Most watch enthusiasts can identify a dive watch at a glance even if the watch only emerges from under a cuff for a few seconds. The bezel is the typical giveaway, but a watch’s brand may be more readily recognizable: the name, DNA and ubiquitous presence. Leave it to Clerc to differentiate themselves by putting a square peg into a round hole, a design reference to the Hydroscaph’s inimitable bezel (a topic for further elaboration), and construct a high-end, hand-crafted, low-production dive watch. Two offerings position the brand, the three-hander Clerc Hydroscaph H1 and the Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph Limited Edition (the later we explored here). Becoming acquainted with Clerc clarifies what sets a Hydroscaph apart from the crowd.
Hydroscaph, like Homer’s Odyssey, comes from the Greek. It is the amalgamation of two Greek words: hydro meaning sea (water) and scaph meaning vessel. The company refers to their watches as explorations machines that are capable of above and below water adventure and designed for the associated rigors. Clerc’s meticulous attention to detail unites luxury and power in each Hydroscaph.
The luxurious aesthetics of a Clerc watch are best represented in the three dimensional, cut-away bezel – the square within a circle. When viewed from above, the cutting of the bezel leaves a flat square on the surface with four beveled slopes on each side, bearing an engraved 15 minute marker or the downward timing arrow. The beveled slopes’ outer curve maintains the original circle perimeter around the upper square. The visual effect is seeing a square within a circle, and the caseback mirrors the same design. When you already have an 81 (H1) or 103 (Chronograph) piece case, this kind of bezel design not only gives every H1 and Chronograph a visual significance of a da Vinci-esque perfect square within a perfect circle, but also adds to the complexity of the case’s construction.
For the Hydroscaph H1s, the fold-out bezel crank is on the right, and for the Chronographs, it is relocated away from the pushers on the left. This mechanical setting and external locking of the bezel removes any issues with grip or accidental default when using the bezel, adding yet another level of refinement to the watch’s function.
In addition, luxury and power are united in Hydroscaph H1 and Chronograph high-density steel cases. The safest bet when constructing a rugged dive watch is to offer a solid caseback, but Clerc provides two portholes on its hind side, a larger and a smaller. These windows have the necessary crystal thickness for the depths and create a submarine viewing experience. The off-center larger window clearly shows the balance wheel and flashes of the circularly vented rotor when it pivots; the smaller window shows flashes of the rotor’s edge. The Clerc Hydroscaph have a water resistance rating of 500 meters and mobile lugs to ensure a secure fit and comfort over a dive suit. Each case, surrounded by its own peripheral case guard construction, is ready for anything.
The consistent power moving the interpreted plonguer hands is the H1’s calibre C609 and Chrongoraph’s calibre C608. The workhorse reputation of these base calibres is historic, but in the hands of Clerc, they are reworked with detailed decoration and refined into precise instruments with the H1 earning a certified chronometer designation. It is the fusion of luxury and power that distinguishes the Clerc Hydroscaph.
The H1 is the mainstay of the Hydroscaph collection, but each iteration of the Chronograph is a limited edition of 500 pieces. What further distinguishes the Chronographs from the herd is that they are central chronographs, meaning the chronograph functions happen on two central hands instead of two sub-dials. The two sub-dials, which do exist, are a 24 hour day/night indicator on the left, and a small seconds on the right. Alternatively, the two thin central hands, not to be confused with a split-second rattraponte chronograph, are the chronograph seconds hand and minute hand (up to 60 minutes), which are read against the outer dial’s chapter ring. From the perspective of diving, seeing a larger chronograph display on the center dial rather than small sub-dials is a marked preference.
Clerc’s uniqueness is a conceptual clarity that meets the functional challenge of exploration in a more-than-capable form whose design, execution and implementation far surpass the average expectation of a dive watch. Standing out from the crowd, no standing above, is the Hydroscaph achievement.