One of the World's Coolest Chronograph Watches Is Back

Little-known but highly valued, the Aquastar Deepstar is a vintage dive watch classic, and it's returned in upgraded form.

aquastar deepstar re edition lead
Jay Mitchosky

You've no doubt seen one before, as they're hard to miss: With its single, oversized sub-counter at 9 o'clock, its unique decompression bezel and its eye-catching dial design, the Aquastar Deepstar has become a dive watch classic since its release way back in 1963. Highly sought after today, "tropical" examples can fetch well over $10,000. Where then, many watch fans have been asking amidst all the enthusiasm for vintage watches, is our reissue?

People, relax — it's finally arrived. And it's dope as hell.

Key Specs:

Case Diameter: 40.5mm
Case Depth: 14.8mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Movement: Le Joux-Perret automatic
Price: $2,790 (pre-order); $3,590 (regular price)

vintage aquastar deepstar chronograph
Jay Mitchosky

Notable:

The original Deepstar has long been discontinued — a victim of the Quartz Crisis (though Aquastar never quite went away, but merely shifted production to quartz — more on that in a bit). When you find one in good condition — and "good" here often means faded and "tropical" — they fetch north of $10k. Following the company's acquisition by Synchron Group and under the direction of dive watch aficionado Rick Marei, however, Aquastar is ready for another swing at the title, and this means you can get your hands on a genuine Deepstar for much less moolah. You just have to be ok with a few changes (more on those shortly).


Who It's For:

This isn't a watch for casual watch fans, and it's probably not even a watch for casual divers (though it very well could be — I'd consider myself a "casual" diver and could see myself wearing and using one). The Deepstar was originally an incredibly niche product, made for professional divers and sold only in dive shops, not retailed by jewelers. The reissue is more or less the same, though the end customer had changed: it's no longer made for, say, saturation divers or even serious hobbyists (these folks have dive computers), but rather, for those who know about and appreciate Aquastar's legacy, enjoy its design, and are willing to shell out several thousand dollars for a very, very well made (and very obscure) watch.

This much is for sure: the Deepstar isn't meant to be a safe queen.

aquastar vintage ad
Aquastar


Alternatives:

Powering the Deepstar Re-Edition is a special movement made by La Joux-Perret following a request by Aquadive, who wanted an automatic chronograph movement with column wheel, blued screws, Geneva stripes and a skeletonized rotor — and they wanted it to be affordable. All this to say that there isn't much competition in this price range for the particular feature set you're getting: the aforementioned high-end Swiss movement combined with a unique dial configuration, overbuilt case, water-resistant chronograph, etc, all for under $3k (at pre-order).

Tudor's Black Bay Chrono is similar in that it features a high-end (and in-house) movement, plus it's highly water-resistant (300m) due to its screw-down pushers. But it's a racing chrono, as evidenced by the tachymeter scale, and it's also $4,900 on a fabric strap. Doxa's Sub200 T. Graph uses the historical Valjoux 7734 caliber, but this is a cam-driven movement, not as highly regarded as a column-wheel based variant. It's water resistant to 200m, but begins at $4,860 on rubber. Oris's 45.5mm Aquis Chronograph is a beefy, robust diver powered by the Selitta SW500, a modern automatic, cam-operated chronograph movement based on the architecture of the Valjoux 7750. It begins at $3,700, however, and again, doesn't feature a column wheel for that smooth pusher operation that you get with the Deepstar.

Some Background

My first encounter with a vintage Deepstar was during a stint working in vintage watches, where I was lucky enough to handle tons of cool old timepieces. I seem to remember that the one I handled had a crazy, faded grey dial, and the striking "big eye" counter and perfect proportions really spoke to me. (The $10,000+ price tag spoke more to someone else.)

