Aquastar 60

Let me ask you a question. It’s January 1960. You are tasked with getting crammed into a 7.09 feet (2.16 meter) diameter pressure sphere, jammed with racks of instruments and controls, with another guy who is 6 feet 7 inches tall (2 meters) and descending almost seven miles down to the bottom on the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. The deepest point in the world’s oceans. The sphere’s steel walls would be 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) thick. They will need to be that thick to withstand a pressure of over 15,000 pounds per square inch (1.25 metric tons per square centimeter). You would not be tethered to any surface vessels and it is unknown whether you would have any contact with the surface. Your oxygen will be limited and carbon dioxide would be scrubbed from your atmosphere by being passed through canisters of soda-lime. Your limited power will be provided by batteries. Your only view to the outside would be through a single, very tapered, cone-shaped block of acrylic glass (Plexiglas) which is believed to be the only transparent substance which would withstand the external pressure.

You will descend to the bottom in around five hours aided by 20,000 pounds (nine metric tons) of magnetic iron pellets placed on the craft as ballast. The extreme water pressures will not permit compressed air ballast-expulsion tanks to be used at such great depths. This additional weight will be held in place at the throats of two hopper-like ballast silos by electromagnets. Ballast for the ascent will be from a series of floats filled with 22,000 US gallons (85,000 liters) of gasoline. Should the sphere rupture, or Plexiglass fail, or gasoline tanks rupture or iron pellets fail to detach, this will be a one way trip. No-one has ever done this before. Also remember this is years before man stepped onto the moon, before reliable electronics, the internet, colour television, cell phones. Kids nowadays would think it is when dinosaurs walked the earth. Would you have balls to do it? Well, I know a man who does and did it.

US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh along with Jacques Piccard who’s father Auguste Piccard designed the Trieste, the Bathyscaph which carried the sphere, made the trip on January 23rd 1960. The onboard systems indicated they reached a depth of 37,799 feet (11,521 meters), although this was revised later to 35,814 ft (10,916 meters).

Two wristwatches also made that trip. Well three, if you count the behemoth Rolex timepiece which was attached to the exterior of the Trieste. The other two were worn by Walsh and Piccard. Jacques wore a Rolex which has disappeared and no one knows where it is. Don wore a JeanRichard Aquastar 60. A watch he bought 1 year earlier when he joined what is known as Project Nekton. It went with him to required diver training when he qualified as a Navy Underwater Swimmer. Don, later became a life-long Ambassador for Rolex but he still has his Aquastar. It has never been opened or serviced and is still running like a champ. This is Dr. Don Walsh’s Aquastar.

There is a chapter in my Aquastar History book – A Dive Into Time – which goes into greater depth about the Trieste dive and subsequent record attempts by James Cameron and Victor Vescovo. Spoiler alert. Cameron missed their record by 13 feet. Vescovo beat their almost 60 year record by 39 feet and Don’s Aquastar 60 went back to the very bottom of the world’s oceans two more times. Once with his son, Kelly and once with Patrick Lahey the CEO and co-founder of Triton Submarines who designed and built Vescovo’s submersible: the Triton 36000/2 known as Limiting Factor for Vescovo’s Five Deeps exploration. This is a feat that is unique and will never be repeated and is something other watch manufacturers can only dream about achieving. Realistically, Don Walsh’s Aquastar 60 is one of the most unique watches in the world. The book also has more information on how JeanRichard and Aquastar really were the same company at that time.

You may not be able to do what Don Walsh did but you can wear a modern version of his watch. Aquastar have just released a new Aquastar 60.

The new Aquastar 60 is based on the third generation of the watch which actually was released in 1960. The similarities are striking, no matter which side you look at it. The main difference is the new watch has a caseback which says “DEEPSTAR”.

I think this is a misstep and I’m not sure why they did this. The 60 and the Deepstar were never related. As you will see later, the new Aquastar 60 uses a similar case to the new Deepstar II, so perhaps that was the reasoning behind it. I would have preferred a caseback like this

The vintage Aquastar 60 is 36mm wide (without the crown, 45.5mm lug to lug and 12.7mm high. The modern version is 37mm wide (without crown), 39mm with crown, 47mm lug to lug and 13.3mm high. The 60 minute bezel is brushed and, like the vintage Aquastar 60, rotates in both directions.

It is a deceptive watch in many ways. It wears bigger than it looks and has a visible dial diameter of almost 28mm. That’s actually more dial real estate than a number of larger dive watches.

Like the original, the lugs are 19mm wide. With the supplied Tropic strap, it weighs 93 grams.

You can see from the above image that the modern case is slightly thicker with a modified bezel design. The sapphire crystal is less domed than the vintage perspex crystal.

Talking of domed crystals, the Aquastar Regate which was produced a few years after the 60 takes the title of highest Aquastar dome.

The Regate kept the traditional Aquastar case shape but there was a slight size increase. The new Aquastar 60 is based on the Regate case size which the sharp-eyed amongst you will have ascertained is the same size as the Deepstar II and as such, the Deepstar II Beads of Rice bracelet will fit.

