I love divers watches and I have a special place in my heart for Doxa. Therefore, sooner or later, it was inevitable to meet with Marco. Recently, I received an email from Frank, referring enthusiastically to his meeting with a great guy and collector, who had a few special dive watches and was interested to present them through Monochrome. When the ‘codename’ Doxa came into the conversation, I was intrigued. I am, after all, a big fan of the Doxa Sub. We worked together with Marco for the presentation of his extremely rare and game changing Doxa HRV prototype and I learned a lot. I redefined what I had in my mind about the history of divers watches and loved Doxa even more.
Here, it’s with great pleasure that I share the interview of this fine gentleman, as part of the Collector’s Series. First and foremost, Marco Thier is a watch guy and a diver. And for me, it makes him uber-cool. He is a graphic designer specializing in brand concepts, packaging and interface design. Born and raised in the Netherlands, he currently lives and works in sunny Valencia, Spain. He is a non-conformist and passionate about watches, work, industrial design, Land Rovers (that makes him even cooler to me…), good food and champagne. And here is his über-rare (certainly unique) Golden Doxa Sub 300.
What sparked your interest in watches?
I have been falling in and out of love with watches many times during my childhood and teenage years. From my first watch that was handed down from my father when he got his revolutionary Eterna tuning fork watch, to the watches I picked up as a momentum during my travels. I have never been very interested in time itself but always in love with the shape of it.
When did you start collecting?
I am relatively new in collecting watches since I started about five years ago. It all started when I finally treated myself to a rare vintage Doxa Divingstar. I had been intrigued with Doxas ever since reading my first Dirk Pitt novel. After seeing one in the flesh, on board one of my friends’ traditional Dutch yachts, I set out to buy one. In Holland we have a saying “een is geen” which translates to “one is none” and so, within a couple of months, I was jotting down information and chasing watches.
When buying, what is more important to you: Brand / model Heritage? Aesthetic? Accuracy? Rarity?
Because I am collecting vintage watches that tend to be on the rare side, it is sometimes difficult to navigate into just one direction. There are watches on my buying list. Some of them may be hard to find but I will instantly buy them when I find them. Most of the time though, I am circumnavigating. I will try to stick to a handful of brands-primarily divers watches – that are very close to my heart. In some cases, I am drawn to their aesthetics, and in others to their accuracy but always because of their history and the ‘heroic’ stories around their development and use. Rarity in general is the icing on the cake but since I have quite a few rare watches, my collection is shifting inevitably into that direction. They will have to be wearable though. I wear all my watches. If I can not or will not wear them, I will either not buy them or sell them.
When collecting, do you think it’s important to stick to a brand or a category?
To me a collection must have a framework. Every watch in my collection has some kind of a connection with an other watch that already exists in my collection. For me that is the difference between buying and collecting. I am still buying watches outside of my collection as well but they tend to be either not long lived or the start of a new collection.
What is it about dive watches that you love?
First and foremost, I am a diver myself. Divers watches are all about adventure and conquering frontiers. They are reminiscent of a time when boundaries were not as well defined as they are today. These watches followed men into battle and across new frontiers, with men like my heroes Jacques Cousteau and Buzz Aldrin. Constantly defining, pushing and redefining boundaries. They tell time but they also capture time. They will be great when we find water on Mars as well as when making al dente pasta.
Why do you love Doxa?
Doxa for me epitomizes every facet that makes chasing and collecting watches so interesting: beauty, design, innovation, history and mystery. Doxa is one of the older Swiss watchmakers and was founded in 1889. They have been making innovative timepieces since the early days. Like the patented 8-day movement timepieces found in the dashboards of mythical Bugattis and early fighter aircraft.
I am primarily interested in the dive watches they have been making since the 1960s. It is a classic underdog story. While big brands associated with dive watches, like Rolex and Omega, had been spending big on years of research and testing in 1964, a small team of expert Doxa watchmakers and divers like Claude Wesly, Jacques Cousteau’s chief diver, revolutionized the concept of the diving watch with the Doxa SUB 300. Doxa watches are most known for their signature patented decompression bezel and for being the first watch to have a bright orange dial. Not many people know they also developed the Helium Release Valve. The 1965 Doxa SUB300 HRV prototype watch is part of my collection and its a proof of that. A true pioneer.
The Doxa brand is surrounded with a lot of mystery and speculation because a lot of its history was lost in floods, mergers and take overs. Many of the things we know about these watches has been reconstructed from watches and stories that have surfaced over the years and the story is still being written. The next few years ahead can be promising, because some of the people who were involved in the creation of these fabulous divers are still alive and ready to tell their story.
Why is this particular Gold Doxa Sub 300 so special to you?
