Genuine military watches are the stuff of collectors' dreams. A Rolex Submariner created for use by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) can command 20 or more times the price of a civilian equivalent. During World War II, a watch was still a crucial instrument for anyone flying a plane, and a variety of brands made pilot's watches. This Jaeger-LeCoultre is a rare variant and looks even better today than it did in the '40s.
There were two main Swiss companies contracted to make aviators' watches during World War II: IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Essentially the MoD developed a series of specifications the watches had to meet that included legibility, accuracy, and durability requirements. They called this the Mark XI standard. IWC made the vast majority of Mark XI's (and both the name and style are still present in IWC's modern line-up) but the watch we have here is of the the less common Jaeger-LeCoultre variety.
The distinctive Mark XI traits are all there. The hours are marked with bright white Arabic numbers and accompanying hash marks at each minute. There is a skinny white seconds hand and broad minute and hour hands. The blunt hour hand, extra luminous triangle at 12 o'clock, and the little white arrow below the logo are all required, too.
The case shows some wear, but you'd expect that because it spent time on a solider's wrist. The luminous markers are made of the original radium and have faded to a rich orange hue. It's not enough radium to pose significant danger, but I have heard of collectors who love these watches, yet don't wear them every day for this reason.
On the back, you'll notice the 6B/346 spec number, an advanced standard that means the movement inside is chronometer-certified as accurate. If you take the back off, you'll find a second metal layer before you get to the movement that guards against magnetic fields, an accuracy killer that was ever-present when dealing with heavy military equipment.
The NATO straps aren't the originals, but they're exactly what you want to wear this watch on. For durability reasons, military specifications required the lugs to have fixed bars that don't come out of place. This means you need a strap like a NATO that you can thread through them.
This Jaeger-LeCoultre Mark XI pilot's watch is available from Analog/Shift for $10,500.