Swiss watchmaker Reservoir released an attractive version of its submariner equipment-inspired Tiefenmesser watch in 2019, known as the reference RSV03.TM/330-23 Reservoir Tiefenmesser Bronze. “Tiefenmesser” is German for “depth gauge,” which is what the dial of this handsome timepiece is inspired by. Pictures of white-dialed industrial pressure or depth gauges on submarines and other early-to-mid- 20th century instruments are the direct aesthetic analog of this collection from the brand whose current theme is all about building timepieces around an exclusive retrograde minutes and jumping-hours mechanical mechanism used to power its watches.
The Reservoir brand logo is actually borrowed from the shape on the side of classic military fuel cans. This is all to say that, despite fashion and elegance, this is a tool-inspired wristwatch company. Reservoir produces the Tiefenmesser in natural or black steel in addition to this bronze model — but the retro-chic appeal of bronze really allows this particular variant of the Tiefenmesser to stand out.
On the wrist, the case is 43mm-wide with a sapphire crystal over the front and back, and it has a water resistance rating of 50 meters. For more water resistance, be sure to check out the brand’s diver’s watch-style Hydrosphere collection. Reservoir pairs the watch with both the brown leather strap seen here and a sportier NATO-style strap in dark gray with a blue stripe going down the middle. It really makes for a handsome look on the wrist, especially with the warm tones of the bronze metal case material.
The white dial is all about legibility, and Reservoir does it very well. I really can’t envision even die-hard watch-dial detail nerds finding too much to complain about here — despite the fact that Reservoir is still a very new watch brand. The dial features a large retrograde indicator for the minutes, a jumping-hour window above 6 o’clock, and a power-reserve indicator below the jumping hour window.
Despite the easy legibility, it is not always obvious to onlookers how to indicate the time on this time layout system – and Reservoir doesn’t offer hints on the dial. They could have (for example) labeled the hour window “Hour” and the power reserve window “power reserve.” The latter is a distinctive execution for a power reserve indicator, with the “five circles” display most commonly being used for five-minute regatta-style countdown timers on specialized chronograph watches. The hour indicator window presents the single digit hours as “06” versus the more standard “6,” which is a style choice, but can lead to small bit of confusion.
In my experience, plenty of people who purchase non-traditional displays of time on a wrist watch do so specifically so that others cannot immediately tell what the time is. This helps them feel like, as a watch-lover, they are part of a special club whose training and experience allow them to read such obscure indication systems. I recall having a conversation once with a watch enthusiast who said he strictly prefers wearing watches with indexes and no Arabic hour numerals. Why was that so? His reason was amusing, if not slightly sadistic. He used his watch to infer if someone he was talking to was intelligent enough. Presumably, someone who could not read the time on an all-analog dial without numbers was not worth speaking to. I’m not endorsing or criticizing this behavior, but rather making an attempt to illustrate some of the deeper psychology at play when consumers make specific choices to purchase watches with non-typical time displays.
Personally, I’m not keen to test other people’s analog time-telling aptitude but rather enjoy these experiments in improving legibility. Depending on the dial design, I actually find that jumping hour watches can be easier to read at a glance than watches with traditional centrally mounted hour and minute hands. Given that the Reservoir time-indication system has a slight training curve that doesn’t happen immediately, my suspicion is that wearing this timepiece for just a couple of weeks will allow the wearer to read the time just as fast, if not faster than the time on a traditional analog watch dial display.
In my mind, the brand that really made retrograde minute and jumping hour displays popular was Gerald Genta. Bulgari (who owns the Gerald Genta name) uses the movement architecture it acquired with the brand rarely these days, but it still makes a few watches. Note that while there are other jumping-hour watches out there, for sure, most of them are not paired with a retrograde minutes hand, but rather a traditional revolving minutes hand.
To accomplish the dial-indication system, Reservoir relies on a bespoke engineered 124-component mechanical module that fits over a base Swiss-made ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. The module certainly adds a bit of thickness to the 2824, and it still operates at 4Hz. Power reserve is diminished to 37 hours (from about 42 hours), probably due to the increased power that is required to move the additional parts in the module that is fitted over it. As far as I know, all current Reservoir watches contain the same movement + module, with the brand’s watches having slightly different ways of expressing the information in a few model families. The Tiefenmesser is, arguably, the dressiest of the models — even though all of them are inspired by historic gauges and instruments as opposed to traditional timepiece dials. That said, traditionally speaking, many companies that produced wristwatch dials also produced instrument gauges and dials for boats, cars, planes, and other uses.
Price-wise, Reservoir timepieces are relatively fair for a newer, smaller brand seeking to do something new. It is certainly a brand that I am personally excited about. Price for this bronze version of the Tiefenmesser is a not an insignificant premium over the steel model, but worth it for those who like the look and aging effects of bronze. The steel Reservoir Tiefenmesser reference RSV03.TM/130-23 costs $3,900 USD, while this reference RSV03.TM/330-23 Tiefenmesser Bronze watch has a retail price of $4,250 USD. Learn more at the Reservoir website here.