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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Aquadive bathyscaphe 300 - IN DEPTH REVIEW

I was going to do a video review of my Aquadive BS300, but instead I elected to go the old fashioned route. This watch deserves a proper written review and so here it is.

INTRODUCTION

In 1960’s and 70’s Aquadive was THE quintessential diving tool. Oh, there were plenty of Rolexes, Omegas and Breitlings, but if you were a serious diver you wore an Aquadive or possibly a Doxa. The latter brands were not found in jewelry stores; they were sold through specialty dive shops and were used as serious diving tools.

Aquadive is back, having resurfaced to once again regain its rightful place at the top of the “tool watch” food chain. In fact, they fill a real void in the watch industry. Please do not get me wrong, there are plenty of real tool dive watches out there, but are there any true “SWISS MADE” tool divers that real divers would wear?

One would argue that the Omega PloProf and / or the Rolex Deepsea are tool divers. Are they really? Will the average diver really plunk down nearly 5 figures for a dive watch? How about the Breitling Avenger Seawolf? Last I checked this model retails for over 4,000$ and its anorexic hands are not conducive to proper underwater visibility. Also, the lack of a diver’s extension makes it impossible to wear over a wetsuit.  They can certainly swap out the bracelet for a rubber strap, but how many “real” divers would do this or want to be bothered?

How about today’s Omega Seamasters? The least expensive Omega Seamaster Professional retails for 3800$, which used to be 1600$ 10 years ago, so is the co-axial escapement really worth 2200$ more? Other than that and screws on the bracelet, it is the same watch.  James Bond, Nicole Kidman and Michael Phelps all need their cuts I guess.  Mind you, they are still great watches in their own right, especially the Planet Ocean models with in-house movements, but these are more haute-jewelry than tool watch.

And how about IWC, Hublot, Panerai, Audemars Piguet, Ulysse Nardin and others? None of the latter brands have dive watches retailing for any less than 4000$ and quite a few in the 5 figures. Tool watches? I think not. How about far-east produced watches? No doubt there is a market for these brands and I have owned / currently own quite a few. They fall in the 300$ to 800$ range, though a handful can go a little higher, but in my opinion that is pushing it. They are usually terrific and there is so much variety to suit all tastes. That said quality can be somewhat inconsistent and one has to be very careful. The companies marketing the brands are not the ones actually manufacturing the watches. In fact, one manufacturer can often produce for multiple brands and these companies are not always truthful about their origins and/or labeling.

Here is where the new Aquadive fits it. Priced right in between “entry level” far-east divers and ultra-luxury dive watches, their quality, fit and finish and performance will surprise even the most astute collector. The subject of this review is their top of the line Aquadive Bathyscaphe 300 (BS300) on beads of rice bracelet.  It is definitely not for everyone, as its size and weight are pretty up there, but it truly is outstanding, if you can pull it off.  For those of you who cannot, there is always the Bathyscaphe 100 (BS100), which is much more manageable, yet retains its rugged purposeful nature.
Let us dive in, shall we?

CASE  & BEZEL

The BS300’s case is made from a slab of German stainless steel which is precision CNC (Computerize Numerical Control) milled, cut, drilled, polished and brushed in Germany. The result is a superbly finished case with just the right chamfered edges, which are polished to a mirror shine. The extra thick case back is deeply engraved (not just etched) with the Aquadive logo, the limited edition numbering and other property details.  It is tightly screwed down to ensure its impressive 3000m water-resistance.

Inside the 45mm wide, 20mm thick case the movement is enveloped in a soft iron cage, which tremendously improves its anti-magnetic properties, as well as adds a degree of shock resistance.  There is also a helium escape valve (HEV) located between the lugs at 6 o’clock. This is actually very clever, as it keeps the 9 o’clock side of the case, the side you see the most when looking down at your wrist, unblemished and smooth. By placing HEV between the lugs, it eliminates the possibility of form fitting end links. That said this opens the door to several bracelet / strap possibilities, like the ever so popular shark mesh and many others.

