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The 1960s were an aspirational time for mankind. In 1965 alone, the United States went from launching unmanned spacecrafts to sending an astronaut, Ed White, on the first spacewalk ever undertaken by an American astronaut. With the eyes of the world fixed on the stars—the “final frontier”—it might have seemed incongruous that there were as yet unexamined territories on our planet.
And yet, by 1965 aquanauts—the astronauts of the deep—had only descended once to the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point on planet Earth, in 1960.
The otherworldliness of the deep sea wasn’t lost on the brave men and women who explored it. In 1934, an early undersea explorer, William Beebe, descended to 3028 feet in a bathyscape. Of this experience Beebe later wrote that he saw “a world as strange as that of Mars.”
Two months after Ed White made his lonely walk outside his spacecraft, a group of eight aquanauts (including an actual astronaut, Scott Carpenter) descended to a depth of 58m in an experimental underwater habitat. SEALAB II was the second in a series of similar experiments where scientists tested the effects of saturation diving on the human body for extended periods of time. The vessel used in SEALAB II, lowered in August 1965 off the coast of California, soon became known as the “Tiltin’ Hilton” due to its inclusion of hot showers and refrigeration (something the previous SEALAB vessel lacked).
The aquanauts tested new tools and equipment, including a dry suit that was heated electrically. They had the aid of a bottlenose dolphin named Tuffy, who conveyed supplies from the vessel to the surface. Some aquanauts even attempted to train Tuffy to answer distress calls, with mixed results.
While the majority of the aquanauts only stayed for no more than 15 days, Scott Carpenter—himself a veteran of the Mercury space program—remained for a record 30 days.
The watch used by the aquanauts in the SEALAB missions was a Certina DS. However, this watch, a Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster, was released in 1965, the same year as SEALAB II. The Depthmaster was introduced to the world in an ad campaign that triumphantly declared it to be "probably the most waterproof watch." Whatever the veracity of that statement, the 1000m depth rating wouldn't be surpassed until Rolex released the Sea-Dweller in 1967.
The Depthmaster is one of a class of dive watches often referred to as a "Baby Panerai" due to the similarity of its case to those used by Panerai. However, at 37.5mm the case--which was also used by Sandoz, Alpha, Le Phare, and Vetta--is more suitable to smaller wrists. Powered by a redoubtable ETA movement, this diver brings some great touches to the vintage dive watch formula: a beautifully-patinated unsigned dial with sharply-angled hour markers, a rotating bezel, and of course that handsome case.
Wearing the Depthmaster would, according to another ad campaign, enable the wearer to “dive deeply, scuba safely, sing sweetly (Gurgle Gurgle), chart channels, forage for fish, plunge for pearls, kiss girls and never worry.”
While we can’t promise any of those things if you buy the Depthmaster, we can tell you that the Depthmaster—with its svelte case and streamlined looks—is sure to bring a smile to your face.
Stainless steel case is approximately 37.5mm (excluding crown). ETA Self-Winding Movement. Circa mid-1960s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition with crisp bevels and no signs of over-polishing. Case does have some signs of use and wear in keeping with its age, particularly on the case back. Dial is in very good condition overall, with some slight discoloration between 11 and 1 o'clock. Luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands have darkened over time. Unsigned crown. Signed case back has some slight scratches and tool marks.
Includes one 18mm black cloth strap and two 18mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle