Out of the mall, under the sea

Face Value: Fossil Breaker

Style By Photo by Gishani

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The Fossil name usually elicits sneers and scorn from watch cognoscenti as an emblem for shopping mall fashion dreck. But Fossil has quietly upped its game with a small line of Swiss-made watches, not to mention being behind the latest darling of the American watch scene, Shinola. Then, out of nowhere this year came the Breaker ($445), a limited-edition dive watch that will make even the most cynical watch geek look twice.

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The Breaker draws inspiration from the chunky cushion-cased dive watches of the 1970s, so much so that if there wasn’t the prominent Fossil name on the dial, it could be easily mistaken for a long-lost Seiko or Aquadive. A thick unidirectional bezel has raised numerals and ratchets with minimal slop; applied markers and the colorful hands are distinctive and well lumed. Together, it is a well-executed mix of vintage styling with modern touches. Inside, a self-winding non-hacking Japanese Miyota movement keeps the time.

Befitting a limited edition, the packaging is nicely done as well. The watch comes in an orange waterproof (Pelican-style) box with three straps — a steel bracelet, a four-ring black and blue nylon strap and a big-hole rubber strap that is a dead ringer for the Tropic Sport straps fitted on so many ‘70s dive watches. The straps have spring bars that don’t require a tool to swap out; your fingernail will suffice. The three-link steel bracelet has solid links and a double-safety clasp (fold-over and pushbutton), and the “Zulu” nylon is nice enough, but our favorite is the rubber, which smells of vanilla and is much softer than its 1970s inspiration.

So how’s the quality? We took the Breaker diving and caving in Belize to give it a proper test. Timekeeping was surprisingly good, within ten seconds per day in rough use, though the sweep of the blue seconds hand was less than smooth, with a pronounced jerkiness at certain spots. The date window is tiny and hard to read. The bezel was a bit hard to grip when wet due to the indents being set on the underside instead of near the top but it stayed put once set. The case itself is extremely comfortable, in spite of its 45-millimeter diameter, thanks to the short lug-to-lug dimension, curved profile and cushion shape. Finishing is on par with watches well above its price range, with brushed sides and top and a slim polished bevel. Our only major disappointment with the watch is the crown, which feels light and flimsy and screws in a bit roughly.

Overall, the Fossil Breaker is a watch that gets a lot of things right. You’d be hard-pressed to find another dive watch — outside of a Seiko — in this price range that is done as well. In our week of testing, the watch was in and out of dive boats and saltwater, snagged on gear and dragged across slimy underground limestone for a week, and it came out looking like new. In fact, as it was perfectly suited for this type of use, we propose a new name for it: the Fossil Beater. While that may sound like a putdown, if you’re a dive watch geek, you’ll know that it is actually a term of respect; indeed, we have a newfound respect for Fossil.