Forget about the usual suspects that are Rolex, Omega, Blancpain or Seiko. The world of dive watches is full of surprises, of smaller brands that are to be considered hidden gems… And when you start to dig into the archives of the dive watch history and forget about mainstream models, there are some fascinating vintage watches to discover. Such an example is the Aquastar Deepstar, a watch that I rediscovered when publishing a vintage column. The kind of watch you secretly wish to see coming back. And earlier this year, it did make its return. Having covered the launch of the 2020 Aquastar Deepstar Re-Edition, I wanted to experience it in the metal. So, diving suit on, scuba tank charged, let’s look at it.
As said, the dive watch industry in the 1960s was pro-li-fic. While a wider audience will have in mind the classics – Submariner, Seamaster, Fifty Fathoms – there were countless smaller brands building dive watches, assembling parts from suppliers to create recreational or professional pieces. Some niche or specialised brands found success and have recently resurfaced, such as Doxa (which has something to do with the watch we review today). Many, however, felt into oblivion and only remained known by experts or seasoned dive watch enthusiasts.
Aquastar is among those brands, a company with a rich history, active mostly during the 1960s and 1970s, producing niche products, and that is today known only by seasoned watch enthusiasts and vintage collectors, but not by a mainstream watch audience. The story of Aquastar starts in 1962, when it was founded by Frédéric Robert, a diver, a sailor, a watchmaker and a mathematician. Born in a family of watchmakers, Robert took over the brand JeanRichard from his father and soon changed the name from JeanRichard to Aquastar to reflect his plan to create professional dive watches and instruments. The brand earned credibility thanks to multiple patents, and for each of them, a new Aquastar family member was created.
The business model of Aquastar was, back in the days, relatively classic, however, different from what we’re used nowadays. As professionally-oriented instruments, Aquastar watches were only available through professional diving-equipment outlets and were seldom offered on a large scale to retail distributors – which explains its modest commercial success.
The vintage Deepstar, and the comeback
Two watches perfectly represent the spirit behind Aquastar. The first is the Seatime, which was made available to the general public through retail outlets until 1982. The second is the Aquastar Deepstar, an unusual, instrumental diving chronograph with a unique personality. Launched in 1965-66, it featured a 100m water-resistant case with integrated lugs made of stainless steel and equipped with a specific bezel with two scales. The central one was used for timing dives, the outer one was a successive/multiple dive non-decompression table calculator.
Most of the originality of the Aquastar Deepstar came from its hybrid combination of diving elements with a chronograph, as well as the unusual yet appealing layout of its dial – single contrasting counter and running indicator at 9 o’clock. The watch was powered by a hand-wound Valjoux 23, a 17-jewel column-wheel chronograph. The dial was available in dark purple and in this nice sunray-brushed grey colour.
In 1974 Frédéric Robert retired and in 1975 Aquastar was acquired by the Eren Group, which implemented a more mainstream strategy. In 1982, the brand was acquired by Marc Seinet, an avid sailor and watchmaker and the brand continued the production of mechanical, quartz and LED regatta watches between 1983 until 2018.
But the story of the rebirth of Aquastar as we see it today has to do with Rick Marei, the man behind the resurrection of many dive-oriented brands. Marei was the figure behind the return of the Doxa Sub in 2001, as well as relaunching ISOfrane and Tropic straps (under the Synchron group). After several years of discussions, Marei was able to acquire Aquastar with all its old stock, toolings, spare parts and all its blueprints and documentation. And here’s the first “new” Aquastar, which had to be the Deepstar, the most emblematic watch of the company.
The Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph Re-Edition
So what is the new Aquastar Deepstar? Well, to make it short, a niche, unusual, faithful recreation of a professional watch. Just like his other brand Aquadive, as well as the other companies under the SYNCHRON Uhrenmanufaktur (Tropic and ISOfrane straps), Rick Marei has no interest in luxury items. You won’t find desk-diving objects here, but solely professionally-oriented watches and accessories, inspired by the golden era of the dive watch – when dive watches were used to dive, and not to be part of a casual attire. And the Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph Re-Edition is, once again, in line with expectations.
As I explained, the article we published earlier this year on the vintage Deepstar somehow made me think that it should be one of these watches that should, one day, resurface. I wasn’t expecting this to happen soon… but a few months later, after a call with Rick, I learned about the comeback of the brand and mostly, that the first model introduced will be the Deepstar. Excitation level: high. Perfectly aware of what Rick made with Doxa and Aquadive, I knew this re-edition of the Aquastar Deepstar was in good hands.
The first thing to know with this re-edition of the Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph is that we’re in front of a 90% faithful re-interpretation, however discreetly updated to meet with modern standards and mechanics available today. What matters though, the design, the overall professional, instrument feel, the display, the bezel… That has been respected. But we’re not in 1966 anymore and by 2020 standards, some aspects of the watch had to be updated – be reassured, it mostly has to do with materials and movement.
