The crew that flew the mission to Tokyo Image Credit: Supplied

Long before they became luxury accoutrements for men, wristwatches were once purpose-built tools. These ‘tool watches’ helped professional divers time their stay underwater, navigators chart their aerial routes, artillery officers locate enemy canons, race car drivers time their hot laps, a Rolex even helped James Bond unzip his love interest’s dress in Live and Let Die (don’t try this is at home, kids, this only happens in the movies).

It’s in this context that a splits-second chronograph made by Eberhard that sold for €156,000 (including buyer’s premium) at an auction in Milan on October 21 becomes newsworthy. It’s not every day that an Eberhard fetches a price like that at auction, so what gives? The answer to this question involves a World War II backstory that involves a covert Axis mission to Tokyo. Buckle up.

The chronograph based on the original pocketwatch. Image Credit: Supplied

Let’s go back in time to 1942, right in the middle of World War II. The Axis Powers (German, Italy, and Japan) are certain that the Allies have cracked their secret radio codes. To re-establish secure communication between the three countries, the Royal Italian Air Force is called upon to make a carry a new set of secret codes to their Japanese allies. This mission was always going to be fraught with risk because the aircraft would be flying over vast swatches of airspace that could be covered by Soviet anti-aircraft guns.

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