I have to start with a confession. This is the first watch I’ve ever got to review that I didn’t want. Hold on, what? Say that again. OK let me explain. I have known about the resurrection of Aquastar and the release of the Deepstar 2020 for quite some time. Rick Marei and I have been friends for nearly 20 years. I wrote the DOXA books and I’ve just written the Aquastar book so not surprisingly I have a bit of an inside line. I’ve seen the early prototype cases, dials and proposed movements and I’ve eagerly followed the development of the watch. Like many people, I’ve seen the vintage Deepstars over the years and they were almost a mythical unicorn. No-one I knew owned one and any that came up for sale were snapped up for a hefty price, so the reissue was on my list of: I need to own one of these!
Well, that was until I saw the dimensions. When Rick told me the watch would be around 16mm tall and around 40mm wide (without crown) and 50mm lug to lug, my heart sank. The height and width were ok but the length was a deal breaker for me.
I have a DOXA T-Graph which is a big heavy watch and a Sharkey Sharkmaster which is 50mm lug to lug and those watches are really at the limit of what I can wear. My wrist is 6.75” in circumference and I feared that the overall length of the new Deepstar would mean the ends stick out over the edges of my wrist. I told Rick I would only ever own one if I got it and cut 1mm off the ends of each lug!
Rick tried to send me a watch for several months, but I said no, I just didn’t want it. I just didn’t want to be disappointed and really find out that I would never wear it. When the watch was released, I was so pleased at how it turned out. It truly is a stunning watch and I think the greatest compliment I can pay to it is to say that it is very difficult to tell whether it is a new watch or a pristine example of a vintage one. I can say that because when I was writing the Deepstar chapter for the book I amassed a load of vintage watch images and spent a lot of time comparing them with the Deepstar 2020.
Rick rang again and said he had a watch come back from the photographer and he would send it over so I could have a play with it. He said it just didn’t seem right that the guy who wrote the history book on Aquastar had never seen the new model in the flesh. I relented and said OK. Send it over and I’ll review it and I promised not to hack bits of the ends of the lugs.
So that was the confession. This is the apology. Holy Mackerel was I wrong. The watch arrived a couple of days ago and I can’t stop looking at it. It is beautiful and, wait for it, it isn’t too big or too long. But more of that later.
Most people reading this will already have read all the reviews and info on the watch so let’s start by putting out info you won’t have seen. Here are the comparisons between the Deepstar 2020 and other watches that many of you own. I haven’t used official numbers but my own calipers and scale. All watches are weighed with a bracelet sized for my 6.75 inch wrist. Weighing just the watch head didn’t make sense as its not a real life, wearing the watch, situation.
Yep, there is no doubting, the Deepstar 2020 is a big watch especially compared to the vintage version which was 37mm wide (without crown), 13mm tall and 47mm lug to lug, but what surprised me was that it wasn’t the biggest and heaviest, which I honestly expected it would be, and looking at the weight of it on a strap, it is positively anorexic…well, maybe not but on the strap it weighs less than a Rolex Submariner on a bracelet.
But here is the thing about numbers. Everyone gets caught up and caught out with them. Whether it is brake horsepower, or megapixels or CPU megahertz. They are a great way to compare but they never tell the whole story. I don’t give a care that my truck can’t do 0 to 60 in 5 seconds or can’t do 200 mph. I drive in the suburbs and happily paddle along at 45 mph. My cell phone hasn’t the biggest megapixel array but it takes fantastic pictures. Yes I have an i7 computer with 16gig or RAM but all I do is surf the web and write stuff. Its the same with the Deepstar. People will look at the numbers and think that it is a big watch, probably too big for me. I know because I was that guy! My advice, don’t go by numbers alone. The Deepstar 2020 is a watch that defies numbers. You put it on and you don’t want to take it off.
I’m sure some of you are asking why is it bigger than the vintage watch? The answer is quite simple really. The vintage Deepstar used the Valjoux 23 or 92 movement. It was a manual wind movement and is no longer made. So there were a couple of decisions to be made early on in the development of the modern version. Should Aquastar go with a modern equivalent of the Valjoux which would mean utilizing a non Swiss movement and should the movement be automatic or manual wind? The next image shows a prototype with the proposed movement. As soon as I saw it, I knew Aquastar had made the right decision. The Rotor shows the initials MLJP which means the movement is Swiss and from La Joux-Perret.
