Another pandemic year is almost over and I hope you read this new entry of my small blog in good health. As always I am writing only about watches I bought myself for my personal collection – no paid content.
Like 2020 the year 2021 for me was a year with a lot of new watches. At the end of the year I was thinking about my personal favourite of my new watches. This wasn’t an obvious nor an easy choice looking at my new additions. So what’s the winner? I chose the Serica 5303, a watch and a company you may never heard of before. So let’s first have a short look at the company. Serica is a very young company founded by French watch enthusiast Jerome Burgert. He showed his first watch in 2019 and the 5303 is the second watch in the collection. The name makes a nod to the first Submariner which was released in March 1953. But the spiritual ancestors of this watch are in the golden 60s, a decade of many, many diver watches especially in France. All of this brands vanished a mere 10 years later in the quartz crisis. Some of them are reborn in the last years as completely new companies using the old names, like Yema, Wolbrook, Jaques Bianchi or Le Forban. Some seem to be vanished forever and you may have never heard of them like North Star, Relliac or Jean Louis Fresand. But the terminus “French Skindiver” survived meaning a small watch for snorkeling. Jerome Burgert did not resurrect one of the old names but created a new name: Serica.
In the 5303 Serica put all this history together, mixed some design elements from this period like hands and big crown with modern elements like the steel/ceramic bezel and a really nice dial to create a modern skindiver. Although a watch expert can easily spot the traditional elements from other brands this is a true unique watch, a “face in the crowd” – and that’s the reason why I bought it. The dial is unique, the lugs are very special (though not unique) and the bracelet is very unique. At least I have never seen a milanaise bracelet tapering from 20 to 16 mm with fitting endlinks.
The movement also is not your obvious choice of Sellita, Seiko or Miyota but the new Soprod Newton. The Newton is available in two qualities N4 and N7, the number meaning the allowed defiance in seconds per day. Serica chose the better N4, so the watch does have Chronometer accuracy although it’s not COSC certified. The movement has a cross-through balance bridge, a double-cone shock-proof system and a cotes-de Geneve decorating which you don’t see because of the solid caseback.
I made a preorder of this watch in August 2021 for delivery in October. I got it deliverd at the end of November, mainly because the first delivery of the bezels had a quality issue. Gladly Serica decided not to deliver the watches but to wait for perfect bezels – and they are perfect! Communiation was made about this several times, so the customers were always informed. As the watch arrived I really liked the packaging. The watch comes in small jewelry case like some sort of expensive diamond bracelet and with a “Serica” seal. Truly made with love and taste!
Taking the watch on the wrist is a bit flimsy. You may have some difficulties at first attempt. But having it on the wrist it’s a very comfortable watch with perfect size. Diameter is 39mm, length is 46,5 mm and height only about 12mm. The customers can choose between left-handed crown at 9 o’clock or right-handed crown at 3 o’clock. Although I am wearing my watches on the right wrist I chose the “normal” crown position at 3 o’clock. Those “lefties” look strange in my eyes…but it’s your choice. The bezel with minutes and hours can be used to show a second time zone. My watch runs with an accuracy of 2,5 sec/24h. The watch – like every real skindiver – is a strap queen. It will look gorgeous on Nato or rubber straps. But I think the best look is with the unique milanaise stock bracelet. The watch on this bracelet is really the French Skindiver reborn.
I don’t think when the famous names of the skindivers of the 60s come to your mind you will think about Mido at first. You probably name the big names like Rolex, Omega, Seiko or Blancpain. Some thoughts later maybe Doxa, Favre-Leuba, Aquastar or Yema come to your mind. But Mido? I don’t think that the usual collector will think about Mido. Nor did I. But in June 2020 Mido released a colorful diver limited to 1961 pieces named Mido Ocean Star Decompression Diver 1961 (what a name…). I was interested a first sight but did know nothing about the original watch. The only hint was the year 1961 and since this is my birthyear I began my research. But there is very few material about this Mido from 1961. It seemed to be extremely rare and prices for a good example reached easily 5,000 USD. Wow, that’s a lot of money for a Mido! Finally I found a good source: https://alphahands.com/vintage-watch-research/mido-powerwind-ref-5907-deep-dive-timer/, so most of my information about the vintage diver is from this source.
