Many of us are re-evaluating our preferred size of watches, as the trend is ever-increasing (or should that be shrinking?) towards 36-40mm watches for men, with vintage vibes. In my case, it’s a matter of practicality. My wrist is on the slender side and I wear a shirt most days, so a 45mm wrist chunk is not going to work. The increasing range of options is a godsend for many of us.
But have diminishing sizes hit all categories? Let’s say we’re looking for a tough, no-nonsense modern tool watch that can take a beating. In other words, a diver. The editor threw down the gauntlet with the seemingly unattainable goal of a full-on technical 300-metre ISO-spec diver being a key pre-requisite at a size of less than 40mm. The bonus round was to find five without vintage cues or cream-coloured lume. Modern in style, please. Surely this is an impossible quest? Seek and you shall find, I say.
1. Oris Aquis Date – the bestseller
What can we say, the Aquis Date from Oris in Hölstein, Switzerland has been a resounding success, and has transformed into what is now a considerable range. The Aquis has, for many, made Oris the go-to brand for a modern Swiss quality diver around the AUD$2500 mark, and the broad range of colours is often spiced up by limited editions. We are here looking at what many believe is the dial colour of 2020: a deep sunray green, with the contemporary design being underlined by a tough, yet comfortable, silicone rubber strap.
This reference has a diameter of 39.5mm and wears slightly smaller, thanks to the slim nature of the lugs – a sharp Oris design, with the only issue being bound to OEM straps should you be a strap-aholic like me. What you notice first is the dial quality, with a brilliant mix of tool-like legibility and perfection in the details. The deep green is subtle but bold if you’re monochrome by nature, and works as a sublime stage for the quality workmanship in the polished applied indices and hands.
The indices have a complex shape with a good central application of Super-LumiNova, and the hands are thoroughly modern in their shape, with generous lume also present here. The classic diver detail of a line splitting the lume on the hour hand is useful for night-time readability, and the seconds hand is a classic lollipop with a surgically thin end. The date window has a colour-matched background – making it a natural part of the dial above a shortened 6 o’clock index. The case is of the standard we now expect from the independent Oris brand, meaning strong value for money, and fine case details with a mix of polished and brushed workmanship. The usefully large crown is solidly placed inside a prominent one-piece crown guard, toughening up the side profile. Under the caseback sits the familiar red rotor of Oris, meaning a solid automatic movement, this time the Cal.733 – which is based on the popular Sellita SW 200-1 with a 38-hour power reserve. RRP: $2,900AUD
2. Omega Seamaster 300M Diver – 36.25mm of savvy tool watch
The Omega Seamaster 300M Diver range is a classic diver, and, for many, The One when looking for their first good Swiss watch. Easily recognisable by the wavy patterned dial and the comfortable detailed bracelet, 90 per cent of the range is a 42mm, but have a closer look and you’ll find the reference 22.214.171.124.01.002 Co-Axial Diver 300M with a delicate 36.25mm case. You’ll have to be persistent in your search, however, as it’s a hidden gem. This is classified as a unisex model, that slightly dated term from the ’80s, and for this story, it has all the right qualities. Everything is in place in a compact, yet tough, package, ready for either adventure or the boardroom, to cite a cliché that is eminently true in this case.
A functional vibe resounds throughout, starting with the matt black dial being eminently readable with rhodium-plated indices and hands setting the stage. Super-LumiNova is applied to the shape-play of Omega that makes low-light readability maybe the best of this selection. Two baton indices reside at 12, one at 6 and 9, the rest are circular, and the skeletonised hands have both different shapes and lume markings. The freshly red-tipped lollipop seconds hand completes a quality ensemble, reading like a how-to manual on horological legibility.
If you haven’t tried on a Seamaster bracelet, have a go, as the years of Swiss ergonomic research make it drape around the wrist like few others, even if the design might seem a bit fussy for 2020. The case is pure Omega with its strong shape and twisted lyre lugs, first seen on the iconic Speedmaster, looking sharp in this petite package. This is also the only watch here with a helium escape valve for saturation diving. It is the most exact of heart here, with the Co-Axial escapement of the Calibre 2500 being chronometer-specified, rhodium-plated, with Omega’s usual high standard of finishing, and a 48-hour power reserve. RRP: $5,625AUD
3. Longines HydroConquest automatic – 39mm of classic Swiss
We have done a hands-on review of the latest green dial iteration of the HydroConquest and I can attest to the 41mm case being superbly finished in its all-brushed guise, placing it deservedly in the top tier of Swiss attainable brands. Have a look at our video review here. The modern lines read Diver at 20 paces, so there’s no mistaking this for anything but a strong tool watch. A pitch-perfect case with a 39mm diameter puts it firmly at many wrists’ sweet spot, with my favourite detail being the bold angles of the crown guards, firmly securing the logoed and polished crown.
