The Significance of the Red 12
Many of the fixed lug officers trench watches from the circa WW1 era that we are interested in have the 12 on the dial picked out in red, and sometimes (more rarely) blue. Why is this? I have never come across any documented reason for this feature.
The most plausible explanation is that in the earliest days of wristwatches, it wasn't standard as to where the 12 was found on the dial: sometimes it is at the now familiar "12 O'Clock" position found on all modern wrist watches, 90° anti-clockwise from the winding stem and crown, (which is convenient to wear on the left wrist), sometimes it is adjacent to the winding crown, as on pocket watches, which puts it at what we would call the 3 O'Clock position today, or sometimes in an intermediate position between these two, as is seen occasionally.
Many early wrist watches were simply pocket watches either held on the wrist in leather cup attached to a strap, or with a chain or strap attached to lugs soldered directly on to the case. Because of this they didn't all follow the now accepted design of a wrist watch with regards to orientation of the dial and location of the crown. I have seen transitional wrist watches which, when strapped to the wrist, would have the 12 where we would expect to find the 3 today, or half way between this and the now standard 12 position. So the 12 would have been picked out in red or blue by the more careful and thoughtful makers in order that you could locate it quickly and easily, and this would then have been imitated by others, perhaps without realising its significance, until it became a trend. But I have still not found any contemporaneous reference to confirm this explanation.
I have seen sellers puff up a red or blue 12 as if it means that it is a "military" watch, or is really significant for some unspecified reason. But I don't think it is - although if I were selling a watch I would certainly play the game and mention it! After all, It is very easy to paint the 12 red or blue, so anyone could do it on the cheapest of watches - there are no "barriers to entry" in applying a red or blue 12 to a dial, unlike say, making a fine quality precision movement. In reality, it is the design, appearance, condition, and ultimately the quality of the movement, that determines the value and historical significance of a watch, not the colour of some paint on the dial!
If you have a better explanation of the significance of the "red 12" or a reference to a contemporary source, then please get in touch with me.
I hope you have found this guide helpful. If you have then I would be grateful if you would register a vote for it. If you haven't found it helpful for some reason, or if you think that there is something wrong or that could be improved, then please let me know. Thanks! Regards - David