A STAR IS BORN
In the early 1960s, a company was registered in Switzerland that focused almost solely on developing watches, watch parts and specialized instruments for underwater activities, ranging from sports to scientific and exploratory purposes. It was November 1962 and the brand was named “Aquastar”. For the first time in the watchmaking world, a company would exclusively commercialize watches and instruments in just one single market segment.
Producing almost exclusively watches for divers and other aquatic tools, such as dive compasses and depth gauges as well as smaller instruments fitting onto watch straps, like compasses and thermometers while offering this palette of products almost exclusively to specialized stores instead of regular retailers might look risky at first. However, a close look upon the man at the helm of the company, Mr Frédéric Robert, as well as the socioeconomic environment of the times evidences the genius behind Aquastar´s undertaking.
As humanity came out of the ruins of two consecutive world wars, the bitter lessons learned changed the collective mentality and mankind finally channeled its energy towards constructive, positive and peaceful projects.
The seemingly endless and largely still mysterious world underneath the surface of the oceans provided a platform for humanity´s pioneering spirit. Even before the race to conquer outer space, exploration of the “inner space”, the underwater world of our planet, started and was at full swing right after the end of the Second World War. It is a sad truth that wars accelerate technological development and, as a consequence, in times of peace, former military tools evolve into effective solutions for non-military applications and open up new horizons.
The invention of the first open circuit SCUBA equipment by Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagman during the Second World War and its subsequent perfection a few years later is a telling example; this breakthrough opened up new frontiers and secured an incredibly rapid expansion of commercial and recreational underwater exploration. During the next three decades, the undersea world came closer to us than never before.
During these years, the mechanical watch reigned supreme with many of the world´s legendary explorers wearing them proudly on their wrist. In fact, most of today´s “iconic” watch models were created during that time, featuring technologies that made them perfectly adaptable to their task.
Companies, interested in manufacturing groundbreaking new wristwatch models capable to cope with the incredibly tough conditions of the aquatic realm, engaged into a virtual race to develop new technologies and to overcome hitherto unimagined challenges, experimenting with better and more ergonomically designed cases, more reliable calibers, materials that offered better luminosity, dials that were designed for improved underwater legibility as well as more robust straps and bracelets.
It was this environment that enabled Frédéric Robert to dream and his new endeavor, Aquastar, to thrive.
- Frédéric Robert & Aquastar S.A.
Frédéric Robert is certainly one of the most underrated personalities of the Swiss watchmaking industry. An avid scuba diver and lover of the sea, Swiss champion in sailing in 1948, he always had the vision of creating the perfect aquatic instruments. One of his major strengths was his clear vision and a fine taste for balance. From 1962 to 197X (TBC) he helmed Aquastar S.A with his revolutionary vision, leading the company through its “golden years”. Apart from watches, Frédéric Robert had a clear understanding of all underwater instruments, including depth gauges, manometers and other devices. His products were not only extremely resistant but also elegant. A quote from a period Aquastar advertisement, “Aquastar: Time measuring instruments you can wear at a dinner party.” proves the point.
At a time when the Swiss watch industry was mostly defining a “reliable divers´ watch” as a timepiece with simply a sturdier case with the (possible at best) addition of a timing bezel, Frédéric Robert wanted to create more sophisticated timepieces that had multiple applications for their users. Robert´s genius is evident in the fact that he managed to accomplish all of the above with his creations being elegant and gracious at the same time.
The Model 60, or the “Aquastar”
(àattention: we do not know for sure if the names “60” and “63” were the real model names, as there are many catalogs that only mention their reference numbers and refer to them simply as the “Aquastar”, as they were the respective base models)
Robert’s first endeavor in the world of divers and their related sports’ timepieces materialized with the introduction of the “Model 60” (TBC), named “Aquastar” in the company´s brochures. With the respective patent filed in 1958, the watch was released under the “Jean Richard” brand and remained in the catalogs until 1962 (TBC, I have a catalog from 1967 and the model is still present in it). This revolutionary model already featured some fundamental characteristics of the entire upcoming line-up of Aquastar S.A.´s watches, with the most important elements being a very uncluttered dial with easy to read indices as reference points. Frédéric Robert knew that the dial layout was the key for high legibility instead of multiple colors, and he followed this principle faithfully throughout his career. The hermetic screw-in caseback of the “Model 60” featured the raised shape of a sea star that also catered for a more selective servicing policy, as a special opening key that perfectly fitted the star shape was required. This would not only remain a lasting feature of Aquastar S.A., but arguably, one of the most iconic caseback designs of the industry.
It was not only the design of the “Model 60” that would ensure its legendary status though; when, in 1960, the bathyscaphe “Trieste” descended to the bottom of the abyssal Marianna Trench in the Pacific Ocean, US Navy commander (TBC) Don Walsh wore his personal “Model 60” throughout the mission. Being on board the “Trieste”, the “Model 60” had opportunity to participate in a dive that made history and remain one of the biggest achievements of underwater exploration to this date. The model became a true “star” amongst divers´ watches, earning it – and the company behind it – the name “Aquastar”!
The clear vision of the brand is evident through the fact that the sales catalogs offered not only the “Model 60” divers´ watch, but a complete professional package called “Navigator”, a unique innovation that combined the divers´ watch with a series of purpose-designed and life-saving instruments like thermometers, depth gauges and compasses.