The Last of the “Fabulous Four” is Back: Introducing the Newmark 6BB RAF Chronograph

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It was pretty inevitable that Ewan Wilson would end up doing something that combined military aviation and watches. Back in the 1970s, when most children were reading comics over the breakfast table, Ewan had a copy of “Handling the Big Jets, An Explanation of the Significant Difference in Flying Qualities Between Jet Transport Aeroplanes and Piston Engined Transport” propped against the cornflakes.

He grew up in Cheltenham—home of not only Smiths watches, but aerospace instrument manufacturer, Smiths Instruments. The air around this part of Gloucestershire reeks of military flight. One of the first Royal Flying Corps stations was just down the road at RFC Rendcomb. This is the county where the Gloster Aircraft Company built the Meteor, the first British jet fighter. Hawker Siddeley were building the remarkable VTOL Harrier locally while Ewan was at school. Martin Baker are still manufacturing ejection seats over the border in Oxfordshire.  Show and tells must have been interesting; Ewan tells the story of of how one of his schoolmates’ fathers was involved in the development of the Harrier’s head-up display.

Ewan’s love of watches started early, but not with the usual Timex or Ingersoll that most lads in the 1970s proudly strapped to their wrists. His father, who spent much of his time traveling, presented him with a Rolex GMT. That’s a fine start by anyone’s standards. Soon, he was exploring the more obscure alleys of Watchworld, collecting Seikos and heading down the well-worn path to becoming a nailed-on watch addict.

“By the time Newmark’s watches had found themselves on the wrists of military pilots, the RAF was already searching for their replacement.”

Given a background like that, it’s not surprising that Ewan has ended up taking ownership of Newmark, one of the Fabulous Four watch names involved in British military aviation. Along with CWC, Hamilton and Precista, Newmark supplied the RAF with aviation watches. Newmark was one of the later and smaller suppliers, with only 500 watches delivered in 1980. By contrast, Hamilton and CWC had been supplying them since the early 1970s.

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The Fabulous Four (Hamilton, CWC, Newmark, and Precista). The Newmark is the last one to be brought back from the dead. Image via Rover Haven.

By the time Newmark’s watches had found themselves on the wrists of military pilots, the RAF was already searching for their replacement. The venerable Valjoux 7733 was starting to look distinctly obsolete against its modern, battery-powered quartz opposition. Just four years later, RAF pilots would look down at their wrists and see the first of the issued Seiko 7a28 quartz triple-register chronographs.

Today, an original from the Fab Four will set you back around £2,500, or roughly $3,230 as of this writing. And with any watch carrying significant history, some people will be reluctant to wear them for anything but special occasions.

As a Newmark admirer, Ewan decided to re-create the double register 6BB (from the original reference number, 6BB/9243306). He wanted to make a 6BB that people could pick up, strap on and wear everyday without worrying, so he began his research. Although he’d reviewed plenty—and even christened Eddie Platt’s Timefactors “Speedbird”—he’d never had a watch made before.

He started in 2016 by acquiring the Newmark name. So far so good.The next decision was around which movement to use. The original Valjoux mechanical movement would make the watch prohibitively expensive to manufacture and massively limit production. He considered the Seagull ST19, but worries over supply, potential reliability and repair pushed him elsewhere. Finally, Ewan returned to his seikoholic roots with the bulletproof and accurate VK64A meca-quartz engine. He explains, “The Seiko just works. It’s stone reliable and I really liked the link with the 7a28 that followed.”

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Ewan visited a military watch collector in the north of England to take detailed measurements and photographs of his original Newmark—even down to the number of teeth on the winding crown (24, since you asked).

Ewan continues:

“Use of this movement has allowed us to retain the original case size, it has the benefit of a 1/5th-of-a-second chronograph seconds hand and, of course, there’s the mechanical engagement and disengagement of the chronograph. The compromise (if it is indeed so) here is instead of a running seconds hand, we have a 24-hour hand on the three o’clock sub-dial. I thought long and hard about this and decided that the benefits of the VK64 far outweigh the lack of a running seconds hand. In fact, there is no outward indication that this is a quartz movement.”

Of course, there are plenty of people who’ll sniff at a quartz movement, but the chances of producing a mechanical version of the Newmark for much under £2,000 are slim. Ewan argues, “I was really keen to make the watch accessible to younger people who might already have a smartwatch. Wouldn’t it be great to see them getting into watches through something like the Newmark?”

