History of the Milsub

Hager Commando Milsub detail

Hager is a relative new comer to the world of horlogerie. Sporty, yet dignified, the Hager Commando was inspired by a timepiece from the 1970’s, the military submariner. Long considered a holy-grail by watch enthusiasts and collectors alike, the milsub is an attractive watch with hefty price tag. The last one that went to auction in 2008 in Edinburgh went for approx. USD $90K. What’s that 90K you say, yep and I didn’t stutter. You want to know the best part about that auction? The owner had no idea of it’s value (Here’s the link to the story if you want to read it “£55,000 clocked up for rare Milsub” ) So what makes the MILSUB so special?

The watch was designed with certain unique features to meet the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) purchasing specification found in MoD 66-4 standard, and to supersede and improve on the Omega 300 (the 1st Milsub from 1968-73) as the MOD’s divers watch of choice, as the “Niad” pressure-fit crown system on the Omega was highly unreliable and prone to flooding in shallow water. This led the MoD to look for another suitable design with a greater water resistance in which they found in the 5513/5517 Milsub. These watches were made for the Royal Navy (specifically the Special Boat Service (SBS) Commandos), however many found there way into U.S. Post Exchanges (PX) and Base Exchanges (BX).

1970's Omega 300. Photo: H. Seung

1970s Rolex SBS Submariner 5517. Photo: James Dowling

MoD 66-4 Standards

These features included:
— Sword hands for increased luminous visibility
— 60 minute marked bezel for addition countdown time
— Fixed springbars bars for extra durability (We use shoulderless springbars as opposed to the fixed)
— Dial marked with a ‘circle T’ to denote the tritium used in the dial construction (We use the T for Tritec Luminova to maintain the history)
— Broad Arrow engraving to denote the piece as property of the crown.
— Engraved serial numbers on each piece so the Q branch (quartermaster) could account to whom the watch was issued. After all, for those who were in service will fondly remember the supply sergeant kindly asking for “his” gear back.

There are only a fraction of the original 1000 or so supplied to the MoD that are left in existence. Of this there are even a smaller number that retain the full original MoD specification, and have not lost their original features to servicing needs and dealers modifying these watches to look like regular Rolexes.

A couple of years ago there was an unconfirmed rumor that both the SBS and SAS had previously approached Rolex about making a special edition in the spirit of the earlier vintage “Milsub” 5517 and others but Rolex had declined.

After pondering these issues and reading that rumor about the SAS being rebuffed by Rolex I wondered if it were possible to produce an automatic wristwatch that an average consumer could afford without loss of quality (utility, accuracy and durability). When I started this I knew I wouldn’t have the clout, contacts and money that most watch companies start with but I wanted to do this because I felt that a quality affordable automatic watch could be made. You can say I had a serious passion for watches in which I wanted to bring to fruition.

In the next post we will be discussing the choice of movement for the Hager Commmando (the TY2806 aka the ST-16).