Shit, I thought, I'll never own one of these — I'll just have to admire from afar. So you can imagine my surprise when Rick Marei reached out with the news that he was reviving this beloved watch, and the Aquastar brand along with it. But let's back up a sec.

aquastar deepstar chronograph side
Jay Mitchosky

A gent by the name of Frédéric Robert founded Aquastar in 1962. Actually, he acquired a brand called Jean Richard and changed the name to Aquastar, to better convey his brand's purpose: namely, to provide diving instruments to professionals. To that end, Aquastar's watches weren't sold in jewelers, but rather, were retailed in dive shops around the world. Within ten years of Aquastar's founding, the firm had been awarded four patents and developed the Deepstar, Benthose and Regate watches.

Once the Quartz Crisis came along and dampened the mechanical watch business, Mr. Robert took a consulting position with Omega and developed none other than the Ploprof and Flightmaster watches. (Not a bad resume.) In 1975 Aquastar was acquired by the Eren Group, whose new wares were carried by conventional retailers until 1982. In that year, Mark Seinet, a third generation watchmaker and avid sailor, bought the brand and kept it afloat with a plastic watch that housed a quartz movement.

In 1999, Rick Marei approached Mr. Seinet looking for spare parts for his Aquastar Benthos. As part of that conversation, he offered to Mr. Seinet to help him take the brand online — which he ended up doing with Doxa, making them the first large Swiss band to develop e-commerce and a dedicated web presence — but the CEO politely declined his help. In the intervening years, Marei helped relaunch Doxa, Aquadive, Tropic and ISOfrane, and was itching to have a go at Aquastar.

aquastar deepstar on isofrane
Jay Mitchosky

Mr. Seinet had achieved commercial success with his plastic watch and continued producing quartz regatta watches. He wasn't ready to take the brand online in 1999, but in 2018, after many conversations in the intervening years, he was once again approached by Marei and the Synchron Group, and ultimately decided to sell them the brand, including all its stock and tooling.

Review:

In seeking to reissue the Deepstar, Marei had his work cut out for him. "To replicate or reissue a legend is one of the toughest jobs in the business because a legend like the Deepstar is so hard to improve," he said. "But on the other hand it would have been an extremely poor performance to just copy the original from the '60s."

To replicate or reissue a legend is one of the toughest jobs in the business because a legend like the Deepstar is so hard to improve.

So where does that leave us? Well, the first thing you'll notice is that the watch has been upsized slightly, from 38mm to 40mm. While purists (and small-wristed people) may find this regrettable, it's a move that largely makes sense from a commercial standpoint. 40mm seems to be the modern "sweet spot," the diameter about which the fewest people will complain. Personally, I would love to see this watch back down to 38mm, but I understand the reasoning for the size. "We have to get them on-wrist," Marei told me.

Depth is another story: this thing is 14.8mm thick. While this wouldn't bother me so much in a short-sleeve shirt, or a short-sleeve wetsuit, or no shirt, I certainly wouldn't want to try and fit the Deepstar beneath a cuff, and thus I firmly relegate it to "summer watch" territory.

aquastar deepstar chronograph grey
Jay Mitchosky
aquastar deepstar chronograph blue
Jay Mitchosky

Dimensions aside, the new Deepstar is striking. Milled from stainless steel, the case is hefty, but proper proportioning keeps it comfortable (it measures 49mm lug to lug). The final production models will include both a Tropic rubber strap with a signed Aquastar buckle and a Horween shell cordovan leather strap with a signed Aquastar buckle, while a stainless steel beads of rice bracelet with fitted end links will be available in January of 2021. I personally elected to wear my prototype review model on a NATO, as I found this to be most comfortable. With its 20mm lugs, the Deepstar can be fitted to a variety of aftermarket straps.

Some may find the notion of a chronograph that uses pump pushers being waterproof to 200m as implausible, but Marei confirms that this is very much the case: The watch's modern dual o-rings within the pushers, ultra-tight tolerances and a screw-down crown is enough to ensure this water resistance, and the Aquastar team encountered no leaks during dive testing. (The original Deepstar had a patent for plastic o-rings used within the pushers.)

