“When the water-resistant watch came on the market 15 years ago, some people thought it was just another crazy fashion or a sales gimmick. After all it is not absolutely necessary to wear your watch in the bath …” According to the German specialist magazine Uhrmacher-Woche.
In the year these watches first appeared, 1942, things looked very different. Women and men would value their wristwatch as an almost indispensable companion in all situations of life. Naturally, contact with water could not be ruled out. The technicians of the Swiss watch manufacturer Alpina therefore saw this as a challenge. Their dealers and their customers wanted wristwatches with water-resistant cases. Following several years of development work, the sporty and functional “Alpina 4” was therefore presented for the first time in 1938. The numeral stood for four impressive quality characteristics. Firstly, the timepiece had antimagnetic properties. An “Incabloc” impact protection device protected the delicate pivots of the balance wheel from breakage. Thirdly, the highly resilient case was made of stainless steel. Finally came the fourth and particularly important argument for purchasing the Alpina 4″, in the form of a “Geneva” type water-resistant case. Its specially designed crown was patented. In spite of its outstanding qualities, however, this of course could not yet be described as a genuine diving watch. The presentation of such a watch by Alpina would have to wait a further 30 years.
In this way, we learn from the annals of the art of watchmaking, the era of this type of wristwatch began. Not least because of the underwater equipment available, the pressure-tightness initially only extended to ten bar. Shortly afterwards instruments for professional use came on the scene, which easily withstood depths of up to 200 metres.
Because air supply is always limited, time spent under water is extremely precious. To ensure the hours, minutes and seconds can be easily read, and as a reminder to divers to return to the surface in good time, product designers not only provided their diving wristwatches with striking illuminated dials and hands, but also incorporated a useful rotating bezel. For safety reasons, the rotating bezel can now exclusively be turned in an anticlockwise direction. In this way the time for remaining under water as displayed by the watch can only be reduced in the event of an accidental change, never increased. Because the inventor company had placed their unilaterally positioned rotating bezel under patent protection in the 1950s, their competitors either had to be content with copies that could be displaced on both sides, or proceed in a completely new direction.
This is precisely the option chosen by Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA), based in Bassecourt in Switzerland. In 1956 the experienced watchmaking company presented a design of a new kind (which was therefore also patented). As usual, the back was also screwed together with the middle. In addition, however, the “Super Compressor”, water-resistant to twenty bar, boasted a truly innovative special feature: an integrated spring mechanism prevented compression and the damage that this could cause to the rubber sealing ring when the case was being screwed down. But the name “Compressor” was also associated with a further characteristic: increasing diving depth and the increasing water pressure associated therewith press the two parts of the case ever more firmly together. The outstanding features of this newcomer also included two crowns, one for winding and adjusting the hands, the other for deliberately adjusting the internal diving time rotating ring in both directions. The sophisticated design really made sense. Accidental actions and incorrect operation of the “device for individual preselection of a diving time” (as specified by the relevant standard) were almost impossible. A third advantage consisted in a relatively flat design of the watches, which was both functional and elegant.
No wonder that the EPSA has been able to secure many well known watch manufacturers as its customers over the years. One of these customers – closing the circle, as it were – was Alpina. In 1967 the cooperative brought its highly regarded “Alpina 10” on to the market. The “Super Compressor” case, water-resistant to up to twenty bar, housed the 572C automatic calibre. The extremely pressure-tight “Super Compressor” case is instantly recognisable from the outside by the grid pattern on both crowns, and on the inner side of the case back by the stylised depiction of a diving helmet.
The 2016 Seastrong Diver Heritage
Just 50 years later, the highly regarded diving watch is back in the Alpina Collection, this time as the “Seastrong Diver Heritage”. Its illustrious predecessor from the 1960s is recalled in two operating elements in the right case flank and the rotating ring which was (at that time, for good reason) shifted into the inside of the case. With the help of the crown, the rotating ring can be quickly and easily adjusted at “2”. The 60 minute division is also useful for non divers. For example, the arrow can be positioned so that the approaching hour hand indicates when parking time is running out. Thanks to the modern case design, the classic stainless steel case (now increased to a diameter of 42 millimetres) with its engraved screwed case back resists water pressure up to 30 bar, corresponding to a diving depth of 300 m/1000ft. The modern AL-525 automatic calibre ensures timekeeping. This is the equally reliable, robust and accurate SW 200 from Sellita. Alpina has refined it with its customary attention to detail, giving the ball bearing mounted rotor the asymmetric form signature to the brand. The balance wheel completes 28,800 vibrations per hour. Fully wound, it has 38 hours of power reserve. Choosing a dial style may proof difficult. Admirers of the retro look will go for the traditional light-dark contrast design. Those who love elegant understatement will prefer the exclusively dark option.