The name of the vintage watch is Mido Ocean Star 5907 Powerwind Diver – seems like Mido loves long names. The name of the reissue “Decompression Diver” is because of the decompression scale on both the vintage and the modern piece and they added 1961 as the release year of the ref. 5907 (although some say it was released in 1959, but Mido should know I think). The decompression scale is the special feature of this watches and the dominating design element. The picture shows how to use this.
While the vintage piece only shows the table in either meters or feet, the reissue shows both. And that’s the first difference. The vintage piece was available in four different dial versions. The inner part was always white, the outer part black or white. The modern version has a black outer and a black inner part and that’s the second difference. The crown is signed Mido in both versions but the modern version has some crown guards, the third difference. In fact the whole case of the new version is taken from the common Mido Ocean Star line, Mido didn’t develop a special case for the reissue. So the case back has the Mido seastar engraved instead of a diver, fourth difference. The fifth and in my eyes biggest optical difference is the bezel. While the original 5907 had a steel bezel the reedition has a black one. So all in all the Decompression Diver is not a real reissue like for example the Doxa Sub 300. Seiko would call this a “modern reinterpretation”.
And of course the modern watch has a modern movement. Like most Swatchgroup mechanical watches in this price range the new Mido is powered by a Powermatic 80 from ETA with 80 hours power reserve and 21.600 bpH. Most of the watches with this movement I have seen have a rather good accuracy. My Mido is – with a defiance of +3,5sec/24h – no exeption.
As I said this watch is a limited edition of 1961 pieces and seems to be sold out right now. Prices on Ebay or on Chrono24 are above retail price now so it seems this piece also will become a collector’s piece – a big success for the Swatchgroup.
The watch comes with three straps. A Milanaise, a leather and some strap that seems to be made of something between leather and plastic. All straps have quick-release springbars. I like the Milanaise (a similar strap was delivered with the vintage 5907), but I don’t like the other two straps. It remains a secret to me why Mido didn’t throw in a Tropic style strap instead of this random extra straps, the watch looks gorgeous on it. To find such a strap is not easy because of the 21mm lug width, but the Kaufmann Nautic is available in this size and really a great match for the watch.
So the most colorful diver of today is now part of my collection. I wonder what will be the next 60s Diver reissue catching my eye (the new Aquadive would be absolutely great, but is too big for my wrist).
In this blog entry I will show you a watch which probably most of you never heard of: The Wolbrook Skindiver Automatic. Let me first say, I am no big fan of microbrands. And I am no big fan of Kickstarter. So why did I order a watch from a microbrand via Kickstarter?
First of all is design. Ok, an inhouse movement or things like a ceramic bezel or other fancy stuff might be interesting, but I am a man with simple taste. The watch must look gorgeous. Period. And this watch got 99 out of 100 points in my eyes. The design is truly sixties, every part of this watch has vintage vibes from the bright arrow hand to the domed sapphire.
Even the movement is almost vintage… 😉 Inside the watch works a Miyota 8215, no hacking, but handwinding, a workhouse, no modern movement. It rattles like a snake and nobody would choose this movement for its precision. Miyota guarantees -20/+40 sec in 24h! But Wolbrook promised to adjust the movement to +/-10 sec in 24h. And they kept their word, my watch runs +6sec/24h on my wrist. The second thing they did is they changed the date wheel. Odd numbers will appear in black, even numbers in red, both in a really vintage font. This is called a roulette date and looks terrific, adding even more vintage style. And look at that back with the “Eagle”!
Second let’s have a look at history. What is the story behind this watch? I must admit I don’t want to buy a watch without a story…maybe you are a frequent reader of my blog, then you know. Ok let us start: In 1949 Wolbrook and his sister Douglas (second brand of Wolbrook, named Douglas, but inside all parts were marked Wolbrook) were founded. You may never heard of this names and neither did I before. It was never a big watch company and it vanished only 25 years later in the quartz crisis. In the 60s they sold their Skindiver “Worldtimer” for a mere 20 USD (a Rolex Submariner was about 230 USD).
