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My watch collection #13 Venturo Skindiver

Venturo Skindiver with original box and papers

When Naoki and his Gruppo Gamma announced the Venturo Skindiver he immediately had my attention. As you might recall from previous posts, Gruppo Gamma was one of earliest experiences with mechanical watches and the Divemaster had left a big impression. Venturo is the sister brand, and actually reads ‘Venturo by Gruppo Gamma’. The two brands have a lot in common.

The Skindiver jumped on the, well – skindiver – trend which was so prevalent around 2020. I’m a big fan of the skindiver look and had already acquired two of them from Wolbrook the same year. A skindiver from Gruppo Gamma sounded like a dream to me since I’d given up the Divemaster much due to its size.

The Skindiver was a much more versatile 40mm body / 41mm bezel with 22mm lugs. The watch indeed felt very sleek on wrist with a curved body and short lugs. I got the fitted bracelet to go with it, but for a reason I can’t remember I mostly wore it on various straps as you can see in the pictures. I wonder why though, since the bracelet was fine quality and certainly looked good with the watch. I think it might’ve been the simple fact that it was a 22mm non-tapering bracelet and it just felt a bit too chunky for the watch..

Falling out of love with the Venturo Skindiver

Unfortunately, it didn’t take me too long to realise that I wasn’t perfectly happy with the watch. You don’t buy a watch just to be satisfied with it – you buy a watch to love it to bits, at least that’s my philosophy. My collection is large as it is and if I’m not in love with a watch then it doesn’t belong in my collection.

Why I didn’t love the Skindiver came down to a combination of factors, I believe. On the plus side it came from a brand I like and respect, it had a beautiful, unique case shape and great dimensions, a boxed crystal and the matt bezel material is something I’d love to see on more watches. But this wasn’t enough to outweigh the downsides:

  • The bezel was very stiff to turn. Too stiff for my liking
  • The date window was too small, almost unusable to tell the date
  • The face, and this is what it really came down to, felt toy-like

Yes. Toy-like is the best way I can describe it. Some watches are meant to be playful, even toy-like, but the Skindiver’s ethos was not that. I wanted a rugged tool watch. It was the sum of the white chapter ring, the plastic feel to the second hand and the neon yellow colouring of the lumed bits. This all together simply didn’t gel with me.And I really tried to make it work, because I really wanted to like this watch.

So I sold my Venturo Skindiver

It honestly felt like a failure, like I had let the watch down, when I finally decided to sell it. It was for sale over a year I think, and while it was for sale I would wear it and think ‘maybe i should keep it, it is a nice watch’ but always come to the same conclusion; that I can’t keep a watch unless I love it, for its perfections and imperfections. The imperfections of this watch bugged me. While I sometimes regret selling the Divemaster I don’t regret selling the Skindiver. This watch wasn’t for me.

Let’s just say that if the Skindiver would’ve replaced the yellow tints for white, gotten rid of the white chapter ring and used a metallic finish on the second hand, it would still be in my collection, and probably cherished and worn a lot.

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My watch collection #11 Wolbrook & Douglas Skindiver Worldtimer

Douglas WT Skindiver

Two for one!

Wolbrook went live with their Kickstarter campaign sometime during or just before the pandemic hit. Their campaign was mega successful and they delivered gallantly (in contrast to others).

And no wonder they were successful. The original offering was a gorgeous looking re-edition of a skin diver from the 60s, right when skin divers were the hottest trend in the watch world. As the campaign progressed they launched more and more stretch goals and variants, so in the end I was too tempted by two quite different looking pieces and ordered both of them with additional bead of rice bracelets.

The rebirth of a brand

Wolbrook is the main brand, based out of France. Douglas was a sister brand they decided to revive also, and dedicate that strand to the ‘professional’ line sporting a gorgeous hesalite crystal. They decided to revive the brand and push strongly on the tool watch angle. The whole Kickstarter campaign made a massive deal out of the fact that Neil Armstrong has owned a Wolbrook back in the pre-moon days.

