Hands-On Aquastar Deepstar Diver Chronograph

When I pulled this blue Deepstar out of the box, every preconception I had about it melted into a puddle of pure lust. Knowing these faithful recreations of the 1960s classic divers were already sold out, I bought the review loaner. Sometimes you just know.

World Class Fit-n-Finish

Why did I melt for this watch before even putting it on? Because the fit and finish of everything on this watch is incredibly high-end. I’m talking top-dollar Swiss brand high-end. I’m talking finishing on par with Omega and Rolex, and which surpasses many (most?) watches that cost what this one does ($3495). Get out a loupe, and there’s literally nothing I can take issue with. And let me be clear: there’s nothing that I even needed to think about taking issue with. It’s immaculately executed.

My standards for fit and finish have soared stratospherically since I bought my Grand Seiko SBGH269. While Grand Seiko’s Zaratzu polishing of steel is unsurpassed, it’s incredible to see the Aquastar Deepstar next to the Grand Seiko and realize how close the Deepstar gets. Yes, minor distortions on the polished steel markers of the Aquastar Deepstar are just barely apparent when scrutinized under the loupe. Impressive. Keep in mind that the Grand Seiko is a $6300 watch.

It’s easy to assume that things you can only see under the loupe aren’t important at arm’s length, but when it comes to dial treatments all the little precisions add up to a very exquisite, sparkly experience at arm’s length. When I look at the Aquastar Deepstar at arm’s length, it’s just way more sharp and pro looking than, say, my Seiko SPB143, the 62-mas-ish diver from 2020 that got everyone hot and bothered. The Seiko SPB143 is a $1200 watch, and the arm’s length experience when compared to the Deepstar is unimpressive.

I could get even more detailed in my praise of the Aquastar Deepstar’s dial, but let’s just say that I’ve seen sloppier printing on five-figure watches from high-end Swiss brands.

So, if the Aquastar Deepstar sits closer to my Grand Seiko at $6300 than it does to my Seiko SPB143 at $1200, then the $3450 price tag on the Deepstar looks pretty darn reasonable when we consider fit and finish.

Funky Functionality

The specific press-loaner example I have is loaded with a Valjoux 7750, but the proper movement that comes in the Aquastar Deepstar is a column-wheel bi-compax (2 function) LaJoux-Perret chronograph with 55-hours of power reserve, and bi-directional winding. The LaJoux movement is a true step up from the Valjoux 7750 that is found in so many chronographs from all kinds of brands today, not just for the column-wheel actuator – a major step up from the cam actuator of the 7750 – but for the power reserve, finishing, and removal of unnecessary functions, such as the date, which isn’t shown on the Deepstar.

While the time-telling and -setting functions are standard issue, the chronograph function is really the treat here. Dive chronographs are already rare, but one with such specific dive-oriented functionality is what tells us that the Deepstar was was – and still is – designed for SCUBA. I for one really don’t love chronographs, but this one is so damn easy to read that I’m completely won over.

Greg was asking about the funny little propeller hand at 9-o’clock for the running seconds, and I explained that on a dive watch the only reason for the running seconds hand is to provide visual confirmation that the watch is still running. The lack of a subdial here is perfect for me because it puts the visual focus on the oversized 30-minute totalizer at 3-o’clock, and because it doesn’t complicate the dial with an array of subdials. When diving – and especially when at depths where the nuttiness of narcosis can play headgames (not unlike being stoned on weed) – the super-clean subdial totalizer is brilliant.

The bi-directional bezel uses a curious system for timing intervals between dives, or what we divers call surface intervals. I’ll spare you a detailed explanation of the now obsolete set of Aquastar dive tables you need to refer to in order to set the bezel properly, but know that one sets the bezel to the hour hand and receives a read out of when it’s safe to dive again. In the 1960s, this was cutting edge SCUBA technology, and to have it on the Deepstar casts a nostalgic air around the watch.

Lastly, this watch is good to 200 meters of depth, and, significantly, it does so without lock screws on the chronograph pushers. I’d like to know why Omega can’t put this tech into the Speedmaster, which costs about twice the price of the Deepstar. Sometimes “original functionality” just wasn’t good enough, and a modern chronograph (even if it’s retro) aught to be able to go into the bathtub, at least.

If You Want A Dress Watch, Then Get A Dress Watch

Why are so many people so damn fussy about a watch being big and bulky these days? I get that a hipster retro-trend is upon us, but the idea that one would forego this wonderful watch because it’s a bit thick seems ridiculous to me. If you want a watch to fit under a shirt cuff, then don’t’ wear a dive watch. We’re talking about a waterproof watch with a chronograph module here, so, yeah, it’s a bit tall. But that’s part of this watch’s presence, part of its appeal, and part of its heritage.

Yup, it’s thick, because it’s a really capable tool ready to do serious work, and not some piece of jewelry with some dive functionality tagged onto it, or some retro-looking small-ass diver from some folks who think retro-looking small-ass divers are cool. The Aquastar Deepstar was, and still is, a serious tool. It’s bulk speaks to that.

Ground-Up Proprietary Diver Designs Are Special

The very first ground-up dive watch was likely the Doxa SUB 300. The Rolex Sub, the Blancpain 50-Fathoms, and the other progenitors of the dive watch were all modified pre-existing models. What drew people like the Cousteau family to Doxa and later to Aquastar was – if I’m to summarize quickly – that these watches were ground-up diver designs. As such their functionality, reliability, and waterproofness were superior to dive watches coming out of the big Swiss houses.

No one really talks about this, but really the Doxas and Aquadives, and Aquastars of the 1960s were very much like dive computers today in that there was no intention of them being fashionable or even useful on terra firma. Unless you lived on a boat like the Cousteaus, your dive watch typically lived in your dive bag back in the 1960s. You also didn’t wear your ski goggles around town, and so on. This was gear.

I’ve become a big proponent of purpose-built ground-up watch designs, because they make no concessions to inferior pre-existing technology, and because the purposefulness of a ground-up design is palpable. But these designs are also inherently funky, aren’t they? Look at a Doxa, or at this Aquastar Deepstar, and you don’t see other watches; you see a totally original set of ideas that were put in place to accomplish tasks. In an era when the wrist-watch no longer serves anything but social and decorative purposes, these purpose-driven ground-up designs feel very fresh.