The pandemic has made reviewing the primary special purpose of this latest-generation Citizen Aqualand — its underwater capabilities — impossible. The Aqualand is the major Japanese watchmaker’s most specialized diver’s-style timepiece among an otherwise wide collection of diver’s watches. What makes the Promaster Aqualand timepiece family special as a diver’s watch is the built-in depth meter functionality, which is designed to automatically display your current depth down to 50 meters. Citizen has been building Aqualand watches since the late 1980s, I believe, and while the look and feel of the watch have changed over time, its core purpose as a reliable diver’s instrument that you can wear on a daily basis has not changed.
aBlogtoWatch has covered a number of Citizen Promaster Aqualand watches in the past. It is actually rather interesting to see the various design directions that Citizen has chosen to take with the Promaster Aqualand models from those that are somewhat retro to others that are extremely futuristic. So, where does that leave the current-generation Citizen Promaster Aqualand pieces that are new for 2021? While a few color versions exist, this reviewed model is the Citizen Promaster Aqualand reference BJ2169-88E with shades of blue and back mixed with some red accents on the dial — notably the minute hand.
The Aqualand BJ2169-88E also happens to be this year’s limited-edition model (and comes with a multi-tool diver’s-style knife), while non-limited edition versions of the 2021 Promaster Aqualand include the black and red bezel BJ2167-03E and the black and green bezel reference BJ2168-01E. Aside from the color variations (and the addition of the LIFELINE knife tool with this limited edition mode), the various versions of the current generation Aqualand perform the same.
My experience with Aqualand models has demonstrated that even though these are quirkier watches in shape, they are always comfy to wear on the wrist. Citizen tends to be pretty focused on ergonomics — so that makes sense — but wearing comfort is hardly what many people might immediately think when viewing the bold size and interesting shape of these specialized sports watches.
Citizen has a good design challenge with its Aqualand models because, in addition to adding all the time-keeping tech inside the case, it also needs to include the diving depth system. The largest part is a membrane system which is at the heart of determining the current water depth based upon sensing the water pressure. On the left side of the case is a circular structure with small round perforations in it. This is where water is meant to enter the case in order to interact with the membrane. On this generation of Aqualand, Citizen wanted to opt for a case that felt as round as possible. This is done using some visual tricks because the in-house made module inside the watch is not perfectly round. In this instance, Citizen built a sort of half-guard around the water intake system, which, along with other projecting elements from the case, does give a more or less round-feel to the 46mm-wide case (as Citizen measures it). With the crown, the steel case is about 52mm-wide, and it has about the same lug-to-lug distance.
The case is water-resistant to 200 meters and is about 17mm-thick, though it does wear thinner given the tapering design of the caseback. Over the dial is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal, and around the dial is a unidirectional rotating diver’s style bezel with an anodized aluminum insert (and actually recessed markers, which are nice).
Indeed, the Promaster Aqualand is rated to dive deeper than its depth gauge can go. Citizen has designed the Aqualand to be a serious diving tool, but by design, it is going to be more limited in actual dive computer performance. If you are doing shallow dives (30 meters or less – as most people do), then having a watch like this is actually an acceptable replacement for a dive computer. Recall, again, that the watch is designed to measure up to 50 meters (or around 125 feet). If you are going deeper and need to keep track of more variables and especially decompression times, then you are also going to want to wear a full-featured dive computer in addition to a timepiece like the Citizen Promaster Aqualand.
The movement inside the watch is Citizen’s Eco-Drive caliber B740.1 quartz movement. Being an Eco-Drive model, it has a dial that allows light to enter and hit a photovoltaic cell that charges the battery. The watch also features an accessible power reserve indicator, which is actually rather important for a diving instrument. In short, you don’t want to dive with a timepiece that isn’t going to indicate the correct time while you are underwater — because, in many instances, people use their dive time (how long they have been underwater) to be more or less aware of how much oxygen they have left. Indeed, you can track your oxygen via the pressure gauge on your BCD, but planned dives where swimmers need to be back to a particular location at the right time, and with enough oxygen, is often a function of properly timing your dive. In other words, that is why the Aqualand watch allows you to check the power reserve of the battery before you enter the water, even if a fully charged Eco-Drive movement can last for several months.
Once underwater, the Aqualand automatically goes into dive mode, using the central red hand to indicate your current depth. Once the summer comes, I will test this in the pool, but I’ve seen it in action on other Citizen Aqualand models. When in dive mode (i.e., the sensor is wet), the central seconds hand moves from indicating the battery charge (indicated by “levels”) to being a dynamic depth indicator hand that uses the 0-50 meters scale around the periphery of the dial. The smaller subdial under 12 o’clock is used to indicate your maximum depth. Even though the watch does feature a chronograph, it cannot be used simultaneously with dive mode. Thus, the rotating diver’s timing bezel should be what you use to measure the duration of your dive (up to 60 minutes).
The chronograph mode (which uses the main second hand and the upper subdial) allows you to use the Aqualand as a 50-minute chronograph — but again, this cannot be used with dive watch mode. You press down the lower pusher on the side of the case for three seconds in order to move the hands on the dial into chronograph mode. I actually prefer the visual of this mode because it aligns the central seconds-style hand to the 12 o’clock position (more symmetrical) than the slightly skewed position of the hand when it is in power reserve indication mode. It is also a bit strange for me that you cannot keep the watch in chronograph mode, as it reverts back to depth meter mode after a few moments of not using the chronograph. This is expressed from the fact that the pushers (and crown) have screw-down systems that prevent water from entering the case underwater. It also serves as a reminder that these pushers (and their functions) are not to be used while the watch is submerged. Other features of the Eco-Drive movement on the dial include a date indicator window and a synchronized 24-hour hand, which is used as an AM/PM indicator.
While the overall look and feel of the 2021 generation Citizen Promaster Aqualand is more on the modern size, the dial has a slight retro feel to it that hearkens back to the 1980s, which was the golden age of the Japanese diver’s watch. This is when a lot of current design trends became popular, such as modern-looking broad hands and hour markers. I am also really into the neat design of the subsidiary seconds dial (above 6 o’clock on the dial) which looks like a miniature radar or instrument display off of a military submarine.
This generation of Citizen Promaster Aqualand watch also features a new strap style made from polyurethane, which actually feels nicer (and less “sticky”) than most silicone straps but is less expensive to produce than natural rubber straps. Citizen further includes an extra segment of strap, which is used to lengthen its size if you need to wear the Aqualand over a diver’s drysuit.
The BJ2169-88E Promaster Aqualand is a pretty slick tool watch with mainstream appeal for those who like large, technical-style timepieces. It sure helps to enjoy this watch if wearers plan on taking it underwater at least once in a while. Otherwise, there are simply too many features on the case and dial that you’ll always be looking at but not actually using. For that reason, and given that Citizen also has a slew of other diver’s style watches, the Citizen Promaster Aqualand remains a hip niche model within an otherwise very mainstream brand. I also like how (for whatever reason), the Citizen Aqualand is a timepiece that shows up on the wrists of characters in movies across multiple generations. That means something about the blend of style, functionality, and price have allowed pop culture to appreciate the Aqualand as much as watch and dive hobbyists. It’s great to see Citizen continuously refreshing the collection with more models, and of course, I am waiting to see how Citizen continues to improve upon this “cult classic” tool watch in the future. Price for the limited edition of 1,000 pieces Citizen Promaster Aqualand BJ2169-88E watch is $1,095 USD. The non-limited edition price is $795 USD. Learn more at the Citizen watch website here.