Some people, me included found that a bit cringe and forced but it didn’t stop us from order a very good looking watch from them. Unrelated back story aside, the watch is a solid offering and since then the brand is pushing on hard, releasing new models and creating a new brand story for themselves.

The watches – Wolbrook and Douglas

Both watches uses the same body and face. The differences lie in colour variations and cystal. The Wolbrooks uses a sapphire crystal with protruding cyclops for the date window, whereas Douglas Worldtimers have a hesalite crystal with integrated cyclops.

I love acrylic and especially on a vintage design like the Worldtimers. I also thought the PVD version looked too good to resist, and this was only available for the Douglas. On the other side of the spectrum I had a rose gold two-tone Wolbrook, and when a two-tone BOR bracelet was announced I could not resist.

Both watches are 40 x 48mm with 20mm lugs and wear really well on the wrist. Inside is a Miyota 8215 automatic movement that has received an upgrade since the launch. Both watches run well however, within +6s/day and the rotor noise has never bothered me.

Living with two of the same watch

Although the Wolbrook and Douglas are the same watch more or less I find the differences large enough to find use for both of them. Douglas became my ‘adventure’ watch and Wolbrook became more of a daily and dressy watch. Over time I used the Douglas less asI found the PVD coated style less versatile than I had originally anticipated. Indeed, the Douglas is now for sale if you’re interested, while I’m holding on to my Wolbrook for now at least.

Wolbrook Skindiver WT two-tone
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My watch collection #10 Seiko skx009

Seiko SKX009

I used my skx007 loads. I did really enjoy it, especially on the Strapcode jubilee. But it was a second hand watch and ran an awful lot behind, somewhere around 30 seconds a day. So in a clumsy attempt to adjust it I accidentally touched something I shouldn’t have in the movement and the watch stopped working.

As a result I sold it and looked for a new one (it was probably easy enough to fix but I just wanted to leave it behind and move on). Prices for the discontinued skx had gone up however, and instead of buying an original one I ended up getting a part aftermarket one from Philippines. They can be a bit hit or miss, but if you’re ok with aftermarket they are way cheaper. I got the “009” for around £100, but of course it wasn’t a true 009. The bezel was aftermarket and you can tell from the colours. Also the face is most likely aftermarket, sporting the yellow text instead of the orange. That could be from discolouring after many hours in the sun but most likely it isn’t.

The watch worked fine and was in honesty very close to my previously owned 007 in terms of looks. But somehow it wasn’t right. I think it was mainly the colour of the bezel that didn’t do it for me. The bezel of the real 009 uses a darker blue and looks great. This felt like a cheap imitation – which I guess it was.

So the so called 009 didn’t stay long in my collection. I already had dive style beater watches that I preferred, and as I’ve said many times – one should only keep watches you truly love and can’t part with.

I still like the skx case and from time to time I’m checking out mods, copy cats on Aliexpress and the 2nd hand market. But since I got my turtle now I’m less inclined to get a discontinued and overpriced skx.

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My watch collection #9 Seiko skx007

Seiko SKX007 on a boat

What can I say that haven’t been said already about the legendary Seiko skx007? Really not much. This iconic model has been examined and described to death, primarily because it’s seen as the gateway drug into mechanical watches.

The skx007 and 009 were indeed very well-specced, ISO-certified mechanical dive watches that could be had for a small amount of cash. That combined with a unique design that manages to straddle both safe and bold design territories alike was the recipe for success since their launch in the mid-90s.

What’s so appealing about the Seiko skx?

I’ve always liked the design of the skx. So much that I got the bigger version from Deep Blue in 2016. In 2018 I bought a used skx on ebay, which came on an upgraded MILTAT jubilee. Maybe it was curiosity, or that I was now ready for the slightly smaller 42.5mm diameter of the skx. Either way I really enjoyed wearing it, and it became my travel companion across South East Asia for four months.