The crown has a small but ingenious little detail — a small lip close to the flat top, making it easier to pull-click out for setting than trying to pry it out from the protection of the crown guards. The dial is a classic sunray blue, and I enjoy the thoroughly modern and strong shape of the Super-LumiNova filled typical Longines hands. The storied, applied Longines logo, together with the polished hands and middle bracelet links, puts this on the dressier side of the scale of wrist tools, and there’s a cheeky tiny red arrow tip on the seconds hand popping nicely off the blue.
My only quibble with the design would be that the three applied numerals are on the large side for the dial size, and the slight lack of restraint with the hour markers. The hour/5-minute markers on the bezel have a printed sword-tip shape, circular applied lume plots rest inside the rehaut, and then another set of polished arrowhead indices furthest in. It makes for a cheerful but rather busy dial, though I enjoy the quality of the polished details, and am sure the design will become more cohesive when the bezel is changed for the new, simpler style, as this seems to have been left unchanged here.
Protecting the dial is a perfectly convex sapphire crystal, with a multiple AR-treatment ensuring both legibility and strength. The bracelet is a superb H-link Oyster-style bracelet with a glimmer of light from the polished centre links, and what lies under the caseback is superb. In this collection of small tough guys, this is the automatic movement with the longest power reserve at 64 hours; the Longines Cal.L888 running at 25,200 vph with a solid reputation throughout their range. RRP: $1,850AUD
4. Christopher Ward C60 Trident Pro 600 – the British surprise package
As we get further into the research on the ratio of discreet size versus toughness, we arrive at the small manufacturer Christopher Ward in the UK. Christopher Ward has gone from microbrand to an ever-increasing production capacity over the last few years, and have a wide model range, ranging from svelte vintage inspiration to large tool watches. The C60 Trident Pro is a great example of their creativity, coming in three sizes – 38mm being the pitch-perfect Diver, yet crisp in its modernity.
This is the black version with a lumed ceramic bezel. It comes on a bracelet – and, as shown here, on a tough hybrid Cordura/rubber strap in keeping with its adventurous aspirations. The case is a good example of their “light-catcher” design, with subtle shaping and, for the money, very sharply executed polished bevel above and broadly on the underside of the case sides and lugs.
This detail, especially the wide angled bevelled side of the case, is something we recognise mainly from Japan, and is a big factor in wearability. The dial is polished black, freshened up by a line of red text spelling out the pièce de résistance of the C60 model number. Yes, this is a slim 38mm case capable of withstanding the pressure of 60 atmospheres or 600 metres.
This makes the svelte nature of the bevelled 12.7mm case even more special, and the contrast of the polished applied details on the dial somehow sharper; there’s something about dressy details on a tough tool watch. Superb lume helps in the darker hours, and the distinct combination of a sword-shaped minute hand with a large arrowhead constituting the hour hand is a boon for legibility. The date sits within a nicely framed window at 3. Finishing it off, we have the now classic Christopher Ward seconds hand with the counterweight being the trident tip of Neptune’s spear. The same trident is found on the deep caseback engraving, hiding a Swiss automatic movement based on the Sellita SW 200-1 with a 38-hour power reserve. With this solid movement and the 600m specification, the price is a welcome surprise. RRP: $1,145AUD
5. Helm Komodo – the microbrand wild card
Let’s be honest, this is the 40mm wild card, if you can stretch the card metaphor to this 15.5mm thick little nugget that is. If you still think 36.25 or a quiet 39mm is too shy, and prefer brash but small, then this is your quirky choice. At the price, it’s a perfect entry ticket into both small, tough tool watches, and mechanical horology in general. The microbrand Helm is responsible for a few chunky tool watches, unashamedly large on heavy bracelets and implying a tougher image than I for one can live up to. The Komodo, at 40mm, is their smallest offering, and packs a lot of punch for the price of a mere $285USD including a 300-metre tolerance and a fat sapphire crystal.
What it does have is a full ISO 6425 compliant diver spec, and some eye-popping colourful details befitting a bold microbrand with a strong following. The dials come in a few alternatives, like a clear white, with super-fresh thick applied popping indices with turquoise lume waking you up with a mere glance. The two other alternatives are black, with the lume being either white or turquoise, and a massive popping red minute – and seconds hand. The date window is placed at 6 o’clock within a circle echoing the shape of the indices, and the logos and text are printed with a line of red text denoting the depth rating. The case has chubby, but recognisable diver vibes in the shape of the side profile, simply brushed but ergonomically shaped with smooth edges and a nice crown guard design.
The bezel is a 120-click unidirectional job, with added value in the PVD treated bezel inlay, which has all markings engraved and filled with Super-LumiNova BGW9 or light blue lume. The thick crystal is double domed with an AR-treatment. Forget intricate detail work, there are no Côtes de Genève to see here, but rather a chunky diver that can take a beating, with the king of microbrand movements under the caseback, the Seiko NH35 warhorse. In case the other dial variants are too demure for you, it now also comes with a bright orange dial and a matching orange date wheel. Bam! RRP: $285USD