A couple of weeks ago, we explored the comeback of a niche but cult brand specialised in instrument watches, Nivada Grenchen. Mostly known for its Chronomaster watch, also known as the “Super Chronograph” due to its combination of features, a look at the history of the brand reveals far more fascinating watches, pioneers in their own right. Among them is a model known as the Depthmaster, a highly original and important model in dive watch history. In addition to its chronograph, the brand is also reissuing this piece with a quirky but very cool accessible retro-styled watch. Here’s a closer look at the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster, in its signature “Pac-Mac” versions.
There are mainstream brands that most watch enthusiasts, even the most novice of us, know. And there are other brands, with true cult status that are reserved to smaller groups of seasoned and knowledgeable collectors. Nivada belongs to the latter category. The brand was founded in Grenchen (Granges), Switzerland in 1926 by Otto Wüllimann, Hermann Schindler and Jack Schneider. The company remained under the control of the Schneider family until its 50th anniversary in 1976. From the earliest days, the company focused on instrument watches that went beyond the simple indication of the time – among the first to offer water-resistance, automatic movements, or to feature a chronograph with additional functions. Nivada was, as many other brands back in the days, sourcing parts from external suppliers, including movements by Venus, Valjoux or Landeron.
In 1930 Nivada was one of the first companies to manufacture automatic watches. This led to the creation of Nivada’s first waterproof automatic watch called the Antarctic in 1950. The watch was worn by members of the American Navy’s Deep Freeze 1 during their expedition to the South Pole from 1955 to 1956. In addition to the widely known Chronomaster, a chronograph with 200-metre water-resistance, are two other important watches. First is the 1964 Depthomatic, which became the first diver’s watch with a depth indicator or bathymeter. The other is a true diver’s instrument.
In 1965, Nivada Grenchen introduced the Depthmaster, a powerful dive watch that could withstand a pressure of 100 ATM or 1,000 metres. No small feat considering most dive watches at that time offered 150 or 200 metres of water-resistance. In fact, this was a record for the industry until Rolex introduced its Sea-Dweller (launched in 1967). Although the company disappeared, this model remained highly praised by collectors, and it even started to gain several nicknames. First, “baby Panerai” or “mini Panerai” due to its cushion-shaped case, although it was far smaller than the watches produced by the Florentine officine. A second name, and the one that feels most accurate to us, was “Pac-Man” and you can see why by looking at the indexes. Although two versions were available, the one with Arabic numerals was less iconic than the one we are looking at today, with its combination of a stylized numeral 12, triangular indexes and odd-looking markers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock… Created to quickly identify the time in low-light conditions, they also looked pretty cool.
The new Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster Pac-Man
In addition to re-editing the Chronomaster (a true success in our opinion) and the Antarctic models, the brand has just presented its third collection, this time reanimating its powerful diver’s watch. In the same vein as what we explained with the “Super-Chronograph”, the idea of the founders is to stay true to the brand’s spirit, not only in terms of design but also regarding production, strategy and pricing. Don’t expect haute horlogerie and multi-thousand prices. What you can expect are robust mechanics and fair prices. Well, we’re not going to complain about that.
The fate of Nivada was no different from that of many brands in the late 1970s. It simply didn’t survive the quartz crisis. In 2018, however, two men decided to revive the brand – Guillaume Laidet, a French entrepreneur in the watch industry (former Jaeger-LeCoultre, Zenith, and founder of William L.1985), and Remi Chabrat, owner of the Montrichard Group (a private label watchmaker). The latter was in business with the Mexican group (Grupo Industrial Omega SA de CV) owner of the name Nivada, and in 2019 they obtained the license to use the Nivada Grenchen copyright. And in 2020, the first two models were presented, all of them being faithful re-editions of glorious Nivada watches.
The third watch, only presented a couple of weeks ago and about to launch via pre-order campaign, is a tribute to the brand’s Depthmaster model. An emblematic diver’s watch, it will be available in two variations: one with Arabic numerals and date window and the so-called Pac-Man, which we’ll look at today in two variations.
The first important thing to note with this re-edition is that, despite some necessary updates regarding mechanics and materials, we’re clearly talking about vintage-inspired watches, not only visually but also in terms of spirit, specifications and proportions. Having the watch in our hands, we can only applaud the idea to (almost) respect the original dimensions of the watch. The new Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster only measures 39mm in diameter (only 1mm more than the 1960s watch), with a 13mm height and a compact lug-to-lug measurement of 47mm. On the wrist, the retro feeling is strong. This feeling is reinforced by the utilitarian brushed top surfaces of the case, giving this model a no-nonsense attire.
The cushion-shaped case, with its angular corners, wears beautifully on the wrist and the feeling of compactness is emphasised by the strong unidirectional bezel, again circular-brushed and engraved with a classic 60-minute diving scale. The first 15 minutes are precisely graduated – the crucial part when diving – but as you’ll notice, depending on the version of the watch you choose, this first segment is either black or red. Regarding specifications, the watch features a screw-down crown and caseback and, with respect to the original 1960s version, is water-resistant to an impressive depth of 1,000 metres. It is also equipped with a helium valve at 9 o’clock. Quite satisfying considering the accessible price of the watch. The overall execution is simple, without luxurious or delicate elements, but feels solid and well assembled.
Moving to the dial, the brand offers two variations, including one with a more classic combination of Arabic numerals and baton markers, as well as a date window positioned at 3 o’clock. But it is the present watch, the so-called Pac-Man, that will certainly grab more attention. Indeed, we’re not going to lie, it is a weird, quicky design and it will probably have its detractors. But this odd style is also the main reason behind the charm and uniqueness of this watch. What makes it special is this combination of triangular markers and ultra-stylised, almost abstract numerals at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock – the ones at 6 and 9 look like the fictional character and protagonist of the video game franchise Pac-Man, and even though it was created 15 years after the launch of the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster, the collector’s community gave this name to the watch afterwards. So yes, it’s weird, it’s going to be a love-or-hate affair, but at least this design stands out from the crowd.
Always based on a matte black background, the dial is offered in two variations. The first has all elements – markers, numerals and hands – in white Super-Luminova, for a more modern, more technical look. This edition is paired with a non-luminous red-painted seconds hand. The second version plays even stronger on the vintage trend, with cream-coloured luminous material on the markers and hands, and is fitted with a luminous seconds hand. I certainly have a preference for the latter version, which has more charm. The dial is protected by a domed sapphire crystal.
Under the solid steel back is a tried-and-tested movement, the Sellita SW 200-1. This alternative to the automatic ETA ébauches is a no-brainer and will do the job in this utilitarian context. It runs at 4Hz and offers a 38-hour power reserve.
In addition to the choice of dial, the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster can also be ordered on a variety of straps and bracelets. As presented here, you can choose a brown leather strap, or a stainless steel bead-of-rice bracelet closed by a folding clasp with security fold-over part. The watch can also be ordered on a tropic-like rubber strap or a flexible Oyster steel bracelet, like presented here on the Chronomaster.
Availability & price
The Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster Pac-Man re-edition will be available for pre-orders later in February 2021 from the brand’s website. The first examples will be delivered in July 2021. It will be priced at EUR 850 or USD 1,000 on leather/rubber strap and EUR 1,050 or USD 1,275 on steel bracelet.
Article updated 17.02.2021 as the brand informed us that they now plan to deliver in July 2021 instead of June.