Our Predictions In The Diver’s Category Of The 2019 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG)
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2019 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève predictions in which the team picks favorites and explains why.
The panelists are:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
Martin Green (MG), resident gentleman
Sean Li (SL), editorial director of Blackbird Watch Manual
Tim Mosso (TM), watch specialist and media director of pre-owned watch retailer Watchbox
Note: as jury members, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr and resident collector GaryG do not take part in these early predictions.
The GPHG foundation describes the Diver’s category for watches entered as “watches linked to the world of diving, whose functions, materials and design are suited to this activity.”
MG: As a diver, I know the importance of being able to read your watch at a glance under water. Yes, we all have diving computers so the watch is a backup, but an essential one. The problem is that over the years, the diver’s watch has become more of a fashion statement than a functional tool. As a result, we have watches with funky displays that call themselves “diver’s watches.” That is fine as long as you don’t wear them underwater.
IS: As far as I’m concerned, there are three main criteria on which to judge a diver’s watch: 1) that it is water resistant to at least 200 meters; 2) that the hands are extremely legible; and 3) that the bezel rotates in one direction only.
JM: In this category we often find watches that are traditional diving styles built to the max and avant-garde designs that just so happen to be waterproof to a depth suitable for diving. This year, we have similar, but there are also a couple standouts that consider issues with diving watches and address them in novel ways to make them dramatically more suited to diving than one might think. There is also one watch that at first glance you may dismiss within this category, but on closer inspection realize it may just have the winning feature for the year.
SL: An interesting new category this year, although I think one that will be very unpredictable. After all, many collectors have diving watches that have never been deeper than the swimming pool (guilty as charged). The technical requirements for being able to qualify a watch as diver are much more stringent than what the GPHG dictates, so it’s not easy to know how these should really be interpreted.
TM: This category feels like the unofficial grand prize. Sure, the Aiguille d’Or is the “Best Picture” of watchmaking’s Academy Awards. But given the sheer dominance of dive watches in every aspect of the hobby, winning the dive watch title at the GPHG seems roughly equivalent to “Best Director” or “Best Actor.” It’s a parallel prize of nearly equal pomp.
De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu
SL: I have to admit, my opinion of this watch has been going back and forth; at first glance, it looks like a “regular” De Bethune, and I couldn’t fathom (no pun intended) how it was presented as a diver’s watch. Then I learned about the way it’s evolved with the integrated lighting system, rotating bezel, the “more than 100-meter” water resistance and thought that De Bethune might’ve actually made a true diver’s watch.
Unfortunately, the light seems to wash out the entire dial. I’m not sure the luminous materials are sufficient to see clearly at any significant depth, and the water resistance is only 105 meters. I know that’s more than enough as a casual sports watch, and in spite of all this I do like the quirkiness of this watch; it’s just not enough if we’re seriously considering the suitability of the watch for diving.
TM: The De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu isn’t the L’Auberson mini-manufacture’s first sports watch, but it’s easily the most committed effort to date; 2015’s Grand Sport felt like a knee-jerk attempt to package the 2011 Aiguille d’Or winner in a 100-meter case. The Grand Bleu better reflects clean-sheet design and watchmaker Denis Flageollet’s imagination.
De Bethune sets itself apart with a dynamic lighting system that drives a dynamo and four LEDs to provide Close Encounters-worthy light shows. Seriously, it can double as a flashlight.
Yeah, HYT did this first, but those H4s were minimally water resistant and maximally huge; I couldn’t wear those monsters. De Bethune is putting active luminescence to use on a watch with aquatic intent. The company’s signature floating lugs assure security and comfort. This is a 44 mm titanium skin suit that anyone should be able to wear with ease; 12.8 mm thickness astounds given two complications and a five-day power reserve.
The DB28GS feels like a Richard Mille albeit with more integrity about its pricing and more ambition in employing its own innovations. Richard Milles with this much proprietary tech cost nearly seven figures, the De Bethune costs five.
Disclosure: I spent a week wearing the prototype of this watch, so for sentimental reasons, I’d be glad to see it win.
