Historical Perspective – The Doxa Sub 300, The Dive Watch Personified
Back in Baselworld 2016, Doxa introduced its 50th Anniversary Sub model, a great dive watch with unquestionable pedigree. We will discover why this dive watch is so important by looking back at an early Doxa Sub 300, belonging to one of the preeminent Doxa collectors – and a great friend of Monochrome and me, personally – Mr. Marco Thier. By examining the story behind its creation, I hope to shed the light on the importance of the Doxa Sub in the history and the evolutionary course of the dive watch in general.
When discussing iconic dive watches, there are plenty of models that come in mind and almost anyone has his own list to exhibit. Leaving aside personal preferences for a moment, there are some models that defined the concept of dive watch (or were so radical that virtually changed the game). Quite simply, they encompassed the proper formula of technical and design elements, which made them primus inter pares in this segment of the industry. Besides the heavyweights, under the names Rolex, Omega and Seiko, there is a long list of Swiss manufactures that introduced very influential and iconic dive watches during the 1960s and 1970s. During these years, scuba diving and the desire of man to conquer the depths was booming. On this list, we have names like Blancpain, Breitling, Jaeger-le-Coultre, IWC, Zodiac, Jenny, Doxa, Certina, Aquadive, Aquastar, Favre-Leuba, Nivada… to name a few.
The lineup is never ending however, from the above companies there are, in my humble opinion, two bright stars that shine above all the rest. The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms – which was the first ever modern dive watch in 1953 and which properly posed the rules of the game – and the Doxa sub 300, which was an evolution of the known design parameters up to that point, thus revolutionized the whole genre. This dive watch, which came from a small brand based in Le Locle, was way ahead of its time and we will see why.
However, before doing that, it might be prudent to jump in the present for a moment and examine what Doxa presented in this years Baselworld. In 2017, Doxa’s iconic dive watch will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Doxa will therefore be launching a limited edition dedicated to the original version of the 300 (no T) Sub. The watch will be powered by a COSC-certified ETA cal.2824 and will be limited to 300 pieces (per model). The crystal is sapphire, the diameter is at 42 mm, and the bezel is measured in feet. The case has the exact dimension as the original 1967 Sub 300, the modern additions are the special cut sapphire crystal identical to the first generation plexi and the chronometer certified movement. The bracelet does have a slight taper and the release will incorporate three models, the Professional, Sharkhunter, and Searambler.
The Doxa Sub 300 50th anniversary prototype
Doxa hit the target perfectly with this anniversary edition, responding to the vintage-inspired tsunami that dominates the market. Tudor did it with the Black Bay, Omega with the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial and we have countless other examples. It is the perfect timing for Doxa and this model should be on any dive watch fan’s list, simply because it is after all a clone, with modern materials and light touches (that is a good thing), of the so important and revolutionary Sub 300, arguably one of the most influential watches in the history of the dive watch.
The quest, with the help of emerging technologies, of trying to better understand the silent under water world emerged after World War II. This trend continued to grow during the 1960s and the 1970s, when the boom of diving for commercial and military purposes spilled over to the masses. Recreational diving started to pickup the pace as the new cool adventure (I think it still is!). Consequently, the watch industry tried to cope with this. During these years, the reign of the mechanical watch as a tool was unconditional. Companies like Blancpain started from scratch with the help of military divers. Rolex had started from the 1920s to buy patents (screw down crown) and improving them. Therefore they were in a position to produce the Submariner, learning from its experience shortly after Blancpain. Omega experimented with various projects (Marine, 1932- Naiad crown) acquiring the know-how and later produced the iconic Seamaster 300 CK2913, in 1957.
However, as scuba diving started to evolve, so did the diving watch. Companies that offered those early divers dealt with issues that were unheard of, up to this moment. The harsh underwater environment brought these wristwatches to their limits, so R&D departments in Switzerland started to experiment with better and more ergonomically designed cases, more reliable calibers, materials that offered better luminosity, dials that were designed for improved under water legibility, more robust straps and bracelets, etc… Through trials and errors, some succeeded, while others did not and therefore perished. Doxa was at the right place, at the right time, when they decided to develop from a blank sheet of paper a new dive watch that echoed all these lessons.
Mr. Urs Eschle was the product manager of the original Doxa Sub – like the one we are presenting – and he was head of operations at the company in the sixties. He worked for Montres Doxa SA from 1956 till 1968, and from 1964 he was the “directeur commercial”. The dive watch project, which led to the Sub, was initiated by him that same year. He decided to start from scratch rather than copying other manufacturers, so he set up a research team with several professional divers (among the members of the team was the famous French diver, Claude Wesly) 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. Each of the mentioned aspects of the project was taken care of by a part of the team.