Ewan visited a military watch collector in the north of England to take detailed measurements and photographs of his original Newmark—even down to the number of teeth on the winding crown (24, since you asked). Armed with this knowledge, he began the search for a manufacturer.

Ewan explains, “I knew I’d have to make the watch case from scratch. There was no way I was going to just lift something off the shelf, even if I could. I wanted to make sure we were as faithful to the original Newmark as we could possibly be.” This meant not only making the case from scratch, but the hands, crown and dial markings too.

In fact, the dial markings are hand-traced from the original watch. Ewan’s obsession with detail and getting things right emerges again; he sat with a local typographer and, letter by letter, used the tracings to recreate the Newmark typeface. “I probably wasn’t the easiest client. I was pretty fussy. But I wanted to create, as close as I practically could, a re-edition of the 1980 Newmark.”

Where the original issued Newmark carried a circled T for tritium on the dial just under the 12 o’clock and maker’s name, the modern 6BB has a circled L for LumiNova. LumiNova certainly does its job—the lume zings after a couple of seconds, even in relatively low sunlight.

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“. . . I wanted to make a watch that people could just pick up and go and have a bigger choice of straps than the original fixed bars would have allowed.”

In the original DEF-STAN spec, the chronograph hands were supposed to be white, but most of the issued watches ended up with frosted steel hands, and the new Newmark reflects this. As Ewan comments, “They’re actually as legible as white, and a lot of the watches supplied with these ended up having the hands replaced with white ones in any case.”

The 6BB also uses a domed plexiglass that is held in place with a tension ring. Although more easily scratched than synthetic sapphire, it’s easy to buff out any swirls or scrapes on a plexi in a couple of minutes with a brass or silver cleaner. It’s also the type of crystal the original Newmark would have worn.

The 50-meter water-resistant, asymmetric case is brushed 316L stainless steel and 41 millimeters in diameter, although it wears smaller, probably because of the absence of an external bezel and the characteristic thinner edge on the nine o’clock side. You get start (top) and stop (bottom) chronograph pushers with the sort of snappy, positive action you’d expect from a meca-quartz movement. And the case back carries the NATO stock number for the watch (6645-99-870-5073), the Newmark name and the model designation and serial number.

Ewan could have gone for fixed strap bars (the standard watch package comes with a mil-strap), but instead he went for standard spring bars. “I know it’s not absolutely original, but I wanted to make a watch that people could just pick up and go and have a bigger choice of straps than the original fixed bars would have allowed.” After all, you can still leave your 6BB on one of the mil-straps it comes with and no one will be any the wiser. And, if the fixed bar look is really your thing, then shoulderless spring bars should do the job nicely.

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The Newmark 6BB comes, appropriately, in a simple cardboard case with plenty of padding, each side held down with a no-nonsense sticker bearing the NATO number and the name of the watch. Inside, the watch is wrapped in typically Ministry-of-Defence-style waxed paper and shares the box with its grey one-piece mil-strap.

The plan is to launch a Kickstarter with 100 or 125 watches, each at £200 ($260). You’ll get a 6BB Chronograph on a deluxe mil-strap in Admiralty Grey, your instruction booklet and guarantee, all packed in a basic (read military spec!) cardboard box.

The 6BB isn’t an exact mechanical copy of the original Newmark, but that would have meant a price around ten times the £200 he’s launching with.

Once the watches go on wider sale, the price rises to £239 ($310), but you’ll also get a second bespoke Cordura mil-strap strap in khaki. The final price will be £289 ($370).

If you want something properly special, Ewan’s offering some of the low serial number 6BBs with a number between 010 and 050. You’ll get everything above, plus a bespoke mil-strap in RAF colors, a Speedbird mil-strap and your very own vane from a Tornado Rolls Royce RB199 jet engine, custom-etched with the Newmark logo and your watch serial number. That’s up for £269. Proper bragging rights there.

The 6BB isn’t an exact mechanical copy of the original Newmark, but that would have meant a price around ten times the £200 he’s launching with. For that, you get a watch that you can pick up and go, and one that has a firm link to one of the most interesting names in British military watchmaking.Spending time talking to Ewan over a coffee about aviation, watches and watchmaking, his love and enthusiasm for the subjects is massive. He’s invested a huge amount of his time, care and money in the Newmark project to make it a success. That’s seen him overcoming some pretty significant obstacles on the way to production. But now he’s done it, and the 6BB should launch on Kickstarter towards the end of summer 2018. Newmark

Photography by Mark McArthur-Christie

Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.
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