Director Christopher Nolan’s attention to detail is legendary, and his latest movie, Dunkirk, has got watch lovers all up and excited. In the movie, Tom Hardy, who plays an RAF pilot, is seen periodically referencing his watch. Eagle-eyed watch lovers, like myself, have identified that watch as an Omega. Specifically, the watch in question is the Omega CK2129, and here is the story behind it.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the 2017 film Dunkirk that is currently enjoying much success in theaters, it tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation during the Second World War. Dunkirk is the name of a beach in France where Allied Forces were trapped and cornered by the Germans in 1940.
Reliable timekeeping was an important aspect of warfare, and so watches were incredibly important tools. They were particularly important to pilots, who relied on watches for navigation. And in Dunkirk, we see Hardy’s character depending heavily on his watch, which played an important role in the film. [SPOILER ALERT] It's not really a spoiler, but the watch's most pivotal role (and perhaps the clearest shot of it) is when his fuel gauge gets damaged, he asks the other pilot for a fuel reading, and scribbles it along with the time on the plane's dashboard.
The watch chosen for Hardy’s character was the Omega CK2129. The choice was apt because Omega reportedly supplied about half of all watches used by the British RAF. In addition, the Omega CK2129 was the most commonly worn Omega watch by RAF personnel in the Second World War. In total, it is estimated that Omega delivered over 110,000 watches to the British Ministry of Defense to support its troops during the Second World War.
The origins of the Omega CK2129 came about in January 1940, shortly after the start of WW2. It was then that the British RAF decided it needed watches with rotating bezels and asked Omega to make 2,000 such watches. With rotating bezels, pilots could make calculations and time events more easily and accurately. The Omega CK2129 watch was eventually delivered in March of the same year.
The Omega CK2129 was designed for ease of use and legibility. It had a cream dial, blue hands, large Arabic hour markers, a large rotating bezel, and two oversized crowns. The two large crowns made it easy for pilots to handle and wind the watch when wearing gloves. In addition, the second crown at 4 o’clock was used to lock the rotating bezel so that timings couldn’t be misread by accidental knocks inside the tight confines of the plane’s cockpit.
The Omega CK2129 was powered by the Omega Calibre 23.4 SC, a manually wound movement that was used in many other Omega models during that time. It was notable for its central seconds hand, which was useful for timing short events of under a minute. It beats at 2.5Hz and has a power reserve of around 40 hours.
The CK2129 wasn’t the only watch that Omega supplied to British Forces. While the CK2129 was popular and widely used among RAF pilots in the early days of the Second World War, the distinction of the most widely used watch in the world would eventually go to the Omega CK2292.
Like the CK2129 before it, the Omega CK2292 was designed for legibility. It was a fairly large watch for its time, around 33mm, and featured easy-to-read blue hands and large Arabic hour markers on a cream dial. Where it differed from the CK2129 was the movement. The Omega CK2292 used the more sophisticated Calibre 30T2, which performed very well at observatory trials. The Calibre 30T2 is also more resistant to magnetic forces thanks to new alloys used in the balanced spring, and this was especially beneficial to pilots of the Hurricanes and Spitfires who sat near powerful engines which generated huge magnetic fields.
Omega continued to supply watches throughout World War II, and as the fighting moved to the Pacific during the end of the war, Omega provided soldiers with the CK2444. It has a water resistant case, making it useful for forces fighting on the beaches and at sea, and it used the same highly reliable Calibre 30T2 like the CK2292 before it. Because of its water resistant case, the Ministry of Defense engraved the case backs of Omega CK2444 watches with “w.w.w” which stood for “Waterproof Wrist Watch."
Of the three, the CK2444 was distinct. Because it was used by the general armed forces, and not by the air forces exclusively, it dispensed with a central seconds hand and had a subsidiary seconds dial instead. Also, it had a black dial. Nevertheless, it remained highly legible thanks to its thick sword-style hands and large Arabic hour markers in white.
At this point, it goes without saying that Omega’s role in the Second World War was significant - other watch manufacturers, of course, also played important roles, but that is a longer story for another article. Moreover, for Omega, their involvement in the war also helped them advance their watchmaking knowhow and refined their manufacturing techniques and processes. This would later help them create iconic pieces like the Speedmaster and Seamaster, the former which, as we all know, passed NASA certifications and became the first watch on the moon.
At the same time, Dunkirk cements Nolan’s reputation as a director that pays attention to the tiniest of details. Apart from seeking out an Omega CK2129 watch for Hardy in Dunkirk, Nolan also reportedly told Harry Styles, who plays a British soldier in the film, that he had tied the laces of his boots wrong and that soldiers in that era would have tied them in a different manner. We might also posit that Nolan is a "watch guy," as he also placed mechanical watches in a central role of his previous blockbuster as we noted when we saw the actual Hamilton watches used in the movie Interstellar (hands-on here).
But more importantly, Dunkirk is a great film. Of all the films that I have seen this summer, it easily ranks as one of the best. In fact, I would even go as far as to say it is one of the best war films ever. The appearance of the Omega CK2129 certainly is a nice addition, but most of all, Dunkirk is authentic and beautifully shot. Go catch it if you haven’t already. omegawatches.com