Date — 17 January, 2014
It’s Aqua Time: This year sees the launch of several new additions to IWC’s legendary diver’s watch family. All models are equipped with the IWC SafeDive system, which IWC Schaffhausen’s engineers have developed to make diving even safer and easier. And who are aware of their place in a long and proud tradition. For almost 50 years now, IWC has spearheaded innovation in watches designed for underwater use.
In 1967, when IWC unveiled its first Aquatimer at the Basel watch fair, diving was still a slightly exclusive – and risky – affair. The name itself was a stroke of genius: it was short and neatly conveyed the idea of an underwater timepiece that was water-resistant to 200 meters. At the same time, French naval officer and underwater pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was producing a series of books and films that opened the world’s eyes to this last, unknown natural paradise.
This was no easy undertaking: from the unusual regulator, which Cousteau co-invented, and the bulky compressed air tanks through to the neoprene dive suits – which he often glued together himself – and heavy lead belts, special equipment was required for adventures of this kind. In its early days, diving was still associated with the slightly mysterious figure of the frogman, the fearless – and much-feared – solo commando. The world’s first dive tables, used to calculate decompression stops on the basis of dive time and depth, were often based on those used by the military. To ignore them could lead to serious injury or, as in many cases, death. For a diver, having a watch and depth gauge on his wrist was as indispensable as the store of compressed air on his back.
In this respect, the first Aquatimer helped to open up the age of diving as a popular pastime. Reference 812 AD, later the 1812, with its clear-cut lines and an internal rotating bezel that could be set via a second crown and measured time spent under water, was still protected by a thick synthetic glass. It had a screw-in back, and the crown seals, whose quality was far inferior to that of modern-day materials, were reinforced by spring pressure. With these design features on board, every single watch was tested at 20 bar. From the outside, it was reminiscent of the company’s flagship model at the time, the extremely robust Ingenieur. It also shared the top 8541-caliber movement, including Pellaton winding. The owner could choose to wear it with either the No. 12 steel link bracelet or on a waterproof Tropic strap made of artificial fiber.
Two further models, Ref. 1816 and Ref. 1822, appeared between then and 1982. They likewise featured an internal rotating bezel to show dive time, a solid, cushion-style stainless-steel case, mineral and sapphire glasses, and higher pressure-resistance of 30 bar. A conspicuous feature in keeping with the times: blue/green and brown/red dials. Today, they all are much-sought-after collector’s items.
For a diver, having a watch and depth gauge on his wrist was as indispensable as the store of compressed air on his back.
What happened after 1982 was akin to a revolution in watchmaking technology: simply put, it was the first Porsche that could dive. Or to be more precise: a diver’s watch in a titanium case commissioned by the armed forces for commando frogmen and mine clearance divers. It was the second watch in this futuristic material spawned by the partnership between Porsche Design and IWC. The military versions were fitted with a quartz movement for the frogmen or an automatic movement made with antimagnetic materials for the mine clearance divers, whose work brought them into contact with sensitive magnetic fuses.
The order resulted in two civilian models, the Ocean 2000 and the Ocean 500. Common to these two man-size watches was record pressure-resistance to 200 bar, which was equivalent to 2,000 meters, or ten times that of the first Aquatimers. At this depth, every square centimeter of the watch and the slightly convex sapphire glass is subject to a load of four hundredweight. In the test chamber, every Ocean 2000 has to withstand a depth that could never be achieved by amateur scuba divers.
Schaffhausen has gone on to develop new technologies for securing glass gaskets as well as the basics of a patented triple pressure seal system: an investment in the future that has become the standard in protection for timepieces as extreme as these. The cooperation agreement with Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who was also the father of the legendary 911, ended shortly before the turn of the century. With its external rotating bezel and a case whose shape was reminiscent of submarine hydrodynamics, the Ocean 2000 rapidly became a design icon.
What happened after 1982 was akin to a revolution in watchmaking technology: simply put, it was the first Porsche that could dive.
Its leading position was taken over in the year 1998 by the new GST sports watch line, likewise a model in titanium with 200-bar pressure-resistance and an external rotating bezel. The spectacular flagship of the new generation in 1999 was the GST Deep One, featuring a depth gauge and maximum depth indicator. One of the two center hands showed current dive depth down to 45 meters, while the second locked at the maximum depth achieved during the dive and could be manually reset later. Using diving’s two central parameters, time and depth, and independently of the dive computer, it was thus possible for the diver to calculate the course of the dive and, with it, a safe ascent to the surface. Dive time could be tracked on an internal rotating bezel.
The principle of an autonomous mechanical backup system has been retained in all subsequent models with a depth gauge through to the current Deep Three. In the Deep One, water pressure was measured using a crown with minuscule holes and an attached meter (Bourdon tubes), which moved the indicators via a lever system. From a technical point of view, it was an interesting solution, but it required the arbors for the depth gauge’s hands to be taken through the middle of the movement. This, in turn, meant that the watch had room only for a small seconds hand. But the engineers continued to work on the problem, as soon became apparent.
