Posted on July 08 2020
Not all divers watches have to look like the Rolex Submariner. With modern tastes favouring larger, chunkier watches, it’s easy to assume that a functional tool watch will, by necessity, be a hefty piece.
It’s refreshing when a brand like Glycine make their Submariner style watch a slim 10mm depth (see more here). What is of even more interest to me, is when the whole design is reworked to produce something just as functional, but resulting in a new, unique design.
What is a Super Compressor watch?
A Super Compressor is a very specific case designed and produced by Ervin Piquerez S.A. from the late 1950s into the early 1970s. It used water pressure to increase the water-resistance of the watch. The deeper the water, the more pressure and therefore the tighter the cases seal.
This meant watches that in some cases boasted 600ft water resistance. The inner bezel gave the watch less of a tool watch style - quite a contrast to the Submariner or Fifty-Fathoms. The watches were slimmer and more shirt friendly. Of course, whether the practicality of rotating the inner bezel was as simple as turning an external one is a source for debate. But the success of the design from a purely aesthetic view is obvious.
Super Compressors are very attractive and popular watches.
There were other innovations in the design, but the basic points to take into consideration are these.
- The Super Compressor was a patented case design.
- All true Super Compressor cases were produced by a single company and then used by a series of brands. Companies purchasing these cases included Bulova, Enicar, Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
- The classic Super Compressor style has two crowns and a rotating inner bezel.
Other features to consider, such as the cross-hatching on the oversized crowns, and the case size are less important. The original cases came in two sizes - 36mm and the rarer 40mm. But it is the dual-crowns - one rotating the inner bezel - that most people are referring to when they use the term Super Compressor.
Vintage pieces can be difficult to track down, and prices can be high for the best examples. Some manufacturers have reissued their own earlier designs, the Longines Legend Diver being a personal favourite.
As always, my interest is in the brands that are releasing Super Compressor style watches now. Watches you can have on your wrist in a day or two. I say Super Compressor style because I’m happy to go with this look - two crowns and a rotating bezel. I’m not limiting myself to watches that use the Super Compressor water resistance innovations. And as always, I want the watches to be affordable.
You’ll also be aware of a couple of other brands in their stable, the likes of Balast, Dufa and Avi-8 (more here). They’re affordable watches, produced in the far east, but readily available in the UK and US.
The Spinnaker range initially began as a series of designs based around sailing and the ocean. Although they’ve expanded that somewhat, the majority of their watches are still focused on this niche, with the Bradner collection very much styled after the Super Compressor divers.
The Bradner is marketed as a vintage diver - “developed with a compressor-style case with a bi-directional turning bezel”. For me, this is the most appealing variation, with the blue and gold evoking an earlier period.
At 42mm it is larger than the biggest of the original Super Compressors, but this is in keeping with today’s preference for larger watches. Like all of Spinnakers automatics, this is powered by Seiko’s NH35A movement.
Spinnaker Bradner SP-5062-22
Along with Seiko, Orient is a brand that I regularly feature on this blog. Orient Watch is wholly owned and operated by Seiko Epson Corp, one of the three pillars that make up Seiko Group. However, although related, there's no real involvement between the two watch brands.
They are both similar companies that produce high-quality mid-priced watches, often inspired by iconic designs. A big selling point for Orient is that they manufacture their own in-house movements. Again like Seiko, they have a large range, with designs that cover most watch types. They are as renowned for their rugged divers as they are for the contrasting minimalist Bambino design.
The Orient King Weekly Diver ticks the boxes above. It’s an affordable, well-made watch with an in-house automatic movement. Like the Spinnaker, the bold use of colour really enhances the design. The deep green dial beautifully contrasts with the stainless steel case and bracelet. The dial and hands retain a simplicity that means that the overall look is quite busy, without being overwhelming,
The design is a faithful recreation of Orient’s own model from 1965 and includes both a day and date window.
Orient King RA-AA0D03E1HB
Each vintage-style model is named after the year it was inspired by.
The 1970 has the 'Super Compressor' look I’m interested in. There’s the crowns at 2 and 4 o’clock and the rotating bezel.
Available in both orange and grey accented versions there's also a choice of case sizes in 40mm or 44mm. Like the Spinnaker, it has the ever-reliable Seiko NH35 automatic movement and a domed sapphire crystal. This black and orange model is another where there has been a great use of colour, and again this has added to the vintage aesthetic.
