Retro Renaissance – Witness the re-birth of a cult diver-favourite, the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor
Google the word retro and amongst some odd search results, a few relevant news stories pop up that talk about the renaissance of retro. There was an article in the BBC in 2012 that was titled “Vintage style: The rise of retro fashion”, and talked about the “rise of vintage from fashion to furniture”. A couple of years later, in 2014, The Sunday Times UK featured a story that talked about “Vintage, antique, retro — call it what you like, old stuff is trending”. There was yet another article in 2019, not too long ago, in The Chronicle that talked about the technology side of retro renaissance in their feature “This is one retro wave you need to ride”. Then there was an article in InStyle as recent as May this year that talked about how “Roller skating, jump-rope workouts, and even Zumba are having a moment”. The point I am trying to make is, that retro has been cool for a while now, and vintage inspired neo-chic items are the call of the day. And the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor is an ode to this very sentiment.
An Alternate Universe
If you are reading this, chances are that you are into dive watches. This in turn also means that you are aware of the insatiable demand and supply of this sub-universe of the watch industry that perhaps produces more dive watches than they are surfs on our Sydney shores. There is simply no dearth of dive watches, at any price point; from entry-level Orient quartz watches to high-end Blancpain offerings. There is something for everyone.
Most of these have one thing in common, the one aesthetic design feature that defines these tool watches, and that’s the use of an uni-directional, external timing bezel. The key word here is external.
Then there are of-course certain watches that feature internal bezels, though they are mostly bi-directional. Better known as ‘dress divers’, they provide the wearer with the one watch that can transcend from a tool watch to a sort of dress watch. One of the best “dress divers” currently in the market is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date. The presence of timing ring bezel that rotates subtly underneath the crystal is something that makes these watches feel more at home at places other than water bodies.
Enter the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor. It is one such diver, but takes the concept a bit further. At one-tenth the price of the JLC but not short on charm, it’s a vintage-inspired, barrel-cushion shaped beauty that marries the worlds of tool watches with dress watches. It has the undeniable appeal of yesterday’s retro vibes mixed with today’s design aesthetics.
What’s more, as its name suggests, it is a different kind of diver that’s not been seen in its present avatar in a very long time. We refer to the Super Compressor part.
Cut From A Different Cloth – The Super Compressor
I say that watches like the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor have not been seen in a while because Super Compressor (SC) watches were a sub-genre of dive watches prevalent from the 1950s to 1970s. Following the Swiss quartz crisis, they pretty much disappeared in the hollows of time.
The Super Compressor was a patented type of watch case — not one watch name — that was designed and produced by a now defunct Swiss watchmaker called Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA).
Patented in 1956, the manufacturer sold their cases to almost all brands, from the likes of Tissot to JLC to Blancpain. Their main claim to fame was three-fold:
- One, the case featured a dual-crown layout, with the 4’o clock crown used for winding the watch and setting the time, and the 2’o clock crown used for timing the bezel
- Two, this internal rotating timing ring (bezel) instead of being on the outside, was now on the inside, cocooned by the case and the crystal
- Three, and perhaps the most definitive, was the incorporation of a spring-loaded caseback with an O-ring, that allowed space between the gasket and the case seal. When the watch was worn for diving, the deeper the watch went, owing to the pressure under water, this case seal along with the caseback, crystal, and crowns & their gaskets would get tighter aided by the spring, and thereby improved water-resistance. This improvement helped watches reach the water-resistance of around 600ft, so give or take 150m to 200m.
One could argue as to why not just design the cases with a tightly compressed O-ring? Well, simply put, due to the materials and the technology available back then, if the O-ring was constantly compressed, it would wear out really fast and the gaskets would require constant changing. This SC style eliminated that defect.
Breathing new life into these cult-diver favourites, reviving them now after five decades, is Christopher Ward. And it all happened thanks to their customer named Marc Schulteis who in 2018 posted the idea to the brand.
You know I often read that brands do not take their customer feedback seriously, or don’t listen to the remarks that are made on forums. This new watch by CW is a testament to the fact that some brands do listen.
CW may not listen about the branding logo text on their dials, but when it comes to introducing diver watches, they are charting newer territories.
Why Can’t We Just Buy The Old Ones
Watchmaking advancements mean that technically we don’t need watches with Super Compressor cases anymore. But as all things vintage, there has been demand and a subsequent resurgence. Many brands have copied this design of late, though just in concept (inner bezel and two crowns). So why would Christopher Ward make new watches, especially when the ones from 50s, 60s and 70s can be found?
For starters, these old versions are consigned to either auction houses or vintage watch retailers. Not everyone has easy access to these. Or one needs to scourge the second-hand market, hoping to find an original and not an imitation.
