Scuba Diving in Bonaire with Doxa Watches
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Welcome to Deep Dive, in which we test dive watches both new and vintage beneath the waves in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. This time, we’re off the coast of Bonaire in the Caribbean with the Doxa’s professional SUB line.
The downside of direct-to-consumer sales is that we don’t get to try things on before buying, and with watches this is especially frustrating, because fit is such a personal matter. This conundrum has plagued fans of Doxa watches since the company revived itself in 2002 and started re-issuing some of the funkiest function-driven dive watches ever conceived. Thankfully, I was finally able to get Doxa’s three primary models together and bring them SCUBA diving in Bonaire, a Dutch island in the West Caribbean. This comparison shed a lot of light on the fit, finish, and overall vibe of the quintessential Doxa divers: the SUB 300, SUB 1200T and SUB 1500T.
In 1967, Doxa was the fist company to design and build a dive watch from the ground up. Blancpain and then Rolex offered dive watches in the mid 1950s, and the world followed suit, but those early dive watches were adaptations of pre-existing watches. The Doxa Sub 300 of 1967, however, was a radically forward-thinking, technology-laden beast of a dive watch that Jacques Cousteau adopted into his Aqualung product line as soon as it came out. Why all the fuss?
Doxa helped Rolex develop the first helium escape valve, a clever device that lets accumulated helium out of the watch case when ascending from deep, long dives. Without it, professional saturation divers would see their watches pop a crystal during the decompression process.
Doxa was also the first to put the US Navy’s no-decompression (no-deco) scale on the bezel. This now-patented feature gives a diver an instant reference of how long they can dive at any given depth without making a decompression stop. This was critical stuff in the era before the dive computer, and it was boldly apparent to me when diving that the mechanical Doxas are as much data-spewing computers as they are merely watches.
Lastly, Cousteau’s fuss certainly included the fact that Doxa dive watches look so damn cool. After all, Cousteau was an Academy Award-winning filmmaker and one heck of a wardrobe man (red beanies anyone?). I’ve often likened wearing a Doxa to eating oysters: they’re both totally bizarre, even repulsive, propositions, but most who give it a try become hooked for reasons that are hard to explain to the uninitiated. As such, Doxa has a cult following, of which I am a devout member. I’m aim to indoctrinate you.
The Three Doxa’s to Know About, in Three Colors
Though there are chronographs and all sorts of other models to consider, the SUB 300, SUB 1200T and SUB 1500T form the core of Doxa’s current lineup. Each is available in three classic dial colors (plus a slew of even more limited editions, but good luck finding one).
Sharkhunter: black dial
Searambler: silver dial
Professional: orange dial
So, for example, if you go for a Professional you’ll have an organe dial regardless of which watch model you prefer.
The “T” in the model number came when tritium was used in safe quantities in the luminescent paint, and in the USA the Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds vague claims over importing anything with tritium in it. At present, Doxas with a “T” still cross our borders, though this could change.
Join The Doxa Cult As a student of the aesthetics of tools, I personally want you to get a Doxa diver so that the watches can be seen in person by more and more folks. I’ve yet to see any watch aficionado pick up a Doxa and not say something like, “Wow, I can’t believe how great this is in person!” A typical first comment is often, “Wow, I can’t believe how comfy this is!” My endorsement will never compete with that of Jacques Cousteau, but having now spent copious amounts of time submerged with all three of these Doxas, I can confidently say that any of these watches will put a huge smile on your face. So go ahead and drink the orange Kool-Aid. You’ll like it, I promise.
The SUB 300 is a reissue of the original Doxa diver with key modern updates, including a sapphire crystal and improved case seals. Being a vintage tribute, there is no “T” here as the original didn’t include tritium-based lume.
Case Size: 42.5mm
Dial Diameter: 25.5mm
Movement: ETA 2824-2 COSC Chronometer Grade automatic with date
Water Resistance: 300 meters/984 feet
Fit: Fit is exceptional across a wide range of wrists — just so comfy! One really needs to put one on to appreciate how the cushion case elegantly wraps around the wrist. That beads-of-rice bracelet is like a second skin.
