This model of 24-hour steel oversized split-seconds chronograph made for the Italian Air Force or AMI (Areonautica Militare Italiana) is considered by collectors to be one of the most desirable of all military wristwatches. It is thought that perhaps less than a dozen pieces of this type were ever made by Universal.
The present extremely well preserved and wonderfully original watch with engraved caseback confirming that it was supplied to the AMI is the rarest type of all among this already highly elusive model. Identifiable by the “MM” (Matrix Military) designation and number engraved on the case back, it is one of the very few known examples of this important model. The inscription “AMI Cronometro per Navigaz. Astronom. Tipo HA-1. N. Categ. 19620 MM. 200021” can be deciphered as follows:
AMI = Areonautica Militare Italiana;
HA = Rattrapante;
MM = Matrix Military.
Featuring a massive 44.5 mm. case and highly readable 24-hour military time dial by Singer with 16-minute chronograph register, these rare and unusual functions on a split-second chronograph were especially designed for astronomic navigation (course determination through the stars) for the aircrews of anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, the underdial work for the 24-hour functioning of the movement is constructed after Louis Cottier’s famous system. The 16-minute register is specific to these navigation watches in order that the angle hour could be calculated directly without going through calculation tables. The angle may be measured in time, with 24h = 360° exactly. In astronomy, hour angle is defined as the angular distance on the celestial sphere measured westward along the celestial equator from the meridian to the hour circle passing through a point.
As expected for a navigation watch, the movement is of very high standard, based upon the Valjoux 55 and completed by Universal with amagnetic balance, chronometer standard finishing and most probably subjected to chronometer adjustment and testing to meet the requirements of the AMI for precise timing.
The signature of the prestigious Rome retailer A. Cairelli features prominently on the stunning dial. Thought to have been founded in 1932 and situated at Via del Corso, 144, Cairelli were, along with Panerai, the official suppliers to the Italian Ministry of Defence.
Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI), the Italian Air Force was founded as an independent service in 1923 by King Victor Emmanuel III as the Regia Aeronautica. When Italy became a republic after World War II, the Regia Aeronautica was renamed AMI.
Another example of this model with the movement number 2’602 and Marina Militare number 200026, was sold by Phillips Geneva, 14th May 2016, lot 64.
A further example is illustrated in: Military Wristwatches, Michele Galizia, 2008, p. 219.
We are grateful to Eric Tortella for his assistance and study in researching this watch.