A Bitch Named Hype
Hype is a bitch. It creates in us a sense of inadequacy and not belonging while overstating the quality of a product. Hype is the essential driving force of consumer capitalism, a flimsy psychological manipulation with a shelf life no longer than it takes to complete a sale.
I never want to own a hype watch. Hype interrupts the intimate connection I seek with watches and renders me a sucker, a follower, an insecure and unoriginal man. A watch should inspire me to be my best self, and it should make me feel cool and authentic. Hype does that for about a minute, and then it does the opposite, sucker.
Alas, there’s been a lot of hype around Doxa in the past decade. Between James Lamdin of Analog/Shift and Jason Heaton of The Gray NATO alone there’s been enough influencer hype to have driven vintage Doxa prices past my means and the many limited editions into obscurity. I’d played a role in hyping Doxa, albeit a smaller one. Like James and Jason, I didn’t hype Doxa for hype’s sake but out of genuine affection for the watches—especially the SUB 300 Searambler.
But however genuine our motives, we hyped Doxa until seemingly every watch enthusiast owned a Doxa, or at least a strong opinion about Doxa. And because of that hype, I swore off Doxa (and Seiko divers and all of Rolex) and turned to obscure Vacheron Constantin of the 1940s and 50s—a hype free category if ever there was one. I would not be a sucker.
Hardcore Collecting, Self-Denial & Joylessness
I sold off my Doxa 1200T Searambler, and I was thus no longer a sucker. I even considered taking down the Doxa poster on my wall that Jason Heaton made a few years back (though I was too lazy to actually remove the utterly charming thing).
My horological asceticism returned my sense of authenticity and cool. But unexpectedly, over time, my self-denial also found me genuinely missing a Doxa in my collection. I found myself wondering if maybe I just simply really liked Doxas—duh, I knew this. But I was being hardcore, and refused to break my ascetic oath. I was a pure collector in a hype-less niche. What I liked wasn’t as important as what I’d committed to study and collect. I’d advanced to the “next level,” though I had no idea what that really meant, other than that I should go deep and narrow into a rut of vintage Vacheron Constantin dress watches. Somewhere along my “watch journey” I’d bought into a tired narrative about becoming an authentic niche collector.
Like Flirting With an Ex
Despite swearing Doxa off, I regularly checked out the Doxa website. Specifically I landed on the SUB 300 Searambler page, zoomed in on photos, tried to find things I didn’t like about the watch, but I didn’t come up with anything to dislike other than the hype. I felt like I was looking at photos of an old girlfriend on Facebook, wondering what life might have been like had I made a different commitment, or none at all.
I visited Watches of Switzerland and tried on a Doxa SUB 300 Searambler, but seeing this once obscure brand on display under pin-spots next to Omega and Rolex in a Soho boutique bummed me out. But I still really liked the SUB 300 Searambler. I was caught in a limbo between sworn denial and deep longing. Such is the existential pain of overthinking everything.
And then in a random text exchange with a friend and colleague, I was offered the exact Doxa I wanted: a Sub 300 Searambler, the chronometer-rated ultra-authentic recreation of Doxa’s 1960s masterpiece. And the price was good. And I had some extra cash. And so I bought it. I fitted the bracelet, slipped it on, felt a cool calm sweep over me, and wondered if Doxa hype was in decline.
Is Doxa’s Season of Hype Over?
Doxa lost its resurrectionist, Rick Marai, and began releasing a more predictable (and less interesting) line up. Doxa added a few colorways and then released the SUB 200, which is a cheaper and ill-fitting diver with none of the interesting stuff that makes a Doxa unique and cool. The SUB 200 was the Doxa for the masses, a more predictable and affordable watch meant to increase sales and broaden the brand’s appeal down market.
In my estimation, the SUB 200 has removed Doxa from the weirdo scene from which it was originally hyped, and—ironically—the SUB 200 has kind of taken Doxa past the hype all together. The Carbon SUB 300 is, I’ll admit, quite rad, but it was also part of a wider trend and not exactly innovative (also, the rubber strap is too heavy for the carbon case—but I digress).
Despite these new initiatives, Doxa no longer buzzes. There’s no weird LE for Jason Heaton to explain the obscure significance of, no sold-out limited editions to bum the rest of us out. Doxa is just another mid-century dive watch brand with a standard and predictable collection. It seems to me that Doxa’s glorious moment in the golden hour of niche hype has ended. It’s autumn for Doxa now, and the release of snow-white dials across all lines may indicate the onset of Doxa’s winter. For me, this is a favorable forecast.
