The vintage-inspired trend that overshadows the watch market these past few years is still evolving, with most companies more or less digging in their archives, trying to find vintage designs, to bring them back in life. Although this may show the difficult position of the Swiss watch industry as a whole, it can be argued that it has some benefits. Perhaps the most important one is that the market is full of great new watches. One of these is arguably the new Squale Squalematic 60 Atmos, a vintage-inspired dive watch that comes from a company with great pedigree. So we placed it under the Monochrome microscope and here are our thoughts.
History and Origins of Squale
Outsourcing was a popular practice among Swiss watch brands in the past. The big names in the industry used an extensive network of small companies that were specialized in manufacturing specific components. Movements came from one place, dials and hands from another, cases and crystals from again another. For instance, most dials from some famous brands were designed and manufactured by Singer, while there are many discussions among collectors about the Speedmaster cases, which were constructed by Centrale Boîtes S.A and Huguenin Frères. Arguably, there were obvious advantages letting specialists stick to what they did best and usually, big companies worked in conjunction with a supplier in order to create a new case design (or they simply chose from an existing catalogue).
Perhaps the most obvious example of this practice was the appearance of the logo of Erwin Piquerez SA (EPSA) on the two-crown Super Compressor watches from Longines, Wittnauer, Enicar, and countless others. Another example was the Monnin diver case. Late 1970s, Heuer wanted to get into the dive/sports watch market, but to avoid large investments, they outsourced the tooling to Monnin in France. This line proved extremely popular for Heuer and still this case is used on the CWC RN divers. Jenny provides another great example. The company created the first monobloc ref.702 1000m diver case which was used by Ollech and Wajs (O&W), Jaquet Droz, Haste deLuxe, Philip and Jenny themselves (to name a few).
Among these suppliers was Squale, one of the large dive watch case-makers of the 1960s and 1970s. While the Squale name dates back to 1959, the company history actually goes back to 1948, when Charles Von Buren took an interest in the sport and not long after began crafting dive watch cases in Neuchatel, Switzerland. One of the first examples was the characteristic Von-Buren case, used on the 50 Atmos divers. This iconic case was – and arguably still is – a thing of beauty, because it had fluid lines and was highly ergonomic while providing excellent protection. Its three main characteristics are the downward lugs that hug the wrist, the bezel which protrudes slightly from the case, thus providing nice grip, and the crown in the 4 o’ clock position.
A Bund Blancpain Fifty Fathoms made by Squale
In 1959, Von Buren chose to differentiate his diving watches by adopting the name “Squale”, and at the same time the “Squale” or the VB mark started to appear on the cases of Swiss watches of various makes, as a sign of fine production and a quality symbol. Examples are numerous. In the mid-1970s, the German Kriegsmarine approached Blancpain for a revised version of its Fifty Fathoms. In turn, Blancpain turned to Von-Buren/Squale for a case and the result was the now-famous “Bund” Fifty Fathoms. Other notable clients of various Von-Buren cases were Auricoste, Doxa, Zenith, Sinn and (TAG) Heuer, various dive gear companies like the French Spirotechnique and the American Dacor, and lesser-known companies like Berios, Eagle Star Genève and Blanford Ocean Diver.
Of course, in addition to its subcontracted case-building, Squale also sold dive watches under its own name. The late ’60s, saw the birth of the 100 Atmos, Squale-Master. This model had a fatter case of similar design with the 50 Atmos, a domed acrylic crystal and the crown either in 3 or 4 o’clock position. At that time, Squale watches were well regarded by divers, and often were given as prizes for freediving and spearfishing competitions and were worn by champion divers (Tony Salvatori, Jean Tapu). However, the closest Squale came to having a brand ambassador was Jacques Mayol, the French freediving pioneer. Mayol wore a Squale while setting a depth record in 1970 and was a friend of the Von Buren family. Other less famous but notable users of Squale diver watches were the Italian Folgore Brigade and the Italian frogmen based in La Spezia, home of the Commando Subacqueo Incursori, aka COMSUBIN.
A Vintage Squale-Master 100 Atmos (source: web)
In recent years, the Squale name has been revived. Though the company is not under the Von Buren name anymore, it is still a small family-run business based in Milan, with all production and assembly still done in Switzerland. In fact, the brand is now owned by the Maggi family, Squale’s longtime Italian distributor. The all-time classic 50 Atmos is the core collection and is offered in various case finishes and dial configurations. Up until recently, it was accompanied by the 101 Atmos, a classic 1970s dive watch design with a rounded lug-less case and an ingenious top-mounted lock ring assembly, which houses the push and turn Bakelite bezel and also the “Tiger” ( a push button bezel lock reminiscent of the legendary Omega Ploprof). The new model, which is called the Squalematic, was introduced last year at Baselworld.