However, with every decision there is a consequence. The new movement would not fit in the original Deepstar case dimensions unless you shaved so much metal off internally that the dive rating of the watch was in the region of the depth of the water in the kitchen sink. So the case diameter and height had to be bigger to accommodate the automatic movement and give a 200m depth rating. But scaling up the case also increased the lug to lug length. The next decision was whether to keep the case ratios the same as the vintage or shorten the lug to lug length. The decision was to keep the case ratios true to the original and that is why the length increased to 51mm and width to 41mm with a 22mm lug width. Some of the height increase to 17mm is due to the movement now having a rotor and some is due to an anti-reflective, coated, domed sapphire crystal.
I really believe it was an excellent decision to produce a new version, with larger dimensions and a different and much improved mechanism, while retaining the look and charm of the original watch. Making a identical copy could have upset the collectors of the vintage Deepstar. I think they would have felt cheated. Now they can collect a new generation which does not detract from the value of the first one.
I didn’t actually cut the ends of the case but I did go so far as to put some masking tape over where the cuts would have been and to be honest, I now feel that the shorter lugs would have changed the look of the watch from being a doppleganger of the vintage to a different watch. I think Aquastar made the right call. I photoshopped the ends off the lugs where I put the tape and pasted it into the original image. You can see for yourself what it would have looked like with shorter lugs below.
Where I also think they made the right call is by going with a new movement rather than a variation of a Valjoux 7750. As you all have noticed, the Deepstar 2020 doesn’t have a date function. When looking for a movement in this case there are 2 options. Get one which is designed not to have the date wheel or use one which has and remove it or just hide it under the dial. The second option works fine but leaves the movement with a ‘ghost” setting. I’m sure many of you have bought the odd watch with no date but find that instead of only one pull of the crown to set the time, you have to pull it out twice. The first stop doesn’t seem to do anything. Well it does, it sets the date train but of course you don’t see that. A movement with a date function was a nonstarter for Aquastar so that left them with the options mentioned earlier. Valjoux 7750 variation or a non-Swiss movement or use a completely different movement. The non-Swiss movement choice was also a nonstarter and the Valjoux 7750 option didn’t seem to be the way to go.
Ever heard of the expression: you only get one chance to make a first impression? Well that’s what drove the decision to go with La Joux-Perret for the movement. Rick Marei wanted Aquastar to come back with a bang and also make a statement and the statement was: we aren’t going to compromise on quality and value and we are going to give people something they haven’t seen in a very long time in a Swiss watch and at a price which will be hard to resist.
Aquastar went with the La Joux-Perret movement. It is a column wheel escapement, mono-compax dial, chronograph that boasts 55 hours of power reserve, bi-directional winding and contains 28 jewels, running at 28,800 bph. Just like the original 2nd generation Deepstar, the large dial gives a 30 minute count while the left ‘counter’ is a running seconds indicator. What many people may not know is that the first generation Deepstar with the Valjoux 92 did not have the running seconds indicator. It became available in the second generation watches which used both the Valjoux 92 and 23 and its function really was to let people know that the watch was working. The word compax is a fancy way of saying subdial. The Deepstar is classed as mono-compax because there is no subdial below the running seconds hand.
Shameless plug time. The above and other wonderful facts and information is available in the Aquastar history book – A Dive Into Time – which should be available before Christmas 2020. It will be available to order here or at www.aquastar.ch. What a lot of people don’t know is just what a fantastic history Aquastar has and what a legacy it brings to the table. I think my book will open a lot of people’s eyes.
The watch I received was an early preproduction model which didn’t have the signed Aquastar rotor and didn’t have its final adjustment but is still running at a very respectable +9 seconds a day. Some new owners have shown theirs running at -2 and -3 seconds a day.