While the original Deepstar was a 37mm watch (a respectable size back in the days), the new version has grown to a still reasonable 40.5mm diameter. The block-like case, with straight shoulders, integrated lugs, circular brushed top surface – all of that being typical of mid-1960s dive watches – is still present and the watch looks and feels as the original was. The construction is extremely serious with a sheer sensation of quality and robustness. The watch is made to last, no doubt. What has to be taken into account, more than the size itself, are the proportions and the weight. The Deepstar is not per se a big watch, but a piece that has a true instrument-like presence on the wrist. It is fairly heavy, measure 14.8mm in height and if the lugs are short, the watch sits quite high on the wrist. It is not uncomfortable but it isn’t a watch that will be forgotten once strapped.
Just like the original, the watch features a screw-down crown, simple pump pushers for the chronograph and a screwed caseback (identical in style to the original watch). Water-resistance is solid, though, at 200 meters. One of the updates concerns the sapphire crystal, replacing the Plexiglas crystal of the vintage model. Still, its modern counterpart is highly domed and even offers charming distortions on the periphery. The watch was here worn on a (real) Tropic strap, supple and comfortable, allowing to perfectly balance the watch on the wrist.
A key element of the Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph was its patented bezel, faithfully reconducted in this re-edition. Bidirectional, it is equipped with two tracks. The first one, located near the dial, is a classic 60-minute scale, used to time diving sessions. The other one, engraved on the periphery, is a so-called “Successive/Multiple dive non-decompression table calculator.” The concept of “no-deco” bezel should be familiar to Doxa SUB 300 fans. Yet, the one used in this Aquastar is slightly different. I’m not a diver myself, so I’ll have to quote Jason Heaton on Hodinkee here, “the markings on that bezel allow a diver to determine how long she can remain at a given depth without having to decompress on her way to the surface. Handy, for sure, but only for the first dive of the day. What if you want to get back in the water in an hour or two? Sorry, the Doxa bezel won’t help you then.”
Heaton follows explaining that “The Deepstar bezel takes into account this residual nitrogen and cleverly helps to calculate a new dive time for a second dive depending on your surface interval; i.e., the amount of time you spend on the surface between dives. It does this using the hour hand of the watch. Once you surface, you set the bezel opposite the hour hand according to the correct number on the table (1.5, 1.4, 1.3, etc.). As time passes and the hour hand moves, the bezel indicates the decreasing “co-efficient” of nitrogen in your body, which can then be used in conjunction with the Aquastar dive table to determine a new decompression time for the second dive.”
This bezel isn’t the only specificity of the Aquastar Deepstar… It was indeed a diving chronograph, a complication usually reserved for racing watches but that can also come as very handy for a diver. It can also be used to time diving sessions, hence why this watch had a very specific display, where only the 30-minute counter was emphasized on the dial. The small seconds here takes the shape of a running indicator, a device that makes full sense on a dive watch to be sure that the watch is still operating. The style of the original model, the design of its dial and its display, have been entirely respected in this re-edition. The unusual luminous applied indexes, the utilitarian hands, the logos and marking… all is there, faithful and full of old-school charm.
3 colours are available for the Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph Re-Edition. In addition to the present deep blue colour with a sunray-brushed surface, there’s also a steel grey edition (like the original watch) and a matte black (more traditional). All are equipped with light radium Super-LumiNova. Just like the rest of the habillage, the execution is very serious. Despite the instrumental feel of the watch, no concessions have been made on the precision of the manufacturing.
The most modern part of the watch is to be found inside the case. The original model was powered by a hand-wound Valjoux 23, which is of course not available anymore. But keeping in line with its sense of detail, the 2020 Deepstar Chronograph is equipped with a movement that stands out of the crowd of 7750-powered watches. Marei made the choice for an automatic chronograph with column wheel developed and manufactured by La Joux-Perret. Beating at 28,800 vibrations/hours, it boasts 55h of power reserve and, even though hidden behind a closed back, is nicely finished with blued screws, Geneva stripes and a personalized rotor. And thanks to the column wheel, actuating the pushers is far more pleasant than the firm click of a Valjoux.
The Aquastar Deepstar Re-Edition is delivered on a period-correct 22mm Tropic rubber strap, matching the colour of the dial. An additional handmade shell cordovan strap is also included. Both straps come with Aquastar-signed buckles. A bead of rice steel bracelet will also be added in 2021, and NATO straps are also available. Finally, an ISOfrane will also feel home on this robust watch.
Let’s first be objective. The Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph is a greatly executed watch. The case feels solid as a rock, the surfaces are sharp, clean and the whole watch feels like it has been built with deep diving in mind. It isn’t a precious accessory, it is an instrument. It isn’t a watch that you’ll wear at the office, like many modern luxury dive watches. And, let’s be honest, it is perfect this way. It is a watch with true diving credentials. On the other hand, its upscale movement and detailed dials and hands won’t disappoint owners of modern high-end watches, especially with a price that feels fair considering the niche orientation.
Subjectively, I think this is one of the coolest dive watches of the year. Once you accept its bulky feeling on the wrist, the Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph brings great satisfaction. It has charm, pedigree, a unique combination between its tool aspect and its unusual display and dial… Will it appeal to a broader audience? Probably not. And that only adds to its coolness.
Availability & price
The Aquastar Deepstar Chronograph is now offered for sale at aquastar.ch/shop, with the next batch of watches expected to be shipped in January 2021. Current (pre-order) price is USD 2,790, with the final retail price being USD USD 3,590. More details at aquastar.ch.