In vintage dive watch circles, Rick Marei has attained somewhat of a mythical status. A vintage dive watch enthusiast (in the truest sense of the word), Marei was responsible for the resurrection of DOXA, Aquadive, ISOfrane, Tropic, and, most recently, Aquastar. After cutting ties with DOXA back in 2019 after two decades of leadership, anyone who followed Marei’s career figured it was only a matter of time before he began his horological necromancy on yet another mostly deceased dive brand from the 1960s/70s. And now, with Aquastar’s latest release, we get a re-issue of what may be the brand’s most storied and sought-after vintage diver: the Benthos 500.

Original Aquastar Benthos 500 from 1970.

Originally founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1962, the idea behind Aquastar was to produce professional-grade watches for diving and other watersports. Over the next couple of decades, the brand was awarded numerous patents (including the Benthos 500 counter) and it was clear the brand had found its niche. Unfortunately, that was a rather narrow niche, and you could only find Aquastar watches at your local dive shop. The watches were a hit with professional divers, but like every other watch brand, Aquastar was battered by the brewing storm of the quartz crisis, and by 1982, the brand was sinking. At this point, the brand was sold and pivoted to creating quartz fashion watches to stay afloat and catch the prevailing horological winds. This incarnation of Aquastar, consisting primarily of plastic regatta watches powered by quartz movements, defined the brand until 2018, at which point Aquastar was acquired by Rick Marei, who has been at the helm since the brand’s official relaunch in 2020.

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When Aquastar relaunched, there was no question that Marei would be looking to the archives to bring back Aquastar’s classics in the professional divers line. The first watch to launch was the Aquastar Deepstar, a chronograph with a mono sub-counter dial and small running indicator, along with the brand’s patented multiple dive decompression bezel (and relatively modest dimensions). A major selling point of both the Deepstar and the new Benthos 500, is the unique chronograph movements, which have required developing a close partnership with La Joux-Perret to bring back these now-extinct complications (more on that below).

Last year, Aquastar released the Benthos H1. While the 3-handed no-date diver was certainly a hit with its vintage styling, 2 o’clock crown, bi-color chapter ring, and bright orange second hand, it raised a glaring question in the minds of vintage Aquastar fans. When will we get a Benthos 500? Turns out it was quite a short wait, as we now have the Aquastar Benthos 500 II Founder’s Edition. No, it’s not an exact replica of the original, but before you get your swim trunks in a twist, I’ll give away the punchline: it’s better. Yes, Aquastar made some changes from the original, but each is minor and improves the wearing experience without taking away from the aesthetic pitch of the early Benthos 500.

Starting with the 42mm stainless-steel case, one of the first functional changes Aquastar made was to increase the curvature of the case, allowing the lugs to slope down and hug the wrist more comfortably than the rather straight-backed original. And, with short 47mm lugs, the Benthos 500 II certainly does wear comfortably for a relatively large dive chronograph. With the new movement (more on that below), Aquastar was also able to slim down the case to a reasonable 15.4mm while maintaining 200m of water resistance. Despite these changes, the aesthetics remain the same, with a lovely sunburst brushing on the top of the case that transitions sharply to the horizontal brushing on the side of the case. The next functional (though only slightly visible) change comes at the side of the case where Aquastar has swapped the original position of the crown and pusher. The crown is now at 4 o’clock and pusher at 2 o’clock. Again, this is a welcome change as a 2 o’clock pusher is much easier to operate than one at 4 o’clock. The pusher is solid and well-executed, though I do find the crown to be a bit slim and finicky to operate given both the size and the way in which it’s recessed into the case.

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The dial and bezel of the Benthos 500 II aren’t quite one-to-one recreations of the original. You won’t find the Genéve and SA text below the Aquastar wordmark and the new edition features a fully lumed ceramic bezel. That said, the new Benthos 500 II hits all the right aesthetic notes, and the use of old radium lume really does feel appropriate here. I understand why some dislike the use of old radium lume, but that creamy color looks lovely against the deep black and the contrasting orange chronograph minutes hand. My only gripe — and one you can see clearly in the photos — is that the ceramic bezel is quite reflective, similar to a modern Rolex Submariner. It’s not a major issue but does go against the otherwise pure vintage vibe.

The dial of the Aquastar Benthos 500 II is utterly charming in a way that only watches designed in the 1960s and 70s seem to pull off. The blocky hands and indices, applied markers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, and bright orange seconds hand are all lovely, but the best part of the dial (in my opinion anyway) is the minute tracks that alternate white on black for black on white every five minutes. It’s the type of funky detail you only seem to find in watches born in that era.

What truly sets the Benthos 500 II apart from other divers — and the Benthos H1 for that matter — is the unique chronograph function. The chronograph in the Benthos 500 II is about as simple and stripped down as it gets, with only a center-mounted 60-minute totalizer and that single pusher at 2 o’clock. Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of chronograph that’s readily available for watch brands to purchase. To bring back the Benthos 500, Aquastar collaborated with Swiss movement manufacturer La Joux-Perret to create an all-new movement, the Calibre 1MPS. With this new caliber, you get all the same functionality of the 1970 original, along with a modern 60-hour power reserve. If you like the idea of chronograph functionality — especially one where you can use the pusher while submerged on a dive — but don’t like the clutter and complexity of dive chronographs, the Benthos 500 II is an ideal solution. That said, it does take a moment to get used to the fact that after activating the chronograph you don’t see any immediate movement.

The Benthos 500 II is available on either a 22mm ISOfrane strap or a beads-of-rice bracelet. For fans of DOXA, the beads-of-rice bracelet on this Aquastar will be familiar. The bracelet is quite comfortable and easy-wearing and, though the looks aren’t for everyone, I personally love the combo, though, of course, it adds a bit of heft to a not-so-lightweight watch. The bracelet is, however, let down by the simple stamped clasp. At a price closing in on $4,000, I’d like to see a machined clasp with an on-the-fly micro-adjust. Though the review piece did not come with an ISOfrane, they’re fantastic rubber straps. I could easily see myself spending most of my time wearing the watch on a black or orange ISOfrane, especially during summer.

For vintage dive watch collectors, the Aquastar Benthos 500 II Founders Edition is just about everything you could ask for in a modern re-creation of a classic. With a newly developed bespoke movement, minor functional changes that only improve the wearability and functionality of the watch, and a nearly pitch-perfect aesthetic match to the original Benthos 500, this is a truly special vintage reissue from Aquastar. No doubt, the price is steep at $3,790 USD, but there’s really nothing quite like the Benthos 500 II on the market. To learn more about Aquastar and the Benthos 500 II Founders Edition, please visit the brand’s website.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Aquastar
>Model: Benthos 500 II Founders Edition
>Price: $3,790 USD
>Size: 42mm diameter, 47mm lug-to-lug, 15.4mm thickness, 22mm lug width
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Excellent summer watch, especially worn on rubber for trips to the beach.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Vintage dive watch enthusiast who loves the aesthetics of divers from the 1960s/70s but is looking for something modern and reliable with an interesting story and movement.
>Best characteristic of watch: Thoughtful changes, like the case shape and pusher location, that enhance functionality without sacrificing the looks and charm of the original. Plus, I adore the minutes track.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Reflective ceramic bezel doesn’t quite fit the vintage vibe; clasp could use an upgrade.

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