Watch Spotting: Uncle Sam Wants YOU To See These Watches, Which We Found In Government Archives | #socialmedia


I rise today to celebrate government bureaucracy, or at least one single facet of it. Its ability to catalog, track, and organize information is awe-inspiring, and in the case of the United States of America, there are thorough records dating back to the era before we became an independent nation, all the way up to multimedia archives of events that happened yesterday. It’s all there.  If you’ve listened to an investigative podcast in the past five years, you’re probably familiar with  journalists using the Freedom of Information Act to uncover important details and back up stories holding institutions and individuals accountable. Instead I used it to ask the US government to send me documents and pictures from their multitude of archives so I could do some historical watch-spotting, and in one case, help get watches back where they belong.

Browsing through archives and sharing these pictures on social media led me to Justin Couture, the man behind the historical horology blog The Wristorian. After we connected, whenever either one of us would find an interesting photograph we’d share it with each other and slowly, we built an unofficial library of the best watch shots from places few had looked before. Justin and I did the hard work of narrowing down photographs to 16 examples that each tell a fascinating story. To most people out there, the watch might be an annotation, if it’s thought of at all, but in our world it’s the star of the show.

I will warn you, however, that looking at these watches will lead you down rabbit holes you probably didn’t even know existed(just wait until you see the gnathodynamometer). Imagine if the entire HODINKEE readership – which represents a diverse global audience – took a moment to browse their nations’ photo repositories to identify watches and the stories they’re connected to. If you do find something interesting, comment below and tell us the story, or use the hashtag #watchthearchives when sharing it on social media so we can build our own archive of historically significant watches.

Doxa SUB300t “Professional” – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Dipping into NOAA’s photo library, we see R. Clifford assisting A. Bryson for an excursion to Jeffrey’s Ledge, roughly 50 km off the coast of New Hampshire; it’s a target for exploration because it’s a very rich fishing ground.  On Clifford’s wrist is a Doxa Sub300T “Professional.” Regarded as borderline “standard issue” for divers of the 1970s (coupled with red cap, à la Cousteau), the beacon-like orange dial and oversized minute hand are definitive field marks on this titan of tool watches. Bonus points for the retro Poseidon wetsuits and Kirby Morgan Bandmask 8.  –JC

Vintage Omega Seamaster – US Department of Energy

People often ask what the Department of Energy does. Their mission is simple, “To ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” But it’s a fair question, given what we know about some of the projects they’ve been involved with. Here a DoE scientist with an Omega Seamaster on his wrist is soaking concrete in a monomer plastic, and then exposing the concrete to gamma radiation to polymerize the plastic in the small cavities in the concrete. This was taken in 1971. In 2017, MIT carried out similar research and found that it makes concrete 15% stronger.  –CP

ZRC Grand Fonds Series III – New Zealand Antarctic Research Program

From Antarctica New Zealan’s Pictorial Collection comes this photo of Dave Willis and Bill Eaton weighing husky puppies at Scott Base in January of 1983. Eaton is wearing a watch of French origin; the ZRC Grand Fonds Series III. This deep-cut diver is known for its telltale six o’clock crown and was favored by the French and Italian Navies. How it ended up on the wrist of a dog handler on the White Continent, we may never know.  –JC

Pulsar LCD Watch (Y759-5D19) – National Human Genome Research Institute

The Human Genome Project was a 13-year effort to identify and map out in a database the approximately 20,500 genes in human DNA. Here, a scientist is “pipetting a DNA sample into an agarose gel for gel electrophoresis” with a Pulsar on his wrist. What I find compelling about this watch spotting is that the Pulsar was initially positioned as the watch of the future when it debuted. This photograph was taken in 1998 and the scientist pictured is doing exactly the kind of thing I would imagine Pulsar was aligned with when it debuted, mapping the entire human genome. Interestingly enough, it was the Department of Energy along with the National Institutes of Health that led the effort.  –CP

Breitling Chronomat 1808 – European Council for Nuclear Research (in French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire)

In 1974, a research scientist from CERN worked on a beam scraper to be installed on the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) Particle Accelerator. Accompanying him as he pushed the boundaries of science is a Breitling Chronomat. Although this 47mm chronograph is more likely to be associated with wrenching on a small-block 350 engine or piloting an aircraft, it looks absolutely apropos constructing the world’s first Hadron Collider. Don’t know what a Hadron Collider is? Here’s everything you wanted to know.  –JC

Breitling Top Time ref. 2004 – National Park Service

Tektite II was an undersea laboratory that hosted ten missions in the summer of 1970. Particularly interesting was the fifth mission, Mission 6-50, because it was the first all-female crew. Among the crew was Dr. Sylvia Earle, who Jason Heaton was lucky enough to dive with. In this picture, a woman is sorting through sea life that was brought up from the Great Lameshur Bay, St. John Island, U.S. Virgin Islands, where the undersea laboratory sat in 43 feet of water. On her wrist? A gold Breitling Top Time. A modified Top Time from a similar reference was worn by James Bond in Thunderball in 1965. The movie is set in The Bahamas, nearby, and features a famous underwater fight scene. Turns out the Top Time has some real aquatic connections to the Caribbean!  –CP