Earthbound Impressions of the SUB 300: The dial is dinky by today’s standards, but this is the charm, as the flanged case looks especially strange and wonderful on the SUB 300. The beads-of-rice bracelet is a classic, and inarguably on of the most comfortable bracelets ever made. This watch is funky, fun, very retro, and seems to illicit the most comments when I wear it. The domed “double bubble” crystal provides psychedelic distortions, as well as the risk of banging it up a bit.
Underwater Impressions of the SUB 300: SCUBA diving is already totally surreal, and the SUB 300 pulls the underwater experience to Godard levels of Mid-Century weirdness. Cue the quirky synthesizer noises and deep-voiced narrator: “The diver floats inches above the bottom, motionless, watching, waiting.” Exactly like that. Legibility is surprisingly good, and the bezel comes to life with vivid contrast when submerged.
Price: MSRP $2,490; Direct (no discount currently, limited supply)
The SUB 1200T is a modern interpretation of the 300, with a larger case and dial, beefed up beads-of-rice bracelet that’s elegantly integrated into the lugs, and a bevy of technological improvements resulting in massive water resistance.
Dial Size: 44.5mm
Dial Diameter: 27mm
Movement: ETA 2824-2 COSC Chronometer Grade automatic with date
Water Resistance: 1,200 meters/3,937 feet
Fit: The larger dial makes the 1200T appear larger than the 300, but — inexplicably, because it’s actually larger — the 1200T wears almost identically to the 300. Chalk that up to the great case design. The bracelet, however, exits the lugs without overlapping them, as the 300’s does, and overall the 1200T is physically heavier and looks more substantial on wrist. FWIW, this is the one I own because it hits my sweet-spot for style, comfort and legibility.
Earthbound Impressions of the SUB 1200T: As a friend recently put it, “This one is just so damn well balanced.” I get it, as the larger dial pulls back on the funkiness just enough that the watch feels as modern as it does vintage. Legibility is improved, too, and it’s nice to see more of the dial. The flatter sapphire crystal adds a measure of protection.
Underwater Impressions of the SUB 1200T: It’s perfect, really. The added legibility of the wider dial combined with the flatter crystal make refracted off-axis readings clear as day (even at depth), and the bracelet is as comfy as it is secure. I do wish it had quick incremental adjustments for sizing over different wet suits (it crunched down over a 7mm suit when sized for a 3mm), but that’s a small complaint, quickly overcome with a rubber strap (which looks great on the 1200T, especially in orange).
Price: MSRP $2,490; Direct $1,890 (quantities are limited)
The SUB 1500T is bigger, bolder, and has a very different bracelet with a great ratcheting expansion clasp that makes the Rolex Glidelock system seem a little too complicated.
Case Size: 45mm
Dial Diameter: 30.2mm
Movement: Soprod A10-2 COSC Chronometer Grade automatic with date
Water Resistance: 1,500 meters/5,000 feet
Fit: As Doxa claims, the SUB 1500T wears way more like a 43mm model due to the case shape. I normally can’t wear a 45mm watch, but this one feels perfect on my wrist. The added weight is going to be a matter of preference, and is really only noticeable when compared to the smaller 300.
Earthbound Impressions of the SUB 1500T: The larger dial makes the 1500T feel like a modern watch, and there is no kowtowing to vintage correctness with this robust and badass diver. The vintage vibe is there, bit it’s reigned in.
Underwater Impressions of the SUB 1500T: Boom! This is a serious tool, bold and legible, great for my aging eyesight. Without significant weight when submerged, we can ignore its bulk when diving. The clever expansion clasp automatically fits over a wetsuit of any thickness, and the bezel turns more easily than that of the other two models.
Price: MSRP $2980 / Direct $2390