When one of my friends who’s just dipping their toes into our world asks me to recommend a vintage watch that’s affordable, interesting, and just cool, I struggle these days. Ten years ago, I’d answer Heuer and UG. Five years ago, I’d point to 90s Cartier (hah! definitely not today) or the Dirty Dozen. With every year that passes, it seems like I lose another option to rising prices. There are a few bastions holding out though, even today. Early Omega Constellations. Devil Divers from Caravelle or Bulova. Polerouters (iffy, not for much longer). Vintage Grand Seiko. They’re all incredibly interesting niches into which you can dive as deep as you desire that don’t bankrupt. Right up there with the best of them, you just have to consider the Chronomaster.
I have, thrice in my time, seen the purchase of a Chronomaster in tandem with the incredible book Chronomaster Only from @watchbooksonly create a full-blown watch addict from thin air. And that’s a good thing, our community can often be really stand-offish to new entrants. We need inroads that are approachable and fun, as much to remind us cynical old hats what pure watch love is as for the budding enthusiasts. But what’s really amazing about vintage Nivada is that there’s no trade off. None.
Now, I’m not going to argue the name ‘Aviator Sea Diver’ makes any sense whatsoever. As clear brand messaging goes, that’s like calling Amazon a great workplace, China a democracy, or Victoria’s Secret ethical. But the rest is clearly exceptional. There’s a history wrapped up with Naval expedition in the Antarctic Ross Sea and a VX-6 UC-1 Otter crash-landing, a broad arrow handset, and playful red five-minute subdial. And that’s before you start digging into the distinctions between Valjoux 23 and 92 Chronomasters, white vs black dials, Nivada vs Croton, or where the hell Grenchen actually is (hint, Switzerland). If there were ever an approachable watch with historic merit that rewarded a little effortful research, it is this. An enthusiast’s chronograph to the core.
This one’s solid too. The case is full with moderate wear, commensurate with age and the fact that this was a tool chronograph. The dial shows no damage, only a light greying that’s barely noticeable. Its handset retains all tritium, which is surprisingly uncommon on these. The Valjoux was recently serviced and is running well. It comes from a well-regarded California retailer.