The Quartz Crisis was the great upheaval in the watch industry caused by the advent of quartz watches in the 1970s.Â Aquastar was one of the brands that held on through the crisis by making big changes, transitioning away from mechanical dive watches into making mostly quartz watches themselves. In 2020 they were relaunched by Rick Marei, the man famous for the rejuvenation of the Doxa, Aquadive and Tropic strap brands. You can read all about the brandâ€™s relaunch and their first release here and here. Today, the brand is back with its sophomore offering, the Aquastar Deepstar II. Smaller and with a time-only movement, this is the watch that could have existed if the brand had continuous activity. We got our hands on an early model for some scuba diving and initial thoughts, so letâ€™s get into it.
The 2021 Aquastar Deepstar II
“What if the quartz crisis had never happened?…” That is the simple question behind the design ethos of the new release from Aquastar. Aiming to pick up where they left off after being derailed by quartz 60 years ago, this new watch is a spiritual successor to not only The Deepstar 2020 chronograph, but also to the original Aquastar watches from the early 1960s.
There are two things you will notice immediately when putting on the Deepstar II for the first time. The first is the similarity that this piece has with the Deepstar chronograph from 2020. It features the same lovely sunburst dial, available in Vintage Black, Blue Ray or Steel Grey colourways, the large, steel art deco-ish hour markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 oâ€™clock, and the “cyclops” style, single subdial, this time being used as a running seconds counter. The baton-style hands and a small pip at every 5-minute mark are amply lumed with high-density Old Radium style Super-LumiNova, and there is also a pip on the bezel at the 60-minute marker, for ease of setting up your timing in low-light conditions.
Also carried over from its predecessor is the unique, dual-scale bezel, patented by Aquastar way back in 1962. The inner scale has the standard 60-minute count-up markings to be used for timing a dive with the watchâ€™s minute hand. The outer ring was to be used in conjunction with a French Navy dive table to calculate required surface intervals for consecutive dives, and was the first watch to feature such functionality. Itâ€™s worth noting that the tables that were used to calculate the math on this ring are long outdated and, as such, should NOT be used to actually calculate surface intervals for modern diving. Nevertheless, itâ€™s a cool novelty, and fun to experiment with, for entertainment purposes only.
The second thing you will notice about the Aquastar Deepstar II is its size. Measuring in at a svelte 37mm, this watch just oozes vintage charm. If there was one complaint I heard about the 2020 Deepstar chronograph, it was that people found its modern sizing a little too big when they were looking for a vintage-inspired dive watch. It appears Aquastar has heard those concerns and taken them deeply to heart here. In a watch landscape that is slowly retreating from the “bigger is better” thought process that defined most ofÂ the last decade or so, the Deepstar II will see your 40mm vintage-inspired sizing, and raise you another 3mm.Â
Full disclosure: I have what we call in the biz, â€œsmall wristsâ€. Clocking in around 16cm, I may be a little biased towards a smaller-sized watch, but 37mm in diameter (in fact, 36.75mm to be precise) and just 12mm thick seems like a perfect sweet spot. Easily wearable by men and women alike, it’s the definition of what a tool watch should be; as big as it needs to be to get the job done, no more, no less. No filler, just business.
Underneath the iconic, engraved, screw-down caseback you will find the beating heart of the Deepstar II, the Sellita SW-290. This is a Swiss-made, automatic movement, beating at 28,800vph with a 38-hour power reserve. Aquastar has kindly removed the date function from the movement so there is no pesky, ghost position of the crown. Speaking of the crown, it is a sturdy, screw-down number with the Aquastar logo engraved. The watch has also retained the 200-meter water-resistance of its big brother, a must for a serious dive watch.
The brand was kind enough to send us the Blue Ray version a few weeks early, so we took the 2021 Aquastar Deepstar II down to the Florida Keys for a weekend of boating and diving some deteriorating shipwrecks to see how it fares as an all-around, maritime companion.
On the boat
There is a certain allure to a vintage dive watch, and the Aquastar Deepstar II has it in spades. Sure it works just fine as a daily timekeeper or coffee brew timer or door frame hammer (canâ€™t be only me, rightâ€¦?). But, much like a Mogwai, get it anywhere even near the water and the magic starts to happen. You are instantly transported back to a simpler time when being on the water either meant you were earning your living or exploring and adventuring, but either endeavour brought with it an enormous sense of freedom.
Steering a boat with the wind in your hair and the Deepstar II on your wrist, it may as well be 1962 again. You reach in your pocket to scrounge $0.15 for another litre of petrol, as you only have three more lobster traps to check before you can clock out and finally go see Dr. No at the drive-in. Getting a little carried away? Probably, but that is the enchantment that these tiny pieces of steel and brass can hold.
The Aquastar Deepstar II Underwater
Under the waves is where this watch truly belongs and the vintage charms are only amplified. Just a glance at the dial and the wonderfully vintage Aquastar font, and you feel like a member of Team Cousteau, headed down from the Calypso to make sure Conshelf I is ready for testing. And who doesn’t want to feel like that when diving?
Everyone knows that mechanical watches are not generally used as the sole timing device for diving these days. We have long since moved into the computer age for that task. As a result, the dive watch has shifted to being a dual-purpose device for the modern diver. First, as a backup timer, in the rare case that a dive computer dies and the diver would still like to know how long they have been breathing from a can under tonnes of water. The second use, at least for me, is a bit more esoteric. They serve as something of a totem; a connection to the past and a static reminder that underneath all of the computers and high-tech breathing apparatus and space-age materials keeping me warm, that I am not in fact an underwater cyborg, that I am still just one man, out there exploring the ocean, completely at its mercy. And that simple reminder is humbling and freeing, all at once.
In practice, the Aquastar Deepstar II does everything you could want a dive watch to do and it does it with class and style. The NATO strap that mine came on is comfortable and plenty long to fit over any kind of exposure suit you might be wearing. And with a NATO strap you have the added bonus of two connections to the watch that would have to fail before you lose the watch forever. The dial is highly legible and the same goes for the bezel. I had concerns that the polished shininess of the bezel would be difficult to make out at depth, but quite the opposite is true. The engraved digits, while a little on the small side, are quite contrasted from the bezel itself and very easy to read. As for the 37mm size, it is just as perfect underwater as it is on shore. Itâ€™s almost like our diving forefathers 60 years ago knew what they were doing. If it ain’t brokeâ€¦
So what if the quartz crisis had never happened? Who knows? But simply asking the question is a good exercise for watch brands and enthusiasts alike. Maybe time itself ceases to exist, or maybe mechanical watches evolve to the point that we are all wearing Seiko quadruple tourbillons that we paid â‚¬15 for. This evolution/alternate timeline from Aquastar aims to answer the question by picking right up where the brand left off in the 1970s, and I say keep it coming. Better late than never to find out what could have been.
Availability & Price
The Aquastar Deepstar II is available in three different dial options; Vintage Black, Blue Ray or Steel Grey. Each colourway will be limited to 300 pieces. It comes equipped with a colour-matched fabric NATO strap. Options for Tropic of ISOFrane rubber straps are also available. It can now be pre-ordered from the brand’s website, at aquastar.ch. The pre-order price is USD 1,490, with a future retail price of USD 1,890.