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Gonville Bromhead

The Wristwatch as Male Fantasy, Part Deux.

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Given the almost complete equanimity which greeted my first effort into this project, I have been inspired to produce a sequel. You only have your self to blame. You didn’t ask for it.


(5)…..continued. The Diving Bezel. 


Originally found on the Blancpain 50 Fathoms in 1952 and replicated on the Rolex Submariner the following year. In 1959 (I believe) Rolex first broke down the 1-15 sector into minutes.  It is this model and this ubiquitous today. This scheme of measurement worked well in the early 1950’s but a decade later diving had moved on. Thus, when you look at the Omega Seamaster produced for military use in 1969 all the minutes are etched on the bezel. Indeed, modern diving standards insist on this: ISO 4625 (DIN 8306)(See the current Rolex Deep Sea for an example). I believe that the first unidirectional bezel was introduced on the Certina Ds-2 in 1968.


In any case, a modern professional diver would use a diver computer, so it doesn’t really make any difference anyway (although there is never a problem having analogue ‘back-up’ in my experience) Whenever you trust it, modern technology tends to let you down.


However, my 2 pence on this is as follows: When it comes to bezels and what is on them, “less means more.” Indeed, the IWC Dive watch that it designed for the German Navy only had the luminous dot on it and no more. When you think about, how much more do you need.? OK, a bit more, but not much.



(6). The tachymetre.


To really appreciate this ‘app.’ you really need an ever so slightly modified Delorean, and, ideally, to be Germany. Once back in, say, 1936 enjoying the growth of the burgeoning Luftwaffe, you can peak out whilst during take off and observe the stakes hammered into the ground at regular intervals by the side of the runway. By using these as your measures, you can work out your airspeed. Useful should your control panel suddenly cease to function. However, if that happens knowing your airspeed is probably the least of your problems.


Of course, you can also use it for measuring ground speed (ie your speed past stakes in the ground every kilometre etc). However, you would have to be going at a fare lick (because the lowest denomination on the tachymetre is normally ‘60’ at the ’12.’) Secondly, shouldn’t you really be concentrating on driving? You might also use your speedometer whilst we are on the subject.


Anyway, it is because of the above that the the Omega ‘Speedmaster’ gets its name (introduced in 1957, movement designed by Lemania, 1942).  


If you are interested in working out average speed there is actually a much easier way of doing it. It involves using the milometre on your car and the 3, 6, or 9 significations on your minute timer on the chronograph. However, as you have probably already lost the will to live I will save that for another time. Or perhaps not.


(7). The ‘slide rule’ outer scale.


Found, famously, on the Breitling Navitimer, first introduced in 1952. The watch was adopted, soon after, by the Aircraft Owners’ and Pilot’s Association.


Pilots of that era had a big version of this slide rule which they could use back at base. The Navitmer just gave them a smaller version as back-up.


You could use it for making in-flight calculations to gauge, for example, how much fuel remained in relation to miles already travelled, or at what speed, related to the total journey time, the plane should flying. Great stuff!!


Many years ago I remember fiddling in by Dad’s desk. There I chanced upon a slide rule. It was an absolutely stunning ‘bit of kit’ and complicated beyond all belief. I removed the dust off it and took it to him to ask more questions about it. “Oh,” he said, “that old thing. As an engineer I used to use that all the time. I have not needed to touch it in years.” I asked him to show me how it worked. “Oh not a clue son. It’s one of those things that if you use it every day, you remember. Yet put it down and neglect it and the skill just goes.”


Likewise, one suspects, with the Navitimer.


I notice the one that Simon Cowell wears. I don’t suppose he has ever had to worry about calculating his fuel consumption as against the speed of his Bentley.


Still, for ‘coolness,’ if not for use, it has to get five male fantasy stars.


(8). I have saved the best till last: The Helium Escape Valve.


The story goes that in the 1960s a French firm (Comex) were managing offshore drilling operations for big oil companies. Its deep-sea divers were encountering a problem with their Submariners. The crystal kept popping off. So Comex took them to Rolex in the hope that they might be able to resolve the problem.


Curious, at roughly the same time, the same problem was happening to Japanese divers who were asking Seiko to solve the problem.


Back to Rolex: Their Oyster water resisting system behaved perfectly but during long periods of deep water/high pressure dives (which diving bells made possible) helium gas permeated the crystal of the watches and, after the wearer surface, was unable to escape, hence the crystal flying across the room. To remedy this problem Rolex fitted the watch (the 1967 Sea Dweller Ref 1665) with a helium escape valve. This would protect the watch during periods of decompression which would involve a mixture of helium, hydrogen and other gases.


Yet remember, it was only in 1979 that Rolex replaced Plexiglas crystals with ones made of Sapphire.  


Lovely. As for Seiko, back then in the 1960s when faced with the same problem they just built better gaskets and re-engineered the watch to higher tolerances and used, wait for it, Hardex crystal. Problem solved! Hence the Marine Master of today does not have or need a Helium Escape valve.


Anyway, if you are regularly making trips in your diving bell down the Mariana Trench, then this is really a “must” for you. Better still, you could actually put it to some proper use by following the example of 007. Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye (1995) used the laser in the Omega Seamaster Professional HEV to make a hole to get himself out of a train. Could happen? Good luck with it mate.


Helium Escape Valves, in one word: Ridiculous. 









  • Haha 2

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