Aside from having archives dating back to 1926 that are packed full of distinct and unusual models, a big part of the reason Nivada Grenchen has been so successful following its relaunch in 2018 is simply that it does not try to change what is already a great design. Materials and manufacturing methods can be updated to create a superior product, but the whole concept of a reissue piece is to give collectors the opportunity to own a vintage-feeling watch in the modern era, and whenever a design strays too far from the original, it often loses a bit of the magic that made it a great design in the first place. That said, Nivada Grenchen seems to always exercise extreme restraint when it comes to reviving one of its fan-favorite models, and for its latest new release of 2023, the Swiss brand has unveiled the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm, which is a faithful recreation of the famous watch from the 1950s that reached Antarctica.
Back in the 1950s, the concept of a purpose-built sports watch was still in its infancy, and brands were instead primarily focused on producing refined yet durable timepieces that were intended to serve as a person’s one and only wristwatch. During this pre-quartz era, most people only owned one watch (if they were lucky), and that timepiece had to be elegant enough to wear with formal attire, yet also resilient enough to withstand daily wear and the hazards that accompany it, such as moisture, magnetism, and impacts. Consequently, when the United States embarked on a series of missions to Antarctica in the mid-1950s known as Operation Deep Freeze, the explorers who were part of those expeditions were equipped with timepieces that largely resembled dress watches (by modern standards). However, the models they wore were more durable than the average wristwatches of the time, and they were designed to withstand the harsh arctic environments that they would face along their journey.
Leading the Operation Deep Freeze expeditions was Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who was selected by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower due to his previous experience on missions to Antarctica. Strapped to Byrd’s wrist during Operation Deep Freeze was a Nivada Grenchen Antarctic watch, and successfully surviving the mission to Antarctica became one of the brand’s major marketing messages throughout the budding era of the tool watch. During the 1950s, Nivada Grenchen ran a series of advertisements that showcased its role in Operation Deep Freeze, with the most famous among them being the one that depicts a polar explorer smoking a cigarette and wearing a Nivada Grenchen Antarctic watch. While a number of different Antarctic models were featured within this historic advertising campaign, Nivada Grenchen has gone with the quintessential version of the Antarctic and revived the exact watch that appears on the wrist of the famous cigarette-smoking explorer from the 1950s.
Crafted from 316L stainless steel, the case and bezel of the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic both primarily feature high-polished surfaces, although the sides of the case are brushed to help accentuate the thick and angular profile of the lugs. Additionally, the case stays true to the restrained proportions of its vintage predecessor, and it measures 35mm in diameter by just 7mm thick, with 18mm lugs and an overall lug-to-lug profile of 42mm. Even once you factor in the domed sapphire crystal that prominently sticks up above the rim of the bezel to emulate the appearance of the acrylic crystal found on the vintage model, the total height of the watch still comes in at just 10.1mm, and the downward curvature of the lugs further helps to promote a rather svelte overall package by allowing the case to sit incredibly flat against the top of the wrist.
On the 3 o’clock side of the case of the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm is a signed winding crown that operates with a standard push-pull motion, while the solid screw-down caseback is adorned with a gold medallion that features the brand’s stylized penguin logo. Since the crown doesn’t screw down to the case, water resistance comes in at a fairly standard 50 meters, although given that this particular model is powered by a manually-wound movement, I personally feel that Nivada Grenchen made the right call by opting for a standard push-pull crown and sacrificing a bit of water resistance for a significantly more convenient user experience. Realistically speaking, 50 meters is more than enough to stand up to nearly all daily activities (provided that the gaskets are intact), and even with this rather pedestrian depth rating, the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm is still probably quite a bit more water resistant than its vintage predecessor — and that model was durable enough to survive an expedition to the South Pole.
Inside the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm is the Swiss Landeron 21 manual-wind movement, which runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 36 hours. The compact design of the Landeron 21 is a big part of how Nivada Grenchen is able to achieve the slim case profile of the new Antarctic 35mm, and something about having a manually wound movement inside a vintage-inspired timepiece just feels right. With that in mind, this detail is actually a departure from the original Nivada Grenchen Antarctic watches that were used during Operation Deep Freeze, as those models were powered by automatic calibers. Even the famous advertisement from the 1950s explicitly states “they were never wound” when describing the watches, although I personally enjoy that the new 35mm Antarctic features a manual-wind movement, as it allows the model to offer a highly refined case profile that would not have been possible had it needed to accommodate the additional thickness of a self-winding caliber.
Rather than creating just one version of the model, Nivada Grenchen is offering the new 35mm Antarctic with the option of three different dial colors that include black, white, and an eggshell/off-white color, which is the version featured here. Additionally, buyers have the choice of whether they want classic white luminescent material or orange-tinted lume for a thoroughly vintage-inspired appearance, and the black dial version of the Antarctic 35mm is also available with the option of either polished steel or gold-plated hands and hour markers. Brand-supplied images of the various other configurations are included in the gallery below, although the eggshell dial version featured here is the one that most closely adheres to the design of the original model, with its off-white dial, applied steel indexes, and a dauphine-shaped handset with a blued steel seconds hand.
The dials of the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm series faithfully recreate the appearance of the vintage model that serves as their inspiration, and they feature Art Deco-style Arabic numerals at the cardinal points with wide faceted arrows serving as the rest of the hour markers. A simple printed minute track sits along the periphery of the dial, although the text represents a slight departure from the vintage watch that appears in the 1950s advertisement, and the font offers a noticeably more traditional appearance that is based upon a style found on other Nivada Grenchen Antarctic models that were produced during this same era. The dauphine-shaped hour and minute hands both have luminous strips set into them, while small luminous arcs are placed along the periphery of the hour markers to help promote low-light visibility. Similar to the water resistance that accompanies this particular model, the lume on the Antarctic 35mm isn’t exactly the most impressive due to the relatively small size of the luminous elements themselves, although it more than serves its purpose and undeniably helps increase legibility in dark settings.
Fitted to the lugs of the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm watches is a two-piece leather strap that features a perforated design that further leans into the model’s vintage overall appearance. This style of strap also represents a slight departure from what appears in the original 1950s advertisement, although given that the watch in the historical reference image is fitted with some type of chunky crocodile pattern strap, I imagine that most people will be appreciative of this particular deviation from history. As for the strap itself, it connects to the lugs with integrated quick-release springbars and tapers from 18mm at the case down to 16mm where it meets its signed stainless steel tang-style buckle. The leather used for the strap is quite soft and supple right out of the box (which may be partially due to its thin and perforated design), and buyers have the option of either a black or brown strap to suit their aesthetic preferences.
Aside from its sapphire crystal, the new Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm offers much of the same overall feel that you get from a vintage watch that is actually from the 1950s. Rather than changing what was already a proven recipe for success or trying to create some modern reinterpretation of the model, Nivada Grenchen did exactly what collectors wanted, and simply took the fan-favorite watch from the famous 1950s advertisement and brought it back to life with a couple of minor enchantments to make it better suited for daily wear in the modern era. Additionally, with an official retail price of $850 USD, the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm also seems very reasonably positioned, and this sentiment is further emphasized when you consider how many Swiss brands are increasingly releasing watches that are all priced well into the four-figure territory. All things considered, the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm offers quite a lot of vintage charm with proper vintage proportions, and it celebrates a time before the proliferation of the sports watch when a wristwatch was simply a functional item that needed to be both a good-looking and durable enough to be worn every single day of a person’s life. For more information on the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm watch, please visit the brand’s website.