The First



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The first MIL-W-46374 specification was published on 30 October 1964. The original intent of this entirely new specification was to define the basic requirements for a simple, inexpensive, field watch to be used by infantry and most other MOS. (Military Occupational Specialties). The W46374 spec defined an inexpensive alternative to the contemporaneous MIL-W-3818B specification, which called for an expensive 15 jewel, or more, hacking movement. Watches made under these older and tougher specifications were intended for Pilots, Navigators, and other personnel who needed time keeping instruments with greater accuracy and the capability for precise synchronization - hence the need for the hacking function. But the expanding Army, just beginning to ramp up its involvement in Vietnam, needed a more basic and less costly wristwatch for its hundreds of thousands of troops.

The specification, MIL-W-46374, provided for the needs of this large and growing segment of the military. The statement of scope in this original spec reads,

"This specification covers one type of plastic-cased wrist watch intended for use where a high degree of accuracy is not required. The watch is not intended to receive maintenance support within the military supply system."

As noted above, this new specification called for a non-maintainable watch, housed in a plastic case, and powered by a non-hacking manual wind movement with no specific requirement for jewel bearings. It was required to have minimal water resistance, minimal protection from shock, vibration, and extreme temperatures, and enough luminous treatment to be able to tell time in the dark. The luminous system specified was a Tritium-based system.

The basic dial layout and design was nearly identical to the highly legible layout of the MIL-W-3818B watches that were in use at the time. One can also see the inspiration in the dial design of these watches of research on and current thinking on dial legibility.

Research on the legibility of numerical displays for aircraft dials and readouts was summarized in an important military standard published in 1957 (MIL-C-18012A, with an important update, MIL-C-18012B, in 1964). Although this document, which described how cockpit displays should be designed, has no official connection to the process of creating mil specs for watches, it seems obvious to me that the people creating MIL-W-3818B and MIL-W-46374 were influenced by the principles of legibility described in MIL-C-18012A. One obvious proof of this is the particular numerical font used in these dial layouts.


The font used in the faces of the W3818B and later W46374 watches is unique. See Dial Font Design above. It borrows elements from the super legible Futura and Gothic style fonts of the day but it is mostly influenced by the numerical font shown in MIL-C-18012A (This font itself borrowed heavily from the Grotesk fonts of the 1920’s - later known as the German DIN fonts of the 1970’s). Look particularly at the flat-topped "3" and the simple geometric shapes of the other numbers. Although the numbers used on the watches (both MIL-W-46374 and the earlier MIL-W-3818B) are more rounded and bolder, the only significant departure the watch designers seem to have taken is with the "9" and "6" which have rounded and more curved tails.

Another influence was probably the astonishingly legible dial designs used in aircraft clocks and some message center clocks issued in the 1940’s and 50’s. The open, uncluttered designs used in aircraft clocks like the Waltham A-13 series, and in the 1940’s era Chelsea Army Message Center Clock (Mark I) must have been at least an inspiration to the people at the US Army’s Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia who created the dial specifications and designs used in these early 1960’s specs. Even the minute hand in the Mark I Chelsea seems to have lent a strong influence to the hand designs used in MIL-W-3818B watches.

Pre-MIL-W-46374 Issues

Just before the first issued MIL-W-46374 watches were delivered in the mid-1960's a few Belforte/Benrus watches were apparently ordered and issued without the Mil spec inscribed. I have seen examples of these early Belforte's with MAR, APR, and JUL 1965 dates. I have seen reliable examples of photos of Belforte/Benrus watches with dates as early as June and July 1964. These rare watches apparently preceeded the issuance of the official MIL-W-46374 spec, but they appear identical to the MIL-W-46374 watches issued just months later. The example of this valuable collector's item shown here is from Rainer Blaeser . These are his images as well.

photos courtesy of Rainer Blaeser

MIL-W-46374 Issues

The MIL-W-46374 watches were issued for a few years in the mid-1960's until well after the publication of MIL-W-46374A in September 1968. One has to use care with the dates inscribed on W-46374 watches because the specification stated that the date was to be the "Date of Acceptance". I take that to mean the date that the watches in that contract passed government qualification testing. These acceptance dates on the watch cases range from March of 1965 (Belforte version) until March 1970.

Luminous "12"

Most W46374 watches were issued with the number "12" coated with luminous paint. This is required in the specification. Early in 1970 when both W46374 and W46374A watches were being issued due to overlapiing contract awards, there are occasional variants of the W46374 which do not have lume on the 12. For example, Feb 70 versions of the W46374 issue are reported without the luminous 12. There are other examples of FEB 70 issues with the luminous 12. The luminous "12" is also missing from the pre-MIL-W-46374 Belforte watches. This is another indication of their special status.


Examples of watches made under the original MIL-W-46374 spec are quite hard to find, especially in good working condition. The Benrus versions often fetch over $100 on eBay and a mint or new in box version might be worth more than $200. .

An early version of the W-46374 plastic watch was made by Belforte and distributed by Benrus. An example in Whitney's Military Timepieces (P. 557) was shown with an acceptance date of MAR 1965. These are quite rare and valuable, especially if working well. Until proven otherwise, I am considering this MAR 1965 Belforte as the first issue of a W-46374 watch. The pre-MIL-W-46374 Belforte issue watches are too rare to have any price information, and there is no telling what an avid collector might pay for one of theseThe photos shown of the original MIL-W-46374 1968 Benrus watch were assembled from images supplied by Hyunsuk Seung (see his watch gallery at: Hyunsuk's Gallery ). I have seen a reliable report of a W-46374 Benrus marked MAR 1970. I consider this the last date of acceptance for a W-46374 issue, because I have not see evidence of a later issue .

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