Welcome to Deep Dive, in which we test dive watches both new and vintage beneath the waves in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. This time, we’re off the coast of Bonaire in the Caribbean with the Aquadive Bathyscaphe.
Back in the 1960s, Aquadive built dive watches, and only dive watches. These purpose-driven timepieces were standard fare among SCUBA divers who would see them in magazine ads, in local dive shops, or on the wrists of their fellow divers. Aquadive made a wide assortment of models, from snorkeling watches to enormous electronic models with oil-filled depth gauges for professional divers. But Aquadive, like so many other watch brands, didn’t survive the ascendency of electronic quartz watches. They went kaput in the 1980s.
In 2011, avid dive watch collector Rick Marei brought Aquadive back to life, first with watches built into new-old-stock cases he acquired along with the company. Those are all gone now, so today Aquadive produces its cases in Germany, and it sources its movements and performs assembly in Switzerland. The newly designed Aquadive Bathyscaphe is the brand’s current flagship model, and this new watch is loosely based on that large watch with the depth gauge, the legendary Aquadive Model 50.
The Aquadive Bathyscaphe measures 43mm across, but for fit you’ll want to know that it’s only 49mm from lug to lug, making this seemingly large watch wear quite comfortably even on small wrists. It’s 15mm tall, which is not small, but the height is mostly due to the tall bezel — which turns out to be an important feature. Expect a large and heavy diver, but one that will fit lots of folks comfortably.
With 1,000 meters of water resistance (3,330’), the Bathyscaphe is not fooling around. Sure, you don’t need all that capability as a casual SCUBA diver, but remember that extreme depths will test the seals of any watch. This one is going to hold steady.
Today’s dive watches are so often marketed as fashion statements that it’s become relatively rare for a company to design one as a straight-up, thoroughbred diving tool. The Aquadive Bathyscaphe is just such a rarity. It doesn’t look entirely out of place with a casual, rugged outfit (let’s say a work shirt, jeans, and boots), but the Bathyscaphe really begs to be worn in and around the water. Better yet, it loves to go deep, and it looks entirely at home snaking around the jagged edges of a sunken freighter, tunneling through a coral cave, or coming face-to-face with a shark.
Diving off the Dutch island Bonaire for a week, and again off of Grand Cayman for a few days (both in the Western Caribbean), the Bathyscaphe proved to be a most trusty companion underwater and above. I’ve scratched a couple sapphire watch crystals and banged up my share of bezels, and I’ve only done that while SCUBA diving. The abuse arises when hoisting heavy aluminum tanks into the back of pickup trucks, reaching an arm through a buoyancy compensation device (BCD) and straight into some hard bit of boat rigging, or lifting myself onto a concrete slab with 16 lbs. of lead weights around my waist as ocean waves blithely toss me to and fro. Some watches might look like badass divers, but they ultimately succumb to damage in real diving conditions. Meanwhile the Aquadive Bathyscaphe takes a serious beating unscathed.
The reason the Bathyscaphe is so rugged goes back to Aquadive’s history of designing exclusively purpose-built dive watches. Consider whether you’d prefer a Cadillac SUV or a Land Rover Defender for actual off-road driving. Right — you chose the Rover because that company had been perfecting tough, capable off-road vehicles when Cadillac was still building land yachts. You can’t fast-forward that evolution; it’s just too much hard-earned RnD -— year in, year out — for anyone to imitate.
And that’s exactly why you’d choose an Aquadive for diving. Its design is an accumulation of small improvements that add up to a seriously capable dive watch, and not some fashion statement. Though, ironically, the Aquadive’s bonafides as a tool make it an even cooler fashion statement for some of us. When you get bored with bitching and moaning about date window placement or an extra millimeter here and there, it’s refreshing to find a dive watch that reminds us that these are tools, not toys. Strap it on, stop fussing, and go do stuff.
What specifically makes the Aquadive Bathyscaphe so capable? First of all, it’s the case and bezel. The wide-flanged cushion case (not entirely unlike a Doxa SUB) creates a protective wall around the watch. Similarly, the tall beefy bezel and it’s ultra-hard ceramic insert protect the flat sapphire crystal. The mounting holes for the spring bars are deeply inset into the stout lugs, and the spring bars themselves are fat and inspire confidence. The provided Isofrane strap is a rubber affair that’s become an industry standard for reliability and comfort, either on your skin or over a wetsuit. Add in the 1,000 meters of water resistance, the unrivaled Super-LumiNova lume, and the proven ETA 2836-2 automatic movement, and we’re talking about a watch that’ll just waltz through daily abuses.
Underwater, the legibility of the Aquadive Bathyscaphe is unparalleled. Super-LumiNova is standard stuff, but I wonder if there’s a secret sauce here? It’s really, really bright. Swimming under the shadow of a wreck at 95 feet, the dial lit up like Times Square. And the amount of lume on the bezel makes it really easy to read exact timings at depth. Again, it’s all about performance.
Another important feature for diving performance is bezel action. When your hands are numb with cold, or bound up in neoprene, you’re going to want a bezel that’s easy to grip and turn, but not so easy that it’ll get moved around without your consent. I was suspicious of this one because the bezel slopes up toward the crystal, which has proven a slippery proposition on other watches. But the bezel on the Aquadive Bathyscaphe is tall, and the coin edge is super sharp, so it proves to be easy to grip and turn. Further, that sloping bezel is a safety measure of sorts, because a bezel that overhangs the case can latch onto rocks, or coral, or any of the countless obstacles we encounter when diving.
There’s no need to overthink the Aquadive Bathyscaphe. It’s a dedicated thoroughbred dive tool with a professional lineage that assures its legacy as such. For those who have come to love tool watches as tools, the Bathyscaphe will scratch that itch. For desk divers who just want a cool fashion accessory, perhaps the Bathyscaphe will have you reconsider fussy fashion concerns in favor of a serious tool with serious cred.
Numerous versions of the Aquadive are available beginning at $1,990 direct.