When Bohen designed their first watch, the Mille-Mer, they did so with deep-diving stalwarts like the Omega Ultra Deep and Rolex Deep Sea in mind — not in terms of aesthetics, but rather in terms of producing dive watch capable of reaching bone-crushing depths but doing so with plenty of panache in a luxury diver package. Their second and newest release, the StarDiver, sees the brand take a wholly different design approach, while still achieving a ridiculous 1000m depth rating. When reviewing the StarDiver, my mind kept coming back to the big, brutalist Omega PloProf and Sinn’s EZM 12 built for the German Air Rescue Service. While the StarDiver shares relatively little in terms of aesthetics with these watches, they each share a design approach that says, “Forget what’s been done before; let’s try something new.” As a result, you get a watch that is inarguably unique and, frankly, won’t be for everyone. But, if your eyes glaze over at each new vintage re-issue and 70s-inspired skindiver, then the Bohen StarDiver may give you just the jolt you need to emerge from your horological stupor.
Based in Marseille, France, Bohen was founded by designer Blaise-Dominique Giuliani. After years of working in the luxury industry, Blaise-Dominique was tired of the design and manufacturing limitations imposed by market demand and profit margins and decided to launch Bohen, allowing him to create the watches that he envisioned without the constraints of working for other brands. The idea wasn’t to compete for a big chunk of market share in a crowded watch market, but rather to create watches with a modern design language all their own and do so with top-end Swiss manufacturing partners. Noble aspirations, but Blaise-Dominique was in a unique position to bring that dream to reality thanks to years of building connections throughout the Swiss watch industry. Bohen’s vision won’t be for everyone, but that’s entirely the point.
With their first release, the Mille-Mer, the French brand produced a superbly finished, overbuilt dive watch. The Mille-Mer is big and bold, with severe angles, contrasting finishes, and a crown at 12 o’clock. And, with a case height of over 17mm, it’s not for the faint of wrist. While this second release, the StarDiver, is equally overbuilt and unapologetically brash in its aesthetic, the wearing experience is altogether different. Though slimmed down by only a couple millimeters (13.8mm case only, 14.8mm including crystal), those millimeters make a massive difference on the wrist in terms of weight and wearing comfort. Plus, you still get the same excessive 1000m of water resistance.
The quality of manufacturing — the fit and finish, if you must — of the StarDiver is truly superb at this price point. Starting with the case, the StarDiver is crafted from 316L stainless steel but features a titanium caseback, which keeps weight down (minimally) and provides the benefits of being hypoallergenic and having low thermal conductivity. It’s rather difficult to measure the size of the StarDiver given its wild silhouette While the case is on the larger side, visually the watch looks closer to a 41-42mm since the bezel itself measures in at 41mm. Similarly, the lug-to-lug distance is a reasonable 48mm, which is right in line with a 41mm watch. These dimensions are then all thrown off again thanks to a wide, 24mm lug width and beefy lugs. All these numbers make it incredibly difficult to pigeonhole the size of the StarDiver. All I can say is that it fits quite well on my 6.75” wrist. It’s a larger watch, but it wears comfortably with no lug overhang thanks to its modest lug-to-lug length and it’s not visually overpowering like a 44mm thanks to the smaller bezel and dial diameter. The wild case lines and wide lugs create a watch that doesn’t look or wear like anything else.
Getting back to the case construction and finishing, for the StarDiver, Bohen has re-interpreted the case design of their bullhead-crowned Mille-Mer. From above, the case has the same futuristic, almost spaceship-like appearance (at least, that’s where my mind goes). The wide lugs are sharp and angular with a fine brushing, then between 2 and 4 o’clock, the case transitions to a high-polish finish with soft lines. The effect is as though the watch began as a massive, brutalist design, but then was sculpted away at the sides to reveal an elegant case beneath. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition. When you move over to the 9 o’clock side of the watch, things change again, as Bohen opted to put the crown at 8 o’clock and the helium escape valve at 10 o’clock. While helium escape valves are absolutely pointless for my lifestyle (and likely for most of our audience as well), Bohen’s execution with the orange-anodized crown cap is nicely done and balances the offset crown. Unlike other watches I could name (ahem), the helium escape valve is integral to the overall design of the piece (just look at how the brushed and polished surfaces collide at 9 o’clock) and, frankly, it completes the case design. One odd addition is the SET text on the lower left lug. While it fits with the overall toolish design, it’s a superfluous detail that could have been left off.
The bezel on the StarDiver is 60 clicks with little-to-no backplay and a positive engagement that hits that Goldilocks zone of being neither too tight nor too loose. It’s one of the most satisfying bezels I’ve come across recently with a sound and feel that is clearly intentional — it’s another element that exudes quality. The bezel insert is ceramic with a luminous “pip” at 12 o’clock fashioned with Bohen’s logo.
