If you were in a Navy SEAL team in the late '60s you may have been issued a Tudor 7928, before the MIL-W-50717 specification for military dive watches was released. The Tudor 7928 is an off the shelf model, not necessarily produced specifically for combat use, but it was issued to various units inside the American naval special operations community. Former SEAL Moki Marti shared a bit of insight on Talking Watches: The first two Tudors were free, but if you lost those you’d have to buy your third for a hefty $64.
It makes sense that SEAL team members are issued watches due to the nature of the teams' missions, but what about everyone else in the Navy? Not everyone was issued a timepiece. We hear so often about issued equipment that we're lead to believe it was standard practice, even though very few service members were actually issued watches. Most soldiers, sailors and airmen bought their own.*
That's where watches like this Glycine Airman come into play. These watches were produced and sold through Kroesen's, a popular naval supply company with locations in Seattle, San Francisco, and Hawaii. Before the Navy took over issuing its own uniforms, third party suppliers like Kroesen's produced all the accoutrements a young (or old) sailor might need. Kroesen's was founded in 1907 and still supplies uniforms to a number of law enforcement and fire fighting outfits around Seattle. The business has changed hands a number of times; it was sold in 1940 and then again in 2012. In the '60s, however, watches were offered alongside uniforms at retail stores.*
The rotor is stamped "Gus Kroesen's" and although no Glycine branding is present, the case and design language is borrowed from the Airman. This model was likely produced under contract for Kroesen's alongside the standard Airman that dutifully served transcontinental commercial pilots and military aviators in the '60s. The Airman was perhaps the most popular watch among servicemen stationed "in country" around Vietnam. The watches were sold at post exchange shops, small stores on military bases, in the late '60s, during the height of the Vietnam War. The Airman models were uniquely loved for their ability to easily track two zones at once on a 24-hour scale. *This Kroesen's watch wasn't stocked at the PX, but instead at the naval uniform supplier. Had it been offered at the PX it might have proliferated to the level of typical Vietnam War private purchase watches like the the Seiko 6105 and the Zodiac Seawolf.*
So just how many of these watches did Kroesen’s retail? The short answer is we just don’t know. They’re something of an enigma, but according to serial number charts popularized by now-defunct website Glycintennial it puts the watches in the production range of 1966-1967. The Kroesen's watches have serial numbers that match up to Glycine's.
What makes the watch particularly interesting is the use of a sterile dial and familiar triangle-rectangle-dot indices utilized by the Benrus Type I. Ironically Kroesen’s also produced watches under contract with Benrus as well. This Kroesen's-contracted watch predates the Benrus Type I, and in a way it's a spiritual predecessor of the Benrus, as the Type I makes use of the same unmarked black dial and marker design. The Type I was built to the aforementioned MIL-W-50717 specs put forth in the early '70s. The Kroesen's watch beat them to it.*A sterile dial serves a number of functions. Firstly, it puts the focus directly on the hands and indices for the most efficient user experience. It's a product of the utilitarian "only what you need, nothing that you don't" design philosophy. Additionally, the lack of markings allows the wearer to remain anonymous behind enemy lines.*
I called up Kroesen's and asked if they still retail watches, and sadly, they do not. The days of contract production private label watches are largely behind us; Heuer doesn't produce watches branded under Abercrombie & Fitch anymore, nor does Hamilton make watches for Orvis. The Krosoen's Airman not only captures an era, at the height of the Vietnam War, where members of the military relied on their watches, but it came at a time when Swiss manufacturers produced private-label watches devoid of their own branding and instead sometimes touted the organization funding the production of the watch. In the case of Kroesen's Airman, the only Kroesen's affiliation present is on the rotor. If your captors get to the point of unscrewing the caseback of your watch and use a loupe to examine the minuscule inscriptions on the rotor, then you probably have much bigger problems to worry about. The absence of any visible branding makes it perfect for operators to conceal any sort of affiliation, and in that sense, it may be an even better pick than a Tudor 7928.*