December 28, 2009
by Ariel Adams
Deepest diving mechanical watch ever. That is one way to sum up the Swiss Military Watch 20,000 Feet Diver. Built by CX (Montres Charmex) in Switzerland, this has to be one of the greatest “man” watches of the year. I first wrote about the 20,000 Feet Diver watch here. What is stunning about the watch is that it is an incredibly well made and refined, in addition to it being an extremely successful execution of the concept. What does this mean? Well Swiss Military Watches (not to be confused with Swiss Army Watches) wanted to beat their old record of a watch that would survive 12,000 feet underwater. Upping the goal to 20,000 feet this time, the engineers in Switzerland spent copious amount of time planning, building, and testing on the new 20,000 Feet Watch concept until the vision was realized. The 10mm thick sapphire crystal alone can resist pressure of 750kg per square centimeter.
Just getting the watch to accomplish the goal of being able to survive that ridiculous amount of pressure and force on the case is impressive enough. I would have been happy and excited about the Guinness world record that the watch has alone, if that was all the watch has – but there is so much more to this watch than just having an impressive record. CX didn’t stop at just incredible pressure resistance – oh no. In fact, aside from the incredible dimensions and capacity of the 20,000 Feet Diver, it is also one of the best functioning and made watches that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. Everything about it is refined and smooth in execution. From the quality of the watch and bracelet, to the operation of the features on the watch. Plus, the watch is a dedicated tool above everything else. This is really what people expect when they invest in a Swiss watch, and I am really proud to share it with you.
At first glance the 20,000 Feet Diver is nothing short of a beast. In a massive 46mm titanium case, the watch sits very tall off your wrist at almost 30mm high! Wearing the watch you smile like a kid at the novelty of it. The whole case is essentially designed to be a miniature diving capsule. Looking at it from the side you can see the round case of the watch when focusing on the intensely curved sapphire crystal that is 10mm thick to the curved screw-down caseback on the watch. If you didn’t know better, looking at the watch from the side it would appear to be some Terminator-grade robotic eyeball. Another positive quality is that the case is totally anti-magnetic to protect the movement. There is also an automatic helium release valve on the left side of the case for deeper dives when gas need to escape from the movement to help equality pressure to prevent damaging the movement.
Although the watch case and bracelet is all titanium (very fine quality metal and finish by the way), it is not a “light watch.” The titanium is mostly there for strength, but does help the watch be significantly lighter than it would be if it was done in steel. A lot of the weight comes from the sapphire crystal, movement, and case materials. Like I said, the titanium finishing is very nicely done. The grain is smooth, and the brushed finishing is as nice as good steel (I find that a brushed finish is hard to do right on titanium). Everything about the watch is a bit over the top, but that is necessary for the concept to work. It is the horological equivalent of a big custom 4×4 pickup truck. Rhino bars attached, heavy duty tires and wheels installed while the suspension has been lifted, and light are placed all over it. The design of the 20,000 Feet Diver communicates durability as much as its Guinness world record does. All over the watch you see large exposed screws in the bracelet and link ends. The bracelet clasp is chunky and functional, while the bezel is tall and easy to grip, as well as read. It is the first watch that I’ve gotten that literally makes me want to run head first into danger. I want to jump into the water or out of a plane with this thing on – with no doubts it will survive the journey (even if I don’t).
CX has a lot of video that it make while testing the watch. They actually make for good marketing. Aside from the pressure test, CX shot the watch up with a shotgun, ran over it with an industrial truck, blasted it with a fire hose, among other things. They are actually inviting suggestions on new fun ways to test our its Superman like qualities. Suffice it to say that the watch survived it all. See the video located in the review.
While I didn’t put the watch through torture tests, I did inspect it carefully with my watch snob eye (often as damaging to the spirit). This includes seeing how comfortable the watch is, operating each of its functions again and again, as well as giving the watch to non watch people and asking them to perform simple tasks. The results left me with a good feeling that CX learned most every lesson it needed to know about good watch making long before it make the 20,000 Feet Diver. The chronograph is a perfect execution of the Valjoux 7750 – meaning the pushers are smooth and precise, while their screw guards are flawless in operation. Winding the watch with the large crown manually was nice, as well as adjusting the time and date. The watch didn’t miss a gear. The rotating diver’s bezel is one of the best I’ve ever used. Strict professional grade. A perfect mix of being tight enough, but also being easy to turn. There is no wiggle or give to the bezel, and turning is smooth with 60 satisfying clicks. I do not embellish on any of these points. I’ve most never seen quality like this – even at this price level.
The bezel itself is in black with an inner section without black coating where there are individual minute markers. Each five minute marker on the bezel is applied with luminant. Going back to the chronograph operation, the pushers have screw down guards for watch resistance. Still, the watch is water resistant to 300 meters even with the guards in the “open” position. When open, there are red bars on the pushers reminding you up this. When the screws are tightened, they move up. and cover the red sections to let you know it is safe to go even deeper than 300 meters. By the way, the grooving around the pushers and screw-down crown are all cut really well, nice and sharp feeling, but not in an uncomfortable way at all. You can see the red colored Swiss Military watch logo engraved into the side of the crown.
As the watch case is so large, the bracelet needs to support it on your wrist and be comfortable. It connects tightly at the curved lugs with a screw bar and gently tapers a bit as you get closer to the fold-over double locking deployment clasp (also in titanium). Literally all bars are screw bars. Only think that it doesn’t have is a diver’s extension, but I am not sure that it needs one in this case. Swiss Military supplies two natural rubber diving straps with the watch in addition to the titanium bracelet. Why two? Because they come in two sizes. One that is made to go around your wrist, and another that is longer and meant to go around a diving suit. I am pleased that the watch comes with these. Still, this chunky watch is just begging to be paired with its companion metal bracelet when not on serious diving duty.
Speaking of what the watch comes with, the presentation box is extremely impressive. The large case has a lot of paper works. Warranty guide, all sorts of certificates (such as for the depth rating, Guinness world record, and COSC certification). There is also a nicely made instruction manual, tool, and cleaning cloth. I’ve not seen too many watch presentation or storage boxes this nice. However, it is a big package!