If you’re a watch enthusiast who likes a good story to go along with a good watch, chances are you have heard of the Dirty Dozen military watches. In case you haven’t and don’t feel like a deep dive on the subject, here is the short version: the Dirty Dozen is the colloquial name given to one watch, supplied by twelve different brands, to British military personnel in the Second World War. The production of a single specification for a watch had to be spread across many brands in order to meet the massive production demand of 150,000 watches. Those twelve brands run the gamut from names you definitely know, like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, IWC, and Omega; to names you might know, like Buren, Cyma, Eterna, and Lemania; to names you might not know, like Grana, Record, Timor, and the one we are speaking of today: Vertex. But today isn’t about military watches. It’s about the M60 Aqualion.
Vertex was originally founded in 1912 by a young Englishman named Claude Lyons, using a £1,000 loan from his father-in-law. The brand specialised in making British watches using Swiss movements. By 1915 they were producing watches for British troops in World War I. Post-wartimes found Vertex making a range of different civilian watches for men and women, as well as working with and importing other brands to the UK, such as Revue Thommen and Movado.
In 1938, Claude’s son-in-law Henry Lazarus joined the company. By 1941, Henry had also become a Captain in the British Army and, given his watchmaking background, was tasked to help with the procurement of watches for the armed forces. This would lead to the production of the Cal 59 W.W.W nav watch and to Vertex becoming one of the 12 famous Dirt Dozen watches. Vertex would continue producing watches all the way up to 1972, when, like so many other brands, it fell victim to the new demand for quartz watches and closed its doors.
In 2015, 100 years after its initial launch, Vertex was re-incorporated and re-launched by the great-grandson of Claude Lyons, Don Cochrane. Who better to relaunch a brand than a direct relative of the original founder? For the first new Vertex watch in 45 years, it released the M100, based on that famous watch from WWII.
The first dive watch of the brand, the M60 Aqualion
When it came time to make a dive watch, Vertex looked back at its catalogue from the 1950s and 1960s for inspiration; the result is the M60 Aqualion, a modern dive watch with just enough touches of the past to tie it to the brand’s history, without being a vintage-reissue watch. With a diameter of 40mm, a thickness of 14mm and a lug-to-lug of 49mm, the watch sits squarely in the modern tool watch Goldilocks zone. Not too big and not too small, just right. It is available in stainless steel or DLC-coated stainless steel, in date or no date configurations. The dial is matte black with minimal printing, just the Vertex name and C.O.S.C. in white text, and the depth rating with a nice touch of red. It’s subtle enough to highlight the main attraction, the 3-dimensional 3-6-9-12 digits and baton-shaped hour indices, which are made entirely of moulded Super-LumiNova and applied to the dial.
Time-telling is done with a pair of sword hands that are also fully lumed, save for an outline of polished steel around them. The result is a ludicrous amount of glow that would make it easy to see in the vacuum of deep space, never mind a few metres underwater. Speaking of underwater, Vertex has somehow pushed the water-resistance up to a whopping 600 metres, about 3x that of most watches this size. Given that, you will not be surprised to find a screw-down crown and screw-down caseback, keeping things watertight. The solid caseback is decorated with a lovely engraving of the namesake Aqualion, which was also the logo for Claude Lyons’ earlier watch company, Dreadnought. That name is now owned by another watch company, but Vertex retained the rights to the image.
The bezel is another high point of the watch. It’s matte ceramic with engraved timing indices that are also filled with Super-LumiNova, increasing the aforementioned ludicrous glow. It has an excellent grip with alternating textured parts for fine grip and cutout geometries for ease of use. It was modelled after the rear sight adjuster of the British Bren gun, a famous WWII-era light machine gun that Cochrane just happened to have lying around at home; we won’t ask any more questions about that. The bezel has a 60-click action that is just about perfect, with zero back-play or slack. The watch’s enclosure is finished off with a subtly domed, AR-coated sapphire crystal to ensure tack-sharp legibility.
