Most watch collectors when asked what a diver's watch looks like would have no trouble answering. Why they look like a Rolex Submariner, a Seiko SKX007, or an Omega Seamaster is what you would likely hear. And for the most part these days, that is perfectly true. A typical diver's watch has a heavy stainless steel case, a stainless steel bracelet or rubber diver's watch band and features a large bezel that rotates around the watch crystal. It doesn't really matter who makes them, from ten feet away they all look pretty much the same.
There was a time, however, when diver watches could look quite different from the typical example of today. Back in the mid 1950s, a diver watch design that looks very much like the example in the pictures above was created. This type of diver watch was collectively known at the time as a compressor (or super compressor) watch.
Rather than go into a long-winded discussion of what constitutes a compressor watch, take a look at this excellent post over at Worn & Wound.
The gist is pretty straightforward. In a compressor, the rotating bezel is generally under the crystal and is operated by the second crown. The watch type gets its name, compressor, because it uses water pressure itself to increase its water resistance by compressing the case seals. In a nutshell, a compressor's water resistance increases as the water pressure increases (up to the point of case failure of course).
At one time there were a dozen or so brands that manufactured compressor style diver watches. Today though, they are both pretty rare and not very wallet friendly. The one exception (To the wallet friendly part at least. They are still hard to find) is the Lip Nautic-Ski. First released in 1967, Fred Lip (then the head of Lip) named the watch after both water sports (Nautic) and his daughter Muriel's love of skiing (Ski).
The watch itself is available in both quartz and automatic versions. While most watch collectors, myself included, would go for the automatic version of any watch if available, this is one of the rare occasions when the quartz version is closer to the original 1967 design and thus preferable in my view. The original Nautic-Ski of the sixties used an unusual battery powered electro-mechanical movement that sort of split the difference between a modern quartz watch and a conventional spring driven movement.
The original 1967 Nautic-Ski measured 36mm in diameter, not including the crowns. The re-issue you see above has been increased in size to 38mm in diameter (40mm including the crowns). That may sound small by today's big-watch standards but the Nautic-Ski wears much larger than it is thanks to the narrow bezel (almost an all-dial design) and the 14.25mm case thickness which makes for a pretty tall watch. The band lug width is 18mm, also narrow by today's standards but in keeping with the original design.
Internally, the Nautic-Ski is powered by a Ronda 515 quartz movement, a single jewel movement with a 45 month battery life and a day indicator. The crowns have cross-hatch decoration (like the original) and screw down. The watch hands and face indicators are lumed but the duration of the lume in the dark is not great. Not Vostok terrible mind you but the lume could be better. The crystal is a thick, domed mineral glass type and the case back screws down.
Visually, the Nautic-Ski is very attractive to my eye. The combination of the domed crystal, the rotating bezel/chapter ring and the raised face markings create a watch with a lot depth to its look. It is available from Lip with the striped nato band pictured above or a leather band. I think it would work well on a rubber diver band as well.
Finding a Nautic-Ski on this side of the pond is a bit tricky. I picked up this example at a jewelry store on Rue de Commerce in Paris on a recent vacation. The retail price was 350 Euros but my seller was willing to bargain that day so you may do better as well.
I really like the Nautic-Ski. It is a very unique looking watch combining old style design elements with modern manufacturing. It appears to be solidly made and should make a good daily wearer.
As an aside, Lip has an interesting history as a watch company. It was founded in 1867 by Emmanuel Issac Lippman in Besancon, France. They were the first company in France to offer paid holidays to their employees. Lip is supposedly the originator of the world's first electric watch. During the war, when France was occupied and the factories were seized, Fred Lip continued to develop new watches in the unoccupied southern half of France and was apparently very active in the French resistance. His parents, sadly, were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Lip played a large role in getting the Russian watch industry off the ground by providing the Russians with the designs to what would become the movements for the Pobeda, Szvesda and Molnija watch models. The company was doubly battered by both the arrival of quartz watch technology in the seventies along with some very tumultuous labor problems. In 1990, after going through a number of different reorganizations and bankruptcies, the company was purchased and is now apparently stable. They are still located in Besancon despite all the ups and downs. More about Lip is available here