There is actually a logical reason for the HEV positioned at 6 o’clock. You see the new bathyscaphe case is a 100% identical to the 1972 Aquadive Model 50, which had the water entry point for its depth gage at the same location. Kudos to Aquadive for not actually making an homage, but actually using their very own case design from the 70’s.

The unidirectional elapsed time bezel is very tall and this is to accommodate the super thick sapphire crystal. The added height, combined with the machined grooves make it one of the easiest to operate, without feeling needlessly loose. In fact, this bezel has the nicest action of any dive watch I have handled. It does sound “different” then others, but the sound is very reassuring and precise. It gives one the feeling it is firmly in place and will not move.  The insert itself is manufactured in Switzerland and is made of high-tech scratch-resistant ceramic.

The 7mm crown is screwed down and there is a visible gasket on the outside of the crown tube, as well as others inside the tube, further assuring its great water-resistance. Loosening the crown feels butter smooth as is the winding and setting of the movement, but what impressed me most is locking it back down. Unlike many other dive watches, when you get to the bottom of this tube, you know it. It just stops and it is locked down. There is no guessing if you tightened it enough and there is no play. So there is no reason to keep trying to turn it. It is neither too big nor small and there is plenty of bite to easily screw and unscrew it.

CRYSTAL , DIAL & HANDS

As previously mentioned the 33mm wide crystal is 5mm thick and you can kind of see the thickness when you turn the watch at the proper angle. It is actually a little strange, as it looks like the inner stainless steel ring that surrounds the dial is a little smaller than the diameter of the crystal, thus giving it a stepped look. You really have to have the watch in your hands to really see and appreciate this little detail.  The crystal is made in Switzerland, using Swiss raw materials.

It also has an anti-reflective (AR) coating underneath.  Thankfully they did not put any on the top of the crystal. While this is really nice too look at when the crystal is clean, when it is dirty, the spots and dust can actually hinder visibility, thus defeating the purpose.  Not to mention us anal-retentive WIS hate having to clean them all the time… maybe it is just me? Oh and while sapphire crystals are virtually scratchproof, AR coatings are not. After a while they start looking terrible and I usually wind up removing them.

The dial on my BS300 is the new galvanized version with painted markers. I think I would have preferred the older lacquered black finish with applied makers, but I can see how the new finish improves visibility and UV resistance. However the WIS in me loves polished applied markers that glint in the light at different angles. The generous coatings of luminous paint on the markers and hands really make it glow bright and long, lasting well through the night.  The dial is also 100% made in Switzerland.

In the spirit of pure function and legibility the writing on the dial is the absolute smallest I have ever seen. I can barely read anything under the model name. It probably says “if you can read this, you are under 40”. Yet, do I really need to read the water-resistance rating and that it is an automatic watch? I am pretty sure I knew these details before I acquired the watch. Personally I like the clean, unobtrusive dial. It lends itself well for a purposeful dive watch.

The original hands are very nice, plenty long (hate short hands) and the polished / painted surfaces are exceptional. However, I would have preferred if they were beveled, in other words folded down the middle lengthwise to give each side a bit of an angle, which would create multiple surfaces for the light to catch on. As they are now, the polished parts sometimes get washed out, making the hands look smaller than they actually are. They could also have been slightly wider and just like the dial; the lume is tremendous and even.

MOVEMENT

What is there to say about the SWISS MADE ETA 2824-2 that has not already been said? I must have owned and reviewed countless watches with this movement. To describe it as a workhorse would be an understatement.  It is solid, reliable, easily serviced and accurate. Enough said. If you need more details about its 25 jewels, incabloc shock protection system and 38 hours of power-reserve, then may I suggest Google? There are numerous published articles on the subject.