Speaking of those pump pushers: the chronograph action on the Deepstar is ever-so-satisfying. Using the oversized "big eye" counter at 3 o'clock, you can measure up to 30 minute intervals, while keeping track of running seconds at 9 o'clock. (This isn't a traditional sub-register in that there's no time scale, but merely a propeller-shaped hand spinning nakedly against the dial to let you know that the watch is indeed running.)

The dial itself is largely a dead-ringer for that of an original Deepstar: mine was a gorgeous, glossy blue that changed color depending on the light. The applied 6, 9 and 12 o'clock indices are vaguely shovel-shaped, with an inner, lumed portion flanked by silver-colored, wedge-shaped pieces. The remaining hour markers are thick dashes accompanied by small lume dots, while the handset — a sword-shaped minute hand and a rectangular hour hand — features matching, yellowed lume. The cursive Aquastar wordmark adorns the top left quadrant of the dial, while "Deepstar" along with the 20-atmosphere depth rating sits in the lower left left. Overall this makes for a busy dial, but not one that's so busy that it makes reading the time difficult. The modern (though vintage-colored) lume requires a "charge" of course, then lights up just fine and makes for easy nighttime reading.

aquastar deepstar chronograph lume
Jay Mitchosky

The steel, bi-directional bezel is another matter entirely. Thankfully, it has an inner 60-minute scale that can be used as a conventional timing mechanism, because you largely need a physics degree to make computations with the decompression scale: Designed for professional divers who were making multiple dives a day and thus needed to safely calculate surface intervals (time out of the water between dives), the bezel features a unique scale meant to be used in conjunction with a special table — which Aquadive doesn't even plan on supplying with the new watches. Think of the bezel as a purely aesthetic touch at this point meant to recall a more analog time, and if you insist upon diving with a mechanical watch, calculate surface intervals with your dive computer.

The Deepstar's case architecture isn't particularly complex — the entire thing is largely a brushed steel slab in the skin diver vein with a polished, screw-down case back — but it's done at a very high level. A signed, screw-down crown joins the two pump pushers, while the case back isn't notched, but rather has a triangular pattern on the inner surface, which is otherwise adorned with the company logo and name of the watch. Heavy-duty spring bars sit within the 22mm lugs, and are only accessible from within the case (there are no lug holes).

While I unfortunately wasn't able to dive with the Deepstar due to the pandemic, I was able to enjoy the watch for a few weeks in September, during which I flipped between the matching blue ISOfrane rubber dive strap the watch shipped on and one of my old NATO straps. The ISOfrane is the thickest rubber strap known to mankind (I am making this statistic up, but I believe it) and an acquired taste, though it doesn't add any thickness to the watch, given it's two-piece construction. A NATO, on the other hand, will add more perceived depth to an already-thick case, so you'll have to take this into consideration when choosing a suitable strap.

Verdict:

aquastar deepstar chronograph back
Jay Mitchosky

I found the wearing experience to be largely comfortable considering the watch's dimensions, although again, I would personally prefer a 38mm recreation given my preferences and 7" wrist. Case depth is another issue, though it didn't bother me as much so long as I relegated the Deepstar to summer wear in my mind. I certainly couldn't see myself wearing it every day in multiple sartorial situations/types of weather like I can my Submariner, but the Deepstar is an entirely different type of watch for a different end user.

The Deepstar is sufficiently handsome and versatile that it can work with multiple strap types without a problem, and it has a dial you'd be content to gaze upon day in and day out. It's well designed and well built, it comes in multiple dial colors, and its development was supervised by some of the most knowledgeable folks in the dive watch world. Whether it's right for you or not should largely be a question of whether you think the $2,790 (pre-order priced) juice is worth the squeeze, given how specialized a product this is. But there's no question about value, here: compared to its brethren from long-established Swiss behemoths, the Deepstar can certainly compete, and it can do so for a fraction of the cost.

Pre-Order Now

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