Can You Reinvent a Dive Watch Classic? Aquastar Says Yes

The Aquastar Deepstar II makes a vintage legend more accessible than ever.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Zen Love

What if quirky '60s watch design never ran headlong into the quartz crisis that ravaged the industry in the 1970s and '80s? That's the concept behind the next chapter in the story of a recently resurrected, obscure dive watch brand. Aquastar's most remembered product from the '60s is called the Deepstar — a chronograph diver with an offbeat, asymmetric, unforgettable look. In the modern spirit of reissues, that watch returned in 2020 with a largely faithful execution, but the new Deepstar II takes the design in a new direction: It offers essentially that watch's doppelgänger but as a simple diver, sans chronograph — and in a more affordable and wearable package than ever.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Aquastar

Key Specs:

Model: Aquastar Deepstar II
Case Diameter: 36.75
Case Depth:
12mm
Water Resistance:
200m
Movement:
Sellita SW-290 automatic
Price:
$1,890

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Notable

As its name implies, the Aquastar Deepstar II is not a reissue but a modern sequel. Although there was a watch that looked very much like it in the original 1960s Deepstar, and again in its 2020s Chronograph Re-Edition, there has never been an Aquastar watch like this one before. The main difference in this subsequent moviefilm is that the design of the original, which was a chronograph, has been applied to a three-hand automatic watch. That means less functionality and direct connection to the original, but also a smaller (36.75mm), slimmer (12mm) case and significantly more affordable price (about $1,700 less) for something with almost as much quirk, character and backstory.

Who It's For

This is a watch made by and for enthusiasts. It's not so much for casual watch shoppers, nor is it for aquanauts like those who wore the original Aquastar watches (from navy divers to Jacques-Yves Cousteau's team). You'd definitely want to stick to your dive computers today for determining dive times, surface intervals and decompression times rather than rely on the Deepstar's specialized bezel — but if you want to bring a watch like this diving for shits and giggles, it would definitely be up to the task in terms of general dive watch capabilities like water resistance (200m).

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Aquastar

Although many buyers of the Aquastar Deepstar will likely be fans who appreciate it as an alternative to an expensive vintage example, the unique retro design might even speak to more casual enthusiasts with a taste for '60s and '70s design. For those in either camp who find the Deepstar Chronograph too large or too pricey, the Deepstar II offers an alternative that feels like it respects the original's history.

Alternatives

An alternative to this? That's a tough one. You might find a similar attraction in "big eye" chronographs like the Massena Lab Uni-Racer ($3,495) or Farer Monopusher ($1,995), those with asymmetrically placed 9 o'clock subdials like, say, many Panerai models (try a nice Submersible for $10,000) or any number of watches with contrasting motifs known as "panda dials." If you like the case style of the Deepstar, you can find something similar in watches termed "skin divers," a good example being Seiko's modern reinterpretation of its 1965 dive watch like the SPB series (~$1,200). But I challenge you to find something that packs all the Deepstar's offbeat elements into a single package.

Although it doesn't have the backstory or off-kilter aesthetics of the Deepstar, a worthy alternative that comes to mind is the Serica 5303 ($1,200). It's the stick-plus-dot indices and double-scale bezel that are most reminiscent to me, but it's also a small-wearing (39mm) dive watch with a three-hand automatic movement, plenty of personality and a generally '60s vibe.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Zen Love

Review

The original Aquastar Deepstar chronograph was one of those dive watches of lore sold only in dive shops — and not jewelry stores — back in the '60s. Diving was more dangerous and less accessible back then than today, and such watches were essential diving equipment (which gives them a special mystique for modern collectors.) This led to purpose-built, function-first watches often with experimental designs, but the Aquastar Deepstar is a particularly quirky and obscure specimen. This only makes it more fun and special for the niche segment of "in-the-know" collectors.

The Deepstar and its history (read more about it here) are baked into this "part II," but vintage reissues can raise all kinds of wooly topics: Are modern remakes and resurrected brands any different than homages? Do design tweaks and modern upgrades like sapphire crystal and automatic movements make such vintage reissues less authentic? Does it matter? These are questions watch nerds can debate endlessly, and which can never be fully or satisfactorily answered.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Zen Love

And if those questions quickly get very tangled and meta, then something like the Deepstar II only compounds the contradictions: It uses almost the exact design of the vintage chronograph but adapts it to offer a modern three-hand automatic dive watch unlike anything Aquastar ever made. The modern Aquastar brand, resurrected and helmed by expert vintage dive watch revivalist Rick Marei, is taking liberties with the concept that might be a step too far for hardcore "purists" — but if anybody can do the concept justice, it's Marei. The brand even consulted the inventor of the original Deepstar, Marc Jasinski, in creating the Deepstar II.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Aquastar

If you put the Deepstar II next to the modern Deepstar Chronograph, you'd notice a few differences right away. First, all of the chronograph features are gone: the pushers, the central seconds hand and the 30-minute totalizer. That 30-minute totalizer on the Chronograph is what gave it that distinct look, but the oversized, contrasting subdial has been maintained as a design feature — only in the Deepstar II it's situated at 9 o'clock (instead of 3 o'clock) and houses the main time's running seconds. It replaces the quirky propeller-like structure that indicated the running seconds on the Chronograph version.

Other than that, and details like "Deepstar II" text on the dial, the design and execution are almost identical. The other major difference is in the watch's size: At 36.75mm wide and 12mm thick, this is going to be better suited to more wrists than the more chunkily proportioned chronograph as well as closer to the size of the vintage watch — and, in that sense, perhaps offer an even more faithful wearing experience.

A sub-37mm diameter might sound small for modern watch tastes, but other factors help the Deepstar II wear superbly. These would be the longish shape of the case with a lug-to-lug distance of 46.5mm and a thin bezel that allows more visual prominence of the dial aperture. The proportions are fantastic, but therein lies one complaint: it's made to accommodate 19mm-width straps, which are uncommon — and the only one I had on hand was a leather racing strap that, while it looks good, isn't the most appropriate for a dive watch like this. It comes on seatbelt-style NATO strap with Tropic rubber strap and beads-of-rice bracelet options (as on my review unit) at additional cost.

aquastar deepstar ii watch
Zen Love

The Deepstar, in fact, works exceptionally well as a plain (three-hand) dive watch, and doesn't feel incomplete for lacking a chronograph. In fact, the Deepstar Chronograph didn't give 100% chrono energy to begin with since it lacked the usual two-subdial look, making the switch to a three-hander easier. Theoretically, you could still mostly use it as originally intended — although you'd need the Aquastar dive tables based on those developed by the French navy to use the bezel's scales. More likely, it'll be a relatively versatile daily wear that stands out for its design and catches the eye even from a distance.

Verdict

Most watches that have three-hand and chronograph versions are quite different looking from one another, but the Aquastar Deepstar II is remarkable for cleverly maintaining the original's look. As a dive watch, it feels completely natural in its three-hand incarnation. This isn't a watch for everyone, but if you're like me, you'll find the modern specs to be an upgrade from vintage watches; its to be utterly unique; and that its wearability and value is worth sacrificing the chrono.

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