The history of the DOXA SUB dive watch and the Cousteau name goes back to the watch’s introduction in 1967. Though the old Swiss company DOXA was late to the dive watch game, its first serious effort, the SUB 300T, drew the attention of the world’s foremost diving authority, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who appreciated this purpose-built hunk of steel with the orange dial, dwarf hour hand, and oddly marked bezel. Cousteau was so impressed with the DOXA SUB that he secured the sole importer rights for the U.S. market through his company, U.S. Divers. Those DOXAs sold by U.S. Divers in the late ‘60s and early ’70s bore the familiar twin-hose Aqualung logo on their dials, and many of Cousteau’s divers, including the Captain himself, wore them on their well-documented missions around the world.
Both Cousteau and DOXA faded from the public’s view in the late ’70s. But 30 years later, the rebirth of interest in mechanical watches in the early 2000s changed the game; through some shrewd marketing and a small but loyal fan base, the DOXA SUB dive watch was reborn. So was the Cousteau name. Jacques-Yve’s son, Jean-Michel, picked up his father’s mantle, producing shows from places like the Amazon and the Arctic for PBS. Like his father, Jean-Michel was wearing a DOXA, albeit one of a new breed, with a sapphire crystal, solid-link bracelet and a larger case.
Now a third generation of Cousteau is donning the iconic orange-dial watch. Jean-Michel’s son, Fabien, is about to embark on an ambitious endeavor that would make his grandfather proud: Mission 31, an expedition to live in an underwater habitat for 31 days. If Mission 31 runs its full month-long course, Cousteau the Younger will succeed in breaking his own grandfather’s record for continuous time spent living under the sea set in 1963. In a fitting bit of history repeating itself, DOXA is once again partnering with Cousteau as the official watch of Mission 31. A limited edition of 331 Mission 31 SUB Professionals ($2,890) have been built, including the ones Cousteau and his fellow aquanauts will wear on their mission. We recently got our hands on watch number 065.
Calibre: ETA 2824-2
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: approx. 38 hours
Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Material: Brushed titanium
Diameter: 44 millimeters
Water Resistance: 1,000 meters
Orange with painted Superluminova markers
Steel, 120-click unidirectional with engraved and painted times and no-deco limit depths
Titanium bracelet with adjustable pushbutton clasp
Back in 2009, we wore the SUB 800Ti Sharkhunter, DOXA’s first titanium dive watch, during a visit to the former La Chalupa underwater research lab. In many respects, the Mission 31 seems identical to the Sharkhunter. The Mission 31 is also titanium; we would venture to guess DOXA is using the same 44-millimeter case, ETA 2824 movement and five-link bracelet. What is different is the dial and handset. Whereas the 800Ti introduced encapsulated tritium tubes for luminescence on its dial and hands, the Mission 31 goes back to good old-fashioned stripes of Superluminova paint. The Mission 31 also is only available with one dial color: orange. It features the Mission 31 logo, which on another watch might seem cheesy, but given DOXA’s history of Cousteau co-branding, seems fitting here.
As in 1967, modern DOXAs remain pure dive watches, something evident in their utter lack of design compromise. The heavy steel bezel sits high on the sloping barrel-shaped case, with a sawtooth edge that’s the grippiest in the business. In place of a removable aluminum, sapphire or ceramic insert are an engraved ring of elapsed time and a concentric outer ring displaying the corresponding no-decompression depth limits. Never mind that almost every modern diver relies on a digital dive computer to calculate bottom times; the DOXA remains stubbornly old school.
Dive-specific features don’t end there. An oversized minute hand and correspondingly tiny hour hand reflect the lack of use for an hour hand when timing dives. And while other brands like to crow about their dive watches’ adjustable clasps, DOXA may just have the best one. Two pushbuttons allow the clasp to be extended several millimeters for wear over a wetsuit sleeve. Simply pushing the clasp in takes up slack on the fly; the DOXA’s foolproof, easily rinsed out design trumps the finicky springs and levers found on other brands’ straps. The Mission 31 Professional’s build quality is superb, from nearly spot-on timekeeping to crown operation to bezel tightness. The polished bezel is a scratch magnet, but then again, a little self-inflicted patina is desirable on a watch built for undersea adventures.
DOXA aesthetics have always been polarizing. The Mission 31 conjures the golden age of sport diving, when Jacques was still on TV and regulators had two hoses, with its late ’60s style case shape, bright dial, bold markings and engraved bezel. This shrill scream of “retro!” might scare away non-divers looking for a versatile sports watch, but there are plenty of guys who enjoy that cup of tea and who can explain what the no-decompression markings mean.
Whatever hazards and challenges Fabien Cousteau faces during his adventure, he can count on his watch. When Mission 31 splashes down and is splashed all over CNN and the Today show, keep an eye out for those orange dials on the aquanauts’ wrists.