fundraiser is not officially endorsed by Third Option Foundation.   THIRD OPTION FOUNDATION IS A 501(C)(3) TAX-EXEMPT NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

2 comments
Read More
The Seiko Found In The Wreckage Of A Spy Ship And North Korean Covert Operations

The Seiko Found In The Wreckage Of A Spy Ship And North Korean Covert Operations

A Seiko Dive Watch 7548 - 7000 was recovered from the wreckage of a North Korean Spy Ship after the Battle of Amami-Ōshima. Where did...

8 comments
Read More

A Seiko Dive Watch 7548 - 7000 was recovered from the wreckage of a North Korean Spy Ship after the Battle of Amami-Ōshima. Where did it come from and what does it tell us about North Korean Covert Action? At CIA, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is known as one of the “big four,” along with Russia, China, and Iran. The big four (five with Cuba sometimes included) are “hard target” countries that represent a particular challenge for traditional intelligence collection. Kim Jong Un wearing an IWC Portofino. (Photo Credit: Unknown) Hollywood will often relegate North Korean intelligence officers, primarily the Reconnaissance Bureau of the General Staff Department (RGB), as comedic bumbling amateurs, but we learned to never underestimate our adversaries. The Hermit Kingdom has been successful in projecting power well beyond its borders, including the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 killing 115 people with a bomb in the overhead bin, the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures in response to the upcoming film The Interview, kidnapping dozens of Japanese citizens off the beach, and notably the 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam with a VX nerve agent in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Operatives have been particularly effective at conducting covert action and subversion activities in neighboring waters surrounding Japan and South Korea. A Seiko In A North Korean Spy Ship The Seiko 7548 - 7000 recovered from the Changyu 3705. (Photo Credit: Instagram: @thewristplorer & Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama)  A Seiko on display in a museum located in Japan is nothing out of the ordinary. Seiko itself even maintains a public museum in Tokyo’s shopping district, Ginza, where notable watches from the brand are on display. These watches are part of the larger story of Japanese horology, otaku culture, and all that comes with it.  Drive 30 minutes by car to the south, just outside the metropolis of Tokyo, there’s a Seiko diver sitting in a glass case at the Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama. It’s crusted in sea salt and flotsam-filled grime, and its bezel insert is nowhere to be found. This watch, in particular, a ref. 7548 - 7000, while horologically interesting, is part of a much different story, the story of relations between the nations of Japan and North Korea, often characterized by hostility and tension. Sometimes a watch has multiple stories to tell — be it of horological significance, the course of nations, or in this case, both. December 21st, 2001 - The Waters Of Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan The Changyu 3705 shortly before being fired upon by the Japan Coast Guard. (Photo Credit: Japan Coast Guard) The Japanese Defense Intelligence Headquarters was picking up unusual signals from a communication station in Kikaijima, a small island in the Amami archipelago, far away from any major metropolitan area of Japan. The subtropical archipelago sits about 130 miles north of Okinawa. The communications caused what looked like a fishing trawler to come under investigation by the Japan Coast Guard. Four vessels were deployed to ascertain the ship’s intentions — benign or nefarious. The ship was issued a warning to halt. It did not comply. It resembled a fishing vessel, common in these waters. But breaking an official order certainly was uncommon. This was a fushin-sen, or “suspicious ship”, after all. Following established escalation procedures, the Japan Coast Guard fired 25 warning shots across the bow of the boat. Normally that would be enough to persuade even the most recalcitrant fishing trawler — possibly using illegal techniques to harvest fish — to cut its engine and allow the Coast Guard to board for inspection. Instead, the ship in question started performing evasive maneuvers and increasing its speed to 33 knots — staggeringly fast for a trawler. Japan’s Special Boarding Unit was established as a response to repeated spy ship incursions into Japanese waters. (Photo Credit: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) Meanwhile, the Japan Coast Guard had readied its Special Boarding Unit, known as the Tokubetsukeibitai, in case the situation reached a point where it would be needed. Instead of heeding the warning shots, the trawler fired back and a firefight ensued. It was equipped with light and heavy machine guns and the occupants of the ship utilized rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) to return fire to the Japan Coast Guard vessel. Later, Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) and a double-barrel ZPU-2 anti-aircraft weapons system would be found aboard. Bullet holes on the recovered wreck of the Changyu 3705, now on display at the Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama. (Photo Credit: Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama) The ship was no ordinary fishing vessel, it was a North Korean spy ship, later identified as the Changyu 3705. It was meticulously disguised as a fishing trawler with Chinese characters painted on its hull. Everyone aboard the North Korean vessel perished when the ship sank; a few bodies were recovered, while the majority went missing. It was unclear if it was Japanese rounds that sent it to the bottom of the East China Sea or if the crew scuttled it, but roughly six hours after warning shots were fired, the North Korean vessel became a shipwreck. September 2002 - The Site Of The Changyu 3705 Wreck A massive ship equipped with a crane was chartered by the Japan Coast Guard to raise the wreck of the 98-foot Changyu 3705. Once on dry land, the Japanese government discovered the boat had been specially modified with concealed compartments for the deployment of landing craft. There was also a system of armament on rails so a recoilless rifle could be moved out of sight. It turns out the ship had a self-destruction system too. Small arms recovered from the wreck of the Changyu 3705 in 2002. (Photo Credit: Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama) After inspecting the hull, the government took an inventory of everything onboard. Weapons, communication equipment, DPRK propaganda documents (including a portrait of Kim Jong Il), nautical charts of their area of operations, and something rather curious — a Japanese-made Seiko 7548 - 7000. North Korea & Seiko Watches Why would a North Korean spy have a Japanese watch in his possession? Japan is a sworn enemy of the North Korean state. Surely they wouldn't be supporting a capitalistic Japanese juggernaut like Seiko. A Seiko 7548 recovered from a captured North Korean frogman on Dadaepo Beach in 1983. (Photo Credit: KTV, via Ryan's Blog) We’ve covered how a watch can be used in an operational capacity, perhaps to support a cover. But the answer in this case is probably a simple one: intelligence practitioners need tools that work. And Seikos just work when you need them to and are particularly well suited for the maritime environment. It’s not the first instance of a known North Korean operator wearing a Seiko dive watch, either. An unconfirmed image of the North Korean spies captured on South Korea’s South Korea’s Dadaepo Beach in 1983. One was captured wearing a Seiko 6309 - 7040 and the other a 7548 - 7000. According to Ryan's Blog, in a separate incident on December 3, 1983, two North Korean frogmen were intercepted and captured while infiltrating South Korea’s Dadaepo Beach located in Busan. They would eventually defect to South Korea, but not before being processed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. They were stripped of their equipment, including the Type SP-10 semi-submersible they used to get onshore. A Seiko 6309 - 7040 taken from one of the North Korean frogmen following their capture in 1983 on Dadaepo Beach. (Photo Credit: The War Museum Of Korea, via Ryan's Blog) Strapped to their wrists? On one, a Seiko 6309 - 7040. On the other, a 7548 - 7000.  Many forces, historically, have issued Seikos to their operators. This probably isn’t the case in North Korea, however. The prevalent use of Seikos by North Korean operators stems from the reliability of the watches and their relative ubiquity and affordability around the globe.  Luxury Watches, American Vehicles, & Superdollars A 1970s Omega bearing Kim Il-Sung’s signature, further evidence of illegally imported luxury goods in the DPRK. (Photo Credit: Omega Forums) We’ve looked at a mysterious Omega bearing the signature of Kim Il-Sung on the dial, specially produced by Omega in the late ‘70s for the regime. Where there’s a dictatorship, luxury goods — illegally and legally imported — usually aren’t far away. It’s safe to say that the North Korean military didn’t put in an order with Seiko HQ in Japan to obtain these dive watches that seem to be used by North Korean spies and operators. In fact, it’s unlikely that there’s an official retail presence and distribution model for Seiko in the “Hermit Kingdom”. Even the neutral Swiss government banned the export of all Swiss watches to the DPRK in 2016 due to its ongoing research with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Often coming from China, black-market luxury goods including Swiss watches and even American cars make their way into the DPRK. (Photo Credit: CNN) But that doesn’t stop goods from flowing into the country on the black market. Most luxury goods and dual-use military equipment are imported through the grey market via neighboring China. You’ll even find American automobiles, like the Hummer H1, cruising the streets of Pyongyang. It’s reported that Illicit goods are often purchased with Superdollars, a counterfeit US currency produced by North Korea. An American-made Hummer H1 cruising the streets of Pyongyang. (Photo Credit: Thaddeus Stapleton) This all points to the tangled web of the black market that would allow Seikos to end up in the hands of North Korean operators and spies. North Korea has a network of undeclared intelligence officers around the world and legitimate diplomatic missions to allied states. The watches could be purchased abroad and brought back to North Korea in any number of ways. What’s left of the Changyu 3705 is on display along with the Seiko 7548 at the Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama. (Photo Credit: Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama) We’ll never know the exact origins of the Seiko found at the bottom of the sea aboard the Changyu 3705, or the models involved in the Dadaepo Beach incident. It’s all conjecture at best. The world of covert action and subversion is murky. Whether it's the Navy-issued 6309 on the wrist of a Navy SEAL in the mountains of Afghanistan or the 7548 - 7000 used by a North Korean spy, we can glean that spies and operators tend to gravitate towards the same timekeeping tools. The ones they can rely on. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. Read Next: CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC Thanks to @thewristplorer on Instagram for providing several photos of the North Korean Seiko 7548 from the Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama.

