Review – Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung”, Reissue of a Rare Prototype for Aqua-Lung (With Historical Insights)

The Doxa SUB-300 is regarded as one of the most important watches of all time amongst the diving community. Launched in 1966, it was certainly not the first dive watch (see the 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or the 1953 Rolex Submariner), however, it was one of the first professional dive watches and, for that alone, it is historically important. This year, Doxa follows up the success of 2016’s sold-out 50th Anniversary SUB 300 Professional with another vintage-reissue, this time bearing the famous Aqua-Lung logo. Here’s the Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung”, a tribute to an ultra-rare 1967 vintage Doxa prototype.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

Some History – the Doxa SUB-300

The concept of the dive watch, and by that we mean a watch specifically developed to fulfil the needs of professional divers (which was the case in the 1950s until the 1970s, before diving computers emerged), began to emerge after World War II when the quest to understand the silent underwater world properly started. Of course, several previous attempts existed, by transforming existing watches into tools able to withstand the water pressure (think Panerai). However, it is only in 1953 that watches entirely developed with underwater exploration in mind came on the market – with the 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the 1953 Rolex Submariner. All the industry heavyweights would soon enter on this niche but growing market, by presenting their own vision of diving tools: Omega with the 1957 Seamaster 300, Seiko with the 62Mas, and many others. Doxa came on the market later though, although when they did it was with a watch that would make quite an impression.

Doxa Sub 300 - historical perspective - vintage review

Prototype Example of the 1966 Doxa SUB-300 – Photo by Marco Their

As one of the heads of Doxa Watches, a certain Urs Eschle decided that that brand had to develop its own vision of a dive watch, a piece that will soon be known as the SUB-300. He decided to start from scratch rather than copying other manufactures, so he set up a research team with several professional divers and experienced watchmakers. The goals for the research team were clear: developing the first affordable sports diver watch for leisure and professional divers; a reliable, comfortable, purpose-built and highly legible piece of equipment.  The Doxa Sub was introduced to the public at Baselworld, in spring 1966 – see our article Historical Perspective – The Doxa Sub 300, The Dive Watch Personified.

The 1966 Doxa SUB-300 introduced a new case design, a massive stainless steel tonneau case (case dimensions by far exceeding the usual dimensions of the typical watch cases at that time). This type of case provided enhanced protection, deflecting any impacts underwater and also protected the crown of the watch. The second main novelty, which would become a signature design feature of Doxa, was the orange dial. While in the 1960s, most dive watches were black, Urs Eschle decided to redefine the dial, using a bright colour dial with oversized luminous markers and clearly differentiated hands (the minute hand being the most important here). To test the legibility of the dial underwater, Neuchatel Lake was the most suitable place for this purpose. The research team tested several bright dial colours. Orange has proven to be the brightest and the best legible colour down to a depth of 30 meters underwater.

Doxa Sub 300

Prototype Example of the 1966 Doxa SUB-300 – Photo by Marco Their

Finally, there was the bezel… the only element of a dive watch that is manipulated by the diver underwater and above all, it is the safeguard of his security (in order to calculate the length of diving sessions and decompression stages). Doxa came up with a saw-tooth edge for optimum grip with gloves or wet hands, and a unidirectional rotating bezel that resembled the US Navy No-decompression dive table. Therefore, the diver could see at a glance not only time markings but also the related depths at which he could stay before having to decompress. The Doxa SUB-300 was born and became an icon amongst the diving community.

The 1967 Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung” made for Aqua Lung

“Aqua-Lung” refers to a commercial name created in 1943, when two Frenchmen, engineer Émile Gagnan and Naval Lieutenant Jacques Cousteau, developed the first system to make underwater exploration possible. This device, a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (or “SCUBA”) is now commonly referred to as a diving regulator or demand valve. Today, the brand continues to be the leading global designer and manufacturer of dive and water sports gear.

doxa sub300 professional black-lung prototype vintage 1967 - source dreamchrono

An example of the 1967 Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung” made for Aqua Lung – Source: Dreamchrono.com

After Doxa launched their first dive watch at Baselworld 1966, under the name SUB-300, they teamed up with Aqua Lung to create a special prototype, the Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung”. This watch, bearing all the attributes of the SUB-300, differed from the normal edition by its yellow and black Aqua Lung logo printed in the lower left quadrant of the orange dial. Because of this specific logo, the watch earned the nickname “Black Lung” by collectors, and is a watch that is now extremely rare and highly sought-after, as only a handful were ever produced. After this prototype, the US Divers company started to distribute DOXA watches. Several editions of the SUB-300 or other Doxa watches will later carry the US Divers/Aqua Lung logo on the dial. Eventually, US Divers and Aqua Lung would consolidate into one company under the Aqua Lung name.

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An example of the 1967 Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung” made for Aqua Lung – Source: Dreamchrono.com

Today, this rare and collectable prototype Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung” (which also happens to be the first watch with the Aqualung logo, as a proof of reliability) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, making the perfect occasion for the brand to launch a dedicated limited edition, following the successful 2016 sold-out 50th Anniversary SUB 300 Professional.