Long Live The Doxa SUB 300!
Thankfully, Doxa now issues the previously limited SUB 300 as a standard model, recreated quite faithfully to the original. The SUB 300 is the weirdo that started it all. Its absurdly domed crystal, wide-flanked case and all the other strangeness that once made Doxa so unique are there unadulterated.
Note that the SUB 300T (confusingly) is a kind of vintage-ish concession to modern demands: a flat crystal, feet instead of meters on the bezel, no chronometer rating (so more affordable) and the dial proportions (especially the placement of the chapter markings) aren’t quite like the SUB 300. If you want that old 1960s weirdness unadulterated, you pay extra for the SUB 300 with its COSC-certified movement. And if you want era-correct mid-century vibes, you go for orange (Professional), black (Sharkhuunter) or silver (Searambler—which is what I got) and leave the yellow, turquoise, navy blue and white for the less discriminating neophytes. But it’s’ the silver-dialed Searambler that has the specific vibes I’m after.
A Watch for Shirtless Dad’s of the 1970s
For me, the Searambler is the weirdest Doxa of them all—less sporty than orange or black, and totally ready for bare chested-Dads of the 1970s. The Searambler is the watch for men who smoked cigarettes with their wetsuits tied around their waist as they discussed the next dive plan. The Searambler is the watch stuck in a drawer in a lakeside cabin in northern Michigan ready to be discovered by some yet-unborn great-grandchild who will hold it as a genuine antique and a family heirloom.
This great-grandchild may see this Doxa on his great-grandfather’s wrist in a faded Kodachrome photograph found in a shoe box. In this hypothetical photograph, grandad has a cigarette in one hand and the backside of his bikini-clad wife (that’s great grandma?!) in the other. Their carefree smiles and sun-burnt skin suggest a pre-apocalyptic moment when hope and happiness weren’t so rare—a mid-century moment when technology was still good and simple, not some self-taught AI unleashed to consume its maker. The SUB 300 Searambler is a watch a man could wear while water-skiing without a life preserver, maybe even with a beer in one hand.
I know Jacques Cousteau is the guy who comes to mind first when we imagine the Doxa SUB 300 on a wrist, but I prefer the carefree everyday risk taking of the 1970s over Coustea’s storied adventures underwater. I didn’t watch Cousteau’s show, and my love of SCUBA has little to do with mid-century exploring and old-school technical gear. But I do love a little mid-century dumb-ass masculinity, nonetheless, and the SUB 300 Searambler takes me back to those seemingly unthinking shirtless men of the 1970s, to Crosby Stills & Nash on cassette as my older siblings toked weed under my parents’ blind eye, to what many call the ugliest decade in history.
And this is what the hype-machine seemed to have missed all together, the unabashedly ugly aesthetic of the 1970s. As the cultural historian Thomas Borestelmann put it:
In the 1970s, “[b]asic matters of cultural taste also seemed out of whack, particularly in retrospect. The appeal of orange shag carpets, polyester pantsuits, wide ties, the ‘happy face’ logo, and disco music was mysterious to many Americans at the time and to more ever since.”
Or here is Joe Queenan’s take on the 1970s:
We had “bad hair, bad clothes, bad music, bad design, bad books, bad economics, bad carpeting, bad fabrics, and a lot of bad ideas,” which gave “the widespread feeling that America had taken a totally wrong turn in the ’70s.“
David Kennedy notes, “the odd blend of political disillusionment and pop-culture daftness that gave the 1970s their distinctive flavor,” while Beth Bailey and David Farber call the 1970s simply, “our strangest decade.”
This badness of the 1970s is exactly what I see in the Doxa SUB 300 Searambler. Sure, it was a technically advanced watch, but it was also butt-ugly, in a very good way, of course. Grotesque enough that some people I know kind of gape at it with something like disgust when they see it. And yet the hype around Doxa that found me setting myself apart from the ugly beast of a dive watch seemed to enthrone the SUB 300, imbuing it with something like cultural significance, as well as historical importance, and so on with a glorification that it doesn’t deserve at all. So I am glad the mis-directed hype is over so that I can breezily sport my brand new Doxa SUB 300 Searambler in all its abject ugliness. I may even go shirtless—which would be insanely ugly, but also perfectly 1970s. Welcome back to my harry old-man wrist, Doxa. Glad to have you back.