8 comments
Read More
CIA paramilitary officers watches of espionage spy watch

Inside The Watch Culture Of CIA Paramilitary Officers

A Watch Given To A CIA Paramilitary Officer After a successful joint operation in the late 2010s, a European intelligence service presented a CIA Paramilitary...

6 comments
Read More

A Watch Given To A CIA Paramilitary Officer After a successful joint operation in the late 2010s, a European intelligence service presented a CIA Paramilitary Officer with a gift, a U-Boat timepiece to commemorate operational success. Like most accomplishments in the world of espionage, the ceremony (if you can call it that) was small, just the officer and his counterpart, deep inside the headquarters of the European service. There would be no press announcement and the accomplishment would remain unknown to the world, though its impact was of strategic level value to the United States.  Today, that Paramilitary Officer is medically retired due to health issues and is going through treatment with the assistance of the Third Option Foundation. In his post-government life, he treasures the timepiece as a memento, a private celebration of his accomplishments, and multiple decades of service to his country. In our community, it’s never just a watch. CIA Paramilitary Watch Culture  CIA PMOO wearing a Rolex Sub, somewhere overseas. There is no such thing as a real-life Jason Bourne. The closest resources in CIA’s toolbox are the men and women of the Special Activities Center (SAC - formerly SAD) and specifically Paramilitary Operations Officers (PMOOs). PMOOs are trained as case officers and conduct traditional foreign intelligence (FI) collection, but what makes them unique is their focus on covert action.  Covert action is the “Third Option” for the President of the United States when military force is inappropriate and diplomacy is inadequate - a deniable capability to further US National Security interests. While CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board won’t let us name countries, suffice it to say PMOOs have been on the ground before, during, and after most of the major conflicts of the past 70 years. Paramilitary Officers were particularly effective in carrying out train-advise-assist operations with local partner forces during the Global War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. Currently, they represent the tip of the spear in the multifaceted power competition in Europe and Asia. CIA Paramilitary Watch Culture SAC recruits primarily college graduates from Special Operations Forces (SOF) including Army Rangers/Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Marines with a requirement of eight years of active duty service and multiple combat tours. While the majority of PMOOs rely on Digital Tool Watches (D.T.W.) in conflict zones, there is a strong watch culture inside the SAC, and it’s directly influenced by each operator's military background. We are aware of at least two “unit watches” commissioned by PMOOs with the SAC insignia on the caseback and/or dial, but can’t go into details at this time as these are ongoing programs. CIA Issued Timex Ironman. This watch was issued to a partner force and the CIA Paramilitary Officer wore it as a sign of solidarity. It is no surprise that PMOOs tend to prefer robust tool watches. On their wrists, you’ll find the usual suspects: Rolex, Breitling, Panerai, Sangin Instruments, and Bremont. While some in the Directorate of Operations will degrade PMOOs as “knuckle draggers”, the majority of the Paramilitary Officers I worked with were true intelligence professionals. SAC in particular puts a lot of focus on grooming future leaders and a traditional Case Officer/FI tour is practically a requirement for career progression, with the best Paramilitary Officers doing at least one traditional intelligence collection tour early in their careers. Timepieces As Operational Gifts As we have discussed, luxury timepieces play an outsized role in the murky world of intelligence while also serving as effective operational gifts for assets and developmentals (individuals being assessed for clandestine recruitment). They are also received by CIA Officers as gifts from “liaisons,” a colloquial term to capture third-country intelligence services that work jointly with CIA. This is the story of the receipt of a unique timepiece during one Paramilitary Officer’s traditional FI, or foreign intelligence, tour. Coming Of Age The paramilitary officer in question grew up in Connecticut, later moving out west during his teenage years. Motivated in part by the attacks on 9/11, he signed up for the Army and was commissioned as an officer in the mid-2000s. He deployed to the Middle East at the height of the Global War On Terror with the Joint Special Operations Command and was ultimately recruited by SAC's “operational branch/department” during a deployment to Afghanistan.   After completing the training pipeline to be certified as a CIA Case Officer at “The Farm” as well as the tactical training required for PMOOs, the officer went on to have an extensive career with years of warzone assignments throughout the Middle East and more traditional assignments where he was accompanied by his wife and son. During the warzone assignments, he wore a Timex Ironman, a watch commonly issued by CIA to local partner forces. While he owned more feature-rich digital watches including a Suunto, this small detail was not lost on his local counterparts.  As he learned in CIA training, a simple gesture like a shared meal  — or a watch — can go a long way in building comradery.  Gifting Watches In The Intelligence Business The tradition of gifting watches between partner military and intelligence units goes back decades and can be used to build trust and commemorate an operational accomplishment or joint deployment. W.O.E. previously discussed receiving a Breitling Aerospace from King Abdullah of Jordan, and while there are restrictions on receiving expensive gifts, CIA Officers can generally later purchase these items from the US Government. If an officer feels that not accepting the gift would damage rapport, he or she can accept the item in question, understanding it ultimately becomes property of the US Government until it can be purchased through the proper channels at fair market value later. Often, CIA works alone. However, at times, CIA works closely with “friendly” intelligence services, colloquially referred to as “liaisons.” It was through this partnership with a European service that the PMOO received the U-Boat watch.   The European service has a long tradition of presenting watches as commemorative gifts to honor its partnerships with counterparts in CIA and other intelligence agencies worldwide. Representing more than mere gifts, they are emblems of significant alliances and successful (REDACTED) operations. Each watch commemorates a different operation, a distinct moment in time when multiple agencies representing differing sets of national interests came together to contribute to global security. After the operation (the details of which remain classified), the officer was invited to a (REDACTED) liaison meeting inside the intelligence service’s headquarters. The liaison counterpart rehashed the recent success and its impact on both countries before presenting the officer with a box. Inside was a U-Boat watch. The European officer explained his service's tradition of presenting watches: "The watch isn’t just a mechanism to tell time; it’s a reminder of our shared commitment, our shared victories, and sometimes, our shared losses.”  For this CIA Officer and many others, a watch transcends its role as a timepiece, serving as a wearable testament to the trust and camaraderie developed in high-pressure situations, embodying a unique fraternity that surpasses national boundaries. These watches symbolize a brotherhood formed in secrecy, bound by a commitment to shared values and objectives. In the world of intelligence, where time can be the difference between life and death and seconds can alter history's course, these watches hold profound significance, representing critical moments when nations, through their covert operatives, align not just in time but in principle and purpose.  The Watch U-Boat is a relatively young Italian watch brand. Founded in 2000 by Italian designer Italo Fontana, U-Boat takes its inspiration from the founder’s grandfather Ilvo Fantana who sketched designs for wristwatches for the Italian Navy in the 1940s. From this inspiration, U-Boat has a specific aesthetic that unites the different collections together. Oversized cases, highly legible dials, and left-sided “Destro” crowns complete the U-Boat look.  The U-Boat Sommerso 46 DLC (Ref. 9015) is distinguished by its tactical PVD-coated case and lefty crown. The watch stands out both in design and presence on the wrist. The U-Boat watches gifted by this service are more than sophisticated timekeeping instruments; they are tokens of respect, trust, and an unspoken bond among intelligence professionals. They are reminders of joint efforts, shared risks, and commitments that transcend geographic and political divides, embodying the spirit of international collaboration in the clandestine world of intelligence. Today, that Paramilitary Officer is medically retired due to health issues and is going through treatment with the assistance of the Third Option Foundation. He continues to work in the national security space, with frequent trips to the Middle East. He regularly wears the U-Boat watch as well as his Special Activities Center “unit watch,” he purchased as a retirement gift to himself.  The timepieces are a memento, a constant reminder of his multi-decade service to his country, and a private celebration of his accomplishments. As we said earlier, in our community, it’s never just a watch. If you would like to support the men and women of the CIA’s Special Activity Center, please consider a donation to the Third Option Foundation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.   READ NEXT: Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military

