By Ben Newport-Foster
Watches can impose a certain feeling when you first wear them. The Universal Geneve I wore last month imposed a feeling of refinement, of a longing for days past. What the Aquastar imposed upon me when I first wore it was completely different. It was a feeling of purpose, the feeling of a well crafted tool made for particular task.
If you're like me then you'll have spent far too much time on eBay searching for vintage watches. Often I feel like my gaze alone is enough to break the worn-out, chrome plated case, that's how little faith I have in these watches. That would not be further from the truth when I gaze upon the Aquastar 63. The 37.5mm case of solid, stainless steel might seem small on the page, but is an imposing presence on the wrist, helped by the long lugs and wide, untouched facets. Luckily, this watch hasn't been introduced to the polishing wheel in its 50 or so years, leaving the case and its long, dramatic lines marvelously pure. Yes, there are scratches but having scratches on a vintage dive watch is half the fun. Leave the new old stock, tags still attached cases to dress watches. I want my divers to have been knocked against boats, rattled around in bags next to regulators and dashed against rocks. I want proof that these tools were used time after time for the purpose for which they were made.
Aquastar was founded in 1962 in Geneva by Jean S. Robert and was originally a sub-brand of JeanRichard (The irony that this cult dive watch brand being founded in Geneva, a city hundreds of miles away from the ocean, should not be lost on you). Soon enough, the prestige earned by Aquastar led them to become their own independent company and quickly they began producing more dive watches in earnest.
The 1960s were a golden decade of underwater exploration and advancement in dive watch technology and Aquastar was right there at the forefront. The Aquastar Regate is one of the brands most iconic watches as it was one of the first regatta timing wristwatches, and it too shares the same case shape as the Aquastar 63. At 200 meters water resistance, this watch is over-built, even for the needs of professional divers of the era. At 200 meters deep, you begin to reach the limits of how far light will penetrate to allow plants to grow in clear water. Yet Aquastar wouldn't let the limitations of nature get in the way of creating a tool that could surpass even their greatest achievements.
There was a feeling of real joy when I realized that this watch has an internal rotating bezel. Perhaps it's the part of me that never grew up, but turning the crown and seeing the gracefully glide around the dial was a simple, innocent pleasure. Internal, rotating bezels are quite a rarity and to find an Aquastar 63 with one in working order is a particular challenge. The most common dive watch case with an internal bezel was the Super-Compressor case made by Ervin Piquerez S.A. and made famous by divers watches made by Longines and Bulova. The Super-Compressor used a two crown system, one for winding the mainspring and one for rotating the bezel. What Aquastar did was use a single crown system whereby rotating the crown clockwise would both rotate the bezel anti-clockwise and wind the mainspring, and rotating it anti-clockwise would rotate the bezel clockwise. Like most vintage collectors, I have little to no actual need for a dive watch or a rotating bezel (past timing how long a particularly boring meeting has overrun) but having this oddity added another layer of charm to an already very charming watch.
The dial is a beautiful, eclectic assortment of shapes that come together to form something that is perfectly legible and yet very stylish all at the same time. The large, angular hour markers that are polished to a near mirror shine and the large, creamy lume is framed deliciously between them. The delicate script of Aquastar contrasts perfectly with the dominating case and chunky hour markers. Turning the watch over reveals yet another delightful motif of the Aquastar, the case back. The 100% Waterproof text is a hallmark of the confidence of a bygone era, a time when you didn't have to hedge your bets and call a dive watch water 'resistant'. The simple repeating pattern on the case back is another elegant motif lost to time.
Whilst I didn't take the Aquastar diving during my time with it, I felt that I could have and that feeling of confidence, in a tool nearly twice my age, is beyond valuation. The simplicity, the build quality and the unique rotating bezel made this one hell of a watch then, and even more of one fifty years later.