Dan Henry 1970
They’re a well-established brand, tracing their roots back to the late Victorian period. As far back as 1938, they introduced their Alpina 4 concept - four features that their watches must have. Anti-sock, anti-magnetic, water-resistant and stainless steel construction. They’ve moved on a lot from there and are now probably best-known for their Startimer and Seastrong lines.
This model is a recreation of Alpina’s Super Compressor watch, the Alpina 10. Originally released in 1967, it’s now a rare and collectable piece - as are most vintage Super Compressors.
That’s not to say that this is a cheap watch. It’s still over £1000.
At that price, you do get a real quality piece. The dial is exquisite and the automatic movement is an AL-525 - Alpina’s customised version of the Swiss-made Sellita SW200. There’s 300M water-resistance, so it’s a true diver, and the case has a hand brushed satin finish.
Alpina Seastrong Heritage AL-525S4H6
Mido, meaning ‘I Measure’ in Spanish, first launched the Multifort line in the 1930s and it was their best seller until the 1950s’.
The Two Crowns is another watch that pushes the limits of what I’d usually class as affordable. This time you’re looking at several hundred pounds - still competitive for a Swiss-made piece with a Mido automatic movement built on an ETA base.
It’s a little more contemporary looking than some of the others on the list, but that could certainly be seen as its USP. Other than that, it’s as you’d expect. There’s decent water resistance, a sapphire crystal and a textured dial.
Mido Multifort Two Crowns
Having ceased manufacturing watches in America in 1969 the company is now Swiss-owned, and like Mido, a part of the Swatch Group. This American heritage and Swiss ownership mean that Hamilton is a well respected and popular brand, one of those that are available on the high street.
Although best known for the Khaki Field watch (more here), the Jazzmaster line has been another of the brand’s successes. More dressy, and often avant-garde, this collection allows for more refined and fashionable designs.
The Jazzmaster Traveler is a GMT rather than a divers watch, but the aesthetics are in keeping with the Super Compressor style. It’s a little more understated than some of the other watches here, and it’s less sporty. It’s very much designed to be worn in a formal environment rather than in the water.
The Hamilton automatic movement is visible through the exhibition back and the look is softened further with the inclusion of the ostrich leather strap rather than a steel bracelet.
Hamilton Jazzmaster Traveler GMT H32625555
In a previous post, I suggested that Bulova made me an unwitting fan. Without going out of my way to investigate the brand I still found myself regularly including the American company on my blog. First, it was their moon watch, later their military pieces and most recently a vintage diver.
Here we are again. Another blog and another Bulova.
I’ve covered the Bulova story before. So let’s skip to the watch.
Like some of Bulova’s most memorable models, the A-15 is a military watch. Rather than being a divers watch the A-15 Pilot is inspired by the 1944 Military Issue A-15 ‘Elapsed Time Watch’. There are actually three crowns here - two of which control inner rings. One for time elapsed and one for an additional time zone. So not really a Super Compressor.
At a glance though, it’s a similar style. Still vintage, with a rotating inner bezel and crowns at two and four. And still functional without being sporty. It’s powered by a mechanical movement, comes in at 42mm, and has a domed sapphire crystal.
The final watch I’d like to highlight is from one of the watchmaking giants.
It’s a part of a line within the Seiko 5 collection (more here). Budget watches that meet a minimum criteria that includes an automatic movement and water resistance. This specific Super Compressor line seems to be mostly sold out. They’ve proven popular with Seiko fans.
The most striking feature is the crown positioning. There’s the two crown’s that we’re after, but the symmetry is gone. It works for me, but I imagine for some it’s too far removed from the classic Super Compressor design.
Other than the crowns, the design is fairly typical of this style. The inner bezel is there and the dial has the same indices and layout as some vintage pieces. The movement is an in-house one, and this cheaper watch includes a mineral, rather than sapphire crystal.
Seiko 5 SRPB31
There’s a nice selection of Super Compressor style watches on the market. On the whole, they’re faithful homages to the originals of the 1950s-1970s. In some cases, Orient and Alpina for example, they’re reproductions of the brands earlier models.
What I found pleasing is the range of prices. Well made automatic models start at a few hundred pounds, with the Swiss-made heritage brands still coming in at less than £1000. The only caution I’d offer is that a number of the models aren’t readily available. The Seiko model, in particular, seems to be difficult to find if you’re after a specific colour. Overall, there should be something for everyone if you get the itch for a Super Compressor.
As ever, if you have something to add, please comment below.