Omega Seamaster 300 – New Zealand Department of Conservation

From the archives of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation comes this image of the renowned hunter and trapper Gary Aburn in 1980. Known for his unparalleled bird-wrangling, he is largely responsible for bringing the Kakapo (a stout, green, flightless bird) back from the brink of extinction. He appears to be wearing an Omega Seamaster 300, likely reference 165.024. The lyre lugs, bezel, and distinctive bracelet give it away. The Kakapo (sometimes called Owl Parrot) held by Aburn in this photo was the first female of her species captured in over 70 years.  –JC

Rolex Submariner (Ref.16610) – National Science Foundation

That’s Bill Hopkins on the right. When this was taken in 2009, he was an Associate Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Science at Virginia Tech. Now he’s the Director of the university’s Global Change Center.  He’s teaching his student (left) how to properly take a blood sample from a softshell turtle.  –CP

Seiko 6105-8000 – Scripps Institution of Oceanography

In 1970, Alina Szmant and Ann Hartline were two members of an all-female team of Aquanauts in the Tektite II program. Both graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, these women metaphorically shattered the glass ceiling of prolonged undersea living, which had previously been entirely male-dominated. In this image, Ann Hartline can be seen wearing a Seiko 6105-8000. This tonneau-cased sibling to the “Willard” is ubiquitous among the archives but represents a true, tough-as-nails tool watch.  –JC

Tudor Black Bay Steel – US Department of State

The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sports a Tudor Black Bay Steel on a NATO in this photo by Ron Przysucha for the State Department. Former Secretary of State Pompeo and PM of Greece Mitsotakis visited Greece’s Aptera Archaeological Site on September 29th, 2020. I’ve corroborated the Tudor Black Bay Steel identification with photos from local news outlets. Mitsotakis wears his Tudor on a NATO even with a suit, most likely to the dismay of many HODINKEE readers who follow a strict code when it comes to wearing sports watches with a suit – and on a NATO, at that!  –CP

Aquastar 63 – Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Seen here in 1967 is the equally intelligent and industrious oceanographic instrument designer, James Marion Snodgrass. The bulk of his work with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography revolved around devices built to advance shark research. He is wearing an Aquastar 63, which has distinctive trapezoidal indices and a rotating inner dive bezel. The contraption he is working on is called the ‘gnathodynamometer’, or more simply, a bite meter. This contraption is specifically tailored to the toothy dwellers of the deep. Snodgrass invented it, and to test it he wrapped it in a ball of mackerel that sharks would chomp down on.  JC

Certina DS-2 PH200M – Antarctica New Zealand Image Library

This one was a personal joy to spot, as I owned the same model Certina and was infatuated with it. Certinas from this era are remarkable, and the current range isn’t too shabby either. John Charles, pictured, was second in command at New Zealand’s Scott Base from 1976–1977, and I know this because his name popped up in a 1992 New Zealand Antarctic Society Bulletin describing his Antarctic contributions. In ’89–’90 he returned to the ice with the Antarctic Heritage Trust to restore historically significant huts. Certina dive watches are no stranger to water in its liquid state, but it turns out there’s an icy Antarctic connection, too.  –CP

Omega Ranchero Ref. 2990 – Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP) was an oceanographic core-sampling operation that ran from 1968–1983. In this photo from Scripps, we see Project Operations Manager Valdemar “Swede” Larson in 1970, aboard the research vessel Glomar Challenger. On his wrist is the oft-overlooked Omega Ranchero. This b-side stunner was produced for just two years and can be identified by the combination of broad arrow hand, sub-seconds, and three, nine, twelve indices.  –JC

’40s Ingersoll – Farm Security Administration

Hamilton, Elgin, and Waltham all made watches that look like this in the ’30s and ’40s. And the watch pictured could be one of them, but the thick case and the oversized crown are much more in line with designs of Ingersoll. And it’s very fitting that this soldier would be wearing what’s called the Ingersoll “Swagger,” with his cool, calm, and collected attitude while he serves at Virginia’s Fort Story in 1942.  Fort Story is where Battery Pennington was located. The Farm Security Administration carried out an extensive photography program that depicted the poverty that Americans living in rural life faced. The collection consists of about 175,000 photographs, and they’re worth looking through every time you think we have it tough in today’s world.  –CP

Enicar Sherpa Super Dive – Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Remaining onboard the D/V Glomar Challenger (not to be confused with the Glomar Explorer), we now see University of Miami geologist Jose Honnorez, in 1979. While serving as Co-Chief Scientist for Leg 70 of the Deep Sea Drilling Program, he wore an Enicar Sherpa Super Dive. This EPSA-cased Super Compressor featured an internal rotating dive bezel and large 40mm case – it comes as no surprise that these have been steadily climbing in popularity (and value) among vintage collectors.  –JC

Rolex Submariner – US Navy

In the late 1960’s, Aquanaut AO1/DV/EOD Richard “Blackie” Blackburn is seen training for SEALAB III. The primary purpose of SEALAB was to test salvage techniques and perform oceanographic studies. In the photo, Blackburn is seen attaching a potentiometer to measure the shear of explosive bolts fired into HY80 (submarine-grade) steel. On his wrist is his issued Rolex Submariner. Practically the paragon of vintage dive watches, this shot represents the true capability and utilitarianism of this prototypical tool watch.  –JC

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