Before we get into wearability, let’s address the elephant in the room here, the price tag. Coming in at just under EUR 2,900, the M60 is in an interesting pricing area. Way more than one would expect to pay for what is essentially a “micro brand” and getting close to the cost of some big name brands, such as Tudor or Longines. People will argue whether a watch is worth its cost until the cows come home, and the answer is certainly subjective. For me, it goes like this: yeah, I think it’s worth it. Hear me out.
What Vertex has done with the M60 is take a basic dive watch formula and turn everything up to 11, from a spec and build perspective. Where a standard diver has acceptable lume, the M60 is off the charts. The standard diver is water-resistant to 200 metres, the M60 triples that and adds the stringent ISO 6425 certification for good measure. The standard diver’s bezel action is functional, the M60 has the best bezel I have ever used this side of a Tudor Pelagos. Where an off-the-shelf Sellita movement would probably be fine, Vertex takes it a step further and has it C.O.S.C. certified. On top of these things, there are multiple so-called “quality of life features” to add to the pot. The inclusion of three straps, all with quick change functionality, was a game changer for me. The ability to swap between bracelets, rubber and NATO straps on a whim is very fun and makes the watch all the more desirable to wear. Other small touches are a rubber strap that challenges the best ones out there in quality and two different spring bar placement spots. This lets 2-piece straps get snug against the case with no gaps while leaving ample space for multi-pass straps to squeeze through. This is one of the rare watches that I genuinely have zero complaints about, and I think it makes a strong case for its value.
On the wrist, the M60 Aqualion wears just about perfectly. I have seen grumblings in comments and forums about the thickness, but I can confidently say that for me, this was a non-issue. 14mm isn’t that thick, to begin with, especially for 600m of water-resistance, and it truly doesn’t feel a millimetre over 12 in practice. The other dimensions are just about perfect for my 16cm wrist. Aesthetically, the M60 straddles the line between vintage charm and high-tech razzle-dazzle, never straying too far in either direction. The wearability is increased by the aforementioned straps. The bracelet is excellent and solidly built, featuring the two things I want most in a bracelet: one-sided screws for easy sizing and a wetsuit extension for diving. A quick micro-adjust would have been the icing on the cake, but maybe in the next version.
The rubber strap is top of the line and feels equal parts supple and tough. Also included is a Zulu style, single pass strap with a little dive flag on the keeper, a nice touch. I also got to try out the Vertex leather strap, not included but available for purchase, which is a good option if you want to dress things up a little bit. The fact that you can easily change these out in about ten seconds makes for an extremely wearable and versatile package. Now let’s take the Vertex M60 Aqualion in the water.
Under the Sea
Being a brand that is mostly known for military watches, Vertex doesn’t have a lot of dive heritage it has to live up to. This clean slate means that Cochrane and Vertex get to build a new brand diving story from scratch, and this is a solid debut effort. The M60 feels every bit the tool watch when you strap it over a wetsuit and prepare to giant stride into the water. It’s heavy enough to know it’s there but light enough that it will never bother you. Turning the bezel to start timing a dive is a piece of cake, even in gloved hands, which is a feature lacking in even some famous, big-name divers. I’m looking at you, Seamaster. The bezel action clicks confidently into place, and you are ready to go.
Everyone knows by now that fussing about mechanical watches while diving is a largely esoteric pursuit in this day of computers and high-tech gadgetry, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less fun. I took the M60 Aqualion down a total of four times, on both the bracelet and the rubber strap, to some shallow coral reefs and a few 30+ metre wrecks, and it performed like a champ. Highly legible thanks to that lume, even when navigating through a dark bulkhead at 37 metres, and the few times I accidentally knocked it against a rusty old steel wall, I had no doubt that it would shake it off and keep on ticking. And that’s really all you can ask of a dive watch. It doesn’t hurt that it is really nice to look at, too.
All things considered, the Vertex M60 Aqualion is a top-of-the-line dive watch from a small brand that gives the big boys a run for their money and ups the ante with some small touches that I will probably judge all other watches against, moving forward. As the beginning of a new Vertex heritage in aquatic watches, it’s a very strong start. Available now from the brand’s website, starting at about EUR 2,870.
For more details, please visit Vertex-Watches.com.