6 comments
Read More
Living In Zulu Time - Why GMT Watches Are Important to Special Operations & Intelligence Officers

Living In Zulu Time - Why GMT Watches Are Important to Special Operations & Intelligence Officers

Tracking Multiple Time Zones In Austere Circumstances By J.R. Seeger, former CIA SIS Greenwich Mean Time or “GMT” is an internationally accepted timing standard by...

5 comments
Read More

Tracking Multiple Time Zones In Austere Circumstances By J.R. Seeger, former CIA SIS Greenwich Mean Time or “GMT” is an internationally accepted timing standard by which all other time zones are defined. A GMT watch tracks one or two additional time zones by way of a fourth hand, a bezel or chapter ring with 24-hour markings, or some combination of the two. Revered by enthusiasts for invoking a sense of nostalgia, GMT watches serve as a throwback to the golden age of travel before cell phones. But for those at the tip of the spear living in Zulu Time, the GMT has a more practical function. Living In Zulu Time While there were earlier attempts at tracking multiple timezones, like the watches US Navy officer Philip Van Horn Weems developed with Longines in the ‘20s, GMT watches as we know them today took off in the 1950s, first with the Glycine Airman in 1953 and followed by the Rolex GMT-Master in 1954. Robust and relatively attainable at the time, this burgeoning category of watches provided the ability to ascertain the time of day in two or even three time zones around the globe at a glance. The Tudor Black Bay GMT (Photo Credit: James Rupley)  For pilots or the then-novel community of international business travelers, watches like the GMT-Master were exceptionally helpful. But why are GMT watches important to the world of Watches of Espionage? In The Shadow World - Timing Is Everything We regularly point out that time is an essential factor in both espionage and special operations, sometimes acting as the difference between life and death if a case officer or agent is not at a given meeting place precisely on time. Lingering on “the X” invites scrutiny and, in the shadowy world of espionage, scrutiny can mean arrest, prison, or even execution. Special operations missions are also exceptionally choreographed, meaning every second counts when a team is linking up on the ground, at sea, or in the air. And this is where a GMT watch serves as an essential piece of kit. Rolex GMT Master Reference 1675 on Billy Waugh’s wrist in retirement. Waugh was a legendary Special Forces operator and CIA contractor. (Photo Credit, Recoil Magazine and Tom Marshall) This level of choreography across assets often involves traveling across multiple time zones. Coordinating a multifaceted mission based on various local timing standards invites uncertainty and risk, with the entire concept of local time potentially meaning different things to different people for any number of different units or assets involved. This is why case officers and special ops personnel live in what is known as Zulu Time. Being on Zulu Time ensures everyone is on time and minimizes the risk of operations failing due to timing errors. Utilized by the military, various government organizations, and the world of aviation, Zulu Time is so named for the Z timezone in the ACP 121 military timing standard of 25 letter-designated zones, with each zone referring to a longitudinal swath of the Earth. As you may have surmised, the Z, pronounced “Zulu” in NATO’s phonetic alphabet, indicates Greenwich Mean Time or GMT, which is also often referred to as UTC or Coordinated Universal Time. If everyone involved in a given mission is working in Zulu Time, no matter where they are in the world, everyone is on the same page. If your watch happens to display Zulu Time in addition to local time, all the better. Vintage Bulova advertisement for the Accutron Astronaut. The 1960s & 1970s: Traveling At The Edge Of Space In Zulu Time The most celebrated story in the history of GMT watches is the legendary affiliation between Pan American Airlines, the Boeing 707, and the aforementioned GMT-Master. While the pages of that story are well-worn, several other GMT watches deserve their place in history especially when being viewed through the lens of our community. In the late 1950s, the CIA and Lockheed’s Skunk Works were working on the Archangel program to produce a manned, aerial reconnaissance aircraft. That program produced the A-12, an aircraft that would fly at the edge of space at speeds greater than 2000 mph. Given the incredible speed, every piece of the aircraft, the cameras, the film, and even the pressure suits for the pilots had to be redesigned to handle the rigors of the mission.  Lockheed’s A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft  Neither Lockheed nor the CIA were certain what would happen to a standard mechanical watch at the edge of space with the incredible g-forces caused by accelerating to such high speeds. At the same time, the Agency needed their pilots to have a watch that would track both local time at their base as well as Zulu Time, the basis for all of their communications. W.O.E.s Personal Vintage Bulova, Accutron (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Rather than a Glycine or a Rolex GMT-Master, both of which were popular with more conventional pilots of the day, early A-12 pilots were issued a Bulova Accutron Astronaut equipped with a GMT-hand as well as a friction-fit 24-hour bezel. At the A-12’s incredible speeds, a pilot traveled through various time zones in minutes, making the ability to easily track Zulu Time with their watch essential for coordinating and communicating with ground crews and higher levels of operational oversight. 1990-1991: Fighting A War In Two Time Zones In addition to the necessity of Zulu Time, there are examples of managing two critical time zones with two separate watches. Nearly every photo of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) during the First Gulf War, shows the general wearing two watches. In a previous Dispatch, Stormin’ Norman explained that he needed to track the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, DC, balancing the needs of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and the President, all of whom were operating on Eastern Standard Time (EST), with troops on the ground operating on Arabian Standard Time (AST).  Why the general opted for a pair of Seiko watches as opposed to any number of GMT watches available in the early 1990s is anyone’s guess, but it’s possible the general simply found two watches to be the easier, or perhaps more attainable, option.  CIA’s Team Alpha prior to Insertion into Afghanistan. Seeger Back Row, Third From Left. (Photo Credit: CIA) 2001: The Global War On Terror Fast forward to 2001 and post-9/11 conflicts in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. When I deployed to Afghanistan as a team leader of one of the CIA’s first teams to enter the country, the most common watches on the wrists of most Special Forces operators and specifically on my team were plastic digital watches from brands like G-Shock and Timex. While not often considered among the GMT category, these straightforward digital tool watches (D.T.W.) displayed a single time zone with another one available at the push of a button. What was the second time zone? Zulu Time or UTC was the most common option. Given the amount of military and government assets in the country at the time, Zulu Time was essential for coordinating complex operations in theater. When a Special Forces ODA in Afghanistan requested logistics support from TF Dagger at Karshi-Khanabad airfield in Southern Uzbekistan (with a half-hour time difference from Afghanistan) or close air support aka “steel on target” from a USAF aircraft based outside the theater or a US Navy fast mover from a carrier battle group in the Arabian Sea, all of the players could be working off of the same time “hack.” Similarly, when my team communicated with CIA headquarters, our satellite communication – whether data or voice – was keyed to Zulu Time so that all of the participants knew when that vital communication would take place. A trio of Rolex GMT Master II models. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Today: An Abundance Of Choices While digital watches are exceptionally robust and in many cases offer convenient features such as solar charging, many do not provide an at-a-glance view of two time zones. Looking to the world of analog quartz and mechanical timekeeping, there are a number of options available today for GMT enthusiasts whether managing Zulu Time is at the top of your list of priorities or not. Starting with the most basic, certain watches including the Benrus Type I and II of the 1970s utilized a simple time-only movement and display in conjunction with a rotating bezel with 12-hour markings. By rotating the bezel to reflect a given time difference, an operator could relatively easily track another timezone including Zulu Time. Using a time-only caliber, the Mil-Spec Benrus Type I provided a measure of GMT functionality using nothing more than a rotating 12-hour bezel. (Photo Credit: Analog Shift) By a wide margin, the most common format for an analog GMT leans into a fourth hand used in coordination with either a chapter ring or bezel equipped with 24-hour markings. In many ways cemented by the GMT-Master and its modern descendant the GMT-Master II, which is still making its way beyond the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere on the wrist of a certain Saudi astronaut, the format can now be found in both quartz and automatic watches at a wide variety of price points. Though technology has drastically improved our operational capabilities when working across time zones, a straightforward and robust GMT watch still serves as a useful tool in any modern operator or case officer’s arsenal. No matter where they are based, and no matter what GMT watch they might use, today’s members of the WOE community will continue to live in Zulu Time. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.   READ NEXT: A Navy SEAL’s Rolex Submariner on the Osama Bin Laden Raid   About The Author: J.R. Seeger served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and as a CIA officer for a total of 27 years of federal service. He served 17 years in multiple field assignments focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and irregular warfare.  During his final, 3-year assignment in CIA Headquarters, he first served as a chief of operations for a geographic division in the Directorate of Operations and then served as a deputy director and deputy chief of the CIA Counterterrorism Center. His seven-part MIKE4 series is about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present.

