Doxa Sub Review: The Iconic Dive Watch You Should Know More About

Doxa Sub Review: The Iconic Dive Watch You Should Know More About

If you're seriously into dive watches, you probably know that the Doxa SUB is one of the most important and influential members of that popular genre, but if your interest in underwater timepieces and their history is more casual, you may not be aware of Doxa's unique spot in that pantheon of pioneers that includes household names like the Rolex Submariner, Omega Seamaster, and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Here is a brief history of the Doxa SUB and a rundown of where the watch renowned for bringing orange dials to the watch world stands today. 

Bound for Glory

Doxa founder Georges Ducommon, a native of the Swiss Jura town of Le Locle and one of his family’s 13 children, came to watchmaking early in life. He began an apprenticeship with an established local watchmaker in 1880, and within less than a decade had developed the skills, creativity, and resolute confidence to start his own business. He founded Doxa in 1889, naming it after a Greek word meaning “glory,” a bold harbinger of the successful future Ducommon envisioned for his brand. That success came in fairly short order, with Doxa pocket watches winning accolades at World’s Fairs in Belgium, in 1905, and in Italy, in 1906. With automobile racing becoming a popular pursuit in the early part of the 20th century, Ducommon filed a patent in 1907 for a caliber with an eight-day power reserve, which became standard equipment in the dashboard clocks of Bugatti race cars.

Doxa Factory Le Locle Switzerland

After Georges Ducommon’s death in 1936, Doxa welcomed his son-in-law, Jacques Nardin (the grandson of another of Le Locle’s favorite sons, Ulysse Nardin, founder of the eponymous Swiss watchmaking house) as its new leader. Nardin expanded Doxa’s scope of product offerings, which had by now shifted from pocket watches to wristwatches, producing watches with mechanical alarms, pointer dates, jumping seconds displays, and in 1957 a minimalist, Bauhaus-style gent’s dress watch called the Grafic. One decade hence, Doxa would unveil the timepiece that defines its identity to this day.

The SUB Surfaces

Doxa SUB 300

The first Doxa SUB 300, released in 1967, is often regarded as an iconic dive watch that has nevertheless managed to remain a well-kept secret to all but the most ardent dive-watch aficionados. It’s a perception that is changing as the watch-collector community grows more knowledgeable and connected, but it’s easy to see how it remained so niche for so long. By the time the SUB made the scene, divers’ watches had already been a well-established category in the watch business. It was 1953 when the genre’s most famous and influential models, the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, both made their debut (along with a lesser known but still popular model, the Zodiac Sea Wolf) and established the template that many others would follow. By 1964, however, even while scuba diving, sea exploration, and underwater adventure were becoming staples of TV, movies, and other entertainment, and inspiring a generation of recreational divers, most of the dive watches that were on the market were still aimed at professional and military divers, and priced accordingly, i.e., out of the range of most of these civilian diving hobbyists. 

Doxa SUB 300 Dial CU

That year, Doxa’s head of product development, Urs Eschle, conceived a purpose-built, affordable dive watch for the masses, one that would be robust and watertight while also designed to enhance its wearer’s safety underwater. Eschle assembled a team of professional divers as consultants, including Claude Wesly, an original “aquanaut” who had worked with the legendary ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the man almost single-handedly responsible for the era’s pop-cultural obsession with the ocean. The watch that emerged from the subsequent three-year R&D process was unlike any dive watch seen before. Its thick, turtle-shaped case was forged from a single block of steel, ensuring fewer seams for water to penetrate. Its bright orange dial — a watch-industry first — was the result of studies that determined that the color was the most visible deep underwater. Also developed in the service of legibility was the enlarged minute hand and shrunken hour hand, an arrangement that placed more emphasis on the scale that a diver uses most, i.e. the elapsed minutes of immersion time rather than the hour. The supple link bracelet was equipped with a ratchet mechanism that enabled resizing of the bracelet without removing links. Aside from the attention-grabbing orange dial color, the world’s-first innovation that really distinguished the Doxa SUB from its peers was its use of a decompression table, based on the one used by the U.S. Navy, on the rotatable bezel; this scale, which was paired on the bezel with the standard minutes ring of previous dive watches in a patented design, made it easier for a diver to calculate his safest rate of ascent to the surface.

