I was once told by a Persian bus mechanic that if there's one thing that will continue to work, even when the whole world has gone to hell, it's a truck with a hand-cranked diesel engine. It can run on the crudest of the crude, it's overbuilt for traversing the most decrepit infrastructure, and without even spark plugs, it's immune to an EMP. To that "end of days" vehicle choice, I might also add a hand-cranked mechanical field watch: affordable, rugged, uncomplicated, discreet. And let me add one more trait: charm.
Yes, if I'm driving my jerry can-laden war rig off-grid, I want something on my wrist that keeps me smiling, or at least that I enjoy looking at for a foreseeable and uncertain future. I also want something that's not so dear that it distracts me from what's important. Something like this one, the Mellor-72 from Cabot fake watch Company.
Insert cliché here.
CWC knows something about making replica watches built to wear in harm's way. You could even say, it was the company's raison d'être, and it remains its guiding principle. The brand was founded to build replica watches exclusively for the British military, including the dive fake watch that famously replaced the vaunted Replica Rolex "MilSub?in 1980. For over two decades, CWC didn't even sell replica watches publicly, until the Ministry of Defence started seeking cheaper quartz options from Asia. Even today, the company says it still fills orders for diving replica watches for quartermaster issue to the Special Boat Service.ADVERTISEMENT
The fake watch in question, the Mellor-72, is a nearly exact recreation of the first fake watch CWC sold starting in, you guessed it, 1972. It is based on the specification for a "General Service" fake watch put forth by the MoD in the late 1960s. If the fake watch looks familiar, it's probably because tens of thousands were made and issued, and many are still in circulation thanks to military surplus sellers, eBay, and military fake watch collectors. Unlike the rarified air of MilSubs, they fall firmly in the "cheap and cheerful" camp, and for those craving a bit of issued military horology, a vintage example is possibly the most affordable way to dip a toe. These watches, descended from the "Dirty Dozen W.W.W." replica watches of the 1940s, follow the familiar formula of a sober black and white dial with Arabic numerals, no date, a hand-wound movement, and a hackable center seconds hand. As you might expect, the crow's foot/pheon/broad arrow is printed on the dial, denoting property of Her Majesty's government.
With fixed strap bars, it's pull-through straps only.
The fake watch might also look familiar due to a more recent release by Hamilton, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer, which is also based on that same General Service fake watch spec. Cabot fake watch Company and Hamilton actually have a bit of overlapping history, which also explains the peculiar name of this CWC. Ray Mellor, a former Merchant Marine sailor during World War II, was Hamilton's Managing Director in the United Kingdom during the 1960s. He oversaw the company's relationship with the Ministry of Defence, when Hamilton was providing replica watches for the Royal Navy, Air Force, and Army https://splitweet.com. In the early 1970s, Hamilton, facing the crunch of the Quartz Crisis and a consolidation of the Swiss fake watch industry, disbanded its UK operation. Mellor saw an opportunity and used his know-how and contacts in Switzerland to found the Cabot fake watch Company.
CWC founder, Ray Mellor (fourth from right), when he served in the British Merchant Marine during World War II. (photo: CWC)
CWC went on to produce chronographs, field and pilot's watches, and later dive replica watches for the MoD, some nearly identical to those from other brands like Precista and Newmark. The General Service watch, issued under the code W10 to the Army and 6BB to the Air Force, enjoyed a run of over 20,000 right up until the 1980s, when a new quartz version took over. CWC has been selling versions of a General Service or "GS" fake watch for years, even after its military contracts dried up. Ray Mellor, in his 90s, finally sold his company, continuing to consult with its new owners, until last year when this relatively unsung hero of British horology passed away. The Mellor-72 is CWC's fitting tribute to him.ADVERTISEMENT
Make no mistake, this is not the fake watch to buy if you like hand finishing, crisp bevels, faceted hands, or a refined movement. But if you appreciate a fake watch as a "piece of kit" rather than as a collectible object to be examined under a loupe and left wrapped around a velvet pillow, it is a satisfying choice. It is basically the same little time reference that was mass-produced to slap on a soldier's or pilot's wrist. In the days before mechanical replica watches became "precious," it was almost disposable. The 1972 original even had a one-piece case, assuming that failure meant replacement instead of repair.
The new version comes with a more conventional removable caseback which allows for easier servicing than the split-crown, top-loading design of yore. Its movement, still hand-wound, is the Swiss Sellita SW210, a close derivative of the ETA that powered the old ones. The crystal is acrylic, the case is 316L stainless steel, and the strap bars are fixed as God and DEF-STAN 66-4 (Part 4)/Issue 3 intended. Pull-through straps only on this one, folks. The Mellor-72 comes fitted on CWC's excellent nylon 18mm NATO (in grey, natch), which leaves an ever so tiny gap between the 18.5mm lugs.