5 comments
Read More
A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her...

21 comments
Read More

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her timepiece is a clue to solving a complex puzzle that reads like a Hollywood thriller. 3 June 1995, Oslo Plaza Hotel, Room 2805 The woman’s body was sprawled out on the bed, a pistol lay awkwardly in her right hand with her thumb still on the trigger– a single entry wound to her forehead. An apparent suicide; but investigators quickly noticed several anomalies: the woman had no identification and the room was absent of any clues to her true identity.  In fact, she had gone to great lengths to conceal her identity, first by checking into the room in alias and paying cash, and further, she removed the labels from the limited clothing in the room and even the serial numbers on the Browning 9 mm pistol that was found with her.  There was no way of telling who she was or what she was doing, except for one obscure clue. The only item that was not modified to remove identifiers was her watch, a Citizen Aqualand worn on her left wrist. VG/Police Evidence Photo By any definition, the Aqualand is a robust tool watch and specifically a dive watch with strong military provenance with versions issued to many units including the British Special Boat Service (SBS) and Danish Frogman Corps. The clunky Aqualand was not the expected watch of a young fashionable Belgian woman; it was seemingly out of place.  Oslo Mystery Nearly three decades later, the death of “Jennifer Fairgate” is still a mystery.  Some theories about her death are certainly influenced by Hollywood's portrayal of the intelligence world–many speculate that she may have been an “operative” or “assassin.”   At W.O.E., we offer a fact-based assessment of her tradecraft (and watch) in an effort to better understand the reality of these so-called “operative” theories.  The more we explore this incident, the more we’re left with questions rather than answers. However one thing is for sure–her Citizen is a piece of the puzzle that could offer clues to her identity and trade.  Artistic rendering of “Jennifer Fairgate” (Harald Nygård) 29 May 1995, Oslo, Norway The woman checked into an upscale hotel three days prior without a credit card, using the throwaway alias “Jennifer Fergate.”  Conflicting reports indicate she may have been with a man, “Lois Fairgate'', who was later added to the room registration.  ‘Jennifer’ provided a nonexistent address in Belgium on the registration card, and she wrote down a date of birth that indicated she was 21 years old, though forensic pathologists would determine she was approximately 30 years old.  As detailed in a Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, she spent the next few days outside the room with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.   On June 3rd, a number of days after she had checked in, hotel staff knocked on room 2805 in an attempt to collect payment from Fairgate. While a member of the hotel staff was at the door, a gunshot was heard inside. The employee left the room unsupervised for 15 minutes as he retrieved the head of security.  When they returned, the room was locked from the inside.  When they entered the room they reportedly smelled gunpowder, presumably from the recent shot fired in a confined space, and saw the dead body lying on the bed, shoes still on. VG/Police Evidence Photo While Occam's razor would lead to the conclusion that this was a distraught woman set on committing suicide and disappearing forever, many have speculated that she was in fact an “intelligence operative,” maybe even an “assassin” disposed of after a failed assignment.  In the documentary, former Norwegian Intelligence Service officer Ola Kaldager assessed ‘Jennifer’ was an intelligence officer and her death was meant to look like a suicide, even though she was, according to Kaldager, executed.  Intelligence Officer Tradecraft? From a tradecraft perspective, Fairgate’s profile is potentially consistent with that of an intelligence officer.  The use of hotels for operational purposes is as old as espionage itself and is still a common practice today (though much more difficult with the rise of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance).  Based on logs from the keycard reader, she was absent from the room for extended periods of time, at one point for approximately 20 hours, which could indicate operational activity.  While at CIA, I often leveraged similar tradecraft to what was used by ‘Jennifer’ when it came to hotel meetings and operational travel.  The use of “throwaway aliases” is common, and Russian “illegals” even go as far as to assume the identity of a deceased child, the name and date of birth collected by Directorate S assets from graveyard or church registries. Another element that points to “Jennifer” having utilized tradecraft has to do with her clothing. A search of the room revealed few personal items, except for several changes of clothes for her upper body including sweaters and trenchcoats, which could be used for profile changes while operational.  While removing tags from clothes is not necessarily common, intel collectors are trained to remove all pocket litter or anything identifiable when in alias. Assassination? There was a 15-minute gap between the sound of the gunshot and the arrival of hotel security.  The room was locked from the inside, something that in theory could have been done by a professional during a hasty escape. Investigators have pointed out the awkward grip of the pistol and the fact that there was no blood splatter on “Jennifer’s” hand as possible indications that there was another shooter.  There was a second bullet hole through a pillow and into the mattress, which in theory could have been a test shot from Jennifer or a warning shot to scare the hotel attendant at the door.  Of note, many intelligence services have carried out targeted killings (assassinations) with the goal of making it look like a suicide, most notably the Russian KGB/FSB and Israeli Mossad, two services with a history of operational activity in Norway. The Watch The Citizen Aqualand is a purpose-built and robust tool watch, designed specifically for subaquatic duty, complete with a depth gauge and a no-decompression limit (NDL) chart on the strap. When it comes to tool watches, this is about as tool-like as it gets.  Various references of the Aqualand have been issued to and worn by Special Operations maritime units throughout Europe, including the Italian Navy, UK Special Operations, and notably, the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset). That the watch is issued to the Danish Frogmen Corps is noteworthy, as it neighbors Norway, where the “Jennifer” was found.  Tony, a British SBS operator, 25 November 2001, Qala-i Jangi, Afghanistan wearing a Citizen Aqualand Dive Pro Master, which was issued to SBS “Z-Squadron" which specialized in underwater attack and insertion using Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) While correlation doesn't equal causation, the Citizen Aqualand is not a watch one wears by accident and wearing it starkly contrasts the semi-fashionable outfits found with the woman.  In the intelligence business, a robust watch is a must and the dual analog/digital features would be an effective tool of espionage.  In the 1990s, the Aqualand was popular amongst divers.  It is entirely possible the woman behind Jennifer Fairgate was a diving enthusiast who lived by or traveled frequently to the coast.  As Jason Heaton, diving enthusiast and friend of W.O.E., would later say, “the Aqualand became, in effect, the last dive watch built for, and bought by, real divers who needed a tool for timing dives.” No-deco limits printed on the strap (Jason Heaton) It’s an analytical leap to conclude that because the watch has strong ties to the military and is an issued watch, that “Jennifer” was an intelligence officer.  