JM: My winner is the decidedly avant-garde De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu for one single reason: it contains a mechanical dynamo that powers a set of LED lights to illuminate the dial and bezel to provide clear, obvious, and depth-independent indications. The biggest problem with diving watches is that after only a few feet of depth, color information starts to be filtered out by the water, turning your bright watch into a dull, low-contrast mush. Super strong lume and great dial design can’t beat physics, so for any somewhat deep diving, and especially night diving, most watches are nearly useless without a diving flashlight (which you’d have, but still).
The DB28GS Grand Blue is a unique take on the D28GS sport line, and features everything we’ve come to like from De Bethune. But it has a bezel with translucent cutouts that allow the glowing LEDs to shine out, providing perfect indication in any level of light where the minute hand and bezel numerals happen to be. Driven by the mainspring of the watch and activated by a large button on the bottom edge of the case, the lights are perfect for use while diving and a surprising addition that I think, even in spite of the non-traditional design, will likely make this a winner of the diving category.
IS: The De Bethune Grand Bleu is the watch I’d most like to have from this group. The Black Badger lume proprietary to De Bethune combined with internal illumination should ensure excellent legibility at depth; however, I’m concerned that the open dial, while offering an excellent view of the movement, also adds unnecessary visual complexity. There may be flashes of light from the beautifully polished surfaces that could distract from the job at hand.
But the main reason that I don’t think that the Grand Bleu is in contention here is its 100-meter water resistance. That’s a sports watch for me, not a diver’s watch.
Everything Is Possible: De Bethune DB28 GS
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/db28gs-grand-bleu.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu
Case: 44 x 12.8 mm, grade 5 titanium and black zirconium with Blue Moon Black Badger photoluminescent material; water resistance 100 m
Movement: manually wound Caliber DB2080, 5-day (120-hour) power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, silicon escape wheel, self-regulating twin spring barrels, titanium/white gold balance wheel, triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve, mechanical dial lighting, plate and barrel bridge in titanium
Price: 91,500 Swiss francs
SL: This watch exemplifies the dilemma I mentioned above; for all intents and purposes, it looks and feels like a diver’s watch. You have the large, sturdy, undeniably sporty case, unidirectional bezel, 300 m water resistance, and luminous hands. However, you’ll notice that Longines itself doesn’t call it a diver’s watch because it doesn’t ascribe fully to the ISO 6425 norm, and as such cannot officially gain that designation. I do like it though on a personal basis.
TM: Longines undoubtedly offers a competent product, and I imagine owners will be happy with their watches . . . but, seriously, what is this watch doing among the pre-selections? There’s nothing inside or outside to suggest that this HydroConquest is a landmark product deserving of an award. Were eligible dive-class candidates really so scarce this year?
IS: Black and white: high contrast doesn’t get any higher than that and coupled with chunky Super-LumiNova-filled hands and markers, excellent legibility is assured. Unidirectional bezel and a healthy 300-meter water resistance boost the Longines HydroConquest into my top two. At 3,500 Swiss francs, the price is very competitive. But the icing on the cake for me is the scratch-resistant ceramic case making the HydroConquest a real diver’s tool watch and my pick as the winner of this category.
JM: Ahh, the Longines HydroConquest, a watch with nothing wrong functionally or aesthetically that will probably serve its purpose perfectly adequately. But that is where the glowing praise ends as it is as good as any basic diving watch but doesn’t excite passion or demonstrate innovation, Ian. It features a ceramic case, something great for wearability but now considered average for many watches. The contrast is good, but nothing groundbreaking. Every feature is good, but not exceptional, and functionality is comfortably middle of the road. Don’t get me wrong, this is likely a great watch and at CHF 3,500 it is the most accessible watch in the category. But it doesn’t feel like a standout really in any way and so it sadly doesn’t have much chance of winning with the competition it’s facing.
MG: There are only two watches in this category that I would take below the surface with me, though, Joshua: the Longines HydroConquest and the Seiko LX . . .
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/hydroconquest.