Two hand-cranked British classics.
This is a small fake watch by today's standards, 35mm across (not including the crown) to be exact, and only about 42mm from end to end of the barrel case. I've found that these barrel ("tonneau")-shaped cases work better with both smaller and larger sizes than round cases with strap horns. The Mellor-72 is no exception. From end to end, it almost extends the width of my wrist, and the domed crystal and broad dial make the most of the real estate. CWC could have made the fake watch bigger, but opted to hew closely to the spec of the 1972 original, which had identical dimensions. Interestingly, the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer is smaller, with a 33mm diameter.
The small size gives up nothing in legibility.
In actual wear, I've found that the Mellor-72 doesn't feel too small at all. On the contrary, there's a refreshing quaintness about it after rotating through my usual quiver of leviathan divers. Its size gives up nothing in legibility either, with the high-contrast white-on-black hands, railroad minute track, and prominent numerals. Nighttime reading could be better though, especially the relatively skinny hands. Super-LumiNova is used for luminescence on hands and hour hashes. In the old days, this fake watch would have been tritium-illuminated, and the encircled "T?on the dial is a nod to that era.ADVERTISEMENT
Speaking of dial markings, at 12:00 is the tiny CWC logo, which was used before the 1980s. It is so small as to be almost vestigial, a humble concession to its maker from a time when CWC was only a military supplier. Everything about this fake watch is about pure function as prescribed in the specification by the MoD. I think this is the appeal of most so-called "tool watches," many of which came about as honed instruments meant to do one job well, with no thought given to flourish. This is not so much form following function, but form as function.
For the Mellor-72, CWC has opted for a two-piece case with removable caseback, which is marked with procurement codes and broad arrow mark.
Purists may say that re-issuing a fake watch like this is CWC going posh. The original was a cheaply made, disposable fake watch that can be found on eBay for about the same price. But times have changed. The MoD isn't procuring hand-wound Swiss-made replica watches anymore and a company like CWC that was founded to provide replica watches for military use has had to adapt. That means tapping into the almost insatiable consumer appetite for vintage-inspired and military timepieces. And I love how this one goes back to the brand's beginning to pay tribute to its founder.
Don't call it "small". Call it "quaint".
The Mellor-72 makes a fine alternative to your typical Seiko or quartz beater, the fake watch you grab on the weekend when you make a Home Depot run, or a good travel watch—no date, quick to wind and set, and won't call attention to itself in sketchy environs. It asks for no special treatment except maybe a crystal buffing or clean NATO strap from time to time. It's not going to win any GPHG awards any time soon, much less a COSC rating. But 50 meters of water resistance will handle a dip in the lake and those svelte proportions will disappear under a jacket sleeve.
Given the similarities, the obvious question is, how does the Mellor-72 compare to the Hamilton Pioneer Mechanical? Well, I haven't handled the Hammy (check out Cole's review here), but the Pioneer seems a bit more refined, with its textured dial, optional leather strap choice, carefully tinted lume (the CWC sticks to white) and better movement (the H50 with 80 hours of power reserve). It also boasts 100 meters of water resistance, which is a plus. But in concessions to modernity, it also has a mineral glass crystal, which has debatable merits compared to either sapphire or acrylic, and removable strap bars. The Hamilton is also $300 more expensive. So if authenticity in both aesthetics and affordability are your priorities, the CWC wins the comparison.ADVERTISEMENT
Earlier, I spoke about "charm," and the Mellor-72 has it in spades without really trying. Charm does not come from a concerted effort. You can't manufacture it (though many try). It's even harder to describe. What makes an old Land Rover appealing? It's all rough ride, right angles, and no soundproofing. It'll run on kerosene, and you can field strip it with an ordinary set of hand tools. That singularity of purpose and honesty in a world of uncertainty and misdirection is refreshing. This cheap little General Service fake watch follows this same ethos, and its appeal is similar. No mucking about. Wind it up, hack to a time signal, strap it on with this strip of nylon, don't be late. No matter what. I think a Persian bus mechanic would agree.
The CWC Mellor-72 has a 35mm steel case, domed acrylic crystal, has 50m of water resistance and houses a hand-wound Sellita movement. Price is £449 (about $520 at time of writing). Read more about the fake watch here.
Photography: Gishani RatnayakeCwc