Epic Dive Watch Comparison 2
(Continued from Part 1, which you can find here
(For technical reasons, most photos are minimized. Click on them for a high-res version) The Lume
In Part 1 we took a close look at each watch's face, bezel and movement--now we turn to perhaps the coolest part of dive watches: the lume.
We can see from that picture that we have quite a variety on our hands. Four of our watches used green lume, one blue, and one each used tritium and red lume. There was a surprising diversity of brightness as well, with some shining a little more than the others. Let's take a closer look.
We'll start with a watch that has great all around luminescent properties, the Muhle SAR. While some of these photos have been enhanced for clarity, this one (as well as the Seiko and Maurice Lacroix) have not. We can immediately see very sharp edges on the lume, characteristic of high quality work. We also notice that there are no dark or bright spots--it's very evenly distributed. And finally, we notice something I mentioned earlier, the two dots around the 12:00 marker used for orientation. But most importantly, this watch is extremely bright and has great longevity. It was among the easiest to see and read at night--very impressive.
Turning now to the also excellent, and unenhanced, Maurice Lacroix. When I first saw the Pontos S Diver, I was a little bit worried that its thin markers and hands would mean insufficient lume--and I was very wrong to worry. This watch was not only bright, it was among the brightest of the test. Like the Muhle, it also has very sharp edges and even distribution. But the fact that the rotating chapter ring is well lumed (a feature that the Muhle couldn't replicate, due to the lack of a rotating bezel) makes a big difference.
Bremont offers the only fully blue-lumed watch of the test and it's quite impressive. Still, it's not as powerful the Bremont S500 I tested last time, likely due to the different paint used. In my observation, blue lume is generally noticeably weaker than green lume, although there were big exceptions in the last comparisons. Nonetheless, the lume is very bright and will certainly be up to any occasion.
Next we have the Hokusai, which is the only watch of the test, and one of the only in the world, with red lume. In terms of outright coolness, none can beat the Aquascope Hokusai. The novelty of having bright red hands and a red glow at night is not to be taken lightly, especially if you already have a lot of divers and are looking for something different. However, there is a reason red luminescent paint is not used often, and that appears to be the fact that it's not nearly as bright as green or blue lume. Of the lumed watches here, it was the least bright. Ultimately, the potential owner must balance the unique and eye-catching benefits of red lume with the decreased brightness. For me, it's worth the trade--I find I like lume for aesthetic reasons, not primarily because I actually use it to read the watch.
Next we have the Seiko Spring Drive Tuna. As I noted in my review of that watch
, the lume is immensely bright. This is a product of a few things--excellent paint, lots of area (the markers and hands are large), and then a thick application of paint--i.e., the quality and volume of the paint in the Seiko is excellent. The lumed pip is also extremely bright, although the SBDB009 does without the lumed numerals found on the Ball, Bremont or Maurice Lacroix. Also note that it's extremely easy to orient your vision with this watch, due to the radically different shape of the 12:00 marker.
The Girard-Perregaux also uses conventional green lume and largely accomplishes similar feats in similar ways. It's also extremely legible and easy to get oriented to, thanks to its distinct 12:00 marker. Furthermore, like the Seiko, it uses a simple pip on the bezel--no numerals. Of note is the power reserve hand, in this case pointing to 8:00. I must admit, I don't fully understand the decision to lume the power reserve hand. For one thing, there is no point of reference (compare this with the Lange 1), so it's impossible to see if your watch is almost dead or actually dead with a quick glance due to the fact there's no lumed seconds hand to observe in motion. Still, any opportunity for more lume is a good opportunity. Nonetheless, while certainly bright, it's not quite as bright as the Muhle, Seiko or Maurice Lacroix.
Ball, of course, does things their own way with tritium tubes. Tritium tubes are not like luminescent paint insofar as they are not charged by ambient light. In other words, the energy they use to create visible light is entirely internally stored. The result is a glow that is equally bright at any time of day, with or without exposure to natural or artificial lighting. That means that where most of these watches will be quite dark, or possibly unreadable, by 5 AM, the Ball will be glowing as brightly as it did the moment you turned out the lights at 11 PM. That said, there is a compromise in terms of brightness--it was the least bright watch of the test (but again, all the other watches had been exposed to a bright light for the photographs). So you give up some peak brightness for a better average brightness.
