IWC Aquatimer
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IWC Aquatimer

A hydraulic crane lowers a little yellow submersible to the seafloor. A hatch in the sub’s belly opens. Two divers swim out.

No, we’re not quoting the Beatles, or referencing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The little yellow sub, Deep Diver, was the brainchild of Edward A. Link, a an inventor and entrepreneur best known for inventing the flight simulator. In an article Link wrote for Popular Mechanics, Link described his creation—which took its first dive in 1967—as “a ’taxi’ for undersea construction and repair workers.”

“It combines two things in one,” Link went on, “an underwater vehicle to take divers to the bottom, and a diving chamber for their use when they get there. Because of its dual nature, its pressure hull—4 1/2 feet in diameter and of special 1/2-inch thick T1 steel—consists of two separate chambers. A pilot and an observer, Deep Diver’s operators, occupy the forward compartment. They breathe air under normal atmospheric pressure throughout a trip to the depths. Two divers ride in the after compartment. They breathe a gas mixture suited to the high pressure of the depths—a combination of helium, nitrogen, and oxygen.”

It was this aft compartment that made Deep Diver so unique. Once the pressure inside the compartment matched that of the ocean, the hatch could be opened without admitting any water. Through this “doorway to the sea,” divers could go about their work on the seafloor and then return to the hatch, which also functioned as a decompression chamber on the ascent.

As the world’s first submersible designed for lockout diving, the Deep Diver was a hot commodity among undersea explorers. The same year it went into service, it took part in a lockout dive to a depth of 430 feet. It also participated in a covert operation to uncover a cable plow lost in 400 feet of water off the Grand Banks.

While we don’t know what watches were worn by the Deep Diver’s crew throughout its long years of service, we’re pretty sure that they would have loved this watch: the IWC Aquatimer.

As IWC’s first dive watch, the Aquatimer holds a special place in the hearts of vintage watch enthusiasts. IWC came to the dive watch game late, over a decade after Rolex and Blancpain dipped their toes into that vast sea. In fact, with the Fifty Fathoms’ endorsement by Jacques Cousteau, and the Submariner's as-then unsurpassed depth rating of 200m, there seemed little room for improvement in dive watches. 

But IWC quietly started developing a prototype of a dive watch in 1964; three years later, the Aquatimer would emerge.

For its design and internals, IWC took its popular anti-magnetic watch, the Ingenieur, as inspiration. Indeed, in appearance the Aquatimer owed much to the Ingeniuer, having a similar dial and bracelet. However, IWC built the Aquatimer with its aquatic destiny in mind, fitting it with a thicker bezel and sealing the case with a patented technology.    

Moreover, the case itself was the very same SuperCompressor design used by brands as diverse as Longines and Jaeger-LeCoultre. The SuperCompressor, conceived by EPSA, relied on a spring-loaded case back to keep water out. IWC further improved this with a sealing technology of its own, resulting in a watch that was as robust as it is handsome.

Although IWC would go on to improve and perfect the Aquatimer, and still produces it to this day—even releasing a reissue of this exact design a few years back—the original is a qualified classic… and a rarely seen one.

In fact, it’s the first time we’ve been able to offer one for sale.

This particular Aquatimer is a Reference 812, powered by the Calibre 8541, the same movement found in the Ingenieur. Where surviving examples bear the scars from a lifetime of hard use, ours has blessedly escaped that fate. On a period correct Tropic strap, it sings a Siren’s song of life on the high seas, begging you to dive in…  and dive deep.

Details

SKU: AS02488

Stainless steel SuperCompressor case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Reference 812. Calibre 8541 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1960s.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall with signs of moderate wear. Dial is in very good condition with patina to the luminescent elements. Signed crowns.

Includes one 18mm rubber Tropic strap.

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