Quick Facts Longines HydroConquest
Case: 43 mm x 14.1, ceramic; water resistance 300 m
Movement: automatic Caliber L888.3 (base ETA A31.L01), 25,200 vph frequency, power reserve 64 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: €3,220/6,500 Swiss francs
Reservoir Hydrosphere Blackfin
SL: With all due respect to Reservoir, I’m really not convinced that a retrograde hand is the most suitable for diving. I understand that the brand’s inspiration is vintage car gauges, and they’ve extrapolated that to gauges from SCUBA tanks here, but I don’t feel that it translated very well. Just looking at that dual graduated bezel gives me an anxiety attack.
IS: With its unidirectional bezel and 250-meter water resistance, the Reservoir Hydrosphere Blackfin meets two of my three criteria. What lets it down in this category though is the thin minute hand, which means low legibility under poor lighting conditions. The helium valve says “diver,” but the slim, lume-free minute hand says style over (deep-water) substance. And a retrograde hand gives me doubts as well. The dial looks like what it is: inspired by automotive (I don’t see diver’s tank gauge at all, Sean). That might look good above ground but doesn’t work for me as a serious tool diver’s watch.
JM: The Reservoir Hydrosphere Blackfin looks like it could be a great diving watch with bold design cues that resemble a gauge, leading to intuitive reading of the dial. But it also has a retrograde minute display, meaning that a direct reading of elapsed minutes is always going to be a mental calculation if the dive lasts past the top of the hour. No matter how intuitive it seems to be, making elapsed time a more difficult thing to understand is dangerous for a diving watch, so I feel like this probably disqualifies the Hydrosphere Blackfin for usability concerns even though I really like the design (and a retrograde minute jump hour watch is always a favorite for me).
TM: Reservoir of Paris returns after receiving its first nomination in the 2018 Challenge category. La Chaux-de-Fonds-based Télôs Watch S.A., of Harry Winston Opus 14 fame, handles engineering and assembly of this watch, so the pedigree is impressive. Even more impressive is the overall re-think of the dive watch class – arguably the industry’s most crowded and duplicative category.
While every Reservoir watch includes the power reserve, a retrograde minute scale, and a jump hour, the company’s incorporation of its “house” module into a dive product is imaginative and seamless. Legibility of the critical minutes’ scale is excellent; the dive bezel is designed specifically to work with a retrograde indicator rather than circular minutes. The matte dial is anti-reflective, and the medley of colors is playful but not distracting.
Small details and ergonomics compound the legitimacy of Reservoir’s claim to the Diver’s category win. Lugless construction ensures an easy fit on even small wrists; the bracelet is upscale and includes a fold-out extension. Lume is superb, and Reservoir thoughtfully illuminates the entire bezel for easier reference. The ceramic bezel insert is upscale and practical; a helium escape valve on a sub-$5,000 watch is fatuous but fabulous. Finally, the three-year warranty remains 50 percent more than the industry standard, and that’s worth celebrating by itself.
Reservoir defied a genre-wide clone culture and built a dive watch like none other, which features three complications, which functions without compromise, and which costs CHF 4,300. This watch should win the category.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/hydrosphere-blackfin.
Quick Facts Reservoir Hydrosphere Blackfin
Case: 45 x 14.9 mm, stainless steel; water resistance 250 m
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2 base, 37-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, ETAchron regulation; Télôs Watch S.A. module exclusive to Reservoir
Functions: hacking retrograde minutes, jumping hours; power reserve indicator
Remark: 3-year warranty
Price: 4,300 Swiss francs
Ressence Type 5N
IS: While the Ressence Type 5’s fluid-filled, refraction-free dial makes for excellent legibility over a wide range of viewing angles, and while not specifically indicated I assume that the bezel is unidirectional as per ISO 6425, a 100-meter water resistance make this more a surface water sport watch for me rather than a serious diver’s watch. There’s no doubt that it is a certified diver’s watch and I’d love to own a Type 5 as I’m a fan of both the technology and the brand, but it’s not a contender for me in this category. It’s a strong contender for my wrist, though!
SL: This is one of the few pre-selected watches that can officially be called a diver’s watch as it does follow the ISO 6425 criteria. Ressence’s signature display, particularly with the oil-filled dial, lends itself exceptionally well as there’s no refraction, so it maintains optimum legibility underwater. Perhaps the only details I would’ve liked to see are more rugged ergonomics that would make the watch feel better suited for sports activities.
TM: I adore nearly every Ressence product, so this Type 5N “Night Blue” is my kind of diver. That said, a version of it was nominated for the GPHG Sport category in 2016 and only a new color distinguishes this year’s model from that one. As with the De Bethune, 100-meter water resistance means this barely qualifies as a diver, but it shares the DB28GS and Reservoir’s effortless defiance of dive genre clichés.
The Type 5 remains a blue-sky re-think of sports watch conventions and a Ressence to the core. These are a pleasure to wear, the center of attention at any collector meetup, and emblematic of the joy and imagination that drives the best of independent horology. But a charismatic design from 2015 shouldn’t win a class dedicated to this year’s most innovative diver.
JM: This is a watch you would never expect to be a fantastic diving watch unless you’ve experienced one of the main problems with watches while diving: reflection. For pretty much every watch, the realities of a smooth surface and a pocket of air creates a perfect mirror at certain angles, leading to many diving watches being completely unreadable unless viewed from straight on. It means glancing at your watch to check your time is a bit more involved and annoying, but the Ressence Type 5 doesn’t have this problem.
With a domed sapphire crystal that is internally filled with oil to create the illusion that the indications are actually on the surface of it, this makes any viewing angle crystal clear and distortion free. The Type 5 is one of the easiest watches to read underwater for this reason, and the innovation definitely sets this watch apart. Alas, the dial and bezel design is not completely obvious and clean for understanding elapsed time as it is a satellite system that keeps the dial changing visually, which might confuse a diver when actually in the water. Any hesitation could be dangerous, so without an instantly obvious readout I think the Type 5 falls short as the best dive watch even with its perfect legibility with no reflection.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/type-5.
Quick Facts Ressence Type 5N
Case: 46 x 15.5 mm, titanium, no crown, water resistant to 100 m
Movement: automatic Caliber ETA 2824-2 base with patented ROCS 5 module comprising 142 components, filled with oil, 36-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 100 pieces
Price: 31,800 Swiss francs
Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s
TM: Seiko’s Prospex LX Line Diver’s SNR029 is a hell of a Grand Seiko. At least, it seems that way given a retail price of CHF 6,900; this is significantly more than the long-running Grand Seiko Spring Drive Diver SBGA229. Mechanically and dimensionally, the “229” and the “029” are almost identical equipment; the SBGA229 even started life as the SBGA029, so even the names are shockingly close. What’s an extra 100 meters of (Seiko) water resistance worth to you?
Aside from that depth-distinction, the 2019 SNR029 is a premium-priced near-duplicate of a Grand Seiko product that has been around since 2008. Does that make sense to anyone? Aside from the question of whether Seiko and Grand Seiko prices should overlap this much, product specs and lineup planning need to be better coordinated between these ostensibly separate brand portfolios.
SL: Within this category, this has to be one of the leading contenders because it really does tick all the boxes as a true diver’s watch. It’s sturdy, easily legible, and well constructed. On top of that, this is the first of Seiko’s collaborations with famous designer Ken Okuyama, who has brought his keen eye to a number of details to elevate the Prospex LX line’s aesthetics, giving it a sporty elegance that makes it well suited for daily activities as well.
IS: The Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s has all that it takes to win this category for me, and I would not be at all surprised if a few of my colleagues here selected it as their winner: 300-meter water resistance, unidirectional bezel, high-legibility chunky lume-filled hands and markers, all complemented by a light-but-strong titanium case and no-nonsense get-the-job-done styling.
The offset crown is also a nice touch as it increases comfort on this relatively large watch. I can easily see this Seiko being the first choice for many, but for me it comes in at number two as I feel that the Longines has a slight edge in being a pure tool watch in this category. But that’s a close call and not far from a tie for me.
MG: The only reason that I am picking the Seiko over the Longines, Ian, is that the hour markers and hands are slightly larger with more luminous material, which I know I would appreciate below the waterline. A remark that I feel compelled to make in this matter is that I am slightly biased as I usually have a Seiko strapped to my wrist when diving, although it is a far more modest Prospex than this one.
JM: The absolute best traditional diving watch design in the category, the Seiko Prospex LX Diver is the diving watch that a diver with a military background probably would get. The Spring Drive movement inside is good for one second per day accuracy while being temperature and shock resistant, and the case execution is tough and robust with an easy-to-manipulate crown and bezel.
The titanium case and large, lume-covered hour indicators matched with chunky hands makes this easy to use and easy to see at depth. It looks exactly like a diving watch would if you combined all the most popular design cues from the last 70 years. This is why it is a strong diving watch, but also why I don’t think it will win: it is a touch too expected. It has everything you could want and is made incredibly well, but it plays it a bit safe, common for Seiko, so I fear that will be to its detriment here.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/prospex-lx-line-divers.
Quick Facts Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s
Case: 44.8 x 15.7 mm, titanium, water resistance 300 m
Movement: Spring Drive Caliber 5R, 72-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve indication
Price: 6,900 Swiss francs
Ulysse Nardin Diver Great White
SL: For a brand that vaunts its marine connections so much, I would’ve expected more functionality out of its diver’s watch. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it: there’s a great caliber, more than enough water resistance, and a unidirectional bezel. But it feels as though there’s more style than substance. Perhaps I’m just having trouble understanding this one given my preconceptions of what a diver’s watch should look like.
JM: The Ulysse Nardin Diver Great White’s lack of contrast may come back to haunt the designers should they actually use it under water. High contrast helps with readability, and unless the bezel can glow as bright as day with clear delineation between the numbers and the white background of the bezel (which it doesn’t as the bezel doesn’t contain lume), it will become useless after only a few meters of depth. Aesthetic design loses when functionality is compromised, and I fear this watch would perform rather poorly due to is nearly non-existent contrast. For that reason it is a far cry from winning this category in my mind.
TM: Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Diver Chronometer was one of the top new dive watches of 2018, and I can’t hide my enthusiasm for this toothy second act, Joshua.
There’s a hell of a lot to love if you can get past the usual Ulysse Nardin weirdness. Yes, the case back Great White reminds me of UN’s weird “flying shark” ad campaign, and, yes, it’s a diver with small seconds and a power reserve. That said, cheers to the UN team for creating a diver that’s not another Blancpain/Rolex clone.
The dial hews to UN’s “marine chronometer” design theme without impeding functionality in any fashion. The Great White’s grainy metallic dial base is industrial chic; its blue accents pop.
The 44 mm size would seem dated if this weren’t a functional watch designed to be seen in dark and deep places; the 13.3 mm thickness is world-class packaging for an aggressive diver. I consider the bezel action on these to be among the best I’ve tested. The movement offers more endurance (60 hours) and technology (in-house silicon escapement, hairspring) than nearly all of the sub-$10,000 competition. UN’s long-running articulated strap looks funky but fits like a charm.
If not for paradigm-challenging entries from De Bethune and Reservoir, UN would have landed the big fish.
IS: Ulysse Nardin really knows how to make great nautical watches Tim, and the Diver Great White is no exception: 300-meter water resistance, unidirectional bezel, large Super-LumiNova-filled high-legibility hands and markers, titanium case, and a silicon escapement all count in its favor.
The only reason I’m not placing the Great White higher is that I feel that as good as the low-light legibility is likely to be, both the Seiko and Longines have the edge on it in that respect.
For more please visit gphg.org/horlogerie/en/watches/diver-great-white.
Quick Facts Ulysse Nardin Diver Great White
Case: 44 x 13.3 mm, titanium
Movement: automatic Caliber UN-118, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 60 hours, silicon escapement
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, power reserve indication
Limitation: 300 pieces
Price: 8,900 Swiss francs
Martin: Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s
Sean: Seiko Prospex LX Line Diver’s
Tim: Reservoir Hydrosphere Blackfin
Joshua: De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu
Ian: Longines HydroConquest