A cool aspect of the tritium tubes that is difficult to capture with lume is the ability to use many different colors. This particular Ball has blue, orange and red glowing accents, which is a neat touch.
So which watch had the best lume? Well the finalists were certainly easy to pick out: the Muhle, Seiko and Maurice Lacroix were all amazingly bright. Of those, the Muhle just ever so slightly didn't have the brightness of the Pontos S. They were extremely close, and I'm not sure you can appreciate the difference in the first photo, but in person, it was clear that it just wasn't quite
there. The Maurice Lacroix was also helped by the additional lume on its rotating chapter ring. So the competition narrows.
So two remain: the Seiko and the Maurice Lacroix. But in reality, it's not close. The Seiko is unbelievably
bright. It's the best lume I've ever seen on a watch. It's also extremely easy to read, thanks to the unique 12:00 marker, the hands that do not at all resemble each other, and the lumed counterbalance of the seconds hand being so close to the axis, so that you never confuse that dot for one of the hands. Another smart decision, in my opinion, is the choice not to lume the power reserve--when night comes, or when you're under water, only the most crucial time-telling elements are visible.
Most of the comparisons so far have been incredibly close, but this isn't one of them--the Seiko wins it, hands down. The 2nd place has to be the Maurice Lacroix, which is very surprising, since before the lights were off, I thought it would be the least bright. And right behind it is the terrific Muhle. Honorable mention once again goes to Ball for offering a unique alternative. The Case
The case plays a bigger role in a dive watch than in any other genre of watch. Diver cases are generally the biggest, toughest, and most overengineered part of a good dive watch. And most importantly, they are designed to be incredibly water resistant, often many times more resistant than the human that wears them. Let's take a look at them in depth.
Let's start with one of the most impressive of the bunch, especially considering the price point, the Ball DeepQUEST. This 43mm watch wears a bit bigger than you'd think, perhaps due to its 16mm thick profile. But it's also surprisingly light, thanks to a full titanium single block case. I'm a little puzzled at the thickness, however, since if they're using an ETA 2892 like I suggested earlier, that implies there's a lot of space inside that case, or the titanium is just that amazingly thick. But none of that matters--divers are supposed
to be big and bad.
The crown, like all dive watches, screws down, but it does so in an interesting way--it has the longest travel of any crown I've ever used. It can actually take a little while to unscrew it or screw it back in. That was probably necessitated by its crazy 3000 meter water resistance.
It also has an automatic helium escape valve on the 9:00 side.
The back of the case has a nice earth motif, but more importantly, you can see that it's a seamless design--no screws hold that case back on, it's simply one with the rest of the case, a design decision that increases strength.
Next up is the Girard-Perregaux Sea Hawk. As I noted in the introduction, this particular model has the optional ceramic case and bezel. That has a few consequences. First, it should be much more scratch resistant than steel or titanium competitors, although the Bremont does have hardened steel and a sapphire bezel, so it should also be super tough. Second, it drops the water resistance rating from 1000 meters to 300, still far more than enough. And finally, it adds about $3000 to the price of the watch, so if you don't want a blacked out Sea Hawk, or you would rather get steel and pocket the price difference, there are plenty of Sea Hawk options out there for you.
I love the crown--it's big and easy to grip.
For that matter, I love the crown guard--it's up there with the Seiko and Bremont for my favorite in the comparison. I normally am not a big fan of off-centered crowns (although I don't hate them either), but this super edgy crown guard makes it look awesome.
The watch is surprisingly thick as well, at 17.8mm. But like the Ball, that's not a problem--divers are supposed to be big and thick--that's part of the reason they look so good. The thickness, relative to the 44mm diameter, fits the proportions very well.
The case back is hands down the coolest of the bunch with a nice steel medallion in the middle. The emblem is one of a snake around a trident/anchor, which apparently means "do nothing without advice." This symbol is supposed to be unique to GP and has been used by the company since the late 19th century and is suitably awesome.
I also loved the Pontos S Diver's case--it's quite traditional excepting the second crown. It's in a great size at 43mm, which is about the average for our comparison and just wears really well. It's certainly the dressiest of the comparison and would probably make the best every day wearer.
The second crown is what really sets it apart. Like all the crowns in the comparison, it also screws down. This approach allows the use of an internal rotating chapter ring which is very secure from both bumps and scratches. I love how it looks--I like that it sets it apart and that it's assymetric. It's very Maurice Lacroix-y--it's just a bit different from the norm.