The originals did have the reputation of not being a 100% reliable, and as far as I know, lots of examples with water flooding the movements exist. By using new modern gaskets and screw-down crowns, and then combining that with the old but interesting tech of compression, the new options give both a dose of nostalgia and a much needed assurance of water-resistance.
Additionally, the maintenance of these old watches with legitimate parts is an expensive endeavour. As of the day of writing this review, if you search for Super Compressor on Chrono24, only 75 options pop up, and they cover a wide range, their pricing — excluding taxes and shipping — starting from (a cheap) 386 AUD to (a whopping) 21,250 AUD. I am sure some reliable new-old-stock parts exist somewhere, but if reliability and costs have to be considered, a new watch with the same features, a modern case and five-year warranty at a low price of £895 sounds like a win-win to me.
Not Just Any Western
In the same spirit as the Seven Samurai was successfully adapted to The Magnificent Seven, staying true to the originals, the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor is a true remake rather than just a derivative with SC case looks — read two crowns and an inner bezel — that so many brands these days present. The JLC Polaris Automatic, the Longines Legend Diver, Oris Chronoris Date, IWC’s Aquatimer, and Halios Laguna are some examples of modern day divers that taken inspiration from the vintage original SC watches but do not actually bear all the features.
What sets the CW apart is that the brand has “reverse engineered” the design from an original, which they claim to be the “first new, true Super Compressor-cased watch in nearly a half-century”.
Now I am not an expert on SC watches, but based on my research, I would have to say their claim sounds true. From what I can tell the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor is the only Swiss made mechanical watch that like the original sports:
- One crown positioned at 4’o clock that is used to wind the movement and set the time, while the other crown at 2’o clock is used to rotate the internal timing bezel.
- The movement and case-back feature a 300-micron thick compression spring, that like the originals helps the case-back to tighten against the middle case and rear gasket. The caseback screws down against an aluminium anodised compression ring spring assembly that is located inside the rim of the case back.
- A barrel-shaped body — not a definite prerequisite but still a defining visual feature — with a rotating internal bezel.
- The original SC cases usually came in sizes of 36mm and 41mm, and staying true to the original, the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor is being offered in the more modern option of the two, in 41mm.
There is a quote by Marcus Buckingham, a British author, motivational speaker and business consultant, that goes: “Authenticity is your most precious commodity as a leader.” Christopher Ward is fast emerging as the new leader in the price segment they operate, and with authentic releases such as these, I can only see them climb higher.
The heart used — Sellita SW200 — is a self winding winding mechanical movement beating at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), containing 26 jewels and offering a 38-hour power reserve along with a -20/+20 seconds per day time tolerance. Admittedly it is not a top-grade version of the stock standard SW200 movement, and one of my rare issues with the brand has always been their reluctance to use top grade Sellita movements — which in turn are COSC certified — in their entry level offerings. I know at the price point of £895 on a strap I should not be picking up on this, but I just can’t help believe that once they start using COSC-certified movements across the board, they will surely be a force to reckon with within the British and Swiss watchmaking industries.
This 25.60 mm diameter and 4.69mm thick movement is encased inside its signature curvaceous ‘light-catcher’, barrel-shaped, 41mm diameter and 13.05mm thick brushed and polished stainless steel case. For those of you who seek further information on the case, the overall weight of the case is 72g, the strap width is 22mm, the bezel diameter is 39mm and the lug-to-lug width comes in at 47.12mm. This recessed bezel look, 39mm to the outer barrel case’s 41mm, helps introduce the vintage Ervin Piquerez SA’s Super Compressor look.
The movement is visible through an exhibition caseback and features the Christopher Ward ‘Colimacone’ finish on the rotor topped with a twin-flag engraving. This screw-down exhibition caseback also shows the aluminium anodised compression ring and a divers helmet stamp, all harking to the original E. Piquerez S.A cases from 1950s.
There are a couple of watches that in my opinion compete with the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor, especially considering the price points. They are not true SC cased watches, but come pretty close, as they employ the principles of these SC cases.
