The Page and Cooper Limited Edition Vintage Squale Master
Just like a shipwreck that has lain forgotten and undisturbed at the bottom of the ocean for many years, the story of Squale and their classic dive watches is only now being rediscovered and brought to the surface.
Let us take you, fellow watch enthusiast, back in time to the 1950’s when Charles Von Buren owned a small factory on the shores of Lake Neuchatal, in the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry. The Von Burens were considered to be one of Switzerland’s best independent case makers, indeed the ‘Von Buren Crown’ was recognised as a hallmark of quality.
In the late 1950’s there was a growing interest in the field of diving, for leisure, science, commerce and military use. Charles, being of an inquisitive nature, was fascinated by the challenges that manufacturing a fully pressurised and waterproof watch would present. With Lake Neuchatal literally on his doorstep, he began developing prototype watch cases and he, together with other members of his family, became the test divers.
In fact Charles Von Buren so immersed himself within the diving fraternity that he became a founder member of the Neuchatal Diving Club and attended many of the world’s most challenging diving competitions. His daughter, Monique, through her father’s introduction to diving, fell in love with the sea and, to this day, is a respected marine biologist and conservationist.
As their 1967 advertisement proclaims, Squale were the choice of champions. The famous Jacques Mayol ‘The Human Dolphin‘ and subject of Jean Luc Besson’s film ‘The Big Blue’ not only wore Squale but lived with the Von Buren’s whilst training.
Today Squale remains a small family business. Lovingly producing just a few watches a year, they still employ many of the same watchmakers and skilled artisans to produce these beautiful pieces in the same way as they always have.
As watch enthusiasts, we have spent many years researching Squale, their watches and their history. At Page and Cooper, we like to immerse ourselves in all the details of watch production and on one of our research trips to the Squale workshops, we were given permission to explore the stores and the archives contained therein.
Squale still hold many original parts so imagine our surprise and delight when we found, in a drawer and still wrapped in original protective paper, ninety unused Squale Master Bezels from the early 1960’s. Sadly thirty of these were beyond use. However, sixty were still in excellent condition. We asked the kind people at Squale what they had planned for these unearthed relics. It turned out there were no plans but over a fine meal later that evening we had the seed of an idea...
Why not breathe, or in this case rebreathe, new life into these bezels. Why not give the true dive watch enthusiast the unequalled pleasure of owning, not a ‘recreation’ or ‘reissue’ but a genuine piece of dive watch history. And it was at this point that the challenge and the fun began.
Technically many of the skills to recreate these bezels had been lost. For example, the bezels themselves were not printed. Each one had individually applied metal markers on a painted background. They had a tritium marker and all were sealed with an epoxy. Sixty bezels were available divided into three colours. Twenty black, twenty silver/black and twenty azure blue/black. To make these models again from scratch in the twenty-first century would be very expensive. Even some of the most expensive dive watches available today have engraved or printed bezels and our challenge to make these watches was only beginning.
These bezels were designed with two original features. They had non click friction action, a click bezel was yet to be developed and in addition the bezels had been designed for a domed, acrylic crystal. The thinking current in the 1960’s was that a domed acrylic crystal was pushed against a metal gasket so that as the pressure increased a tighter waterproof seal was made...and so here were two more challenges.
At Page and Cooper we love acrylic crystals. They give character and style to a watch that cannot be replicated in sapphire or mineral. It would have been much cheaper to make our crystals from sapphire set in modern rubber gaskets but it would have been cheating! We did not want to use modern materials and so compromise our intent. The first prototypes would only have provided water resistance to 100m, not good enough for our master. We wanted water resistance to 250m. No one today mass produces acrylic crystals or metal gaskets. Of course we had, in true Von Buren style, to re-make an entirely new waterproof case in a lovely vintage 39mm size. If you are a dive watch enthusiast, you will see that this was now a real labour of love for us at Page and Cooper.
And so began the challenge. To manufacture just sixty watches. Using old techniques and methods in a world where now normal production runs are counted in thousands. Obviously everything could have been reproduced in Asia but not in these tiny numbers and such manufacture would have defeated our whole concept. We were determined to make the watches in Switzerland and thus do full justice to our original and beautiful hand crafted bezels. And now, the wonderful people at Squale were able to come into their own.
Many of the individual craftsmen and women, those who had worked on the original 1960 run of the Squale Master were contacted, to see if they could bring their skills to our project. We were both overwhelmed and overjoyed by the positive and enthusiastic response. A new case was planned and devised. The acrylic crystals were remade in Neuchatal (birthplace of Squale) as were the hands and beautifully rendered sun-ray dials. Making so few pieces with love and care meant that we had to wait for our craftsmen and women to finish their working day and undertake this labour of love in their own time.
Straps were also an important consideration. We chose two straps for their unique and interesting character. Our leather strap is hand made in Italy and features a square buckle and pin with the Squale logo. Our rubber dive strap is again made from genuine rubber in Italy and features a slim vintage tapered design with a 90 degree right angle click, originally designed for wetsuits.
As our Squale Master came to life it suggested a story all its own and with ‘one foot in the present and one in the past’ we wanted to present the watch for sale in a unique way. We were discussing the project with our good friend Timothy Everest, bespoke Savile Row tailor. By sheer chance, it turned out that Tim’s grandfather was a recovery diver off the west coast of England. He had a very simple set of kit which he kept with him at all times and together we thought it would be a nice finale to this project if we presented our Squale Master as if it were ready for use and had been hidden away in a drawer waiting for discovery.
Our Divers Roll has been made in a period correct fabric by one of Tim’s fine tailors in his London cutting room. The roll contains not just the watch and spare straps but also another trusted essential for all divers, a pocket knife. Again we wanted a knife not only worthy of the period but from a manufacturer who would have been around at the time Squale were building the Master. Happily we found Joseph Rodgers of Sheffield, who have been manufacturing knives for four generations and are suppliers to the British Army and manufacturers of the famous Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife. Squale were no strangers to providing their customers with gifts, originally they gave owners of their watches a genuine shark’s tooth!
Each of the sixty Page and Cooper Squale Master watches will be engraved with it’s own individual number and the Page and Cooper wings logo. It will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Andrea Maggi of Squale and Jonathan Bordell of Page and Cooper. Each will be assembled over the coming months by Squale’s oldest and most experienced watchmaker, Franco. Franco began his career at Squale in the 1960’s and this will be his last project before he retires
The Page and Cooper Vintage Squale Master is ready for pre-order now, please note that we can deliver this special edition to anywhere in the world!
Let's take you back to the beginning...