For the Bathyscaph 300, Aquadive goes the extra mile and tests, as well as regulates each watch in 5 positions.  And for the icing on the cake, you receive an individual performance certificate for your watch. This allows you to see the mean deviation of your watch and if there is a position that gains or looses time, you can place it in this position at night to offset your daily wear differential. In essence correcting any differences and keeping your watch accurate.  I know you can figure this all out with trial and error, but this is a very nice touch and in my opinion, the added regulation adds great value to this model. Mine has been performing admirably, gaining slightly better than 2 seconds per day.

STRAP & BRACELET

Mine arrived on not-so-vanilla scented Italien made ISOfrane strap with signed Aquadive buckle. What happened to the delicious vanilla smell I use to love? Anyway, it is the prototypical dive strap for this watch. It is thick, supple and comfortable. Also, is it possible? I think Aquadive actually refinished the buckle and makes the edges a little less harsh. Nice touch, as it blends well with the finish on the case. Of course, I could be dreaming this up, yet it was not that long ago I had another ISOfrane on another watch.

Still, as much as I praise ISOfrane straps, I simply am not a strap guy. I much, much, much prefer bracelets and from the handful of pictures I could find on-line, the new beads of rice Aquadive bracelet looked incredible. So I ordered one and it arrived vacuumed sealed! Yes, I said vacuum sealed, along with 2 allen-wrenches and a tiny tube with 2 sets of 2mm thick spring bars. All of this wrapped in bubble wrap. I have never seen watch parts packaged this way and I have to admit, it sure beats having to remove bits of plastic stickers other manufacturers put all over their clasps and links to keep them from getting scratched in transit.

This 24mm tapering to 22mm bracelet is nothing short of a work of art and it is by far the LONGEST bracelet I have ever owned. Seriously, if I can get my hands on another set of end links and a clasp, I would have a second bracelet! Every single link is removable via double sided allen-wrench screws. It can be tricky to size, but the risk of scratching / marring your bracelet with this type of set up is nominal compared to conventional screws.

Wrist size should not an issue with this watch. Oh, I know what you are thinking. It is a 45mm watch, so only big wristed people can wear it. Ha! I have a 7 inch wrist, wimpy by most standards and it fits great on me.  Its 53mm lug to lug span make it very wearable, so even if you have smaller wrists than I do, with the correct amount of links removed, you too can sport one of these bad boys!

Now speaking of sizing, the clasp even has 3 micro-adjustment holes and a ratcheting diver’s extension. If you cannot find a perfect fit with this watch, then you should consider collecting something else and send me all your watches! J

While I am on the subject of the clasp, I honestly thought it was the same clasp that you see on many far-east micro-brands. I mean it looks the same and functions the same, but now that I have one of each in my hands, I can tell you IT IS NOT THE SAME. One is the copy of the other and is not finished the same way, nor does it have the same manufacturing tolerances. For instance, when the Aquadive clasp is closed, it is shut solid, with no wiggle and no vertical play. The same cannot be said about the other. Also, the edges are much more refined, the logo and name engraving are much smoother.

The diver’s extension is also different in function. When it is extended, there is no horizontal play in any position, unless pushed to click to the next position. On the other clasp there is play everywhere, except when it is fully open or closed. The entire Aquadive bracelet and its components are made by a German manufacturer located in Pforzheim Germany to German specifications, which is further proof of quality and efficiency.

Now is this a true beads of rice bracelet. The answer is no, not really, but would you really want it to be? If you look at vintage beads of wrist bracelets, they were often flimsy, became loose with time and this just would not work with a watch of this stature. Doxa even fuses together all of the middle beads to make them strong enough for rugged use, though it sacrifices a bit in looks. Instead, Aquadive designed the three middle parts of the bracelet to be beveled and to actually look like a fat grain of rice. Hey, maybe we should call it a cooked grain of rice bracelet? Seriously, look at it from far enough away and this is what you will see. Anyway, no matter what you call it, the finish is absolutely spectacular and for a watch of this size and weight, it is remarkably comfortable.

