Reviving defunct brands of yesteryear is no new endeavor in watchmaking. Zombie brands spring up left and right each year, bearing names often relegated to the depths of a shady eBay listing. Many of these revivals are crowdfunded through Kickstarter and produce watches nearly indiscernible from the originals—albeit without the scars of a life well lived. Some watches, however, are highly sought after and admired by collectors and enthusiasts alike. These niche collectibles have become fairly rare and carry a hefty price tag as a result. In cases like this, the reproduction must be done with great care, and that’s precisely what Sherpa Watches has done with its OPS and Ultradive watches.
Sherpa Watches, founded by Swiss engineer and watch enthusiast Martin Klocke, has taken a wholly different and altruistic approach to building a brand and reviving these cult classic designs. The core focus respects the iconic nature of the Enicar brand that inspired it, and the people for whom the watches and brand are named. However, pulling out all the stops to truly do an icon justice comes at a price, and after spending some time with the Sherpa OPS on my wrist, I think it is worth it.
Enicar, originally founded in 1913, was propelled into popularity when it began equipping mountain climbers and adventurers in the 1950s. The brand quickly started using the Sherpa name across a variety of models. The Enicar Sherpa watches rapidly became the brand’s bread and butter, ranging from bold legible designs to the funky colorful patterned watches that now how a cult following. For a full brand history, check out this article over at Rescapement. The Sherpa line came in all shapes and sizes, but some of the most collectible are those designated as super-compressors. Most modern watches use this terminology to describe a watch with two crowns, one that controls the movement, and another that manipulates an internal bezel mechanism. In truth, this is incorrect. The Super-Compressor is defined by its ability to increase its water resistance as you increase in depth. The additional external pressure compresses the crowns and caseback into specialized gaskets therefore increasing the water resistance. Sherpa watches dug through Swiss archives to recreate this concept and enhance it with modern materials. A bayonet caseback, (the same concept as interchangeable lenses on cameras) known now as the EPSA-STOP casebacks for compressor watches allows for perfect alignment of the caseback and ensures no threads are stripped upon sealing. Sherpa is not the only brand to use this concept. Most notable is Omega’s “naiad lock” system operates similarly to ensure proper alignment of caseback decorations.
The EPSA-STOP casebacks provide a clear and aligned seal to the case and enclose a robust movement that has a tweak of its own. Powering the Sherpa OPS and Ultradive is what the brand is calling the Mantramatic MM01 movement. It is a stylistically modified top-grade Sellita SW200-1. The top-grade movement features a custom rotor, “premium finishing,” and accuracy ranging from +/-4 to +/-15 seconds per day. However, it has a disappointing 38 hours of power reserve. The brand also microscopically engraves two wheels with the Tibetan Buddhist phrase “Om Mani Peme Hung.” The brand states that you will feel this mantra “sending out vibes of love, wisdom, and compassion.” This unique take on additional decoration is as amusing and entertaining as it is disappointing because it is not visible to the naked eye, nor through the solid steel caseback. I would have thoroughly enjoyed finding this engraving through a loupe or a macro lens.
When I reached out to the brand to request a sample for review, I opted for the Sherpa OPS variant. This is partially due to my own renewed appreciation for black watches, and also a fear of very easily scratching the fully polished case of the Ultradive. When the Sherpa OPS first arrived, I was thrilled to see the matte DLC case did not as easily show smudges, fingerprints, or dust as many others do. Both models feature the same 40mm wide case with large distinctive lugs and oversized dual crown guard. The case measures 42.7mm wide including the crown guard and 48.3mm lug to lug. Both crowns feature the iconic crosshatch markings on their surfaces and do not screw down. In addition to updating the EPSA caseback, Sherpa has also brought the reliable MONOFLEX crown system into the 21st century. The crowns firmly pop into position to manipulate the movement or bezel and function as expected. The crown that operates the bezel does tend to slightly shift the bezel when being pressed back into position, but the adjustment is minimal. I would have liked the bezel adjustment to have some kind of tactile feedback to assist with proper alignment. The watches are rated to 200m of water resistance and are ISO 6425 certified.
The lugs and crownguard are steeply angled down ensuring the case sits flush to the wrist, and while measuring 13.5mm thick, it often felt much thinner during normal wear. A substantial portion of the thickness is the slightly domed box-style sapphire crystal that stands proudly above the nearly non-existent bezel. The thin look and feel is amplified by a visibly domed dial beneath the crystal. A matte-black base color provides excellent contrast to the fully graduated grey inner bezel, multicolored luminous markers, and two-finish beveled hands. Each minute hash on the dial extends through the chapter ring making legibility at a glance a breeze unless the chapter ring was misaligned. A white date wheel with vibrant red text is found in place of the 3 o’clock marker to maintain symmetry.
The Sherpa OPS and Ultradive both come fitted on an incredibly supple vulcanized rubber strap with a branded buckle and quick-release spring bars. The brand has also teased prototype metal bracelets but I have not had an opportunity to handle them. The distinct sculpted lugs looked great paired with every strap I put on it and I look forward to seeing how the bracelet pairs when released.
The early age of dive watches produced some seriously unique designs. While the standard dive watch follows a relatively basic formula, brands like Enicar, along with Doxa and even Omega, paved a different path for what I call the “quirky diver.” These watches are just as capable as their formulaic counterparts but have their own defining spirit which I love above all else. While wearing the Sherpa OPS for an extended period I experienced a renewed joy and appreciation for watches that are off the beaten path. Watches that can hold their own when it comes to capability all while blowing mainstream designs out of the water when it comes to style.
The unique shapes, funky designs, and historic capability of the Enicar Sherpa watches all contributed to their collectibility. As a result, finding an original will cost you a pretty penny even before you hunt down parts and consider service costs. As someone who wears my watches, gets a few scratches on them and enjoys the romantic nature of building a personal history, vintage watches are often a difficult choice for me. After many discussions with friends, collectors, and enthusiasts, I know I am not alone, and that is exactly where revival brands come in. Sherpa Watches has successfully brought one of my favorite atypical dive watches back into the world in a form that can be worn effortlessly, without the baggage that vintage watches always carry.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, the Sherpa brand is taking a different approach to bringing these iconic watches back to life. While the Sherpa people have made thousands of Everest expeditions possible, the Sherpa brand has made it their mission to support them. The brand states that a percentage of the profit from each model sold will be donated to two different charitable foundations focused on the Sherpa region. You can follow along on the brand’s blog to learn more about this endeavor.
There are plenty pitfalls when reviving a defunct brand, but I am happy to report that Sherpa seems to have skirted most of them in bringing the Ops and Ultradive back to life. While not identical to the original watches, you aren’t going to get much closer than these and for those of you with the quirky diver itch like myself, this may just be the one for you. The Sherpa Ops is priced at $6,300 USD, and you can learn more about Sherpa Watches at the brand’s website.