Let’s quote Wolbrook from the Kickstarter campaign: “The 1960s Skindiver “Worldtimer” was a solid, water resistant and highly legible timepiece with luminous markers and hands, large sweep second hand, distinctive hour and minute hands, time zone, elapsed time and 24 hours indicators. This mix of features from a diving watch and a pilot watch, makes it the kind of tool-watch “a NASA engineer and test pilot” would personally choose and wear.”
With both, design and history, on my mind I backed the Wolbrook Skindiver on Kickstarter. And let me mention this: with twelve Kickstarter campaigns before (not only watches) I can admit this campaign was the most professional managed I participated. Of course there were delays, but with Covid-19 in the background ruining and disturbing every supply chain the new founded French company made a terrific job. Chapeau!
Of course I chose the watch with the original Wolbrook design. There were many other colors of dial and bezel and even a PVD version but I think this versions lack some of the vintage touch.
They delivered the watch with a leather strap which I removed first hand. It’s no bad strap but for me it was clear from the beginning that this watch looks best on a vintage Tropic style strap. I found one with the typical Tropic pattern and some holes and I think that’s the perfect couple.
Ok, you missed the campaign, but you want this watch? You can get one from Wolbrooks online store for a higher price. I think the current price of about 400 Euros is no bargain, but they improved the movement again. It now has a hacking feature. And you still get a watch with a unique design, a solid over-all quality and an interesting background.
This entry is my first attempt to write about of more than one watch in one entry. So today you will receive information about three watches for the price of one 😉
I always was a fan of the 60s and 70s. This were two decades of great designs in watchmaking and almost ever single watch design today has its roots in this age. And not to mention – these are the decades of my youth.
In watch design it was especially the golden age of diving watches. The first icons appeared some years earlier: the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms (first watch with diving bezel) and the Rolex Submariner. But in the 60s designs explode and so did companies. I will mention Zodiac, Doxa, Yema…all releasing icons highly sought by collectors today. But this original watches are now often shattered pieces and the few ones in good condition are expensive and very hard to find. The companies today began to satisfy the longing for this old watches with modern reissues, more or less exact the same design. Often released in limited numbers some of them became collector pieces too. I will show you three of them:
Seiko SLA017, reissue of the 62mas
Doxa Silver Lung Annivesary, reissue of the original Doxa Sub Searambler Aqua Lung
ZRC Grand Fonds 300, reissue of…yes, the ZRC Grand Fonds 300
When I acquired my ZRC Grand Fonds I thought it maybe an interesting idea to talk about three watches in one article. It will not be longer than my usual entries, because two of the watches I reviewed in earlier entries.
Truth to tell it’s not the same Doxa but the only difference is the dial with the silver color and black Aqualung Logo. Like the Doxa Sharkhunter in my article the Aqua Lung was released in 1967, in a very small batch, some say less than 10 pieces. To find a Doxa Silver Lung from this period is therefore quite impossible, don’t even think about it. In 2017, 50 years later, Doxa released the resissue. The so-called Silver Lung with the silver Searambler dial was built in 300 pieces and released with a retail price of about 2,500 USD – you can’t get one for this price right now. It’s a rare watch on second market and most of them are in the hands of collectors. Chrono24 lists no piece. I got mine from a fellow collector of dive watches in March 2020, two months after my Doxa Sharkhunter Anniversary, so I have two of them reissues in my collection. When it comes to retail price it’s the “cheapest” of the three watches. And it’s the only one which is really a 1:1 reissue, the other two have grown in size. The history and more details you can read in my blog article.