I’m one of those people who thinks buying something nice should be an experience. It’s not just about getting a new watch, ripping open the packaging, looking at the watch, strapping it on and checking the time every once in a while. My friends say I’m a picky barsteward. I like to think of myself as decisively discerning. Even though the box and packaging go in a drawer and is pretty much never thought about, I want it to be a pleasant part of the buying experience. Rick Marei is a picky barsteward too….
When he showed me some of the proposed boxes / containers for the Deepstar 2020, I immediately plumped for the tube which is shown below. It’s what I received this watch in. I love it. But then he said he was going to ship the watch in the turquoise box which was very reminiscent of the vintage box and color from 1965. Although I preferred the tube, I had to agree with him. Remember that expression, you only get one chance to make a first impression? Well that’s why the Deepstar 2020 is shipped in the box. The old guys would remember it and the new guys would get to see what it felt like almost 50 years ago. But don’t fret all you metal tube fans. It will be used in future releases.
As it turned out I didn’t need the turquoise box to give me the full experience I was talking about. The watch itself took care of that. Opening the protective packing and seeing the watch for the first time was an Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark moment. My eyes lit up, my face lit up, my mouth opened, and I probably gasped. What a beauty. It just smacks of quality and finish and high end. This watch ticks more boxes than an application for unemployment benefits!
So just to put my expression: “what a beauty”, into some context. Picture the scene. You are in a pub just outside Belfast in Northern Ireland. It’s a Saturday afternoon. It’s the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Liverpool. You are a Man U supporter. Its 5 minutes before full time and the score is 1:1. A lot of beer has been drunk and emotions are running high. Suddenly the Man U outside right gets the ball and starts a run. He beats one, he beats two and then hits a perfect cross over towards the penalty box where the center forward is waiting. Leaping high in the air he intercepts the ball and heads it perfectly into the top right-hand corner of the net. The pub goes mental and your mate grabs you by the shoulders and screams into your face: “what a beauty!” The Deepstar 2020 is that kind of a watch.
It has an amazing wrist presence thanks to the polished decompression bezel and the signature “Big Eye” 30-minute totalizer subdial. But it also has some nice touches that are not immediately obvious. The screw down crown is signed with the Aquastar logo and it also uses an internal tube thread. This means when you unscrew the crown and pull it out to set the time all you see is a nice polished outer stem tube rather than external threads.
The rotating decompression bezel was / is unique to Aquastar and is part of the patent awarded in 1967 for the watch and bezel allowing the calculation of dissolved nitrogen in the blood with respect to repeat dives. It is very elegant but also very complicated. It is way beyond the scope of this review, and I have dedicated a whole chapter to it in the Aquastar book. The pushers are also polished and can be operated underwater.
My honest opinion is that for what you are getting, the Deepstar 2020 is too cheap at $3,590. Hell, at the preorder price of $2,790 it is a steal. If this watch said Rolex on the dial, people wouldn’t even blink if the asking price was $12,000.
Compare it with two of the watches I own. The Omega Speedmaster and the DOXA T-Graph. Omega are looking for $5,350 for the classic Speedmaster Moonwatch and DOXA are looking for $4,900 for their classic T-Graph. Both undeniably nice watches. I own older versions of each. I love my Speedmaster but was shocked when I swapped out the caseback for a sapphire caseback to find that the brake is a lump of plastic! Yes, I’ve heard the argument that it was originally metal but plastic functions better and if you bought the version with a sapphire crystal, Omega use a metal brake, but come on guys. Plastic in a 5 grand watch. Doesn’t matter how robust it is, you know you are going to change it during a service anyway. There ain’t no plastic in the Deepstar 2020.
So what is it like to wear? Again, going back to my picky barsteward persona, I dislike straps. Just don’t wear them. They itch or feel weird or, because I like to wear my watch loose, cause the watch head to rotate round on my wrist. This Deepstar came with only the black Tropic strap. I was instantly ready to remove it and put on the 22mm bracelet I had but I thought: ah, heck, why not, let’s see what it is like. Wooooo, again I was surprised. It felt very comfortable. Normally, I wear my watch far down on my wrist, below the styloid process of the Ulna bone. That’s the lump that sticks out on the little finger side of your wrist. Wearing the watch further up on my wrist means I need to keep the bracelet tight and it is uncomfortable. But I have to say, the Tropic strap was very comfortable, felt nice and lasted an absolute record of over 30 minutes before it came off. I replaced it with an Isofrane strap which looks fantastic but stayed on only long enough for a photo before making way for the bracelet.
