Department Triple Zero is a special projects division, within OW, dedicated to development of specialist and custom watches. To understand how Dept. 000 came to be, we must go back over half a century.
By the mid-1960s, Ollech & Wajs had built a solid reputation for hard-working watches equal to the challenges of unforgiving professional environments. And professional environments don’t come much more challenging than a combat zone.
Having won the admiration of commercial divers and aviators, Ollech & Wajs were also attracting a lot of interest from the military community, particularly in the United States. In 1965, when US military activity in Vietnam increased dramatically, so too did demand for OW watches. Such was the volume of business from soldiers, sailors and airmen based in the US, in Vietnam and surrounding territories, Ollech & Wajs had to work round the clock to fulfil the orders. OW models with superlative water resistance were in greatest demand – Vietnam is one of the wettest places in the world to stage a land-based conflict, especially in monsoon season. The humidity alone would cause the scarce few issued watches to become waterlogged within weeks, and soldiers were largely left to source their own alternatives.
The military market became the company’s focus, and Albert and Joseph set up a special division within Ollech & Wajs to manage the increased demand. ‘Department.0000’, as it was equivocally called, handled all distribution, marketing, logistics and customer service for OW’s non-civilian business. It placed advertisements in Army Times and other military publications and distributed its brochures to the base exchange stores throughout Vietnam. Orders from US military personal would not only be given priority, with a special discount applied, but they were also shipped with a generous free gift of fine Swiss chocolate – a small but welcomed gesture amongst the troops.
The 1965 OW Early Bird, ref.72 — ‘A must for soldiers’ and ‘Perfect for use in wet climates, mud and rain’
Dept.0000 became more than an administrative designation – it soon began developing watches specifically to meet the needs of the military. The best known of these models is probably the eponymously named ‘Early Bird’. Coined after the world’s first geosynchronous communications satellite, the model was designed specifically for pilots and radio operators, for whom a 24-hour ‘military time’ dial and dual-time zone bezel were invaluable. ‘A must for soldiers’ and ‘Perfect for use in wet climates, mud and rain’ proclaimed the adverts. Another popular combat model was the dependable world-time diving watch ref. 105, equipped with a 12-hour bezel and a sturdy beads-of-rice bracelet. OW even created special regimental editions bearing various Air Force, Navy and Army insignia. Though these watches were never formally issued to US armed forces, Ollech & Wajs received enquiries and orders, either officially or unofficially, from different offices within the Department of Defense throughout the Vietnam conflict.
OW ref.105 ‘US Army Aviation’ — Pilot Wings — 1969 (Left) OW ref.105 ‘US Airforce’ — bearing a silhouette of the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, a midair refuelling aircraft, used in Vietnam to extend the operational range of fighter jets and B-52 bombers. It provided salvation to hundreds of stricken US aircraft by diverting deep into enemy airspace to deliver emergency fuel. (Right)
OW ref.105 ‘US Navy Officer’. Not just the US Navy emblem, but a specific rank within it. The crossed anchors only feature on the badge of a commissioned officer (Right)
To this day, Dept. 000 (now shortened to ‘triple zero’) still works with a variety of military and non-military, elite professional organisations and individuals to create bespoke and non-standard watches. Recent undertakings include a regimental watch for serving members of a major European tactical police unit; and a bespoke version of the OW 350CI, for a US Marine Corps assault support helicopter squadron, call sign ‘Ugly Angels’. Serendipitously, the Ugly Angels, whose Latin motto is Semper Malus – ‘Always ugly’ – served as the first Marine aircraft unit in South Vietnam 60 years ago. The longest serving squadron in Vietnam, Ugly Angels arrived in April of 1962 and answered the prayers of many wounded Marines until August of 1969.
A prototype case back for the bespoke OW 350CI created for the Ugly Angels, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 362 in 2023.
We will share more about the activities and development projects of Dept.000 in the coming months. In the meantime, here are some of the custom ref.105 watches created for various units and battalions operational in Vietnam between 1965 and 1971.
OW ref.105 ‘The Big Red One’ – No Sacrifice to Great – Duty First – 1970
The 1st Infantry Division, officially nicknamed ’The Big Red One’, after its distinctive numeric shoulder patch, is the oldest continuously serving division in the US Army.
OW ref.105 '1st Calvary Division’ – The First Team – 1970
The silhouette of a horse’s head symbolises the division’s horseback roots. The black diagonal line refers to the unit’s transition from horses to tanks and armour.
OW ref.105 ‘Screaming Eagles’ – 101st Airborne Division – 1970
The Screaming Eagles earned the nickname ‘the nomads of Vietnam’ because they fought all over the country, one of the best known being the Battle of Hamburger Hill in 1969.
OW ref.105 – ‘2nd Infantry Division’ combined US and South Korean forces – 1969.
AKA ‘Indianhead’, this division’s primary role during the 1960s was to protect the demilitarised zone from North Korean incursion, under the motto ‘Second to None’.
OW ref.105 ‘All Airborne Units’ – Airborne all the Way – 1970
The Parachutist Badge, commonly referred to as ‘Jump Wings’, is awarded to all military personnel of any service who are qualified to participate in airborne operations. The ‘All The Way’ motto belongs to one of the most famous airborne divisions of them all, the 82nd.