When Deep Blue announced their Nato Diver model in 2016 the watch world raised an eyebrow. Why would a micro brand make a near like-for-like copy of the Seiko SKX007 and sell it for pretty much the same price as the original?
I like the SKX. It’s a classic. But there was one detail that didn’t resonate with me back then – the size. The SKX is not a small watch with its 42.5 diameter, but in 2016 that was too small for me. Deep Blue’s version on the other hand is 44mm and wears like a tank. Well, back then that was how I liked my watches. Tank style.
What’s the Deep Blue Nato Diver like?
If big dive watches is your thing you’re probably familiar with brands like Aragon and Deep Blue already. They make good value, robust tanks. The Nato Diver ‘SKX’ homage is no exception. It uses a NHS36 automatic movement with daycare complication and ticks all the boxes of a sturdy tool watch. If you’re into the SKX look but want a larger version I cannot fault it in any way.
Unfortunately it’s sold out on Deep Blue’s website.
In 2018 I bought the original Seiko skx007, and with that rendered the Nato Diver superfluous. During the two years it was in my possession my preference had changed in favour of smaller watches. Smaller as in 42mm, i.e not really that small. And now 42mm is borderline too large and the sweet spot is around 40mm. This keeps constantly changing it seems.
Having said that – if you have a watch you love but the size doesn’t feel right, it could be worth hanging on to it. Do’t sell it unless you really have to. One day you might sway back to that watch size and then it will be there waiting for you. I might be speaking from experience.
After browsing dive watches for hours on end I finally came across a pre-order watch from Singapore based microbrand Gruppo Gamma. Gruppo Gamma was mainly known for their Panerai hommages in 2016 but with the Divemaster they created something inspired by vintage divers but yet fully unique.
The Divemaster was a chunky diver spanning 44 x 52mm with 24mm lugs. Not a small watch by any standards. Today I’d struggle with a watch that large, but in 2016 this was my ideal size. I wasn’t much larger, it was simply a preference.
Before the Divemaster I had briefly owned the Orient Ray, but not connected with it. When I received Gruppo Gamma’s latest creation on the other hand I was smitten. It came on a chunky, tan leather strap. It had a beautifully curved domed sapphire glass and could either be had with a sandwich dial or a date window. A few colour variations were also possible. Inside was an NH35 and the bezel was a smooth pleasure to turn. There really wasn’t a lot negative to say about the Divemaster if you were into this type of watch.
Especially with the pre-order price it was quite affordable at £320. Naoki at Gruppo Gamma evolved the model over the years but to me this first version is still the best ever made, and got my eyes not only on a Gruppo Gamma as a great brand, but the microbrand scene as a whole.
Why did I sell my Gruppo Gamma Divemaster?
I kept my Divemaster for many years but eventually it saw less and less time outside the watch box. I think it was a combination of me moving towards smaller watches and the fact that I felt a bit too precious about a watch that was designed to be used as a tool watch. I actually made a small profit selling it and the new owner seemed really stoked about the watch, so I’m glad it’s fully appreciated in its new home, as it deserves.
It doesn’t take long for anyone getting into watches to find out about Orient. The brand is usually positioned as Seiko’s arch nemesis with a slightly friendlier price tag. Orient does in fact make very good value watches with in-house mechanical movements.
It’s not strange then that Orient was my first mechanical watch to ever own. Soon after getting the Autodromo Prototipo I was drawn into the sea of dive watches, via hearing about the Seiko SKX009 if I remember correctly.
I remember browsing dive watches online for hours on end. And then finally I decided to get the Orient Ray, not because it was the best watch I could find, but it was sort of a compromise between price, functions and looks.
Orient Ray can be had for a mere £130 but still boasts a solid build, in-house automatic movement, 200m water resistance and pretty decent lume. It’s a proper dive watch on a budget and it looks rather elegant too. I put mine on a blue-white-orange nato because I’m a sucker for the Tudor Montecarlo.
Why did I sell my Orient Ray?
I used the Ray for a few months but never fell in love with it. The bezel was really stiff, the overall design a bit too elegant for a tool watch and the size of 41mm simply felt a bit small at the time, coming from 44+ mm watches. The additional pusher used to change the day was at first an interesting feature but later on felt a bit odd. I guess Orient felt the same as they removed it when they updated the Ray to Ray 2.
My love for divers had kicked in regardless and my hunt for the ideal dive watch was already underway. Eventually I found a watch that truly hit home with me. More on that one (and why I sold it) in another post.
The Prototipo from UK microbrand Autodromo was my first flirt with watches other than my own bamboo watches since I started Gloriousdays. I’d had my eyes on the Prototipo for a long time before I bought it. It was just one of those designs that speaks to you.
The model is since long sold out and I’ve got no idea why Autodromo isn’t renewing their stock. Originally I fell for the stainless steel case with dark blue dial, but when I finally pulled the trigger on one I went for the black PVD version with yellow accents. To this day that is still the version I like the most, and it arguably has the best contrast and legibility too.
For me to buy a £500 Quartz watch was something totally new, and something I’d today most likely wouldn’t do. Spec-wise it’s overpriced, yes, but value is subjective to the buyer and I guess at that point (when I didn’t now jack shit about watch making) I liked the design enough to treat myself.
What is the Autodromo Prototipo like?
One could argue that it’s worth the money even on the specs side. The finish is great, it uses a Seiko VK64 “meca-quartz” movement which was pretty novel back in 2016. The case with its distinct barrel case has a gorgeous satin finish and the case back is sightly curved to minimise contact with the skin for less irritation. There is certainly eye for detail in the Prototipo, which takes obvious inspiration from racing chronograph of the 1970s – a style of watches I’m a sucker for.
The watch is not without downsides though. The hour and minute hand are too close in length which affects legibility quite a bit. It’s also only a 5ATM water resistance so it’s not a does-it-all, bring-me-on-your-holiday type watch. I would’ve loved 10ATM and a metal bracelet option. On that note, the integrated lugs look great but they are very snug and you could probably fit a Milanese strap but a nato is out of question.
Alternatives to Autodromo Prototipo
Since the Prototipo is hard to get by nowadays, if you really are on the lookout for one you might include some similar alternatives. Fist that springs to mid is the Brew Retrograph. It shares a lot of design elements with the Prototipo, also utilises a meca-quartz movement and comes in a variety of stylish colours.
The other watch I can think of comes from a brand that fittingly shares Autodromo’s love for cars and racing. I’m thinking about MHD CR1, which unfortunately is sold out at the moment, but MHD is a brand to be aware of nonetheless as they make some very unique and interesting pieces.
Why did I sell my PVD Prototipo?
Although the Autodromo Prototipo is 42mm wide it felt too small for me back in 2016. I was used to my 44mm Bambu watches and epsecially with its 20mm and tapering leather strap, the Prototipo was a bit too small for my liking. Today it would’ve been a perfect fit for my preference, but that alongside the fact that I was too precious about denting and scratching it eventually made me sell it.
But you know, I’m happy I didn’t hold back on buying the PVD Prototipo chronograph back in 2016. Because for some reason it didn’t stop with buying that Prototipo and be done. It became the stepping stone to check out more watches online, view videos on YouTube from the likes of Urban Gentry.
And that was the start of my new hobby of watch collecting. It’s a silly and pointless hobby I admit, but a highly enjoyable way to waste time and income nonetheless. Not too different from playing slot machines, fishing or picking up girls. It’s all about intermittent rewards. But more on that another time maybe.