My biological father had a best friend who actually became Dad number two after an early and untimely death in 1980.
Dad, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society has had a lifelong interest in exploration and adventure and encouraged my biological father into sea kayaking.
Back in 1964 he saw a classified advertisement in a catalogue and sent off a cheque for a Nivada Grenchen Depthomatic watch. A 17 Jewel Waterproof Swiss automatic with an internal rotating bezel and first to incorporate a depth gauge.
He loaned it to my father during a motorcycle trip across Europe where he unfortunately had an accident which ultimately ended his life just outside Montpellier, Southern France. Along with his other possessions the watch was recovered and returned to Dad who vowed to one day hand it to me.
Now, 57 years on it is resplendent on my right wrist. The original exterior bezel showed significant signs of wear and age and the depth gauge being rubber was brittle and no longer working but all other parts of the watch in absolutely perfect condition. Keeping better time than my automatic Omega Seamaster which is around half its age.
After a bit of internet research I discovered that a replacement exterior bezel could be purchased and once delivered from Hong Kong replacing it was a relatively simple procedure.
Vintage watches usually have a rich and varied history, were originally used as tools and almost always have a story to tell. This Depthomatic was worn by Dad on some early pioneering kayaking adventures including crossing the English Channel and the North Sea then further afield off Greenland in the oceans of the Arctic and Antarctic.
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his crew sailed and dived from a ship called the Calypso. These dive expeditions were documented and along with Rolex and Omega, some crew including Bernard Delmotte sported the Depthomatic on his wrist.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a French navy officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, scientist and photographer who researched the sea and all forms of life in the water. He developed the aqua-lung and pioneered marine life conservation.
Back in the 1960’s watches were necessary tools and without them diving would be precarious and life threatening. Now, with the advent of rugged digital watches like the Casio G Shock which is cheap to replace if lost and unlikely to go wrong unless the battery runs out, any other watches now fall under the category of jewellery.
The Nivada Depthomatic was manufactured in Grenchen, Switzerland and had some famous brothers including the Antarctic and the Chronomaster. It’s distinguishing characteristic was the built in Bourdon Tube Bathymeter where ambient pressure is transmitted to a spring mechanism within a C shaped tube that shows the depth against markings on the outer bezel. The watch also has a rotating inner bezel that unlike most divers watches cannot be knocked whilst underwater.
The 17 Jewel Depthomatic has a double wall acrylic crystal protecting the rotating inner bezel and broad arrow hands.
Nivada Grenchen began in 1926 and in 1930 was one of the first to manufacture an automatic watch. Then, in 1950 the first waterproof automatic watch called the Antarctic was developed. This was worn by members of the American Navy Deep Freeze 1 during their expedition to the South Pole from 1955-1956.