The sides of the case have a nice vertical brush finish--the whole watch just looks really high quality.
As is common with watches with 600 meters of water resistance, a helium escape valve is present.
The case back is well done, if a bit plain compared to others in the comparison.
The SAR's case is very unique, not just by the standards of this comparison, but for divers in general. The extended covered lugs remind me a lot of the Ulysse Nardin Chronometer (or perhaps it's more fair to say the UN reminds me of this Muhle). Otherwise it's a very no-nonsense, relatively subtle approach to a dive watch. It's also the smallest of the test at 42mm, again, a great every day size. If you were buying one of these divers to wear 7 days a week, the Muhle, along with the Maurice Lacroix, would probably be your best choice.
Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the off-centered crown, very neatly recessed into the case. It's an interesting visual effect because it lines up directly with an hour marker and then the date, giving the impression there's a diagonal line running through these things.
The case is also surprisingly thin at 13.5mm, not much more than many watches that aren't intended for diving. This all comes together to make it very comfortable.
This utilitarian case back helps protect the watch up to 1000 meters. Despite being the smallest watch of the test, it has third best water resistance, so it's really a great compromise between bulk and performance.
Next we turn to Bremont and easily one of the most impressive cases of the bunch. It's the second biggest watch of the test at 45mm and noticeably larger than the S500 we reviewed last time. Yet, the size feels very balanced--it doesn't wear like a huge watch in my opinion. The case has many advantages, the primary being sapphire bezel--but since we've already discussed bezels in Part 1, we'll focus on its many other virtues.
The rest of the case is made of hardened steel which is several times more scratch resistant than ordinary steel. Also check out that off centered crown and crown guard.
I just love how the crown guard ramps up like that--it's one of my favorites for sure.
Naturally, Bremont's well-loved Trip-Tik design is present. That allows them to use a different "barrel" around the side of the movement and creates a really cool look. You can also see the automatic helium release valve, useful for its outrageous 2000 meter water resistance rating.
The case back features the pontoon plane that inspired its design. Underneath it, however, there are some special technologies to give it an edge on the competition. It has an anti-magnetic Faraday cage which should make the movement nearly immune to real-world levels of magnetism. More special, however, is the anti-shock mount that protects the movement from sudden impacts. It's very clear that case design and manufacture is Bremont's forte.
We now turn to the most radical case in the comparison, the SBDB009 Tuna. This thing is just awesome. It's huge, by far the biggest in the comparison, at 50.5mm. It's also got the Tuna's trademark shroud that protects the case and bezel.
It's just beautifully made. It's titanium, so it's surprisingly light for its size, and has a tough black DLC coating. Furthermore, it's not just any titanium, it's Seiko's proprietary Bright Titanium. The "bright" element doesn't make a difference here, since it's coated anyway, but it's also harder and therefore more scratch resistant than most titanium alloys. The black coating contributes a great deal to its beauty--instead of just being a rough, matte finish, it's shiny and metallic--it looks like it's black steel.
I love the crown as well, both in looks, feel and the way it's recessed into the shroud which sort of works as a crown guard by default. It screws down to protect the watch for up to 600 meters. You might notice that it has no helium escape valve. Thanks to special gaskets, Seiko has found a simpler solution to the problem of helium buildup without need for a valve.
Along with the Bremont and GP, Seiko's approach to a crown guard is very cool.
The caseback is also super cool, continuing the shiny and blacked out theme. I also like the wave motif. It's second only to the GP in this area.
A great competitor for coolness, however, has to be the Aquascope Hokusai. Like the Seiko, it's totally blacked out. It also has that cool cushion case design JR is so known for, the only one of the test to not have a round case, so JeanRichard really has something unique to offer here.
JeanRichard's cases are very customizable, made of many interlocking parts. For instance, you can see here that the bezel, inner case and outer case each have slightly different coatings and finishes.
The Aquascope ties for third largest of the test with GP at 44mm, but it wears smaller than the GP. It's a surprisingly simple and utilitarian design, one that you'd overlook due to the radical appearance--but ignore the murdered out case, hokusai dial and red hands and underneath you have something quite elegant. Also interestingly, it ties with the GP for lowest water resistance of the group, at 300 meters. I wouldn't let that dissuade you, however--that's more than enough for any real world purpose.
No huge crown guard here--although it, of course, screws down, it looks like a hand wound at a glance.
I love JeanRichard's vertical polishing on the case.
The caseback is perhaps the simplest of the bunch, but I rather like it--just a big JR logo. This view really shows off the shape of its cushion case as well.
Unlike the lume section, this one is really hard to decide. I liked how the Seiko and Girard-Perregaux looked the most. They were both really distinct and radical but not over the top. For the GP, I love that really angular off centered crown and the ceramic material. For the Seiko, the titanium black DLC shroud and hidden crown really impressed me.
Still, they're both pretty large and unwieldy--not at all the case with this Muhle and Maurice Lacroix. Muhle has the best every day size of the whole bunch and is relatively low profile. This is just my personal preference, of course, but I'm not crazy about the lugs on the SAR. Thus, if ever so slightly, I think the Maurice Lacroix Pontos S Diver is the best diver here for every day. It's big, but not huge, the styling works as a diver, but it's not totally in your face in the way the GP, JR or Seiko is--you could wear this to your board meeting and no one will notice.
Of course, we can't ignore the Ball or JeanRichard either. The Ball has some of the best specs of any of the watches here at one of the lowest prices--it's a full titanium monocoque case rated for an absurd level of waster resistance. The JeanRichard costs about the same and offers one of the best looking cases of the group in a really good cushion case form factor.
As hard a decision as it is, I think the Bremont S2000 is the winner. Even though it's not my favorite looking, I still think it looks great, and objectively speaking, it has the most tools in the toolbox. From hardened steel, to an antimagnetic core to an anti-shock mount, this case should actually enhance the performance of the watch. And, subjectively, I love the Trip-Tik case and the cool crown guard. Runners up? That's just as hard--I'd probably give it to the Girard-Perregaux thanks to its ceramic design, cool case back and edgy crown guard. The Conclusion
We've looked at watches today that come from four different countries, five if you count Ball as American, at a wide variety of prices from the surprisingly affordable Muhle SAR to the legitimately high-end Girard-Perregaux Sea Hawk. Before I get to the winner, it's worth a few remarks summing up my thoughts on each. I'll also be revealing the price of each, a fact I've intentionally kept out of your minds thus far because I wanted the watches to be evaluated on the merits first. For purpose of choosing a winner, I will be taking value into account in this particular contest.
The Muhle Glashutte SAR Rescue Timer is a great watch with a very good size and price. It's the most affordable of the entire comparison at $2700, $700 less than the next most affordable and well beneath the $5600 average of the test. It also featured the third highest water resistance rating and the third best lume. Furthermore, it's the only watch with a modified movement, so movement afficionados can consider that a nice value-add. The Muhle is undoubtedly a very good watch, and if you can get over the lack of a rotating bezel, a very good diver as well. It's quintessentially Muhle, and therefore German--everything you need, nothing you don't.
The Maurice Lacroix Pontos S Diver was easily one of my favorites of the comparison. I love how it looks, I love the rotating chapter ring, I love that second crown, the lume was the second best in the test, and it might surprise you that the price was the second best as well, at just $3400. The Pontos is definitely one of my favorite looking of the group. It's a terrific value and it would be the watch I'd buy if I planned to wear one of these to the office.
The JeanRichard Aquascope Hokusai is probably the outright coolest of the group. I love the textured dial--JR's dials are always among the best in these comparisons. I love the murdered out case and red hands too. Furthermore, it's one of the most comfortable to wear watches. I would prefer a little more rigidity in the bezel action and I wish the lume were brighter, but at least with regard to the latter, some sacrifices have to be made in order to be optimally good looking. The price is quite good as well at $4200. If you like the basic design but wanted to see a different version, with a different colored dial, case or hands, plenty exist, most of which are more affordable than this new Hokusai, so I recommend you check out the full panoply of Aquascopes. My favorite remains the blue dialed model from the last test, although it cannot compete with the sheer coolness of this new one.
The Seiko Prospex Spring Drive Tuna SBDB009 was definitely one of my favorites as well. It really gets a lot right. I love the big, blacked out titanium shroud. The action and look of the bezel was terrific. Although huge, it wears shockingly small and is up there with the JeanRichard for most comfortable (comparing only to others on rubber, of course). The lume was definitely the best in contest, and it's impossible to ignore the quasi-Grand Seiko movement inside it. Criticisms? Well, titanium, though light (crucial for such a big watch), is not the toughest material out there, even Seiko's bright alloy, so if you're really rough on your watches, this one may show it prior to, say, the Bremont. Conversely, the shroud is replaceable and is a protective shield to the core of the watch. The price is right as well, at $4200. This is quite a good deal when you consider that the closest competitor to it, Grand Seiko's SBGA029, is over $2000 more despite having an almost identical movement and a lower water resistance rating.