A Fleet of SUBs

Doxa SUB 200

The Doxa SUB 300 was, essentially, the first professional-grade dive watch marketed to the general public. Jacques Cousteau, inventor of the Aqua-Lung breathing apparatus for scuba divers, wore one on his 1960s TV show and appreciated the watch so much that he initiated an exclusive distribution deal through his U.S.-based retail company, U.S. Divers. Early Doxa watches sold in the States subsequently featured the Aqua-Lung logo on their orange dials. In 1968, just one year after the initial release of the SUB, Doxa pushed the boundaries of diving-watch utility even further with the release of the SUB 300T “Conquistador,” the first commercial dive watch with a built-in helium release valve, a device tailored to the needs of divers in decompression chambers, who breathe a mixture of hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. The valve expels the helium atoms that penetrate the case, which would otherwise build up in pressure and pop off the watch’s crystal.

Doxa 600T Pacific

The “Conquistador,” now one of the most valuable vintage dive watches, is the basis for the modern SUB 300T family, which is slightly larger and thicker than the SUB 300. The first chronograph version of the SUB, the two-register SUB 200 T-Graph, appeared in 1969, and the later release of the SUB 1500T represented yet another impressive technical feat with its 150-bar (1,500-meter) water resistant case — which bested the SUB 300T models’ already super-robust 1,200-meter rating despite the numeral in its name. In the late 1970s, Doxa released the now-collectible Aubry models, including the first SUB 600T, distinguished by its 4 o’clock crown, increased water resistance, 4 o’clock crown, and diamond-shaped indexes. Today’s Doxa collection is more diverse than ever in terms of styles, sizes, depth ratings and even colorways; while still the signature Doxa color, orange is only one of an array that can be found on the brand’s dials, along with “Pacific” blue, “Sharkhunter” black, and “Searambler” silver. 

A Literary Tribute 

Doxa SUB 300T Clive Cussler

Despite the model’s association with Cousteau (a distinction that it shares with other contemporary dive watches like the Fifty Fathoms), it is another, fictional undersea adventurer that would become most closely associated with the Doxa SUB. Adventure novelist Clive Cussler introduced his most famous character, Dirk Pitt, in his first book, 1973’s The Mediterranean Caper, and subsequently penned two dozen more thrillers starring the larger-than-life hero, several of which have also been made into movies. Cussler worked in a dive shop while starting out his writing career, and when he needed a wristwatch for Pitt, described as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a marine engineer for NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, to wear, he recalled the unusual orange-dialed timepiece that had caught his eye back then (and which he eventually owned for himself). Dirk Pitt has been a loyal Doxa wearer ever since, in the novels written by Cussler, by Cussler and his son and collaborator Dirk, and by Dirk Cussler himself in the more recent novels, released after Clive Cussler’s death in 2020. Doxa watches have made a few memorable appearances on the silver screen: Robert Redford wore a SUB 300T Sharkhunter in 1975’s Three Days of the Condor, and Matthew McConaughey wore a 600T Professional in 2005’s Sahara, adapted from a Cussler novel, as (who else?) Dirk Pitt.

Doxa SUB 300T Clive Cussler Edition Dial CU

In 2023, Doxa paid tribute to Cussler and his contributions to the Doxa brand with the high-profile release of the Doxa SUB 300T Clive Cussler Edition ($2,690). Like the standard SUB 300T, its distinctive curved case measures 42.5mm in diameter and 14.4mm thick, with the expected robust water resistance, screw-down crown, and dual-scale diving bezel, and the dial sports the hallmark unbalanced handset, with wide, prominent minute hand and dwarf hour hand. The elements that make this special edition stand apart from the rest of the collection can be immediately seen in both the case and dial. The former is made of “aged” stainless steel, basically steel with a rough, gunmetal-style PVD coating further enhanced with a stone-washed finish that gives it a distressed look. The dial opts not for orange or any other traditional Doxa color but a sandy, parchment-like hue and features a vintage compass motif in the center. The case houses the automatic ETA 2824-2 caliber behind a caseback etched with the names of the 72 shipwrecks and artifacts uncovered by NUMA during its existence (that’s the real-life NUMA, a non-profit founded by Cussler in 1979, not the fictional government agency in the novels that he named it after; talk about life imitating art), and its mounted on a bracelet with the same “aged” finish. The overall effect is that the timepiece almost could pass for some ancient undersea artifact that Dirk Pitt might discover on one of his underwater expeditions.

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