- The Farer Aqua Compressor Hecla, Endeavour and Leven models are the other British designed, Swiss made offerings in the same price range, retailing for £995. In their second iteration following the launch in 2017, these are available in Titanium and offer a higher 300m water-resistance. Like the CW offering, they feature the elaboré non-date movement Sellita SW200, but an updated version, namely SW200-1. The main difference I know of is the Farer version should have less wear and tear of the wheels. Like the CW, the Farer movement is visible through the decorated case-back and features a bespoke Farer rotor with engraved submersible wave design. Rest of the movement specifications read the same. In terms of the case architecture, they are fairly similar to CW’s offering, featuring three different central dial options with a unidirectional internal rotating bezel encased inside a case that weighs 92g and measures 41.5mm x 12.5mm with a 45mm lug-to-lug spacing. It however, doesn’t feature the same crown layout at CW or the originals’, with 2’o clock used for timing mechanism and 4’o clock for bezel. Given their watches are 300m water-resistant, they rely more on the industry standard threads and gaskets approach rather than on a thick compression spring. On the whole, Farer does make a very nice offering, but as far as staying true to the original Super Compressor cases is concerned, it strays a bit, leaving the crown for true SC cased Swiss made watches to lay with Christopher Ward.
- The Dan Henry Super Compressor 1970 Automatic Divers are another set of watches playing the same game. Only they are not Swiss made, neither have a Swiss movement, albeit going the Japanese route with the Seiko Caliber NH35 automatic movement. They are much thicker than the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor watches, coming in at 40 x 14.8mm dimensions. They beat at a slower frequency of 3Hz, offer a slightly more 41-hour power reserve, and the case offers a water-resistance of 200m. They are limited in numbers and are currently listed for a cheaper 290 USD. In terms of looks, they borrow the design language of the SC cases with two crowns and an inner bezel, and again like the Farer options are meant to be based on the principles of SC cases without actually being a full re-edition.
- Another example I would like to use, even though it is not a SC style watch, is the new Mido Ocean Star Decompression Timer 1961 ‘Rainbow Diver’. It uses a different style of timer, but for lovers of retro designs and for those seeking to find different looking dive watches with entry-level prices, it is a good offering.
There is an anonymous quote that goes as follows: “If you’re your authentic self, you have no competition”. Long story short, the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor is one unique offering that not only scratches the urge to go retro with dive watches but also does it with authenticity.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
The current CW C65 range features a variety of different options, in differing case sizes: the 38mm Sandhurst and Trident Vintage models, and the 41mm Dartmouth, Cranwell, Trident Automatic, GMT Worldtimer, Trident GMT, Anthropocene LE, Black Gold LE, Trident 316L Yellow, Trident Diver SH21 LE and the Trident Bronze LE models. There is something for everyone, and with the inclusion of the new C65 Super Compressors, the ever-evolving brand has added another feather to its cap.
When it comes to dive watches, often it boils down to personal preferences and aesthetic appeal in choosing a particular watch. Christopher Ward provides an added feature of a genuine SC case. But even if that wasn’t the case, there is plenty to like in the looks department. There are two dial options to choose from, the sun-ray effect Ocean Blue face or the grained Black Sand — a dark brown dial — face that provide the backdrop for the top-brushed indexes with diamond polished facets and the Super-LumiNova® Grade X1 GL C1 coated hands (and indexes). The signature Trident counter-balance on seconds hand is of-course present as well. Outside the peripheral minutes track lies the 120-clicks internal rotating bezel, prominently visible owing to its matte white chamfered edge.
Its ‘light catcher’ case reflects light wonderfully as usual, and the inclusion of the 2’o clock screw-down crown with a crosshatched pattern reminiscent of the original Ervin Piquerez SA crowns is a nice added touch. I also must commend this attention to detail, especially at this price point.
The 4’o clock crown is stamped with CW’s logo and includes a sandblasted lower area and polished top. I also like the complementing use of orange that’s visible in the outer case ring of the spring at the back, and is also present in the triangle at 12’o clock of the inner bezel, the minute hand and the tip of the seconds hand. According to CW orange is known for providing the greatest legibility under water, and if this is the case, I think it’s an excellent move on their part.
The barrel shaped cushion case like all CW cases has a good blend of polished and brushed surfaces. The lugs on the top are brushed and as they taper towards the side of the case, they change into a polished surface. The sides of the cushion case are brushed as well, and are met by a polished outer ring that neatly frames the inner bezel.
The watch is a daily wearable size coming in at 41×13.05mm. It should fit easily under the cuff, and given its sporty meets dressy look, it will also be home whether be it at a soccer field or a work cubicle. For those who would want to have a different looking diver, this is definitely a strong contender. And for those who would like to add a ‘beater’ watch to their collection, they can’t go wrong either.
As time goes by, lots of things in life become retro and hip. Some lose their meaning, some gain relevance. Only time will tell if the new Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor will survive in an ocean full of divers. But one thing is for damn sure, you are witnessing the renaissance of a cult, retro diver favourite.
For more information on these and other Christopher Ward watches, please head to their website here. All images unless stated otherwise are courtesy ©Courtesy © 2016 Christopher Ward (London) Ltd.