I think I have almost wrote everything about the Seiko SLA017 in my other entry. It was a sensation in 2017 (same year as Doxa!), a Seiko at this price point was unknown, the expensive Seikos were named Grand Seiko. Many fans were surprised while other fans of more expensive brands admired the watch. It’s the most versatile of the three watches, the least eyecatcher for the common people not familiar with watches. And it’s the one with the highest retail price with 3,800 Euro. It’s sold out like the Doxa and slowly it becomes a collector’s piece, now it’s the last time to get one for a reasonable price in my opinion. It’s my favorite one of this three watches and if I had to choose it would be the SLA017 (glad I have all three…).
Since I have already written about the Seiko and the Doxa this article will give more room to the ZRC. Probably some of you didn’t heard about ZRC until now. The company was founded in 1904 in Geneva by Edmond Ziccolo and Joseph Rochet, so ZRC is Zuccolo, Rochet and Cie. It was specialized in expendable metal bracelets – we will talk about the bracelet of this watch later.
From 1960 to 1964 ZRC developed their first watch, the ZRC Grand Fonds 300 – the ancestor of my watch. The watch was used by the French Navy from 1964 to 1982 and original pieces from this time are highly sought collector’s pieces. It almost looks like the recent watch expect the size which grow from a diameter of 36mm to a more modern size of 40,5mm. In almost every other aspect today’s Grand Fonds looks like the legendary watch from 1964.
The new Grand Fonds was released in 2015. In 2017 ZRC teamed up with Alban Michon for a Northpole expedition. They made a special edition of this reissue and distributed it via Kickstarter, so the watch was presented to a bigger community.
The bezel has a special cleaning system named ECS ™, allowing fresh water flowing under (!) the bezel to wash out salt from diving. You have to take a very close look at the watch to spot this system. What you see even from a distance is the most unique design feature: The crown is placed at 6 o’clock. The crown can only be unscrewed if you tilt the strap adapter (or with bracelet, if you tilt the bracelet). In unscrewed position you cannot put the watch on the wrist again, you first have to screw it again. So it’s a safety feature. If you have the watch on the wrist, the crown is screwed down. A cool feature….but a complicated thing to wind up the watch or to set the time. You can only use two fingers to operate the crown and they should better be not too big. The quality of the case is amazing and explains the price point.
Inside you find the common ETA 2824-2 (or a Sellita SW-200) Elabore, so that’s nothing special. The Doxa and the Seiko have significant better movements. You may think that’s no problem, because the good point is, every watchmaker can easily adjust, clean and service the movement. Well, wrong. The caseback has triangle shaped slots to open and requires special tools only available at ZRC. And talking about triangles: The strap/bracelet doesn’t have springbars but is attached with screwed pins on the lugs. A good thing, but you need a screwdriver with triangle pikes not available at your favorite hardware store. At least this special screwdrivers are now part of every ZRC watch set. And to remove the strap from the strap adapter you need a very sharp and thin normal screwdriver. ZRC delivers two screwdrivers with four tops with every watch. Two tops with the triangle pikes and two with sharp normal pikes. Did I mention you always need both screwdrivers to unlock one bar? So changing a strap means: First unscrew the bar at twelve o’clock with the triangle pike, then change the tops and unscrew the second bar from the adapter with the other tops. Let me say: This watch has character , but it’s the character of a diva when it comes to strap change.
So you may have the idea to order the watch with the bracelet and forget the whole strap thing. Ok, that’s 600 Euros more. And the bracelet is a diva, too. No micro adjustments, rather big links. In the last link of each side there is a built-in spring to easily put it over a wet suit and to “breathe” – means changing the diameter under water according to the water pressure. A real good thing for divers. If you are not a diver you have a very good chance the bracelet is either too small or too big. The springs are too tight to make a comfortable wrist if you like your bracelet close to your wrist. That’s the reason I ordered it with a leather strap although the bracelet looks absolutely gorgeous. Right now an Isofrane is on the watch looking very good in my opinion.
All three watches are very comfortable at the wrist. The Doxa is king here, I don’t know a more comfortable bracelet than the Doxa BoR. Which of the three watches ever is your favorite: you will receive a real legend reissued.
