The Vulcain Nautical Dive Watches and Their Place in Diving History
Today the ‘Dive’ watch is often seen as a glamorous accoutrement. A timepiece that stamps its owner as someone with a taste for adventure rather than a watch which is a true diver’s precision instrument. Many of today’s diving watches have expanded in size well beyond the practical needs of their original specifications and, for the purposes of ‘bling’ rather than reason, come in a range of colours which uses the full spectrum of colours from across the rainbow. Despite this, these watches still pay homage to a grand era of undersea revolution. And, Vulcain’s Nautical Heritage watches played an important part in that revolution.
When one is exposed to watches which are the genuine article from that pioneering and extremely dangerous era of deep diving, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see how alluring and beautiful they are; which brings us nicely to the subject of this blog: Vulcain’s beautiful, and at the same time, practical diving watches, namely the Nautical Heritage and Nautical Seventies, recreations of a time when diving was thought of as akin to space travel and every bit as dangerous!
Since the company began in 1858, Vulcain have always been innovators, never content to rest on the many awards, accolades and laurels already earned.
Robert Ditisheim, descendent of the firm’s founding family, was a trained mechanical and electronics engineer. Trained at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich he was, reportedly, taught by the legendary physicist Auguste Picard (legendary for his experiments in the fields of both altitude and depth and also, supposedly, the inspiration for professor Calculus in Herges Adventures of Tintin!).
After Ditisheim had perfected his ‘Cricket’ alarm wristwatch in 1947, he looked for new challenges to further the function and performance of the brand.
Following their technical support in the ascent of K2, the treacherous mountain situated between China and Pakistan, Vulcain looked to the depths in the innovative fields of scientific and professional diving, joining a trio of exceptional talents, diver Hannes Keller, explorer and filmmaker Max Yves Brandily and diving instructor and representative of the Centre for Undersea Studies and Activities, Arthur Droz. This collaboration led, in due course, to the development of the first dive watch featuring a mechanical alarm, a clear indicator for decompression stops, combined with a water resistant depth of 300m.
Today a diameter of 42mm for a dive watch is large. However, in the 1960’s this diameter was necessary in order to encompass all the technology Vulcain and their diving team needed. The Vulcain ‘cricket’ alarm proved entirely satisfactory and was necessary to alert the diver as to when he should begin his ascent. The decompression tables were featured, not on a rotating bezel as was usually the case, but on a rotating dial and the entire case though watertight, featuring a unique triple caseback which allowed the alarm to be heard clearly at any depth. The watch face featured a flexible acrylic crystal, a then modern material made necessary to counter extreme pressures at depth. Even the strap was a newly developed rubber material perforated and patterned to assist rapid drying.
Hans Keller used this watch in record breaking dives to a depth of 315 metres. New techniques which revised and rewrote the dive ‘handbook’ on what was and what was still not possible were noted. Several million square miles of sea bed were newly opened up for exploration. Today Hans Keller’s techniques are widely used in the gas and oil undersea exploration industry.
You can enjoy the Swiss Television documentary below with Hans Keller reliving his ground breaking achievements.
Here at Page and Cooper, as sole UK Vulcain agents we have available the exact re-creations of the famous Vulcain Nautical dive series. The Heritage, a faithful reproduction of Hans Keller’s ground-breaking dive watch and also its successor, the Nautical Seventies watch which is today a very cool, period cushion case diving watch. Available in limited numbers in a range of colours, the Nautical Seventies are accurate re-creations that transport the wearer back to a time when dive watches were serious tools for the adventurer.
You can watch our ‘hands on’ review below and for further Vulcain technical expertise feel free to contact us at Page and Cooper.