Aquastar have promised a Beads of Rice style bracelet early in 2021. I don’t have a 22mm version, but I put on a 20mm one just to have a look and see what it would be like. Honestly, I’m not sure. Yes, it will look quite nice but I think BOR bracelets have been done to death. Every man and his dog brings out a BOR style bracelet. They are like the watch world equivalent of haircuts. You know you have to go get your hair cut and you know he is going to take too much off at the back, but you go anyway. I’d be on the look out for a nice bracelet that compliments the watch and doesn’t say: time for a haircut!
However, Aquastar have surprised me with the watch, they’ll probably do the same with the bracelet. The polished beads would tie in with the polished bezel and the brushed sides pieces would tie in with the brushed case. Yea, with the correct endlinks it may be a nice option. I’ve taken a couple of photos with the Deepstar on 20mm versions of BOR and mesh bracelets just to give you an idea of what they would look like.
Wearing the Deepstar on the bracelet I have, feels fantastic. After a couple of minutes the watch just disappears and a number of times I had to look down to make sure I was wearing it. I’ve always said that the most comfortable watches I’ve ever owned were the Omega Seamaster 300 Pro and the DOXA SUB 300T first generation. I’ll also add the Benthos 500 to that list. Well the Deepstar gets a place there too. It is really comfortable and easy to wear. For a tall watch it hugs the wrist thanks to a relatively flat and wide caseback. Anyone who knows me knows how much I have railed about the use of thick and high angle casebacks on the modern DOXA SUBs. No such argument here.
And talking about the caseback. It has the classic 18-pointed star design that looks fantastic but needs a special tool to open the watch. It may be possible to unscrew it using the plastic ball that is readily available (it worked on this one) but don’t even think about using a standard 3 point opener in order to have a look at the La Joux-Perret movement. It won’t end well.
The other thing that I am decidedly discerning about is black dials not being black. Did I tell you how much I hate black dials that are matt finish? Give me a gloss black dial like the one on the Rolex Submariner or Sea-Dweller any day. Matt dials just look gray. It’s physics. Glossy colors reflect more light and look darker. So how is the Deepstar black dial? It is not quite as black as a black cat in a coal mine at night with all the lights turned off and no moon in the sky but it is close enough. I love it. There is that slight sunburst reflection thing going on, which actually is quite nice and looks fantastic on the blue dial version. Aquastar call it a galvanized sunburst but I think that is just a technical term for “hey Pete, it’s a nice effect and it still keeps the black dial black enough for you!”
The hands and dial are nicely lumed as well. The superluminova color was chosen to try to mimic an aged Radium look. Again, I think this is a nice touch and more pleasing than the standard white or green lume we see so often in modern watches. It also glows pretty well. The image shows it with the Speedmaster and T-Graph.
There really isn’t much more to say about the Deepstar 2020. Rick and Aquastar got it right. Let’s be honest here, 2020 has been a particularly craptastic year. If you were going to relaunch a brand, well, 2020 wouldn’t be the year you would choose, but Aquastar came back at a time when people had less money and inclination to buy a watch. They had to come back with something that people would notice and want to buy and I really believe they did a spectacular job. I know there are other things in the pipeline and from what I have seen, the Deepstar is just the beginning of the spectacle.
Ultimately the Deepstar 2020 is a watch that just demands you look at it. I find myself just staring at it. Setting and resetting the 30 minute timer or just sliding up my sleeve to have a quick peek at it. The “Big Eye” subdial ensures that it is a watch the like of which I have never owned before. It also differentiates it completely from the Rolex, Omega, Breitling, add any name you like to the list, alternatives that are available. When you are wearing a Deepstar you are wearing a watch that is unique and very few people have. It makes you decisively discerning…… I can’t help myself but glance down and check it out. What’s that? You want to know what time it is? Sure, no problem, let me have a look!