But what can the watch tell us? To know, we have to look beyond simply the make and model of the watch. Tracing the Watch According to an investigative report by newspaper VG, the Citizen Aqualand reference CQ-1021-50 was manufactured three years prior in January 1992 with the serial number C022-088093 Y, 2010779, GN-4-S. This was confirmed by Citizen at in Japan. The watch contained three Swiss-made Renata 370-type batteries made in December 1994.  The batteries were crudely engraved “W395,” which investigators believed means they were installed March 1995 and “W'' may indicate the initials of the watchmaker.   Some online outlets have suggested the watch was purchased in Germany, but there is no substantial proof of this claim.  The watch was reportedly later sold at a police auction.  Of note, Watchmakers often record their work on the inside caseback of a watch with a light engraving, or in this case, on the battery itself with a hand-engraved note. It lets other watchmakers know in the future what’s been done and when.  Wilderness of Mirrors The intelligence world is often referred to as the “wilderness of mirrors,” a  space where the truth is complicated and nothing is as it seems.  We spoke with John Sipher, who ran the CIA’s Russia operations, for his assessment in the incident.  Sipher, who also served in Nordic countries during the 90s, explained that Norway and Scandinavian countries have long been of interest to Russia due to the proximity and strategic issues including the Baltic Sea, oil, and as an opening to Western Europe.  In fact, as recently as October 2022, Norway’s domestic security agency arrested Mikhail Mikushin, a suspected Russian GRU (military intelligence) “illegal” posing as a Brazilian academic, José Assis Giammaria. Anna Chapman, A Russian “Illegal” arrested in the US as part of the Illegals Program, a Ulysse Nardin on her wrist.   Given the information available, Sipher said that it is possible Fairgate was a Russian intelligence officer or asset, but that it’s just as likely she was involved in organized crime, and that the two were not always mutually exclusive during that period.  Russian Organized Crime Sipher explained that in the 1990s many former KGB officers had gone on to work for organized crime after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  KGB “formers'' were some of the few Russians that knew how to use international banks and could effectively carry out tasks in Europe. In fact, in the post-Cold War years there was “much more overlap of Russian organized crime and intelligence and the two were often synonymous.”  Sipher pointed us to a quote by former Director of CIA James Woolsey from 1993-1995: “If you should strike up a conversation with an articulate English-speaking Russian… wearing a $3,000 suit and a pair of Gucci loafers, and he tells you that he is an executive of a Russian trading company…then there are four possibilities. He may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover. He may be part of a Russian organized crime group. But the really interesting possibility is that he may be all three and none of those three institutions have any problem with the arrangement.” While she may fit the profile of a Russian intelligence officer, asset or “illegal,” there is a lack of indicators connecting Fairgate directly to Russia.   East German Intelligence Former East German Intelligence “Stasi” compound in Berlin. Sipher further explained a similar phenomenon with former East German intelligence officers leveraging their skills for employment after the unification of Germany and disbandment of the East German Stasi (Ministry for State Security).  Stasi officers had close contact with Soviet officials, were renowned for their sharpness and capabilities, and were often recruited by Russian services to carry out operations in Europe.  German nationals could easily move around Europe without raising suspicions. Stasi ID card used by then-KGB officer Vladimir Putin from 1985-1990 in Dresden, East Germany.  The card was found in a Stasi archive. While this is informed speculation, it’s possible that Fairgate was a former East German intelligence officer working on behalf of Russian intelligence or a criminal organization.  There are several indications that Fairgate had ties to East Germany including her accent when checking in and forensic analysis of her DNA.  Some of her clothes, including potentially her watch, originated in Germany. This links back to the theory that the watch was serviced in Germany. Mossad, Israel and The Oslo Accords The Oslo Plaza Hotel was also reportedly one of the locations of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities for the Oslo II Accord, signed a few months after Fairgate’s death.  While evidence is only circumstantial, it is possible that there is some nexus to this event and that Fairgate was an Israeli operative or the target of a Mossad assassination.  Mossad has a long history of both deep cover operations and targeted killings.  In January 2010, a team of Mossad operatives (many under European alias) assassinated Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai using an injection to make it appear to be of natural causes.  They locked the room from the inside and the body was not discovered until the following day. Israeli operative (tennis players) track Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his hotel room. In fact, Mossad has carried out at least one botched assassination in Norway: in 1973, when a hit team mistook a Moroccan waiter for that of Black September member Hassan Salameh, they shot him 13 times with a 22-caliber pistol, in what became known in intelligence circles as the “Lillehammer Affair.”  While there is nothing directly connecting Fairgate to Israel, Mossad is widely known to use dual-citizens for covert and clandestine operations.   It is important to note, while Israel has issued several dive watches to elite units, we are not aware of any direct tie between the Citizen Aqualand and Israeli Defense Forces or Mossad. Black September member Hassan Salameh, target of Israeli assassination program after Munich attack. Conclusion While we cannot say definitively, there are several anomalies with this case that suggest the woman known as “Jennifer Fairgate” may have been involved in intelligence activity. That said, it’s also entirely possible that she was involved in some other illicit activity or potentially worked as an escort.  Espionage is often referred to as the “world's second oldest profession” and at times has a similar profile to the first. The reality of the intelligence world is more mundane than portrayed in Hollywood.  That said, assassinations, deep cover, and high-stakes movie-like operations certainly do happen.  In intelligence collection, the mosaic of puzzle pieces are rarely all collected and for now the picture of this event is opaque. We’re only seeing part of the story, and perhaps it’s not even the ending.      This could have been a covert operation carried out by the Russians, Israelis or a host of other services, but it is just as likely it was the case of a desperate woman, looking to leave this world behind without a trace.  If that is the case, she certainly achieved her goal. The watch is still an outstanding clue and may be the only lead to her identity.  Somewhere there is a watch maker who installed the battery in that watch, which may provide additional information on her origin. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   *For more information on this incident, check out the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries and the comprehensive investigative report by VG, “Mystery at the Oslo Plaza”  -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

