You don't have to be a vintage collector to know the famous midcentury chronographs from the likes of Heuer, Breitling, Zenith and Omega. But if you know those watches from back in the 60s and 70s, chances are you also know one called the Nivada Chronomaster. Nivada didn't survive the era of emerging battery-powered watches called the Quartz Crisis, but its name remained high in the consciousness of vintage collectors and was recently revived, along with the Chronomaster.
Arguably the brand's most recognizable model, the resurrected Chronomaster neatly fills a market niche: it offers one of the most classic models of its era, but at a price without much direct competition. It also happens to look as captivating as the vintage model and nicely captures its compelling history. We got to find out how this modern reissue fits into the watch's story and how it feels on a modern wrist.
Case Diameter: 38.3mm
Case Depth: 13.75mm or 14.8mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Sellita SW510 manual or automatic
The Chronomaster looks and wears like a vintage watch because it very accurately replicates an actual 1960s model right down to its size and design details. At 38mm, it feels small for a modern chronograph, but that makes it approachable for thin- to average-wristed individuals who want a wearing experience similar to that of many time-only watches. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is the value for its level of detail, features and looks that the Chronomaster offers at under $2,000.
Who It's For
Collectors who are steeped in the history of 1960s sport watches and the current market for vintage chronographs will have a certain appreciation for this recreation of the Chronomaster. Considering that actual vintage models often cost more (sometimes significantly more) than this homage, it could be seen as a relatively affordable way for those collectors to get the Chronomaster on their wrists — with, of course, the added benefits of modern watchmaking.
Watch enthusiasts not particularly deep in the weeds of vintage patina and reference numbers might also find the Chronomaster appealing — especially those with slim wrists who find most chronographs to be overly bulky. There simply aren't that many Swiss mechanical chronographs with the Chronomaster's captivating 60s look and size available today — and far fewer in its price range.
Quality mechanical chronograph watches under $2k are still rare, but it's exciting that there are indeed some great options. If you want something with the 60s panache of Nivada's Chronomaster, however, that's a bit tougher.
Yema's Speedgraf ($1,499) and bronze Yachtingraf ($1,699) watches are about the closest you'll get, the former giving off a strong motor racing vibe and the latter meant for sailing. Based on vintage models, both use a Seiko automatic chronograph movement and offer a very solid build quality but don't go quite as far into the details as Nivada. There are a couple military-themed watches in this category as well from German brands: Hanhart offers the 417 ES ($1,970) and Limes has its aggressively priced Nightflight (~$1,280).
In many ways, the Nivada Chronomaster feels representative of sporty 1960s chronographs, a genre of watches that holds special fascination for many collectors. Just looking at the Chronomaster, it's easy to understand why: it's a perfect storm of handsome seriousness and fun sportiness that captivates so many fans of this era of watches. Look a bit closer, however, and it's got even more quirks and features than are at first apparent.
The mid-20th century was a time when a range of sports and industries (like diving and aviation) were developing or becoming newly more accessible to the general public — and they all needed timekeepers. It's usually easy to spot a watch made for, say, pilots or race car drivers, and most chronographs of the era were made for a specific use. So, what kind of watch is the Chronomaster, then?
Turns out, it's not so easily labeled. The Chronomaster stands out for being intended as an all-purpose professional watch. It claimed a wide range of possible applications, all accomplished by its chronograph functionality, rotating bezel, design and durability features:
- For divers: 200m of water resistance and a rotating bezel with minute markings.
- For motorsports: a tachymeter scale on the dial's periphery used in conjunction with the chronograph to measure speed.
- For pilots and travelers: 12-hour markings on the bezel (look closely) to track another time zone or count flight hours (the latter for pilots, specifically).
- For physicians and scientists: general use of the chronograph, such as for taking a patient's pulse.
- For sailboat racing: the first five minutes are highlighted in red like a dedicated regatta timer for counting down (marked "5-4-3-2-1") to the race's start.
- For all of the above: durability features including shock resistance, water resistance and robust movements.
No wonder its got a somewhat odd full name, the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver ("CASD"), and that you'll find phrases like "wrist-size computers" and "super-chronograph" used in old advertisements.
You might not use it for any of these things specifically and simply see a handsome, practical watch ready for everyday wear — and therein lies yet another bullet point you can add to this watch's list of versatile uses. For today's Chronomaster wearers, there exists better technology for engaging in any of those activities, but awareness of the features and the charming way they were marketed might make you look at the details a little closer and perhaps appreciate the Chronomaster in a slightly different way overall.
All of those details are included on the modern Chronomaster. Nivada's website even has a feature where you can toggle between images of a vintage and current Chronomaster to see just how closely the replica matches. It's hard to find many visual differences aside from the obvious look of an aged watch versus that of a brand new one. The main updates are what you can typically expect from such a reissue: modern movement, sapphire crystal, more brushed surfaces than were popular back in the day...
A notable difference is that the new Chronomaster is water-resistant only to 100m. That's significantly less impressive than the 200m rating that characterized the original — especially when water resistance is so much more readily achieved now than it was 60 years ago. As it's still a reasonable rating (suitable for swimming) and probably helps keep the price where it is, however, we'll call this an acceptable tradeoff.
Otherwise, the brand went to lengths to offer an accurate reproduction, but there wasn't just one Chronomaster: there were many. Buyers of the Nivada Chronomaster watch also receive a large, coffee-table-style hardcover book by Grégoire Rossier and Anthony Marquié called Chronomaster Only. This is an encyclopedic look at this watch over its lifespan through the Sixties and it catalogs different models and their details.
There are more than 50 variations individually treated in one section of the book. Over the years, Chronomasters maintained their basic features but showed differences in dial colors, hand set designs, text and — notably — sometimes even different brand names. Croton, who sold Nivada watches in the US, was the most significant, but that's a story perhaps best saved for an installment of Watches You Should Know.
Nivada took an interesting approach to honoring the watch's legacy: Each of the 12 available variations of the Chronomaster is based on a specific vintage model. Sure, some brands release various versions of a watch with different options, but this feels more like a genuine tribute to a beloved watch. The model Gear Patrol tested has a manually wound movement, white lume, the arrow-shaped hour hand set and a black dial with black subdials — though there are alternatives for each of these elements and more.
Of the 12 models, eight offer a manually wound version of the Sellita SW510 and four use an automatic version. Automatic winding is convenient, but the manual variants will feel closer to the originals (which were also manual) and it shaves about a millimeter off the watch's total thickness. We didn't get to wear the automatic version but can confirm that with a manual movement this is an eminently easy watch to wear.
The only thing that wasn't so easy was reading some of the dial's features. Not that I'll likely ever need to count down five minutes to the start of a yacht race or measure speed using a tachymeter — but if I did, it'd be difficult in all but perfect lighting conditions. These and the 12-hour markings on the bezel (which I didn't even notice at first) are easier to see in pictures than in person. For the modern wearer, they'll primarily function to give the Chronomaster a fun story, details to discover and a captivating look.
Just about any watch of the Nivada Chronomaster's era with comparable recognizability is either: an actual vintage model or a reproduction by a major brand. In either case, Nivada's modern remake is a more affordable option. This, coupled with the current brand's loving execution and the historical model's own fascinating quirks makes the Chronomaster come together as a hell of a package that's easy to recommend in its price range.