PACKAGING

I have never really commented on packaging before, but since this review is already super long, why not make it longer. Seriously, the packing is nothing special, just your typical outer cardboard box and inner clam shell. There is a small tube with 2 more 2mm spring bars and the interior is velvety black. Hey, if you are looking for something of Aquadive’s that is manufactured in the far-east, look no further! The box itself is manufactured there. The manual and warranty card are actually made in the E-U.

CONCLUSION

OK, by now you are probably wondering why I keep mentioning where everything is made. The reason why I did this is because in all of my years as a Collector, Columnist for InsYnc Magazine, Watch Blogger and Watch Forum Member, (over 20 years)  I have never seen a watch company that is so forthcoming with their manufactured origins. Never! Heck, they even have an entire webpage dedicated to this information for all of their models! Who else has the ballast tanks to do this?

And if you actually think your multi-thousand dollar SWISS MADE watch is actually entirely made in Europe, I have some beach front property in Montana for you at a great price... Trust me! In all seriousness folks, this is a true breath of fresh air. Just like the very few far-east companies that say yes we are based and manufactured in China. There is room for everyone, but in my humble opinion, there should be no room for deception and untruths.

All that aside, what do I really think of the Aquadive Bathyscaphe 300, well, I LIKE IT A LOT. Just like I said in the introduction, it is not for everyone, but for those who appreciate craftsmanship, overbuilt, over-engineered and precise instruments, then this is for you. But who really needs a 3000m or even 1000m diver? How about I answer this with more questions. Who really needs an SUV? Who needs a car that can go 200mph when the speed limit is 65mph? No one does, really. That is not the point.

One can own a Ferrari and never drive over the speed limit. A blasphemous shame really, but this does not mean he does not or cannot appreciate the power, refinement and better yet, the POSSIBILITY. Same with the SUV, you many never drive off road, but is it not reassuring that if you ever needed to, you can. Again, the POSSIBILITY is what excites most people. Do you think the guy who bought the immensely impractical, hard to drive, impossible to park Humvee cares about its shortcomings? Of course not, but if he wanted to climb through steep inclines in the mud, he could! Will he ever? Probably not, but the POSSIBILITY is there!

This is how it is with dive watches. It is all about the POSSIBILITY and the dream of potential adventures. Also keep in mind that with great water resistance comes great protection from dust, sweat and other things, like soap.  Now Is the Aquadive the deepest diver? No, it is not. Is it the biggest? No it is not. Is it the heaviest Again, it is not. But it is the most impressive, well built, accurate and HONEST dive watch I can think of.  Since I brought up the car analogy, the Aquadive BS300 is like the Supercharged Ranger Rover of the watch world.

It has been a long, long time since I have written such a long review… Hope I did not bore too many of you and if you have gotten this far, thank you so much for reading!

Here are some more pictures for you:

  

 

 

 

 

And for even more pictures, follow this link to my Aquadive BS300 GALLERY

1 comment:

  1. I have read your review and having the same watch but with the preferred applied markers, it is very accurate and could not have said it any better. I have been collecting Swiss wristwatches for over 35 years and in the last three, mainly divers. There has been a recent era of rejuvenation of late 60s early 70s models with modern components of sapphire crystal and 25Jewel ETA movements that have been improvements to the originals. For example Squale Tiger, Helson Sharkmaster 600M (which is a dead ringer of the Omega Seamaster 600 PloProf), Doxa SUBs re-issues from 2002 and new models, Fortis Marinemaster Compressor etc., all of which I have in my collection. Aquadive is part of the Jenny Swiss watch family group that includes Doxa SUB, Fortis, Philip and OW.

    Whether it is the BS100, which is more practical for every day wear or its bigger brother BS300, these are in a league of their own and should be seriously considered by anyone who wants a quality masterpiece value for money.

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