21 comments
Read More
CIA Timepiece Analysis: President Putin and Tucker Carlson

CIA Timepiece Analysis: President Putin and Tucker Carlson

Last week, former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson interviewed former KGB officer and current Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.  While much of...

19 comments
Read More

Last week, former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson interviewed former KGB officer and current Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.  While much of the coverage surrounded the controversy of Tucker himself, we will focus on what we know best: the watches present at the meeting in the Kremlin.  It’s not just W.O.E. who will be analyzing Putin’s watch, members of the American Intelligence Community will be scrutinizing it, too. As we previously discussed in “CIA Analysis of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces”, CIA Directorate of Analysis (DA) analysts will scrutinize this video frame-by-frame in order to inform policy makers.  Like we aim to do at W.O.E., they too will ignore the noise and rely on ruthless objectivity to produce an actionable product. Putin Takes off the Watch: Minutes into the interview, Putin, dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie, removed his watch (potentially a Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date) and placed it on the side table next to him, facing the camera.  At face value, this subtle gesture could have several meanings.  In an interview that lasted over two hours, it was clear that Putin was very generous with his time and it could be a conscious signal that he was in no hurry to end the interview.  Additionally, taking off one's watch and laying it on the table is a clear indication that it’s Putin’s home turf, i.e. the Kremlin.  In general, people only take off watches in their home as the risk of leaving a watch behind is a mistake you only make once.  Putin is in a position of power; he's in control in his home.    Whether this was a calculated move or a subconscious habit, we can only speculate, but these are exactly the type of questions analysts ask.  We have seen Putin take off his watch and place it on the table in the exact same manner as recently as October 2023. Putin Health Issues: After removing the watch, Putin vigorously rubbed his wrist for a few seconds. This could be a regular habit of his, but it could also be a potential indicator of health issues. Rumors have been swirling around concerning President Putin’s health for years.  Many of these rumors have been disproved; they’re either fabricated or amplified as a part of disinformation campaigns by Ukrainian intelligence services, Russian opposition, or other third party actors.  That said, there are some indications of deteriorating health, stiff or painful wrists are among them and could be a symptom of a plethora of medical issues, including carpal tunnel syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  In a vacuum, the gesture is totally inconclusive, however if paired with other information, it could paint a clearer picture of Putin’s health. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information—getting the facts wrong. Disinformation is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead—intentionally misstating the facts. Putin's body double?   Past videos of Putin and his watch have caused some to question whether the Kremlin uses a body double in public appearances.  In one video he appears uncomfortable wearing a watch on his right wrist, and in another video he appears to glance down at his left wrist to check the time, presumably looking at the place the body double normally wears his watch.  While it’s certainly possible, it appears this “body double” theory was likely disinformation from Ukrainian services to create questions about Putin's health and mental fitness.  This narrative has been promoted by those close to Kiev, amplified on social media, and even picked up by some Western news outlets. Of note, several Dictators have used body doubles in the past (including allegedly Iraq’s Saddam Hussein) and it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Putin would use one.  That said, most of the known use cases of body doubles are for security purposes (dummy motorcade) as opposed to recorded interviews that can be heavily scrutinized.  We see no indications that this or any other interview was conducted by a “body double.” A million dollar collection? The “expensive watch collection” owned by Putin that’s often cited in the media is estimated to be valued over $1 million although we can assume this number is low for one of the wealthiest men in the world. Putin appears to favor silver watches on a black strap as seen during the interview.  In recent years Putin has consistently worn a Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date but has also been photographed wearing an unknown (presumably) Russian produced watch.  The one in the interview is potentially the Blancpain given the butterfly clasp.  For a full rundown of Putin’s watch collection see: “Watches of the War in Ukraine.” Tucker and CIA Troll: Another striking W.O.E. moment in the conversation was when Putin seemed to troll Tucker with a backhanded compliment about not being accepted to CIA: “CIA of course, the organization you wanted to join back in the day as I understand. We should thank God they didn’t let you in. Although it is a serious organization I understand.  My former vis-a-vis in the sense that I served in the First Main Directorate, Soviet Union's intelligence service; they have always been our opponents, a job is a job.” According to press reports, Carlson did in fact apply to CIA after graduating from Trinity College.  As an apolitical platform, we are neither pro-nor-against Tucker Carlson, however we will note that not being accepted to CIA is by no means a failure.  While we can only speculate on acceptance rates for CIA officers, the number is minuscule and many have speculated that it is easier to get into Harvard than CIA.  Regardless, the President of Russia’s preplanned troll of the TV personality is on another level, just another example of once a KGB officer, always a KGB officer. During the interview, Tucker wore his “Buckley Dial” Rolex Datejust on a steel and gold Jubilee bracelet.  Tucker appears to be a one-watch-man and the “Buckley dial” is a unique Datejust with printed (not applied) Roman numerals.  The watches were produced in the 1970s and 80s and the name is reportedly linked to John Buckley, a vintage watch dealer. There is no shortage of stories to cover in the Watches of Espionage niche, and this article is an example of that.  At most historic moments, there are watches present and they offer insight into the men and women wearing them. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   --Read Next: The Lasting Legacy of the CIA’s Lockheed A-12 and the Watch That Served It  

19 comments
Read More
The Real Spy Gadget Watches of the CIA, KGB, MIT and German Intelligence

The Real Spy Gadget Watches of the CIA, KGB, MIT and German Intelligence

The Real Spy (Gadget) Watches of the CIA, Soviet KGB, Turkish MIT and German Intelligence While Hollywood's depiction of lasers, knockout gas, and grappling hooks...

4 comments
Read More

The Real Spy (Gadget) Watches of the CIA, Soviet KGB, Turkish MIT and German Intelligence While Hollywood's depiction of lasers, knockout gas, and grappling hooks disguised as Rolex Submariners and Omega Seamasters is entertaining, it’s largely all a fantastical product of a screenwriter's imagination.  In fact, at CIA I was never issued a watch and there were only a handful of times in my career that I used “spy gear;” instead, I regularly relied on low technology solutions to build relationships, recruit spies and steal secrets.  The art of human intelligence (HUMINT) has changed little over thousands of years. That being said, there are several historical examples of intelligence officers leveraging timepieces as tools for concealment, surveillance, and listening devices.  In the hyper-niche genre of watches and espionage, it is important to separate fact from fiction and break down the widespread notion of spies wearing gadget-focused watches. In this dispatch, we’ll get into the rare instances where spies did in fact use these sorts of watch-appearing gadgets.  From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton. We have profiled one instance when CIA Technical Officers modified a digital Seiko to conceal a Tropel T-100 camera inside, however there isn’t any solid evidence that this was actually fielded in clandestine collection.  Since that article, we’ve spoken with several officers knowledgeable on the program and none of them were confident it was ever used in such a capacity.  Many real “spy watches” are on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C, however. And much of their history is documented and proven.  Omega Seamaster 300m with a laser embedded in Goldeneye, 1995. Hanhart Protona: One well known example of “spy gear” embedded in a timepiece is the Protona Minifon, which contained a microphone to surreptitiously record conversations during the Cold War era.  The case was perforated and contained a microphone and a cord ran out of the 9 o’clock up the wearer's arm to the tape recorder. The “watch” itself did not actually keep time and the movement was removed to make space for the microphone. Recent descriptions of these at auction have suggested that they were used by CIA and other intelligence agencies, many pointing to an operation with detained Moscow-based CIA Case Officer Marti Peterson.  The narrative of the “microphone watch” during the detainment of Marti continues today and is repeated in both historical publications and watch media outlets, a myth we debunked in a previous Dispatch (Read Here: Moscow Rules).   But the watch certainly does exist, and was presumably designed and fielded to surreptitiously record conversations.  But was it ever actually used for intelligence collection or was it just a gimmick? The device was designed in the 1950s and produced until Protana closed up shop in 1967.  Numerous online forums claim the watch was issued to “German agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall” and involved in the defection of KGB officer Vladimir Petrov in Canberra, Australia in 1954.  While there does appear to be a recording device in the latter, we have seen no documented evidence of it actually being this specific tool.  In fact, in our conversations with numerous Cold War era CIA Ops and Technical Officers, none of them had heard of Hanhart (including Marti Peterson). In contrast to the CIA modified bespoke Seiko, the Hanhart was a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product, something that intelligence services are often hesitant to use without significant testing, evaluation and modification.  Further, while the device was advanced for its time, the watch was bulky and impractical. Wrist watches on display at "Contact Istanbul" exhibition at Istanbul's Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) (Photo Credit: Daily Sabah) That said, a recent exhibition from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) displaying espionage artifacts revealed that MIT indeed used several wristwatches with recording devices for “various operations,” and the watches appear to be Protona Minifon. So we do have some confirmation that this model was used by an intelligence agency, just not the ones that the internet forums would have you believe.  While listening devices and recording conversations are definitely an occurrence in the Intel world, it’s rare at CIA.  I don’t recall ever being trained in surreptitiously recording conversations and the only conversations I recorded were in specialty debriefing rooms for “walk ins”- individuals volunteering information to the US  government, and they were aware they were being recorded.  Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera: Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera, From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. In surveillance operations, photographic evidence of the target can be a valuable piece in the mosaic of intelligence collection and analysis.  In the present day, miniscule digital cameras can be embedded in just about anything and long-range cameras are capable of capturing real-time imagery in poor conditions.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In the early days of the Cold War, capturing photographs of a target required up close surveillance tradecraft.  To fill this gap, West German based Steineck produced the ABC Wrist Watch Camera.   Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera, From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. The watch was developed after WWII and produced from 1949 until the late 1950s.  The tool is worn on the wrist as one would a watch, but doesn’t tell time.  In theory, the metallic dial and leather strap would allow it to pass initial scrutiny at a distance or in low light conditions. The watch would likely require significant training and practice to capture an acceptable image while appearing to casually check the time. With a press of a button in the side of the case, the surveillant could photograph clandestine meetings or a target conducting an operational act.  With a fixed exposure and focal length, not to mention a limit of eight images, the watch would likely need to be used only in ideal conditions and lighting. Again, we have no documented evidence of this actually being fielded by an intelligence service, but that does not mean it never was. KGB Pocket Watch - Concealment Device: KGB concealment device pocket watch. From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. (International Spy Museum) The passage of sensitive information between the asset –“spy”-- and the handling Case Officer is a crucial part of a human intelligence operation.  In the Cold War, tradecraft involving the transfer of film or microdots was common, often through Dead Drops or other impersonal agent handling methods.  A concealment device (CD) with a cavity disguised in a benign item would allow the agent or intelligence officer to securely transfer the information across international borders or to the local Embassy for transmission back to headquarters.  This pocket watch was (reportedly) designed by the Soviet KGB (Комитет государственной безопасности -КГБ) for this purpose.  At first glance, it is a normal pocket watch that would not draw attention or scrutiny when carried by a diplomat or government official in any western capital.  While ostensibly produced in the Soviet Union, the watch contains English writing “TAKE YOUR CHANCE” as it would have been issued to an asset working in an English-speaking country.  But the watch contains a secret cavity to hold and conceal film, microdots or a folded note.  CIA Clock with Concealed Receiver (1970s) for covert signaling.  A Moscow agent could request an unscheduled meeting by activating a transmitter as he drove past the home of his CIA case officer, who kept this clock on his desk. (International Spy Museum) The Apple Watch: While the days of leveraging a traditional timepiece as a piece of spy gear may be obsolete due to technological advancements, the smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, offer endless possibilities for espionage both offensively and defensively.  Leveraging “zero day” exploits, hostile intelligence services can remotely and surreptitiously compromise a smartwatch to activate the microphone, camera or pull locational data in real time.  Given these technological advancements, spies of the future will continue to rely on low-tech solutions for timekeeping. Thank you to the International Spy Museum for the assistance with the background and research for this article.  These and other watches are on display at the museum for your next visit to Washington D.C. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster  

