All with black dials, luminous hands, shatterproof crystal and stainless-steel cases, they had 15-jewel movements and were stamped WWW for Watch, Wrist, Waterproof and the broad arrow used on government material.
Collectors refer to them as ‘The Dirty Dozen’. Presumably that coinage came after the 1967 Hollywood movie of the same name for there is nothing low-grade about the makers: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex.
Some collectors rate the Longines watches as the finest, others swear by IWC, but all seem to agree that the rarest is the Grana, of which probably as few as 1500 were made for the War Office.
The Grana offered at Trevanion & Dean (19% buyer’s premium) at Whitchurch on May 19 had suffered some damage “so I was modest in my expectations of £2000-3000,” said auctioneer Christina Trevanion.
“There have only been seven Grana watches sold at auction since 2012. Prices realised have ranged from between £3500 and £5500.”
However, there was what she described as “phenomenal interest”, presumably among collectors needing to complete their ‘dirty dozen’, and it sold to a private bidder at £9000.
At that price, it outsold a 1796 gold open-faced pocket chronometer by John Arnold, one of the more important watchmakers of the 18th century. Among his claims to fame was the invention of the detached escapement in c.1770 and the helical spring in 1775 in his pursuit of a portable timepiece which could be used to determine longitude.
The watch offered in Shropshire was signed to the movement John Arnold & Son London 509/810, Inv et Fec. Its 3in (7.5cm) tall case numbered 509 bore the maker’s mark TH, probably for Thomas Hardy.
It was lacking its glass, bent hour hand and hairline cracks to the dial, but the movement was clean and bright and, while the auction house could not guarantee it was in full working order, the watch was running. The Grana sold on the top estimate to a UK collector at £6000.
The day included another memento of the Second World War: one of Winston Churchill’s half-smoked cigars.
All Churchilliana, of course, needs a very firm provenance, particularly such ephemeral material as this. Happily, the background was about as good as it gets.
It came with the written authority of the Rev Robert Evans (1900-91) who was chaplain aboard HMS Duke of York taking Churchill and military advisers to meet President Roosevelt in 1941. The padre wrote how he had picked up the stogie after a meeting in the seaborne war room which Churchill had invited him to sit in on.
“I estimated the piece at £600- 1200,” said auctioneer Aaron Dean. “Similar cigars have sold in the £1000 region at auction in recent times but few with such a fantastic provenance.”
Certainly, it convinced bidders, including former journalist turned TV presenter Piers Morgan. A collector of Churchill mementoes, he pronounced himself delighted to have purchased it at £2800.