The StarDiver features a deep, three-dimensional dial with a large, sloping chapter ring and Arabic numerals at 6 and 9 o’clock, with the 9 being significantly larger than the 6. It’s an odd design choice but somehow works as it balances out against the open date wheel that shows the current date, along with the two days bracketing it. Speaking of which, the three-date aperture is something that I’ve never cared for, but the logic is that your brain more quickly and easily reads the date when it’s sandwiched between a smaller and larger number. Understanding that there’s actually logic behind the decision helps, even if it still seems unnecessary. But again (and this is a theme I keep coming back to), it somehow works with the design of the watch.
The handset is a modified plongeur style, with a white hour hand and an orange minute hand. Along with the hour indices, the hands are filled with a special Super-LumiNova X1 mix that Bohen claims is 50% more powerful and twice as long-lasting as standard X1. Whatever it is, it’s impressive at night. The dial itself is deep and three-dimensional, thanks to the oversized, sloping chapter ring. The downside to the oversized chapter ring/rehaut is that it forces Bohen to use relatively short hands; the minute hand doesn’t get close to the minute markers where you’d expect it to fall and is instead blunted to meet at the edge of the hour markers. I didn’t have any issues with legibility, especially with the bright orange hour hand, but it’s something to be aware of. The more you look at the dial, the more small, unexpected details you find — like the Suisse text between 4 and 5 o’clock rather than the standard Swiss Made at 6 o’clock. Between the wild case shape and the surprising mix of design elements, the StarDiver is a watch that on paper doesn’t seem like it should work, but on the wrist is a pleasure to wear.
Bohen ships the StarDiver on either a stainless-steel bracelet or a choice of black or orange rubber strap. The brand was kind enough to send along all three for review, so I had a chance to try out each. Regardless of which option you choose, it quickly becomes clear why Bohen chose to go with a 24mm lug width, as each option tapers quickly and dramatically down towards the clasp.
The bracelet on the StarDiver is far from off-the-shelf, with broad, flat center links that rise up above the brushed outer links. Bracelets are an area where the brand clearly devotes a fair bit of thought (not to mention cost). The entire bracelet is tool-free — from the quick-release spring bars to the micro-adjust clasp to the links themselves. Sure, you typically only adjust the links once, but the process is so simple and painless that I hope other brands are taking notes. The clasp itself is an interesting approach to on-the-fly micro adjustment. Atop the clasp is a large button that you press loosen the fit, but here’s where it gets really interesting: to tighten the bracelet, you lift the tab at the logo side of the clasp and it acts just like a ratchet strap, tightening up one notch with each lift of the tab (Bohen has a demonstration video here). It’s easy, effective, doesn’t require taking off the bracelet, and is a wonderful example of over-engineering. The mechanism itself fits with the toolish nature of the piece; the only real downside is a bit of added bulk on the clasp. Overall, it’s an attractive and well-thought-out bracelet. Of course, the high-polish center links will inevitably scratch up easily. Note that the bracelet also does not employ fitted end links; however, the straight end links feel like an intentional design choice and allow the bracelet to articulate earlier than would be allowed by a fitted end link, which is a plus for smaller wrists.
Along with the bracelet, Bohen has also produced orange and black silicone straps. The straps flare when they meet the case, producing an even more dramatic taper and emphasizing the width of the case. They’re soft and comfortable and reminiscent of some of the wilder rubber straps from the 70s. Personally, I found the orange to be a fun combo that gave the watch a professional look. Playing around with some other options, my favorite turned out to be an Army green NATO-style strap (though I only had a 22mm strap, so forgive the small gap).
Bohen equips the StarDiver with an M100 automatic movement by Soprod. Manufactured entirely in Jura, Switzerland, the movement provides 42 hours of power reserve and beast at 28.8 kbph. You also get some nice decoration with rhodium coating, Côtes de Genève on the rotor, and pearled bridges. Bohen also adjusts each watch in five positions for +/- 4 seconds per day accuracy. As an added bonus, every watch is individually pressure tested to 1000m.
The Bohen StarDiver has so many elements that I shouldn’t like (e.g., a helium escape valve, three-date aperture, 24mm lugs, short hands, odd numerals), but I can’t help but enjoy the hell out of it. When I look at the watch with a critical eye, I see things I would change if I were the designer, but here’s the rub: make all those changes and you end up with another generic diver. I applaud Bohen for keeping it weird and sticking to its vision. The StarDiver is quirky, but all those eccentricities are what make it so endearing and keep me reaching into the watch box to strap it to my wrist. Starting at 2,160 EUR (excluding VAT), the StarDiver is not inexpensive, but considering the details and finishing, distinctive design, and overall execution, the StarDiver offers serious value. To learn more about the Bohen StarDiver please visit the brand’s website.
>Price: 2,160€ excluding tax (2,740€ on bracelet)
>Size: 41mm diameter at the bezel, 14.8mm height (13.8mm without crystal), 48mm lug-to-lug, 24mm strap width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When heading out on an adventure when I want a rugged watch. Or when I just want a fun and interesting watch to brighten up my day.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking for a dive watch with a design language all its own that has excellent finishing and attention to detail.
>Best characteristic of watch: Modern, non-derivative design and excellent construction and finishing; completely tool-free bracelet.
>Worst characteristic of watch: 24mm lug width limits aftermarket strap options; short hands due to the oversized chapter ring.