The Watches of Winter
Always booked out from the QM, but seldom booked back in again: the CWC G10 'Fatboy', a military classic and Cal Winter's preferred watch - image credit: Watchuseek
Okay, this is just an excuse to write about watches, and how my obsession with horology wormed its way into the Cal Winter series. I think thrillers of a certain stripe need some conspicuous consumption, and mine shamelessly teem with firearms, tech, cars, booze, cigars and gear. For example, Cal likes Paul Smith clobber when cutting about town and enjoys the growly pick-up (and covert ubiquity) of the BMW 'M' series. So as a tongue-in-cheek homage to all those ‘Watches of James Bond’ articles, I thought I’d write one about the horology of the Cal Winter trilogy. Suffice to say, some of mine are a tad more affordable (apart from perhaps Roger Moore’s awesome 007 Seiko flirtation).
I’ve enjoyed watches as long as I can remember – just look at my Instagram. As a kid I worked in a dusty old jewellers, wasting my meagre wages on watches (I remember a clunky quartz Oris I was particularly fond of, and a Roamer moon phase I thought was terribly sophisticated). This was the mid-80s, when G-Shock and Swatch were all the rage, but customers would bring in classier watches for repair, many of them vintage. Or novelties like the Rolex Oysterquartz. Like some people fall in love with motorcycles, guitars or old hi-fi equipment, I fell in love with watches. The language of horology is irresistible too – rehauts and chapter rings, cathedral hands and tonneau cases, tourbillions and rattrapante.
Later on, I joined the Met. Along with a notebook and pen, a watch is essential for a copper as an everyday tool; all police reports began with a Day / Date / Time format. Most of us wore cheap digitals, as the streets were no place for decent watches. I spent most of my early police career rocking a steel Casio digital, a Tag Heuer F1 quartz and a Seiko Kinetic. By the mid-90s I was arresting organised gangs of robbers, specialising in ripping Rolexes from tourist's wrists. Later, working on a squad at Scotland Yard, I saw lots of ‘Overtime Watches’, mechanical status symbols worn by detectives who’d earned extra cash putting in the hard yards on big operations. The most common, I remember, was the Omega Seamaster – which is probably why I’ve never owned one. Like most obsessives, I’m a bit of a hipster snob - it doesn’t take long to wander off-piste, lusting after manufacturers like Sinn or Tutima or Hanhart, watches most people have never heard of. And don’t even mention the Microbrand rabbit hole. In fact, I'm writing this wearing my NTH Amphion Commando.
Anyhow, here are some of the watches you’ll find in the Cal Winter series…
CWC G10 (pictured above)
In ‘The Ninth Circle’, Cal’s G10 is “battered and unreliable, just like me”, but that’s probably because Cal’s too hungover to get the battery changed. He wears his on a Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment NATO strap (his regiment is never mentioned by name in the books, but it’s easy to work out if you know a bit about the army). He goes onto wear it in the other books, except for the end of ‘The Saint Jude Rules’ when he finally submits to technology and gets a Suunto.
Cal slanders the standard issue British army timepiece, as the Cabot Watch Company G10 is perfectly reliable, with gazillions issued to squaddies over the years. Cal probably booked his out as an NCO and never returned it (I’ll wager some of my military readers have done exactly the same thing) and continues to wear it in civvy street. A classic field watch, modestly sized and ugly as sin, the G10 is super-legible and tough. And unlike James Bond’s new Seamaster, which retails for nearly £8000, you can bagsie yourself a G10 for about £200! What does the G10 tell us about Cal? The G10 is a part of his past he can’t let go. He doesn’t care much about his Military Medal, but the piece of steel on his wrist when he fought in Iraq? That’s different. Every scratch and dent was earned the hard way.
Rolex Explorer II, Reference 16570
In ‘The Devil’s Work’, ex-SAS Major Tom Dancer wears an unnamed Rolex. In my notes, it’s an Explorer II but that detail didn’t make the cut. Dancer is successful, posh and a bit flash – which certain fits the Rolex stereotype. I chose the Explorer II as it’s the sort of Rolex I imagined an officer (Prince Harry wore the white-dialled ‘polar’ version in Afghanistan) might buy, plus it’s one of my favourites (although many prefer the teeny-tiny Explorer I, which is far more classically styled). It's a strange watch for Rolex - it was originally designed for that super-popular weekend past-time... caving.
Breitling Avenger Chronograph ‘43
Craig Bishop, ex-SF hardman turned mercenary recruiter, wears a Breitling in ‘The Saint Jude Rules’. Why? Mainly because it’s one of those mid-tier luxury brands I see worn by ex-military types, although your mileage may vary. Of course, only a watch wanker like me would call a £4000 watch 'mid-tier', but there you go. Breitling can be divisive amongst watch nerds, with many disliking their size, branding and bling. Ex-IWC man Georges Kern was parachuted in to change that, and to be fair I think he's doing a pretty good job even if old-school fans aren't won over yet. Anyhow, sometimes the watch chooses the story rather than the other way around; I was once in a central London pub when a load of PMC-types wandered in (they’re easy to spot). To a man, they all wore Breitling or Bremont. The Avenger is a super-macho tool watch, aggressive with lots of wrist presence. It suited Bishop’s character to a tee.
Rolex Submariner, Reference 5513
Major Juliet Easter, ex-Intelligence Corps and MI6, features in two of the Cal Winter series. In ‘The Saint Jude Rules’ she’s wearing “a man’s Rolex,” but the specific model isn’t mentioned. Again, I looked up my notes. Juliet grew up in Africa, and inherited a 1970s Rolex Sub, almost certainly a 5512 or 5513 (for the nerds among you, Connery’s Bond wore a 5508 Reference Sub). The 5512 and 5513 references had a long production run, from the late 50s to the late 80s and is probably one of two classic Rolex tool watches (along with the GMT Master series). I imagined this one might have belonged to her father and grandfather. Rolex sports watches, coming in at a relatively modest 40mm case width, are perfectly wearable by women and (in my opinion) look super-cool on a female wrist. Anyhow, it was the exactly the look I wanted for Juliet. Oh, and a minty 5513 nowadays might only set you back twenty-odd grand. Juliet is a lot of things, but she isn’t a cheap date.
Marathon GSAR Diver’s Watch
Marathon are a Canadian watch company who manufacture watches for the US military. The GSAR (Government Search & Rescue) is a brutal chunk of steel, super-tough and the sort of piece I’d imagine you might find on a mercenary’s wrist. And, if you run out of ammo, you could probably bash someone unconscious with it. One of the bad guys in ‘The Saint Jude Rules’ wears a Marathon like this, which Cal notices straight away. It says everything you need to know about defence procurement that British soldiers get two-hundred quid G10s, whereas some lucky Americans get over a grand’s worth of GSAR!
I know, mechanical watch fans... Heresy Detected! Kris Pilbeam is the arrogant tech genius from ‘The Saint Jude Rules’, and as such wears an Apple Watch (although there are plenty of omni-brained geeks who love old Casio calculator-digis like the venerable CD-40 databank). The Apple Watch gets a big role in the book, as Cal uses it to help stage an ambush. Not my cup of tea, Smartwatches, but hey they’re a thing and a great McGuffin for a thriller writer.
By the end of ‘The Saint Jude Rules’ Cal’s shelved his G10 and made way for the Finnish Suunto digital wrist computer thingy. This is Cal moving with the times – he’s a new man with a new mission and he’s embracing technology. I chose Suunto because a military guy I was talking to at the time I was writing the book swore by them. And they look much cooler than an Apple Watch, too.