It’s a dive watch, bold and legible. Understated with a timeless design. It’s not retro and doesn’t bear the hideous design cues of the 90’s. Its case is beautifully soft and organic and the dial carries that softness across in the printed markers.

If you like adventures with a slightly analogue feel you might enjoy this watch.

Seiko SKX007 on a Sunday on a boat.

Is the skx worth the hype?

Yes and no. The SKX was discontinued a few years back and as a result 2nd hand prices went through the roof. It’s a cool watch, but unless you really really really want it, the recent bloated prices aren’t justified and should not be encouraged by buying one at that price. You can get much better watches for £600 (this watch used to be £150). Just in the Seiko range you can get their new GMT for £400, or a Turtle for £300.

Why did I sell my Seiko skx007?

I sold my skx because I broke it while trying to adjust it. It was a second hand purchase and after owning it for two years the watch was falling behind almost 30 seconds per day. I accidentally touched the balance wheel or something else in the movement and after that the watch would not operate. I tried to find a solution online but couldn’t. Probably it was an easy fix for someone knowing what they’re doing but in my case I just sold the faulty watch.

Although I really enjoyed my skx I would probably sell it in todays inflated market and cash in if I still owned it. Today I own a blue Turtle which sort of replaced the skx in my collection. In many ways the Turtle is not only the official successor to the skx, but it’s also taking its adventurous spirit and features to the next level.

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My watch collection #8 Vertigo Pilot One

Vertigo Pilot One on blue nato strap.

At the time of writing, the Vertigo Pilot One is the earliest watch still remaining in my collection. I’ve talked about watch collecting before and for me it’s a journey of trial and error, dead ends and exploration. No GPS, just pure fun.

That means a lot of watch flipping. But the Pilot One still remains to be flipped. It is indeed for sale if you’re willing to pay the price. I’ve intentionally overpriced it a bit simply because i don’t really want to let it go, but at the same time it’s given me a good run for the last five years and I could do with downsizing my collection a bit.

The Vertigo Pilot One is gorgeous

I’ve got a massive soft spot for mid-century utilitarian chronographs. Vertigo’s reinterpretation of such a watch bear resemblance with Zenith’s Cronometro, Heuer Bundeswehr etc. And it’s absolutely gorgeous.

It’s 41 x 48.5mm large with 22mm lugs and these dimension makes for a very wearable watch for a lot of wrists. It’s large-ish without being too much. The understated colour-way helps with this. Vertigo is an Italian microbrand, and although I’m not sold on their other designs and personally think they’re struggling a bit with finding their identity I do think they got this one almost perfect.

The Pilot One comes in all black or a reversed panda option. The panda was originally my pick but I changed my order while still in pre-production. I stick with my choice – The black sub-dials are actually matte dark grey and offers just enough contrast against the black dial to make it interesting.

The watch comes on a black leather strap which I’ve never used. It’s fine for a more dressed up look, but that’s not how I wear mine. It looks best on a nato strap, or one of my favourite options is a rattly Seiko SKX jubilee bracelet.

Functionality wise it houses a Seagull ST19, manual wind chronograph movement. Basically the only mechanical chronograph you’ll find under £1000. It’s fine. Runs a bit fast but still within reasonable limits. I use the chronograph a lot in the gym to time the break between sets. It also comes with a uni-directional dive bezel.

Vertigo Pilot One is not flawless

I do have some wishes, should Vertigo ever make a Pilot Two (or Pilot One v2).

  • I’d prefer an aluminium bezel insert instead of ceramic. That’s the utilitarian look I prefer.
  • I’d like a domed sapphire or Hesalite crystal instead of the flat one.
  • The bezel click action is not great. It feels a bit cheap and flimsy.

Part from that this watch is still in my possession for a reason. It is a very nice watch.