The team started from the ground up. The first thing they did was to choose a massive solid stainless 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 hit underwater and also protected the crown of the watch. Doxa also chose to house a slow beating self-winding movement to enhance reliability. To solve the under water legibility problems that many competing models of the time were facing (small markers and small hands), Mr. Eschle followed a three-way approach. He suggested using a bright color dial with oversized luminous markers, with the highest amount of tritium ever seen on a wristwatch dial up to that point, in combination with hands that screamed “form follows function”. What they did was to design a dwarf hour hand, which is unimportant in a dive, and to slightly enlarge the minute hand, which is vital.
To test the legibility of the dial under water, the Neuchatel Lake was the most suitable place for this purpose. The research team tested several bright dial colors. Orange has proven to be the brightest and the best legible color down to a depth of 30 meters under water, so it was obvious that the first Doxa diver watch would have an orange dial, against the conservative offerings coming from the competition – almost all of them were black-dial watches. The bezel was next, since it is the only element of a dive watch that is manipulated by the diver underwater and above all, it is the safeguard of his security. Designing the perfect bezel thus was paramount.
Mr. Eschle and his team chose a saw-tooth edge for optimum grip with gloves or wet hands. In addition, work started with 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. After the suggestion of Claude Wesly, Urs Eschle traveled to California and contacted Jacques Cousteau, the head of the US Divers Company, which was the most advanced supplier of hi-tech diving equipment. The company research team was so impressed by this technical solution and by this rugged and innovative dive watch as a whole that they decided to exclusively market the Doxa Sub 300 in the USA. Cousteau and his Calypso team used Doxa watches for many years in their epic adventures. Last but not least, the ease of use of the watch was to be enhanced by a new kind of flex-buckle on the stainless steel bracelet, which easily adapts itself to the diameter of the wrist, with or without a wet suit. The Expando bracelet was another brilliant idea from the Doxa team.
Finally, the orange face Doxa Sub, the first dedicated sports diver watch, was born and was presented to public at Baselworld, in spring 1966. As a matter of fact, the model we present is an early 66-serial, which means that it belongs to this first batch of watches that were available to the public in 1967. It is a no-T variant; therefore it has the early thinner case (in relation to the 300T) and also features a domed acrylic crystal. The unexpected success of the model that was founded on the great work by Mr. Eschle and his team – and the Cousteau factor pushed the company to improve the Sub. With the help of Mr. Wesly, Doxa has been fundamental in the creation of the HRV Helium valve, and despite the company’s financial difficulties and some wrong managerial decisions, the model continued to evolve with public and commercial divers embracing it. Furthermore, many military establishments chose the Doxa Sub as their standard go-to dive watch, with a great example being the French Marine Nationale.
To give an end to this article, all I have to say is that I am in love with any Doxa Sub. Each and every one has its own beauty; the 300 and the 300T that followed, the rare T-graph and the Conquistador, the Synchron and Aubry era Doxas, the Army and the Diving Stars (Yellow Dial) of the Marine Nationale, left crown Subs and Quartz variants as well as the Black Lungs and the Poseidon watches. All of them, no matter which model we are referring to, follow the principles that have been posed originally by Mr. Eschle and his team.
I think that the Doxa Sub 300 simply belongs to the Top-5 of the most influential dive watches of all time, together with the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the Rolex Submariner / Sea Dweller, the Omega Seamaster Ploprof and the Seiko Tuna. The Doxa stands right in the middle, both in terms of chronology and design. It also started the era of more technical, purpose-built dive watches. The Doxa Sub 300 reflects the motto “form follows function” better than any watch. It was designed from the beginning to answer problems divers were facing at the time, and provided solutions to every of them. It was both wearable (like the Blancpain and the Rolex) and charming, in a very 1970s way, together with being technically intriguing and rugged (like the Omega and the Seiko). The Doxa Sub had all this evolutionary elements and details incorporated harmoniously in its design, in a single and complete package that actually created a revolutionary watch. It was one of the first tool watches developed and offered exclusively for diving. It was the first watch to be marketed as a piece of diving equipment from the US-divers company and was also the first watch to be given the Aqualung logo, as a proof of reliability. Quite simply, the Doxa Sub 300 represents the golden rule (Φ) of the diving watch.
All pictures belong to Mr. Marco Their, which I thank enormously (except the 50th anniversary edition, from watchuseek.com) – For an interview with Mr. Eschle and for anything Doxa, please visit: http://www.doxa300t.com/
Being somewhat of a dive watch collector, this one was a must have for me. But I want to correct you on your statement of the 1953 Fifty Fathoms. There were two watches that came out in 1953, the Rolex Submariner no date and the Fifty Fathoms no date. The Submariner was the first true 100 meter watch. The earliest example I know of was serial numbered to April of 1953. The Fifty Fathoms was a 91 meter watch. Which was first is irrelevant now. But what is relevant is that the Submariner no date is the only dive watch to have been in production continuously for going on 64 years. No other diver watch can claim that. In fact you can’t find a dive watch that has been in production for 50 years continuously. Yet the Submariner no date quietly ticks on. A pure tool diver watch. No date, because none is needed under water. That is the ICON.
Shut up Ron
Technically his name is Roy, but your point still stands…