Most of the big Swiss watch companies make incremental changes to their watches with an occasional new reference introduction. IWC Schaffhausen, on the other hand, tends to do wholesale reboots every few years, with new materials, designs, features and a whole new set of special edition spinoff versions. 2014 marks the Aquatimer’s first refresh since its 2009 version, which aroused some concern that IWC had lost a little of what made the Aquatimer unique. This year’s version was a true overhaul of everything from bezel to strap, and the consensus is that the new heir successfully maintains the vaunted Schaffhausen company’s DNA.
One of 2014’s special editions is the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Galapagos Islands” ($11,100). This handsome sports watch, which pays homage to the Galapagos Islands, shares more with the Charles Darwin Foundation than just donations. It’s a prime example of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution — in Aquatimers.
Calibre: IWC calibre 89365
Frequency: 28,800vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 68 hours
Hours, minutes, small seconds
Flyback chronograph elapsed seconds and minutes up to 60
Rotating elapsed time “SafeDive” bezel system
Material: Vulcanized rubber-coated stainless steel
Case Back: Screw-in steel
Water Resistance: 30 ATM (300 meters)
Lumed hands and hour markers
Rubber strap with pin buckle
IWC has a history of experimenting (and succeeding) with different case materials: they were the first watch company to use titanium back in 1973 and have more recently been working with ceramics and carbon fiber. Rubber-coated steel was first introduced in the Galapagos edition of the 2009 Aquatimer and is the most distinguishing characteristic of this year’s Galapagos Islands version; the vulcanized rubber covers every millimeter of the watch (besides the caseback), from bezel to push-pieces to crown, and has a pebbled texture, not unlike that found on some dive gear, making it rugged and durable and lending a decidedly casual, sporty air.
A rubber-coated watch will never look dressy, but that’s not the point. The Galapagos edition has a stealthy, almost tactical look on the wrist. Though it’s a 44-millimeter watch, the black-on-black-on-black scheme has the effect of shrinking it down to a manageable look. The dial of this watch doesn’t stray far from the last Aquatimer, with modern sans serif Arabic numbers and markings in white and signal yellow.
The big news with this year’s evolution is the bezel, which is as unique and singularly adapted as the marine iguana engraved on the watch’s case back. IWC’s never been tied to one bezel paradigm. The first Aquatimer of 1967 had an internal bezel like so many of its Supercompressor-cased brethren. Then in the ’80s, it went external with a design partnership with Porsche Design and then the self-sealing crown internal timing ring of the aforementioned GST series Aquatimer in the 2000s. The new “SafeDive” bezel, as they call it, is neither internal nor external, but both. The grippy outer bezel is linked by a sliding clutch mechanism, moving the elapsed time ring that is under the sapphire glass. It sounds gimmicky and overcomplicated, but it’s nothing short of genius and great fun to play with. The one-way ratchet allows the outer bezel to turn both ways but only move the timing ring anti-clockwise, which is standard for dive watches.
The beating heart of the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Galapagos Islands” is a formidable one. The in-house manufactured calibre 89365 is a column wheel movement with flyback complication that allows for instantaneous reset and restart of the chronograph function. A 60-minute counter at 12:00 is a stripped down variation of the standard 8936x movement that incorporated minutes and hours into one subdial; we wished they’d kept that arrangement for timing events (like surface intervals) longer than one hour. The self-winding calibre has a more than adequate 68-hour power reserve.
Aquatimers going back to that GST Aquatimer of the early ’00s have featured some form of quick-change strap system, which allows the strap of the watch to be quickly unclipped and swapped for a bracelet or velcro dive strap. The last iteration of Aquatimer lacked spring bars entirely, which was disconcerting despite the firm fit of the locking strap mechanism. The new series now has bars that hook onto the strap, but they aren’t removable, so you’re still unable to use aftermarket straps other than one-piece “NATO-style” straps — which is what we did when diving with it.
Charles Darwin believed that the most adaptable species would always be the most successful. Which is why, had he lived in modern times, he may well have strapped one of these latest Aquatimers onto his suntanned wrist. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a pioneering biologist to appreciate IWC’s incorporation of all they’ve learned about building dive watches. You just need a hefty watch fund and a love of black rubberized steel. And maybe iguanas.