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My watch collection #7 Blenheim Navigator Luminous

Blenheim Navigator Luminous on leather nato strap

The Blenheim was a Kickstarter watch that didn’t stay long in my possession. I’m not even sure why I backed the project. The watch was cheap, looked ok and I hadn’t bought a watch in a while, I guess.

The Navigator Luminous is heavily inspired by the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. A dive icon that was invented in the 50’s and still retails, but for a cool 13G (in GBP). I’m not even a particular fan of that watch and today I know better than getting a tired knock-off from a brand without any type of ethos.

See, that’s probably the main issue in this story of watch collecting mishaps. The watch itself was nothing to call home about, but it worked. The materials and finish were ok for the price of £130 (although today you can get better for less on Aliexpress).

The Navi Pro, as the Navigator Luminous was called initially has a Miyota 8215 entry-level automatic movement, a 60-click unidirectional bezel with pretty shoddy rotating action and and materials that feel plastic and cheap.

Blenheim Navigator Luminous on mesh strap

What was so bad about the Blenheim watch?

What really lacked with the watch however was the backstory, the passion, the brand ethos. There is nothing wrong with being a young microbrand. In fact, I’m gravitating more towards these brands for a compelling narrative associated with my watch than a big player brand who mainly lives on heritage and marketing in todays world.

Unfortunately Blenheim lacks brand ethos completely. The campaign was plastered with the all-too-common brand jargon about wanting to fill the gap in the affordable luxury watch market (what an oxymoron, that!) and wanting to pay tribute to the old guard etc etc.

But who are Blenheim? Just another Chinese factory brand with some presence in the UK. I’m importing catalogue watches with Gloriousdays, but I’m not trying to hide it. Instead I build the brand around the message I’d like my products to remind us off.

Watch collecting is a trial and error, learning by doing type hobby. I was almost leaving out the Blenheim from this list as I only had it for a few months. But it was part of my collection nonetheless and I learnt from the process. Don’t be afraid of making mishaps and taking wrong turns as you progress. It’s all part of the journey.

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My watch collection #6 Pancor P02

Pancor P02 dial close-up

Here’s an interesting watch.

Pancor P02 launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 and was delivered in 2018. It’s a unique mechanical watch that work in many settings. Priced around £250, it wasn’t a spontaneous purchase but after a bit of to and fro I thought this would be a piece I could have quite a bit of fun with.

It’s definitely a unique looking watch. To begin with, it’s pistachio green – a colour we don’t see very often on watches. All surfaces on the dial and hands are matte pastel, which contrasts nicely against the case’s chromed and shiny finish. If the body would have been treated with a sandblasted texture, used titanium or even been brushed it would have looked a lot more like a tool watch. Now the Pancor P02 sits somewhere between dressy and tooly.

The face is quite large at 42mm, especially since there is no bezel and the face goes all the way out to the edge of the case. To make this big surface a bit more dynamic and interesting, Marc Schutten the founder of Pancor opted for a Miyota 9132 movement. This adds a 24h subdial at six a clock and a power reserve indicator at 12 a clock.

Without these sub dials the watch undoubtedly would have looked a lot dressier, in which case it would have worked better in a 38 – 40mm size.

Pancor P02 up-front

What is it like to wear the Pancor P02 on the wrist?

As mentioned, the Pancor P02 feels quite tool like. This is much thanks to the pointy yellow second hand and sub dial hands which seem to float in the air thanks to the black center plate. The execution is gorgeous and in combination with the pistachio green gives the watch a feel of a medical instrument that’d belong in a surgical theatre.

This is what caught my attention in the first place. My very first associations wandered to the TV series Lost and the 70’s bunkers of the Dharma Initiative. This watch could’ve been the Dharma Initiative’s officially issued wrist watch.

The watch has 22m lugs and works on a huge variety of straps, from canvas to leather and even mesh. I found that my favourite was on a light beige suede strap for a smart casual look.

All in all the package is unique and fun, but it doesn’t come all without downsides. Although the watch is 10ATM it’s not as utilitarian as I would’ve hoped for. The lume is poor, the date window is small and the yellow hands against green face makes for overall poor legibility.

