Back with a splash
Timekeeping: Aquadive Bathyscaphe 100
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Nowadays, you can hardly throw a dead fish without hitting another new dive watch brand. The availability of Far East shops that will stamp out a few hundred watch cases based on a napkin sketch means that almost anyone with a little ambition and a small loan can start their own watch company. And there are many, with names and retro designs evoking the romance and adventure of the early days of diving. While it’s great to see such a swell in interest in timepieces and the entrepreneurial spirit so healthy, it’s also great to see an old name revived and a brand that is staying faithful to its heritage. Case in point: Aquadive and its Bathyscaphe dive watches in two sizes. I’ve been wearing the smaller Bathyscaphe 100 in stealthy black DLC trim for the past few months and have come away duly impressed.
Continues after the jump.
The Swiss brand, Aquadive, was popular in the 1960s and 70s and, as their name suggests, they specialized only in dive watches. Huge for their era, sturdy and affordable, Aquadive quickly became the brand of choice for recreational divers. Their innovative Time-Depth 50, with its integrated depth gauge and electronic movement cemented Aquadive’s name in the annals of great dive watches. Collectors hunt for Time-Depth 50s in good condition but, given their age and regular underwater use, they are scant. And while Aquadive produced other models over their brief history, the brand went the way of so many others when cheap Japanese quartz watches took hold of the market.
Aquadive relaunched with a splash last year, capitalizing on the surge in interest for vintage-inspired dive watches. In addition to a “new old stock” model that used actual cases from a 1960s model, the new owners of the Aquadive name reached into the company’s archives and pulled out the original plans for the Time-Depth 50 and used the exact case dimensions to create the flagship Bathyscaphe 300. But instead of a battery-powered movement, the watches are fitted with a self-winding Swiss ETA mechanical movement and, without its finicky depth gauge, the case is now upgraded to an astounding 3,000 meters of water resistance.
The Bathyscaphe 300 is a leviathan at 47mm across and, at 20mm thick, proved to be too big to handle, even in this era of oversized watches. So Aquadive wisely created a smaller version, the Bathyscaphe 100. Still no trembling flower, it clocks in at 43mm across and 15mm thick but the 49mm height means it is eminently wearable even on small wrists. The water resistance is less than its bigger brother’s, but still an impressive, and entirely superfluous 1,000 meters.
In the sea of small brand dive watches available, there are quite a few of similar size and even depth rating to the Bathyscaphe 100. But there are some key details about the Aquadive that make it a cut above its competitors. First of all, in an era of outsourced homogeneous dive watch manufacturing, Aquadive makes a point of declaring the source of all its watch components and where they are built. The cases are CNC cut out of a solid block of stainless steel in Germany. The Swiss movements are fitted to the watches in Germany and then individually adjusted and tested in five positions. With each watch is shipped a certificate with handwritten signed timing notes for all five positions. I can’t think of another brand, large or small, that is doing this today. While not a chronometer certification, it is evidence of the hands-on build and care that go into these watches.
The Bathyscaphe 100 that I tested is the “DLC” variety, meaning that the steel is coated with a black “Diamond Like Carbon” that boasts a hardness of 3,500 Vickers. Try as I could, I couldn’t scratch the case by any method the watch would encounter in normal, day-to-day wear. The finish is exquisite, with brushed top and sides separated by a thin polished bevel on the shoulders. Everything on this watch is black, from the crown to bezel to the case back. But in certain light, the finish has a matte gray appearance, which gives it more visual interest and refinement and keeps it from being yet another wannabe military knockoff.
So Aquadive wisely created a smaller version, the Bathyscaphe 100. Still no trembling flower…
The dial is a highly polished abyssal black and the luminous markers are applied rather than painted, a nice touch, but the polished bevels clash a bit with the matte black case. The hands are a refreshing departure from the usual shapes found on countless other dive watches yet still easily readable with the minute hand in bold orange to set it apart. Here again, the high polish on the hour hand is slightly out-of-place but this is a minor complaint given the overall quality and attention to detail here.
I’ve tried a lot of dive watch bezels over the years, with both dry and wet hands. The Bathyscaphe 100’s bezel ranks in the top two or three in terms of feel and action. The 120-click one-way ratcheting mechanism feels like a precision instrument and the tall side flutings are a pleasure to fondle. Perhaps the most welcome surprise though is the engraved and painted ceramic insert which is a rarity in a watch costing less than two grand.
Finishing off the Bathyscaphe 100 is the strap, genuine ISOfrane rubber, which is perhaps the finest aftermarket dive strap on the market. This comes as no coincidence considering that Aquadive’s parent company also owns ISOfrane. The strap is thick, long and infinitely comfortable thanks to its numerous adjustment slots. It’s also nice to see that the Aquadive-signed buckle is also DLC-coated to match the case. Rumor has it Aquadive will soon be offering a bracelet and steel mesh band, but I think the ISOfrane is the perfect choice.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I like the Bathyscaphe 100. A lot. The build quality, design, transparency of sourcing and attention to detail are hard to beat. This is all in a watch with a retail price of less than $2,000. You’d be hard-pressed to find similar quality for twice the price in my opinion. Aquadive is one watch brand I’m glad to see back on the scene, doing what they always did best – selling honest, rugged dive watches at reasonable prices. Welcome back to the deep end.
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