The Ball is also a really compelling value, especially if you'd prefer a traditional automatic instead of Seiko's spring drive. Not only does it cost $4300, right in the middle of our price range, and not only is it a chronometer, it appears they used the top-shelf 2892 over the more ubiquitous 2824. Despite the price, it also has the best water resistance rating and a sophisticated monocoque titanium case. Furthermore, the tritium tube lighting offers a useful and unique alternative to the conventional lume paint. I would prefer a little more brightness, however, and a little more resistance in the bezel, but the former is offset by the tritium's longevity and the latter is merely my preference.
The Bremont, of course, offers a tremendous all around package--that same "no weaknesses" approach to design is what won the last comparison for them. It's a very tough watch, inside and out. The good looks are secured by a sapphire bezel and a hardened steel case. The movement is protected by a Faraday cage and an anti-shock mount. It's also got the second highest water resistance rating and a well decorated chronometer spec movement. Of course, most importantly, it has great versatile good looks that, despite its large size, make it a feasible daily wearer, along with the Pontos. Naturally, all of these great features aren't free at about $6500, the second most expensive of the test. But you can see that much of the price has been reinvested into the watch.
And finally we get to the Girard-Perregaux Sea Hawk in ceramic. The GP has by far the most complex dial and (mechanical) movement and a pedigree few brands can compete with. There is definitely a cool factor associated with having a well decorated movement made by a legendary manufacture. It's a shame you can't see it through the back, but at least you get the cool snake/trident/anchor medallion. The bezel was one of my favorites of the test, not just because it's ceramic, but because it's bank vault solid. Yet, it's still easy to turn because it's so easy to grip. The textured dial looks great as well and I like having the appearance of multiple complications even if only one, the power reserve, is truly remarkable. The overall style is great as well and quite a departure from GP's dressy 1945 and 1966 lines. It, along with perhaps the Seiko and JeanRichard, best reprises the role of a stealth bomber. But, as you might expect, an in house automatic from a high-end watch company does result in a step up in price. This ceramic model is $13800. Softening that number a bit is the fact you can get the non-ceramic model, which actually increases the water resistance from 300m to 1000m, for $10,700. The Winner
This is a really tough decision--there really isn't any watch here I wouldn't gladly own and wear.
But ultimately, there can only be one. And for me, it's the Seiko. The last competition's Grand Seiko did very well and was certainly a finalist, but in the end it didn't make it--so why did this one succeed where the Grand Seiko didn't? Well, a few reasons. For one, it's much more affordable--it puts it into an entirely different price class, more around the area of JeanRichard and Ball. But, perhaps more importantly, it's just more Seiko-y. The SBGA029 is a genuinely amazing watch, one I'd love to own some day, but it's less distinctive. This Tuna, however, lets all the Seikoness through. There's no confusing it for anything else.
I like the case and lume more too. It's just a more daring watch all around. I love the blacked out titanium shroud, I love the buttery smooth bezel, I love the spring drive movement, I love how comfortable it is to wear, and I love the price. It wasn't the best watch in every category, but it was certainly competitive in all of them and won two of them. It's not for everyone--the best watch for your tastes may very well be different. Despite how small it wears, it's still a very large watch. It's not the one I'd pick for every day wear either, although it's comfortable enough to do so, it certainly won't fit under your sleeve. But it's not meant to be an every day watch--it's meant to be a hardcore diver, and at that, it is totally successful.
But there are too many great watches here to just walk away without some passing comments. If price is no object and you want something really special, try the GP Sea Hawk. If you're looking for a really good all around diver with a conventional movement and a great value, try the Ball DeepQUEST. If you're looking for a really good diver that can also go with you to the office every day, try the Pontos S Diver. If you just want the most awesome looking watch you can get, try the JeanRichard Aquascope Hokusai. Want something in a more manageable size without giving up any performance? Get the Muhle. And, just like last time, Bremont offers a very compelling all around package that will stay looking great for may years. There aren't any losers here.
So did I get it right? Let me know in the comments.