Desmond from Lost TV show.
Can you imagine the P02 on Desmond’s wrist?

Why did I sell my Pancor P02 watch?

The above mentioned legibility issues could’ve been reason enough to flip a watch, but I think for me what was the killer was the size. With the flat crystal going all the way out to the edges of the case 42mm is simply too large for this type of watch. At least for my wrist. It doesn’t sit bad on the wrist, but it feels large.

At 39 or 40 mill I think the Pancor P02 had been a much more attractive watch that I still would wear with joy (although maybe I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place because I shied away from watches under 41mm in 2017.

After I bought my Venturo Field 2 in 2020 my Pancor became obsolete. They served a similar spot in my collection and I guess you could say it was pushed out by the Venturo.

Nevertheless the P02 still has a spot in my watch loving heart and I remember it dearly. It was also a watch that grew on my partner over time and one of the few watches of mine she approved of.

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My watch collection #5 Aquatico Aqua One

I’m not sure how the Aquatico Aqua One ended up on my radar. At that point, in late 2017 I was already quite into my micro brands and subscribed to a lot of pages on Facebook. I’m guessing Aquatico posted something about their new model and at first sight it mainly just looked like another Submariner copy.

At some point later I noticed an update, in which you could get a blue face with snowflake hands. What more, the hands had that gorgeous floating effect when they’re solid white with black near the center. The effect maybe first widely recognised from the Rolex Explorer 2.

That, shared in some rather decent imagery and with a temptingly low price point sealed the deal. It arrived from China a few weeks later.

Aquatico Aqua One next to my other watches in the display box.

What’s the Aquatico Aqua One like?

This version of the Aqua One steals and borrows shamelessly from Rolex and Tudor and lands in a rather decent combination with a good looking dial as the main attraction. The white snowflake hands with the black center are maybe what I like most about this watch. You could also buy it with mercedes hands and it just looked so boring in my eyes. I’m really not a fan of mercedes hands.

The second feature to highlight is the beautiful blue sunray dial. It’s dark blue and they’ve managed to match it well with the dark blue ceramic bezel. The bezel is 60 clicks uni-directional but feels a bit off the shelf and has a polished surface which doesn’t match the case and bracelet’s brushed finish.

Aquatico Aqua One on blue nato strap.

The 42/50/22 dimensions gives you a fairly large watch but the case is slim and overall it’s a great all-rounder. I’ve worn this on many trips, while kitesurfing, and as a daily beater. It’s got a bit of sentimental value by now and as a bonus it has one of the ugliest caseback artwork known to man – the infamous mermaid on a dolphin. Because the lugs are quite far out from the case the watch does not look good on two-piece straps which leaves a gap close to the body. It does look great on the fitted oyster bracelet though, and I also often wear it on natos.

Why did I sell my Aquatico Aqua One?

I don’t mind my Aqua One, but it just doesn’t stand out in my collection that much nowadays and I’d like to replace it with another blue dial diver such as the Seiko Turtle or something akin to a vintage Tudor Submariner.

In fact it’s been for sale for some time and the day after I wrote this post someone bought it and I purchased a Seiko SRP773. Law of attraction?

Aquatico Aqua One on the wrist.
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My watch collection #4 Deep Blue Nato Diver

Deep Blue Nato Diver

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.

Deep Blue Nato Diver 44mm wrist shot.
It’s a chunky boy! 44/51mm on a 17cm wrist.

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.

Seiko SKX007 and Deep Blue Nato / Military Diver side by side for comparison.
Side by side: Seiko SKX007 and Deep Blue Nato Diver

Why did I sell my Deep Blue Nato Diver?

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. Don’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.

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My watch collection #3 Gruppo Gamma Divemaster

Gruppo Gamma Divemaster

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.

Gruppo Gamma Divemaster on my wrist.

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.