Tornek-Rayville: The Military Dive Watch Bulova was Supposed to Make

When the U.S. Navy put out a call for military watches in the 1960’s, several companies went after the contract. According to official specification MIL-W-2217.6A (SHIPS), the watch had to be accurate within 30 seconds a day, anti-magnetic and be able to withstand depths up to 400 feet. Requirements also included the back be marked with the specification number (“MIL-W-22176″), serial number and the word “NONMAGNETIC” with the nonmagnetic symbol as well as the radiation symbol. This became important later.

One of the directives was to purchase from an American company and Elgin and Longines gave it a shot, but because of expense dropped out. Bulova went after the contract hard and there are prototype watches to prove it, but they ultimately failed to win the bid. Alan Tornek saw an opportunity and filled the gap. He was already importing watches for the Rayville Watch Company in Switzerland and they made watches under the Blancpain name.

Basing his design on the “Fifty Fathoms” already in production, Tornek produced approximately 1000 units of the Tornek-Rayville, using the same calibre AS1361 that was in the “Fifty Fathoms”. He placed it in a grained case with matt finishing to deflect light. Promethium 147 was chosen for the luminous material, which emitted more light and for a longer time than radium or tritium, but also had a shorter half-life of 2 ½ years. At 6 o’clock was a pink/blue humidity indicator that would change to pink if the water resistance had been compromised.

What makes these Tornville-Rayville watches so rare and collectible is the small run, diminished even further by the destruction of many of them. It’s thought that only 20 to 30 pieces exist today. Because of the warnings on the back of the case reading, Danger, Radioactive and If Found Return to Nearest Military Facility, the watches once received by the military were sent back to the Atomic Energy Commission where they were treated as low-level atomic waste and destroyed or else buried in containers filled with concrete.

For the serious dive watch collector or those interested in military-issue watches, the Tornek-Rayville is a must-have, though lately prices have gone up. Examples trade between $40,000-50,000.





Categories Blancpain, Dive Watches, Gent's Wristwatch, Watches Tags , , Bookmark
  • James

    DO WANT!

  • George W.

    Loads of bad info there, but what the heck still a nice watch.

  • Meehna Goldsmith

    @disqus_fGVTCmOUcL:disqus I’ve researched this watch thoroughly and spoken with an owner of the watch. If you have different information, I’m open to hearing it.