A new generation of watch enthusiasts is buying re-issues and heritage pieces faster than Tudor and OMEGA can build them, and every brand is capitalizing on the boom. Old designs have been dusted off, faux patina lume generously applied, the word “heritage” used excessively in press releases. But what if there were a watch that existed largely as it did in the 1970s, still built to the same specifications and sold by the same people? What if that watch, despite its retro design, was capable of a 1,000-meter water resistance rating and looked as fresh now as it did then? This throwback fantasy exists in the Squale 101 Atmos (ref. 2002) ($1,229), a dive watch from a brand that still does things in the same workmanlike, quiet way it has since the 1960s.
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Squale was founded in the late 1950s by the shores of Lake Neuchatel in the watchmaking heart of Switzerland. The brand was the brainchild of Charles von Buren, whose company was making cases and components for other, bigger watch brands like Blancpain (the Fifty Fathoms) and DOXA (the SUB). Von Buren was an enthusiastic diver who embraced the sport in its earliest days, and it didn’t take long for him to launch the Squale line of dive watches, which became popular with divers in the ‘60s and ‘70s and were given as prizes for freediving competitions. One was worn by the famous French freediver Jacques Mayol when he broke the 75-meter depth barrier on a single breath in 1970.
One of the most famous historical Squales was the 101 Atmos, which made its debut in the early ‘70s and had a design typical of the era, with a rounded shape and hidden strap lugs. It was one of the first dive watches to achieve a 1,000-meter water resistance rating, an extraordinary achievement for its day and still impressive today. Also innovative was the watch’s rotating bezel, which required its user push it in before rotating it in either direction; this simple function was more secure than the standard ratcheting mechanism and easier than some of the complex locking bezel mechanisms of watches like OMEGA’s Seamaster 600 Ploprof.
Calibre: ETA 2824-2
Frequency: 28,800vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 38 hours
Hours, minutes, seconds
Rotating snap-on Bakelite bezel
Material: Polished stainless steel
Case Back: Screw-in steel, engraved
Water Resistance: 101 ATM (1000+ meters)
Lumed hands and hour markers
Italian rubber with foldover security clasp
Charles Von Buren died in the 1980s, and Squale suffered along with many others through the so-called Quartz Crisis that saw a near-collapse of the Swiss watch industry. But the company was bought by the Maggi family, who happened to be friends of the Von Burens and the longtime Italian distributor for the brand. In recent years, Squale has brought back many of its historical models, including the 101 Atmos. The new watch is entirely faithful to its historical forebear, with identical case dimensions, depth rating, and locking bezel.
That bezel is extra special for several reasons. First of all, it is made from Bakelite, an early form of plastic that was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s for everything from telephones to jewelry to ashtrays. It is rare to find things made from Bakelite any more; most watch brands moved on to painted aluminum bezel inserts, and more recently to sapphire and ceramic. But Bakelite has a warm, rich feel that no faux patina can duplicate. Squale prides itself on these bezels, which are hand-painted in several layers of luminescent paint and then shellacked to seal them against the elements. The bezel is spring-loaded for the push-to-turn functionality and is secured by a locking ring from the top, which can be removed to clean out sand and grit.
Squale has long been known for its cases, and they still make them in Switzerland out of “Swedish” steel, which was often touted as the best of the best back in the day. The polishing is expertly done and the case back engraving, with its wave pattern and shark logo, is straight out of the Nixon era — in a good way. Inside ticks a sturdy ETA 2824-2 self-winding movement. It’s nothing spectacular, but then, this is a tool watch and the movement choice is entirely fitting to that end.
Far from a modern brand capitalizing on heritage for sales, Squale feels like a company that never stopped doing what it was doing.
The 101 Atmos comes with either a “Milanese” style steel mesh band or a textured Italian rubber strap with a foldover deployant clasp. We opted for the rubber, which is high quality, but we quickly swapped it out for a beefy rubber Isofrane strap, which is another relic from the ‘70s and was probably original equipment when the watch was first sold. Wearing it this way, one is transported back to an era of twin-hose regulators, sticky rubber wetsuits and heavy Jetfins. Of course, it works just fine with modern equipment, as we found when we strapped it on as a backup to our dive computer.
Squale offers the 101 Atmos in an almost endless number of customizable variations. In addition to strap choices, you can opt for different color bezels and dials, or even have your name printed on the dial for a truly bespoke timepiece. We opted for the bicolor black/orange bezel with black dial, which was one of the original combos from the ‘70s.
Far from a modern brand capitalizing on heritage for sales, Squale feels like a company that never stopped doing what it was doing. One can almost picture its office, with files cabinets, designers wearing harvest gold Ban-Lon shirts and sporting sideburns as they huddle over their work, cigarettes smoldering in a Bakelite ashtray nearby. The watches are shipped in the same old blue vinyl boxes as they were in 1972 with a shark logo hang tag and printed manual. Even their website is quaintly outdated and clunky. If you’re looking for a dive watch with vintage looks and pedigree, you won’t find one more authentic than the Squale 101 Atmos.