Yes it is the same case.

And wears just as good.

Just for comparison, here is the new 60 beside the Deepstar 39mm.

Although the new 60 shares some design elements with the vintage watch, there is one thing that is a serious upgrade. That is the movement. The new Aquastar 60 uses the La Joux-Perret G100 movement. The G100 was introduced in 2021. It is dimensional compatible to ETA 2824-2 and Sellita SW200-1 (25.6mm diameter, same dial feet positions and the hand sets will fit as the dimension of the Cannon Pinion are the same). The G100 in the new 60 is the highest grade available from LJP and is adjusted to 4 positions by LJP. It is hand wind and automatic, hacks, 24 Jewels, runs at 28,800bph and has an amazing 68 hour power reserve. It also has some innovations over the standard ETA 2824-2 and Sellita SW200-1. These include a rotor which is made from a solid piece of tungsten and turns on a ball-race held in place with 3 screws. Also a number of the wheels / cogs are made from CuBe (Beryllium Copper) and un-plated. The advantage of CuBe is that it work-hardens, is auto-lubricating and doesn’t tarnish. The shock protection for the balance pivots is made by Kiff, one of the two largest producers of shock protection in Switzerland. They were the shock protection supplier to Rolex until Rolex started making their own. The G100 is also considerably more expensive than the ETA or Sellita.

Because I use a light tent when taking photos for my reviews, it is sometimes very difficult to get an image which conveys the true color of a watch dial. Domed crystals make it especially difficult. What my images of the Aquastar 60 don’t do is show just how black the dial is in real life. I removed the dial thinking I would be able to show just how glossy the dial is. Look carefully at the image above. See how the seconds hand is reflected in the dial. That’s how glossy it is.

For the following images I have used a black card to reduce the reflection of the white diffuser cloth of the light tent. It means that the silver hands, especially the seconds hand do not show up so good but it really does give the true depth of blackness of the dial.

The gold standard for me on black dials are the Rolex Submariner and Sea-Dweller. They use a glossy black paint and are inky black. Well the glossy dial on the new Aquqstar 60 is just as glossy and just as black. Here it is with the Sea-Dweller.

And here is is with my Submariner (yes, that is an aftermarket Pepsi bezel insert). Aquastar really did a tremendous job with the 60 dial. The contrast with the hands make it and instant ‘tell the time’ watch with readabily at almost any angle.

The lume ain’t bad either.

Although the Aquqstar 60 is really a watch that is made for straps, I tried it on a number of bracelets. Obviously the Deepstar II Bead of Rice bracelet fits as can be seen from the images here, but I’m a sucker for the cheap and cheerful Amazon bracelets. There are a number of nice ones around the 25 to 30 Dollars mark. This one came with quick change springbars.

Doesn’t look too bad at all.

Another one I bought came with both straight and curved endpieces.

I looked at the curved endpieces and wondered if I could make them fit the 60’s lugs. Took me about an hour and I was pleased with how it turned out. The thing about the classic Aquastar case shape is that the lugs are longer than ‘normal’. It makes the case very distinctive but it is very difficult if not impossible to find bracelets which have an endpiece that fills in the lug gap. The other thing about them is that the springbar holes are closer to the case than the end of the lug. This is because if it was the other way round there would be a large unsightly gap between the end of a strap and the case.

Is the Aquastar 60 a “true” dive watch? Yes it is, but is it a watch you want to go diving with? Certainly, it is water resistant enough and legible enough. However, the health and safety guys would have a field day because the bezel is bi-rotational. No, for me, the Aquastar 60 is the watch you put on after the dive. It is unobtrusive, looks great, wears great and goes with anything from a formal suit

to a denim jacket.

It is not an in your face, kick ass and take names dive watch like, say, the Synchron Poseidon,

or the classic vintage Aquastar Benthos 500, but it doesn’t need to be because it is an historical talking point. It harks back to a time when explorers had more than enough of the “right stuff”. Astronaut, John Glenn summed up perfectly what his generation of explorers were made of when asked how he felt sitting in the capsule waiting for takeoff: “Well, the answer to that one is easy. I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Now consider that Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard went to the bottom of the ocean almost ten years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

It is unlikely that any new Aquastar 60 will ever reach the depths of Don Walsh’s Aquastar 60, but you just never know, because just like it’s older brother, it is the little watch that could.

As Steve Jobs used to say at the end of his Apple presentations: “One More Thing!”

I wrote this review several months ago using a prototype watch. Since I wrote it, Aquastar has decided to include a nice, high quality oil filled marine compass at no additional charge for the first 100 orders of the Model 60, after which it can be purchased separately for $70 USD. They just sent me one recently. Also, since the time the review was written, I gifted the prototype watch to Don Walsh as a thank you for helping me with the Dive Into Time book, so I can’t take any pictures of the compass with it. Here it is with the vintage 60.

The new Aquastar 60 is available now. It has a suggested retail price of $1,290 but it may be pre-ordered during its launch period for the special price of $990. Both the watch and marine compass are available exclusively from Aquastar