Ask some fans and collectors to name the most famous dive watches and they will propably answer: Rolex Submariner. Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms. Omega Seamaster. Seiko Tuna. Doxa Sub. Doxa Sub? Yes, this watch from the small company Doxa has its place in history among the big companies Rolex, Omega/Blancpain (both divisions of Swatchgroup today) and Seiko.
Let’s step back to the 60s. While Submariner, Fity-Fathoms and Seamaster are already big names in this days (the Tuna is still to come in 1974 – see my entry https://michaelswatchblog.de/2020/01/10/seiko-sbbn017-real-tuna-and-tuna-style/) some far smaller companies are releasing dive watches for professional divers and the growing diving fan scene. To mention some names: Zodiac, Aquadive, Aquastar, Nivada, Favre-Leuba for example.
The mother of all divewatches was the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms. Released 1953, the first watch with a rotating diving bezel to calculate the time underwater.
Doxa did not start with a blank sheet, but Urs Eschle, product manager of Doxa in the 60s made a new approach to build the perfect diving watch. He brought a team of watchmakers and professional divers together to create a new diving watch both for professional and leisure divers.
After developing the typical cushion-shape case they tried to solve the biggest problem: underwater legibility. A diver is not interested in exact time of the day, but he has to know how many minutes he can stay under water until air runs out. Because of this Doxa shrinked the hour hand to a dwarf size while the minute hand was enlarged and treated with the biggest amount of Tritium ever seen on a watch. Then they tested several dial colours in the Neuchatel Lake and decided orange is the best colour under water. All competitors had been used black dials so far.
Next important element is the bezel, together with the minute hand the most important part of a dive watch. They developed a saw-tooth edged bezel for optimum grip with two scales resembling the US-Navy decompression table.
The two-scale bezel, the hands and the cushion-shaped case are the special attributes that gave and give Doxa its unique look. And lets not forget the bracelet: even if the beads-of-rice bracelet ist as far as I know not a Doxa invention, it became really famous with the Doxa watches. The 50th anniversary has polished rice grains and brushed outer parts.
The most advanced supplier of diving equipment these days was the US Divers Company with legendary head Jacques Cousteau. Eschle contacted him and showed him the watch and Cousteau was instantly thrilled. He decided to market the Sub 300 in the USA. For many years now the Cousteau team used Doxa watches on their expeditions.
In 1967 the first watches were available to the public and soon became a legend (of course the Cousteau factor helped). The first Doxa Sub didn’t have a Helium valve like most Doxas later. But the company researched to solve the Helium problem and later presented the first ever watch with a Helium valve. Most diving watches for saturation diving have a Helium valve today. The famous exception is the Seiko Tuna with a complete different approach.
Most other Doxa Subs later are more or less variations of the first Doxa Sub 300 and anybody who knows something about diving watches can spot a Doxa from 50 meters away. The iconic design lives on every upcoming models, although the company itself had different economic problems and changed the owner more than one time. In 1997 Doxa was bought by the Jenny family and the Jenny fish logo is now on every crown and bracelet.
The first orange dial (name: Professional) was soon followed by some other colours with special names:
In 2017 Doxa released a reissue of the first Sub 300 with same dimensions and like the original without a Helium valve. It’s almost an 1:1 copy with two differences: The reissue has a sapphire crystal glass for better scratch resistance which only an expert can tell from the original plexi glass. And an ETA 2824-2 movement COSC grade, the original having an ETA 2852. There are only 900 pieces of this watch, 300 Professional, 300 Sharkhunter and 300 Searambler. Almost every Doxa is a limited edition today, but even for Doxa this is a small number.
I am happy to acquire one of this pieces a few weeks ago and show you some pictures of this rare watch. The beads-of-rice bracelet is one of the most comfortable bracelets ever and the mix of brushed and polished pieces a feast for the eyes. The COSC movement holds its promises, there is almost no defiance to the atomic clock.
But you can see some other special pieces here – a big thank to my friend Marco (TIMEX SOCIAL) to open his huge collection and send me some photos!