Serica 5303: The French Skindiver Reborn

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.

Soprod Newton (picture copyright Serica)

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.

Almost to the moon: Wolbrook Skindiver

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”!

Back with “Eagle” from Apollo 11

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).

Old advertisement (picture copyright Wolbrook)

There was one well-known customer: Neil Armstrong, the to-be first man on the moon. He wore a Douglas Skindiver, not the one with the worldtimer bezel. His watch was sold in an auction in 2019:  https://historical.ha.com/itm/explorers/space-exploration/neil-armstrong-owned-and-worn-douglas-diver-s-watch-directly-from-the-personal-collection-of-neil-s-brother-dean-armstrong/a/6206-51012.s

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.

Skindiver on vintage Tropic style rubber

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.