This watch is an intermediate model which they only produced for a very short period of time. In these days Doxa was at the forefront of dive watch development working in close cooperation with, among others, the Cousteau team. They had just started selling their first true divers watch, the SUB 300, and this new model allowed them to incorporate the HRV valve they had just developed, a mineral crystal, as well as a chronograph movement for the SUB 200 T-Graph.
Extremely rare and game changing Doxa HRV prototype, the first watch to incorporate a Helium Valve (also property of Marco Their)
This golden Doxa Sub 300 prototype was clearly made for the US market in 1968, but it never left Switzerland. It was disregarded and spend its life in a drawer until I bought it a couple of years ago. Its development, in 1968, coincides with the 25th anniversary of Cousteau’s first Aqua-Lung from 1943. Jacques Cousteau, as many will know was the founder and president of U.S. Divers, worlds biggest manufacturer of dive equipment and US distributor for Doxa. To commemorate the first Aqua-Lung, they produced a limited edition of 100 gold plated Aqua-Lung regulators. We will never know why this watch never made it into production but is my belief it was conceived for the Aqua-Lung anniversary and is linked to the golden Royal Aqua-Master regulator.
Advertising for the limited edition of 100 gold plated Aqua-Lung regulators
How did you find and purchase this watch?
I am sorry to say this is one of the dullest stories I have. I like buying watches from their first owner. They often have quite a history to be recorded. There is a reason why they have not parted with it for 50 years. This is one of the facets that makes collecting vintage watches so very interesting. In this case, I bought the watch on a dull Sunday morning, from a horse dealer in Switzerland.
Was the movement an important consideration?
As you can imagine the movement was not part of my consideration buying this watch. The movement is a workhorse. It is a Doxa Calibre 118 movement that is basically an ETA 2472. Highly reliable and highly impractical for a watch collector because it does not have a quick set date. Two years later the movement would be replaced by a bigger workhorse, the Synchron 58 (ETA 2783) movement, with quick set date. Most movements found in vintage divers are of the reliable kind and may not be the most visually or technically interesting. There are exemptions, like the Calibre 287 chronograph movement found in the Doxa SUB 200 T-graph or the Valjoux movements found in other divers.
What do you think about new watches? Why are you not interested?
Most people that know the kind of watches I collect don’t expect me to like new watches. I can not deny I favor vintage watches – l like classic things in general – but I can enjoy new watches as well. It is just that before I can make a decision on a new watch, a pressing vintage buy will come up.
I would love to have a new Doxa that I can use as dive tool watch. I like the 1200T Sharkhunter and Turquoise 1500T, but am not too crazy about the project aware logo on it. I have been diving with my Divingstar on occasion, but it is just too risky. A new Doxa without shortage of spares would be lovely for obvious reasons. Other than that I love to own a watch that is at the forefront of todays creative and technical innovation. Not a watch with thick crystal you can screw on the outside of a sub but a mind-blowing watch like the HM3 Moon Machine.
Can a collector ever be fully satisfied with his/her collection?
It is very hard to say if this would apply to me. There is a fine line between satisfied and bored. In general, they say that collectors live by the passing of other collectors. In the case of watches, it is not that obvious since a lot of watches still remain outside the ownership of collectors. I think that collecting watches is something fluid and the direction of a collection will shift or mature over time. The word collector comes from the verb to collect. If you are no longer collecting because of a lack of desire or direction, will you still have the need for a collection?
What piece of advice would you give to someone considering starting a collection?
Most true collectors are averse to any advice but I would advice everybody considering collecting watches to do your homework, start modest and always prefer quality over quantity. It is like dating: you can always trade up. But most important: start today!
What are your thoughts about the vintage timepieces market at the moment?
Since my interest in watches is somewhat confined, I do not have a complete picture. I find there is a lot of interest in vintage watches both from people looking for ‘not your ordinary watch’ as well as collectors. There still are plenty of opportunities. From a buying point of view, collectors have to be more aggressive than before but if you want to trade up or upgrade your collection, this is the time to do it.
What (if anything) have you got your eye on next?
I am quite curious as to what I will find around the next bent. I love acrylic crystal divers. My focus at the moment is on early divers from the early 50’s up to the late 60’s. I am looking for an other one or two Doxa SUB300 no-T models. But I am also looking at early ZRC and Eterna KonTiki divers. The original first series designs always tend to be the most interesting.
Name three watches that you cannot part with?
Just three? That is easy and impossible at the same time. Besides the Golden Doxa Sub 300, I’d say my 1965 Doxa SUB300 HRV prototype and my 1959 Doxa Canteen style diver spring, but I also have other rare Doxas I would hate to part with.