There’s nothing quite like a good story, especially if it is related to war theatres, to give wings to a watch launch. Digging into its archives, OW or Ollech & Wajs has come up with an enticing candidate. Rebranded as the M-52B AF, the new watch pays homage to a rare 1966 Ollech & Wajs watch custom-made for US airmen serving in Vietnam. Like the original emblazoned with the silhouette of a B-52 bomber on the dial, the new watch also salutes the 70th anniversary of the longest-serving combat aircraft in history. The new limited-edition M-52B AF is a tool watch to the core with a robust 300m water-resistant steel case and vintage details appropriated from the original.
Since its foundation in 1956 by Joseph Ollech and Albert Wajs, their OW brand based in Zurich specialised in robust tool watches assembled with solid Swiss components. Pilot watches, divers and chronographs were their mainstay, and even after the onslaught of quartz, the brand stuck to mechanical watches. In 2017, the brand was entrusted to collector Charles Le Menestrel, who has perpetuated the founders’ legacy with a portfolio of instrument watches housed in solid 39.5mm steel cases equipped with reliable outsourced movements to keep prices in check.
One of the most exciting chapters in OW’s history unfolded after the start of ‘Operation Rolling Thunder’, the US aerial bombardment campaign against North Vietnam that began in 1965 and lasted until 1968. Although Ollech & Wajs already had a solid customer base among US military personnel, the bombing campaign resulted in a deluge of mail orders for its tool watches. Between 1965 and 1973, thousands of OW watches – ranging from dive watches like the impressive water-resistant Precision Caribbean 1000 or the Early Bird with its 24-hour military time dial – were shipped to PX stores on all major US military bases in the region.
However, the Ollech & Wajs’ B-905 US Airforce watch was custom-made for airmen serving in Vietnam. Appearing in a 1966 print advert, the B-905 was resistant to shocks, water and magnetism, had a black dial with luminous markers, a rotating bezel, a date window with red numerals and, most importantly, the silhouette of the iconic Boeing B-52 Stratofortress aircraft in the centre of the dial. Offered at USD 39.50 and shipped “anywhere in the world”, the B-905 would become a sought-after collector’s item.
To salute the 70th anniversary of the 1954 maiden flight of the first B-52 jet-powered bomber, the PVD-coated sloping-edged bezel of the new M-52B AF picks up on the streamlined nose cone profile of the B-52. The M-type case measures 39.5mm across with a thickness of 12.5mm, donning sporty brushed surfaces. To ensure the 300m water-resistance of the case, the watch has a screw-down crown and caseback and a thickened domed sapphire crystal over the dial – a hallmark feature of all modern OW pilot watches. Like the original B-905 of 1966, the bidirectional rotating bezel has luminous beige markings and a serrated edge for better grip.
Placed side-by-side, you can appreciate the similarities between the 1966 B-905 and the 2024 M-52B, starting with the reproduction of the silhouette of the B-52 bomber in the centre of the dial. To reproduce the vintage lume of the 1966 model, the new model uses cream-coloured Super-LumiNova on the three central hands and the applied rectangular markers at 12, 3 and 9 o’clock; the remaining circular hour markers are treated with white lume. Another reference to the original is the date window. Although it has shifted from 3 to 6 o’clock, it features red numerals against a white background. The horizontal white inscriptions on the original (U.S. A.F. OW logo and 17 jewels) are replaced with diagonally arranged inscriptions (Zurich, 1956, M-52B and AF).
As a brand that has always relied on third-party movements, the new watch is powered by a Soprod automatic calibre P024, comparable to an ETA 2824 or an SW200. This reliable Swiss movement beats at 28,800vph, delivers a power reserve of 38 hours and features a bespoke OW Zurich 1956 rotor.
The M-52B comes on a 20mm military-grade black nylon RAF strap, although a bespoke M-heritage stainless steel mesh bracelet with an engraved thorn buckle can be ordered for an additional CHF 126.
Availability & Price
The Ollech & Wajs M-52B AF starts as a limited edition of 56 pieces (a reference to the year the brand was founded) with numbered crowns and retails for CHF 1,256. Following this batch, a limited amount of non-numbered watches will be available each year. To reserve a numbered edition, pre-orders open on 12 January 2024 at 12:00 CET at ow-watch.ch.