The 2017 Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung”

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

No big surprise with this vintage-reissue Doxa SUB-300 “Black Lung”. It is fully, entirely, and perfectly Doxa all around. Everything is here: the shape of the case, the sturdiness of the construction, the signature orange dial, the bezel with specific scale, the precision of the movement… and for the occasion of this limited edition, the famous, meaningful and desirable “Aqua Lung” logo on the dial. And overall, there are few if any concessions to modernity. And this is exactly why this watch was the perfect base for a limited run.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

The new Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung transpires vintage appeal, and reissues all the iconic features found in early SUB-300 models and, of course, in the rare prototypes showed above. The case first. Just like early models, the 2017 version of the Black Lung is built around a single block of stainless steel, with one goal in mind: protection. Don’t search for elegance, it’s all about utilitarian – and this is also why Doxa watches are so cool.

Measuring 42.5 mm in diameter, and 13.4 mm thick, it remains highly wearable because of its shape, which sits well on the wrist and, on the contrary of what the specs let you imagine, it is more compact in the metal. As mentioned, it’s all about protection here: the crown is inserted into the caseband, the bezel is far less large than the protective bands of the case and the monoblock construction avoids any protruding parts…  The finishing of the case, on the other hand, is precise and well made, with circular brushing on top (following the shape of the case) and sides that are polished. All angles are smooth and neat.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

The construction, assembly and finishing of the case of this Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung, even if it is made in a utilitarian way, is beyond any doubt. It feels and is solid as a rock, well assembled (nothing feels wobbly or flimsy) and you can feel that this watch is made to be a reliable tool that will have to withstand the hard life of a piece of diving equipment. A nod to past, the bezel is in all points equivalent to vintage models of the SUB-300, with its double scale (“no-deco” feet graduation on the periphery and 60-minute scale on the interior side). The rugged saw-tooth edge is still in place and allows for a perfect grip. The bezel has a double finishing, with polished and brushed surfaces, just like vintage models, and the scales are engraved, so no risk to see them disappear.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

As always with the brand, the Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung has a strange, unique personality that comes from the weird proportion between the size of the case and the diameter of the dial. If this visually makes the watch larger than it really is, and indeed visually massive, this case/dial ratio is part of the looks of the watch. The dial of this “Black Lung” is again extremely faithful to the original model, as it comes with signature bright “professional” orange colour, on which black markers and inscriptions have been printed. The contrast offered is impressive and allows for an instant legibility. The main specificity of this edition being, of course, the “Aqua Lung” logo seen between 7 and 8 – again, just like the vintage edition of the SUB-300 Black Lung.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

The hands have been slightly updated compared to the vintage models, with a larger size but still the same overall design, and with a minute hand that’s at centre stage. Indexes and hands are generously filled with white super-luminova, and not with a faux-patina coloured luminous paint – a good option for two reasons: this would look weird with the orange dial and such paints are less effective when it comes to shining in the dark. Again, this 2017 Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung is made with professional use in mind and few concessions to fashion. The date window is still in place at 3 and the “SUB 300 professional” inscription can be seen at 4. The dial is placed below a highly domed “bubble” sapphire crystal, probably the only modern aspect of this watch, even if the shape recalls vintage plexiglass crystals.

The Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung is attached to the signature “beads of rice” bracelet which tapers to an integrated wetsuit extension. If the overall construction is modern and precise, with overall a thickness far superior from the original 1960s versions, we also have the pleasant feeling of suppleness inherent to this type of bracelet. And in all objectivity, the look of this bracelet is just insanely cool.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

Behind the solid steel back, Doxa opted for a reliable, yet precisely adjusted movement: a chronometer-grade ETA 2824-2. Just like the vintage models, the Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung doesn’t look for fancy features, by having a complex movement, but instead a utilitarian and reliable engine that has been perfectly regulated – service will be easy and timing will be precise thanks to COSC certification… In fact, all you need in such a tool watch.

Doxa SUB-300 Black Lung Reissue

Conclusion

All in all, this Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung is a superb re-edition of an extremely rare, yet important watch, as it was the first watch to be given the Aqualung logo, as a proof of reliability. If the “pure reissue” idea could be seen as easy by some, it here makes sense as we’re not talking about a widely produced watch, but a prototype. Seeing it back today in a very limited run (300 pieces) just adds to the overall coolness of this watch, to be seen as an icon and a historically relevant piece. For the watch itself, the proposition of Doxa is solid: sturdy construction, nice details, very good movement, and no concessions to modernity or fashion.

The Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung can be pre-ordered directly from doxawatches.com for a price of $2,590 and is anticipated to ship in December of this year. And unusually for the brand, only a single dial option will be available, the signature “Professional” orange (no black or silver options).


Technical Specifications – Doxa 300-SUB Black Lung Reissue

  • Case: 42.5mm diameter x 13.4mm thick – monoblock stainless steel case – steel screwed back, screwed crown – bubble-like sapphire crystal – 300m water resistant
  • Movement: ETA 2824-2 – Chronometer rated – 4Hz frequency – 38h power reserve – hours, minutes, seconds and date
  • Dial: Doxa signature ‘Professional’ orange – black hands
  • Bracelet: “beads of rice” bracelet in stainless steel, folding buckle with diving extension
  • Availability: December 2017
  • Limitation: 300 pieces, Orange dial only
  • Price: $2,590

3 responses

  1. What a nice watch! You forgot to mention that the “SharkHunter” version (black-dial) has been worn by Robert Redford in the movie “Three Days of the Condor” 🙂

  2. Don’t forget the Clive Cussler/Dirk Pitt version featured in his books.

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