The Squale Squalematic 60 Atmos
The company, quite right in my opinion, jumped in the bandwagon of retro re-editions by presenting this dive watch, which is available in three editions: Aqua-Blue, Black with a satin-finish case and Grey / Black with a polished case. The Squalematic 60 Atmos is definitely a classic dive watch with Squale’s DNA all over it. It has the same familiar “von Buren” case-style, used by the company on their very popular 1521 models. For me, this case is truly a masterpiece, because it is ergonomic, nicely designed and it provids enough protection from potential shocks. The downward lugs hug the wrist nicely and the crown at 4 is an excellent choice. However, on this model the dimensions went up. The case is 42,7mm in diameter and 44mm if we measure the bezel, which, in a characteristic Squale fashion, slightly protrudes for better grip. However, don’t let numbers scare you, because all Squale dive watches wear smaller than their dimensions denote. We also have a 51mm lug to lug dimension; a 22mm lug space and a thickness of 15.8mm (including the sapphire crystal).
The Squalematic 60 Atmos (meaning 600m water resistance) uses a double domed sapphire crystal. It oozes class and retro character, while in parallel it creates very nice light distortions on the dial. The unidirectional bezel is tight and clicks positively (it can be loosened and removed for easy maintenance with 4 screws on the side). The highlight of the bezel is the beautiful Bakelite inlay with multifaceted steel markers, hand-set into it on a multi-stage process. The result is a look that enhances the vintage character of the Squalematic – reminiscent of 1970s Squale dive watches.
The dial is another great feature of this new model. On the satin case model, we have a matte black dial with orange details. On the Blue and Grey / Black versions, the dial is sunburst, with a great retro appeal. On all three variations, the dial features applied matte steel markers with Superluminova, for superb low light visibility. The Squalematic has a depth rating of 60 atmospheres (600 meters). The watch is powered by a workhorse, an ETA 2824. Thus, no worries to have. It will be precise and reliable. On the watch I had for review, I tested +7sec per day. The Squalematic 60 Atmos will be available with a qualitative tropic rubber strap or a very nice leather strap – a mesh steel bracelet is optional. With a retail price of around 1100 euro, this is a killer retro dive watch, which will also be tough, reliable and will give you that vintage feel with modern specs and durability.
I think the Squalematic 60 Atmos is a model that will please anyone looking for a watch that mixes vintage charisma and modern construction. The characteristic old-school elements that could be found in real vintage divers are all here. The iconic Von-Buren case, the domed sapphire, the bakelite bezel, the sunburst dial with multifaceted indexes… All of that create a remarkable result. This watch has the retro charm that made vintage Squale dive watches so popular back in the day. The added bonus is that it is relatively affordable. It can be used for its intended purpose, it is waterproof to 600 meters and its manufacturing quality is excellent.
Yes, it might be a little on the flashy side (especially in relation to its more toolish brother, the 50 Atmos) but variations inside the companies catalogue are always a good thing. Honestly, I would describe the Squalematic as a more luxurious version compared to the rest of Squale’s offering. However, what about the other alternatives on the market at the moment? The competition is fierce. If you are considering other dive watches with that same vintage character, the list is long. We have the Doxa Sub 300 50th anniversary, the ZRC Grands Fonds 300, the Triton Subphotique, the Oris 65, the Seiko Turtle, the Longines LLD, the Alpina Seastrong, the Omega Seamaster 300 or the Tudor Black Bay. Each of them has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each has its own special character, which is based, more or less, on a vintage dive watch sold in the 1960s and 1970s. The price range is also totally different among all these watches. The final choice is quite subjective and has to do with the amount each collector will be willing to spend. Still, all of them are great vintage-inspired dive watches.
The Squalematic comes from a company that has a great pedigree and a story that few in the industry have. The name and the product are iconic in the field of dive watches. The Squalematic is bold and flashy with unique features that no one else offers at the moment (unique case – Bakelite bezel) with a very competitive price. It is well constructed, with a reliable calibre, and oozes vintage character. Unlike some other offerings, which have a more toolish character, it is slightly more luxurious, thus more versatile. For me, the Squalematic 60 Atmos was one of the unsung heroes of Baselworld 2016.