First, in 2004, came the go-ahead for a new generation of Aquatimers, which the Cousteau team divers had tested extensively in the course of their expedition to the Red Sea. As cooperation partner of the Cousteau Society, IWC sponsored the exploratory voyage of the Alcyone, exactly 50 years after Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s first expedition to this part of the world. The mission’s aim was to document the coral reefs worthy of protection in the region.
In the Deep One water pressure was measured using a crown with minuscule holes and an attached meter.
A series of improvements followed that made diving even safer. The internal rotating bezel was operated via a second crown, which self-sealed under pressure. Optical highlights were provided by signal yellow markings on the titanium models and a maritime-inspired combination of blue and coral red in the Cousteau Divers special editions. A piece of trailblazing technology came in the shape of the Aquatimer Split Minute Chronograph with the feature that named it, a split-minute hand. This made it easy to measure separate periods of time under water. The Vintage series that celebrated the company’s 140th anniversary in 2008 saw a revival of the original 1967 Aquatimer with a larger case and state-of-the-art technology (cal. 80111).
Finally, in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the Aquatimer took the next big step forward in its evolution: it coincided with another partnership agreement in the interest of protecting the environment and biodiversity, this time with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Research Station of the same name on the Galápagos Islands. Adaptation and selection, two of the keywords in Darwin’s theory of evolution, guided the developers and designers in their work on this generation of the Aquatimer. With diameters of 44 and 46 millimeters, and in keeping with contemporary trends, the watches were significantly larger. And the old question as to what was the best way to keep track of dive time was answered by a striking external rotating bezel with bright, luminescent colors and a scratch-resistant inset of sapphire glass. The usual colors for the Aquatimer dial – black and yellow, blue and coral red – were joined by a new combination of colors and materials: with a vulcanized
stainless-steel case and its black-and-white dial, the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Galapagos Islands” generated exciting associations with that unique product of subaquatic volcanoes and laboratory of evolution out in the Pacific.
Adaptation and selection, two of the keywords in Darwin’s theory of evolution, guided the developers and designers in their work on the 2009 generation of the Aquatimer.
Exactly ten years after the Deep One, the Aquatimer Deep Two’s state-of-the-art technology caused another stir. The mechanical depth gauge – and, above all, the pressure transmission system – underwent a major overhaul. From now on, water pressure acted through the protected depth gauge crown on the left side of the case on a membrane in the pressure converter. Once the wearer dived below the surface, this acted directly on a lever system with two indicators mounted behind the back of the watch. On a semicircular segment in the left half of the dial, the two bent-over tips (blue and red) of the indicators showed current dive depth and the maximum depth attained in the course of the dive to 50 meters. The bushing for the depth indicators that passed through the center of the movement was eliminated and made room for a large seconds hand. A small push-button reset the maximum depth indicator to zero once the dive was completed. The Aquatimer Chronograph in red gold, with its new in-house 89360-caliber chronograph movement, elegantly underscored the notion that diving could be an altogether beautiful experience.
For 2014, IWC’s engineers have no shortage of innovations in store. The new IWC SafeDive system brings the simpler operation of an external rotating bezel and the improved legibility of a dive time scale on the inside of the watch – and thus closer to the minute hand – together in a perfect synthesis. The movements of the chunky outer ring are transmitted through a sealed sliding clutch system and move the internal rotating bezel in one-minute steps – only counterclockwise, for safety reasons. The external bezel, which has toothing on its underside, replaces the second crown on the earlier Aquatimer models. A bow, which looks like another operating element, protects the external – and thus “wet” – part of the mechanism against shocks and impacts.
The new IWC SafeDive system brings the simpler operation of an external rotating bezel and the improved legibility of a dive time scale on the inside of the watch together.
This type of progress benefits the entire watch family. This now includes remarkable technical highlights such as the new Aquatimer Deep Three and Aquatimer 2000, both in titanium cases. The attractively shaped rotating bezels with their gently rounded recessed grips are reminiscent of the legendary Ocean 2000. And, talking of tradition, the tested pressure-resistance of all watches is now shown, as in earlier days, next to the familiar fish symbol on the back of the watch.
The complex and sophisticated Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month in rubber-coated titanium and red gold is another fabulous diver’s watch. And, much more than a mere conversation piece, the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin” is IWC’s first watch with a bronze case. Other exciting special editions and a choice of models in more moderately sized cases of 42 millimeters complete the family. Common to all the watches is a newly developed and patented system to make the change from a steel bracelet to a rubber strap quick and simple. And for all their technological and sporty qualities, the discreet choice of colors and formal elegance ensure that they are never out of place, even under the cuff of a smart jacket.