4 comments
Read More
Watches as Tools of Money Laundering and Illicit Finance

Watches as Tools of Money Laundering and Illicit Finance

Luxury timepieces are one of the most effective mediums to move illicit funds around the globe and a tool to integrate those ill-gotten gains into...

11 comments
Read More

Luxury timepieces are one of the most effective mediums to move illicit funds around the globe and a tool to integrate those ill-gotten gains into the financial system.  Transnational criminal networks, terrorists, narcotraffickers and corrupt politicians have used watches to launder money as a part of global illicit finance. The Weight of a Million Dollars – 22 pounds A million dollars weighs just over 22 lbs.  I learned this during one of my first tours as a CIA Case Officer.  Like any other morning, I mounted my Gary Fisher mountain bike and rode out the gate of our compound for a quick exercise ride in the hills surrounding the African capital where I was working.  This activity was “in pattern,” should I have surveillance, they would note the departure, but it would not warrant further investigation.  A trained eye might have seen that something was different, however. The dead weight of ten thousand $100 bills in my backpack made the bike top-heavy and awkward to ride.  The operation was simple and routine. After a long Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) through the hills and side streets of the third world capital, I worked my way to a predetermined ops site.  The watch on my wrist would have (probably) been a Timex Ironman, my go to Digital Tool Watch (DTW) for exercise over the past two decades.  I would have checked the time before moving into the site, confirming that I would hit the operational window.  In espionage, timing is everything. Right on time. I identified a couple in the alley.  We established bona fides with a verbal parole -- a predetermined phrase and response.  I then handed them the heavy backpack in exchange for a similar one and rode off in the other direction, the entire exchange lasting less than a minute. In tradecraft lingo it was a “BE” (Brief Encounter).  A standard CIA Case Officers EDC, read more HERE Except for the backpack stuffed with cash, it was a routine day for a case officer. Certainly not the stuff of Hollywood but instead a crucial operation for the global network of intelligence collection. Due to compartmentalization, I didn’t know who the individuals were that I handed the backpack to or why they needed the large sum of cash, though I have my suspicions.  They had likely just arrived in the country and could not bring the cash in through customs without drawing scrutiny. Watches as a Currency: One takeaway from this operation is that money is heavy.  It’s inconvenient, bulky and difficult to transport, not to mention having to explain it away if discovered.  This is why many illicit actors, spies and criminal networks rely on expensive but innocuous luxury items to move funds across borders.  Given the significant increase in value of timepieces, watches are a favored currency when it comes to illicit activity.  I easily could have handed off a single watch to transfer that same value to the couple that morning. The value-to-weight ratio of a Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet or other premium brands is exceeded only by precious gems, making it easy to physically transport a watch across international borders. The vast, unregulated, and fragmented gray market makes converting timepieces into cash relatively easy. Unlike vehicles, gold, and diamonds, there is no oversight or registration for timepieces and a million dollar Patek can be worn on your wrist, easily breezing through customs. Lebron James wearing a "Tiffany Blue" Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711, a watch that has sold for 100 times its original price at $5,350,000 at auction.  Luxury Watches – Money Laundering: The international financial system is heavily regulated and monitored by law enforcement and intelligence services to identify illicit activity. Transactions over $10,000 are automatically flagged and international border law restricts the amount of cash one can bring in/out of a given country undeclared.  By contrast, watches are a perfect medium for exploitation by bad actors.  They are innocuous and liquid, and pawn shops, auction houses and high-end dealers often turn a blind eye to these activities. Every major auction house has been involved in a controversy where profitability triumphed over ethics at some point. This isn’t to say that they’re willfully supporting money laundering, rather that it is simply a frequent occurrence. Eight days after 9/11, CIA officers pick up $3 million cash in three cardboard boxes. This money would enable the Northern Alliance (NA) commanders to pay their troops and convince other tribes to rally to the NA rather than fight them. (Photo Credit: CIA) Moving Illicit Funds - A Case Study Imagine, you need to move $1 million from the United States to Turkey.  The logical choice is a traditional bank transfer, which would require you to deposit it in a financial institution.  This would alert the authorities who would request an explanation for how you came about the funds, for both tax purposes and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) enforcement. Carrying cash would require a 20 pound duffel bag, making hand-carrying it cumbersome and again would cause scrutiny from customs officials, resulting in questions and import tariffs and complications. Additionally, you introduce a major security risk by carrying that much cash around and potentially becoming a target.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer processes a passenger into the United States at an airport. (DHS Photo by James Tourtellotte) So, what do you do?  You could convert it to diamonds and hide them in a tube of toothpaste (or concealed in your body), but again, if caught, this cannot be explained away.  So, you visit the diamond district in New York, purchase a dozen Rolex and AP watches, each of which could be worth up to $500k per watch.  You use couriers to “smurf” the watches on commercial flights, each one wearing a watch on the wrist and a couple in a carry-on bag.  For the cost of a few round-trip tickets, the watches could be relocated to Istanbul relatively risk-free.  A single (new) Rolex Dayton can have a street value of $30-$50k, vintage significant higher (James Rupley) Once you arrive in Turkey, you find the local watch dealer and offer to sell for cash, or a bank transfer to integrate them into the financial system, the first step of money laundering (placement, layering, integration).  Given the illicit activity, you may lose some money on the sale, but this is simply the cost of integrating illicit funds.  The dealer is happy to purchase them below market value and not ask questions. Well over $100k in Rolex Watches (Photo Credit: Jame Rupley) Hezbollah’s Illicit Finance: In 2015, an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia terrorist organization, purchased large quantities of watches in Europe, which were then transported by couriers to Lebanon where they were sold for cash.  Hezbollah reportedly purchased €14 million in watches from a single store in Germany, thus evading international monitoring.  (The movement and exchange of expensive goods has long played a role in informal Middle Eastern “Hawala” money transfer networks throughout the globe.) This practice is so common that Dutch law enforcement has urged watch dealers to refrain from cash transactions.  Several high profile arrests of criminal networks in Spain, Netherlands, Romania and Belgium revealed luxury watches as integral to the movement of illegal funds, and closely associated with the recent increase in watch crime in the region. Money Laundering: The 3 Stages of Money Laundering (Image Credit: Alessa) Money Laundering (ML) is the act of integrating illegally acquired cash to legitimate financial institutions with the goal of concealing the illegal origins of those funds.  While this is traditionally associated with criminal networks, in the intelligence world, cash is king and most intelligence services practice some form of benevolent money laundering.  Watches can play a crucial part in each step of the money laundering process. Placement: Step one is introducing illicit gains into the financial system.  In the example above, this can occur with the sale of the watch and the depositing of those funds into a bank account by the purchasing party.  At initial scrutiny, this will appear to be a legitimate transaction. Breaking Bad- money laundering (AMC) Layering:  Step two is the process of moving those same funds through multiple transactions to conceal the origin of the funds.  Once funds are converted, one could use the illicit funds to purchase watches, and then resell them in a manner to distance the original transaction and repeat this process.  The example above of transferring watches overseas could be another example of layering in addition to potential placement.  Integration:  The final last step is returning the funds to the criminal organizations for personal use, thus appearing legitimate.  Embezzlement and Money Laundering- Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro  According to press reporting, in 2022, Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro found himself in hot water for (reportedly) selling a gifted Saudi Rolex and a Patek Philippe watch, netting him $68k.  Bolsonaro used a third party (smurf) to transport the watches to the United States and quickly found a buyer in a relatively obscure Pennsylvania mall. If true, Bolsonaro used the same technique as above to transfer the value from Brazil, convert it into dollars and then (supposedly) repatriate that cash to Brazil.  This is an example of Money Laundering by disguising an unreported diplomatic gift and converting that gift into a usable currency. This is not the first scrutiny of Bolsonaro's gifts from foreign governments, in 2021, a Brazilian government official was reportedly detained at the border with more than $3 million in jewels from Saudi Arabia in a backpack, allegedly gifts for Bolsonaro and his wife.   The world is not all flowers and rainbows and we expect to continue to see the use of luxury timepieces in the global illicit finance network, particularly as prices for these luxury goods remain high. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces

11 comments
Read More
A Question of Time: The Time Pencil Explosive Fuze in World War II

A Question of Time: The Time Pencil Explosive Fuze in World War II

In intelligence operations, time matters.  While our Dispatch articles traditionally focus on watches, today we look at another tool to measure time, the time pencil. ...

5 comments
Read More

In intelligence operations, time matters.  While our Dispatch articles traditionally focus on watches, today we look at another tool to measure time, the time pencil.  It’s a short time fuze detonator used for explosive charges in covert operations in World War II.  We have profiled watches of the Glorious Amateurs of the Office of Strategic Service (OSS) officers in World War II, this is another time measuring tool they used to accomplish their mission. By JR Seeger  The allied support to resistance operations in Occupied Europe focused on sabotage operations before D-Day and then more aggressive combat operations after the fact.  The challenge for sabotage operations was to conduct said operation but live to fight another day.  Some of the most effective sabotage operations took place inside factories where enslaved workers would periodically insure whatever came off the assembly line was not quite to specifications.  Still, the most dramatic of the resistance operations before D-Day focused on using explosives against roads, bridges, and railways.   In 1939, with the Nazi blitzkrieg closing in on Warsaw, Polish military intelligence officers provided the small British contingent with intelligence and technology to be taken to England. Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service and the military intelligence contingent, including Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins, returned to England with a treasure trove of intelligence including prototypes of a chemical time delay fuze. The prototypes were shared between SIS Section D (D for destruction) and Gubbins unit military intelligence unit focused on resistance operations. In 1940, these two offices were combined to become a new, independent organization, the Special Operations Executive (SOE). British Irregular Warfare:  When the British SOE started their resistance training in England in 1940, explosives training was one of the primary classes.  The SOE training on demolitions in the first years of the war was based entirely on military demolitions techniques including the use of standard military blasting caps and fuzes lighted either by a match or a simple friction plunger system known as a fuze ignitor.  Based on this training, a resistance team had to emplace explosives and remain quite close to the actual blast – certainly no more than a few minutes away depending on the length of fuze used.  While this technique worked well for combat engineers supported by infantry, it was not designed for a resistance group that wished to conduct sabotage and avoid capture.   British scientists were already working on multiple time delay mechanisms, but their work focused on supporting other British irregular forces like the Commandos and other Small Scale Raiding Forces associated with the SOE.  The Polish design was modified to create “time pencils” that used a chemical process as a time delay.  Time pencils were used in the commando raid on the dry docks in St. Nazaire in March 1942.  However, the reality was that British scientists simply did not have the resources to create a standardized time delay device that could be used by resistance forces across Europe. British Commandos, 1942 (Wikipedia Commons) Enter the Americans:  After Pearl Harbor, William Donovan expanded the capabilities of his new office, the Coordinator of Information (COI), to include irregular warfare.  Donovan provided the President with an irregular warfare plan in the summer/fall of 1941, but the US was still neutral, and President Roosevelt was not about to approve Donovan’s plans for special operations.  By mid-December 1941, Roosevelt approved Donovan’s plans and he began to recruit America's counterpart to the SOE.  Sabotage and subversion were central to Donovan’s strategic plan. In the early months of 1942, the COI and its successor in June 1942, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were criticized at the time by generals at the Pentagon as simply a gathering of Ivy League intellectuals with little or no understanding of modern warfare.  Donovan did gather some of the great minds of the American universities and industry and focused their skills on what he saw as a key part of modern war – irregular or partisan warfare.  One of the key individuals in this new type of warfare was Stanley Lovell.  Lovell was a successful industrial chemist and professor at Harvard when Donovan recruited him to use American technology in support of irregular warfare.  Lovell was the chief of the OSS unit known as Research and Development and R&D designed and produced dozens of special weapons and equipment for the OSS and the SOE.  One of the most useful and probably the smallest of Lovell’s devices was a modification of the British version of the “time pencil.” Lovell’s time pencil was an ingenious blend of chemistry and technology that could be mass produced and shared with resistance groups throughout Europe.  It was a combination of a standard fuze ignitor at one end and a corrosive chemical compound at the other.  When the corrosive compound was crushed inside the tube, it slowly eroded a fuze ignitor.  The amount of the chemical mix allowed for time pencils to be created that delayed ignition from a few minutes to up to 24 hours.  That meant that the saboteur could emplace the demolitions, lay out the camouflaged fuze, mix the chemicals by crushing one end of the time pencil and then leave.  At a precise time, the time pencil would ignite the fuze, and start the explosive chain that would end with an explosion of plastic explosives.  With the delivery of the time pencils, saboteurs and their resistance security partners could be miles away from the site when the explosion occurred and the inevitable Nazi investigation would begin.  They could even conduct multiple operations in the same night. Of course, time pencils were not foolproof, and the chemical reaction would be affected by ambient temperature and other environmental factors.  Still, the use of this new sabotage technique, coupled with an accurate wristwatch for keeping track of the time before the explosion made the resistance more effective.  The time pencil was another example of cooperation between the US and UK teams supporting special operations.  Like the easily ignored watch or the suitcase radio that made air and coastal delivery of resistance men and equipment possible, the time pencil was a small device with a big impact on special operations in World War II.  Magnetic charge with Time Pencil placed on a vehicle (Imperial War Museum) READ NEXT: The Pragmatic Journey of a SEAL Through Watch Collecting  -- J.R. Seeger served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and as a CIA officer for a total of 27 years of federal service. He served 17 years in multiple field assignments focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and irregular warfare.  During his final, 3-year assignment in CIA Headquarters, he first served as a chief of operations for a geographic division in the Directorate of Operations and then served as a deputy director and deputy chief of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.  Seeger led multiple, small unit teams during his service, including leading one of the CIA teams that infiltrated into Afghanistan after 9/11. Since his retirement, J.R. has written articles and book reviews in the CIA professional journal “Studies in Intelligence” and the T.E. Lawrence Society newsletter. His eight-part MIKE4 series is about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present.

5 comments
Read More
Moscow Rules: Watches of the Widow Spy

Moscow Rules: Watches of the Widow Spy

Spy Watches, Women and Espionage - At the height of the Cold War, a female CIA officer operated with impunity on the streets of Moscow,...

13 comments
Read More

Spy Watches, Women and Espionage - At the height of the Cold War, a female CIA officer operated with impunity on the streets of Moscow, free from the ever-present KGB surveillance. But it all changed one warm summer night when she was ambushed while servicing a dead drop for a sensitive asset, TRIGON. The Seiko on her wr

13 comments
Read More
Watches of the Middle East and the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict

Watches of the Middle East and the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict

The latest Israel-Hamas war began one month ago with the October 7 terrorist attacks.  It’s another conflict that will have significant impacts on the future...

11 comments
Read More