DIVING WITH LEGENDS - DOXA SUB 1200T HRV
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - March 2010
I am a Doxa fanboy... there, said that. I wrote the book on the History of the Doxa SUB... there, said that too. The Diving With Legends (DWL) SUB 1200T HRV is a watch inspired by my book Diving With Legends... OK, got that out of the way as well. I think it is the best Doxa SUB ever made... you knew I was going to say that. So who still thinks this review won't be biased? Actually it may be a lot less biased than you think. Read on......
Just over 42 years ago, Doxa S.A. released a watch which quite literally changed the face of dive watches. It was the SUB 300 Professional and it was unique because it had an orange dial and a non decompression dive table in the bezel. 2 years later in 1969 they did it again by releasing the SUB 300T Conquistador. What made this watch a stand out was that it included a Helium Release Valve (HRV) and although no-one knew it at the time, it was on the market 2 years before the similarly equipped and ultimately far better known; Rolex Sea-Dweller.
A lot has happened in those 40 odd years. Dive computers have pretty much taken the place of dive watches and there have been dramatic developments in the equipment divers now use. However, there is still a market for dive watches and after many years away from the scene Doxa returned with a number of watches based on the iconic SUB 300 / 300T. They even made a new SUB with a HRV. The SUB 5000T, reviewed here. But as can be seen in the picture above, the SUB 5000T was much bigger than the vintage 300T and used applied markers and silver hands. It is a spectacular watch, but purists weren't happy.
And so Doxa decided to make a SUB with a HRV which was closer to the vintage Conquistador. It came out in late 2009 and was called the SUB 1200T HRV. It had a depth rating of 1,200 Meters and used the Vintage SUB case dimensions, dial markings and hands. It was the Conquistador's younger brother.
I came up with the idea of writing the DWL book around 2 years ago. It was initially going to be an extension of the 'Doxa SUBs in Use' chapter in the Doxa SUB History book but it quickly became apparent that there was a bigger set of stories to be told. I spoke to Rick Marei at Doxa about it and he said that Doxa would support me in the endeavour. The DWL SUB was born and after a few false starts and ideas of what watch to use, it was decided that the SUB 1200T HRV would be the basis for the DWL watch.
Doxa decided that to fully support the book they would give each of the contributors a watch and on 20th February 2010 at the Our World Underwater show in Chicago, the Diving With Legends book and watch were released. 10 of the contributors to the book came to the presentation. In the photo above (L - R) is Dan Crowell, Howard Hall, Leigh Bishop, Paul Oberle (at back), me, Ralph Wilbanks (at back), Martha Watkins Gilkes, David Trotter (at back), Stan Waterman, Richie Kohler and Jarrod Jablonski. A whole bunch of the Doxa forum guys came and to say that it was one of the best days of my life is an understatement.
OK so what is the watch like? The statistics show it is 45mm wide including the crown, 45mm long and 14mm tall with 20mm lug width and a 120 click unidirectional rotating bezel. It has a slightly domed crystal and uses an ETA 2824 movement. Now this is where I differ from Doxa's "official" measurements. They claim 43mm wide and 15.6mm high. I remember when I read that it was 15.6mm high, thinking; "wooooo, that makes it taller than the SUB 5000T which is 15mm high." I think someone needs to get their calipers calibrated because the DWL SUB is not 15.6mm thick. Interestingly enough I eyeballed the SUB 1000T at 15mm thick when I had it for review and blamed the height on the thick caseback. I don't have the 1000T here to compare but the caseback on the 1200T looks similarly thick. More on the caseback later.
By all accounts, the DWL SUB 1200T is similar to the standard SUB 1200T. What makes the DWL SUB different is not just the DWL logo but also the case back. On it is; Diving With Legends 2010 and xx/99. As can be seen from the image above, mine is number 01/99. Pretty darn cool if you ask me
Of course the main talking point about the SUB 1200T is the Helium Release Valve. Most people know the HRV it is of no use to anyone unless they are a saturation diver but that doesn't matter, it is there as a nod to the original vintage Conquistador. The one thing that I did find a bit strange about the 1200T is the placement of the HRV. The valve itself is slightly recessed into the hole in the case and it is reminiscent of the original HRV on the early Rolex Sea-Dwellers. However, unlike the HRV on the Sea-Dweller and Breitling Superocean I have, it is not centered on the side of the case. The photo above shows it sits far closer to the top edge than the bottom edge of the case side. Does it make any functional difference? Nope, but for me, aesthetically, it looks wrong and I suppose this is as good a place as any to say that although I absolutely adore the DWL SUB, there are a few things I would have changed if I had been designing it. The HRV placement is one. But lets be honest here, I don't think there is anything that anyone has ever bought that they wouldn't have changed something on if they had the chance. I like to think of myself as discerning, but my father always said I was a "picky bastard." I guess he was right. Suffice to say, that if I had been designing the DWL SUB, I would have centered it on the case side and brushed the actual valve so that, visually, it stood out more from the polished case side.
The above photo clearly shows the differences in the SUB 1200T HRV (top) and SUB 300T Conquistador (bottom). Obviously the HRV profiles are different and so are the bezels. The caseback thickness is different too but so is the actual case body thickness. Look closely at the actual case body. The vintage case is thicker than the modern one. And this is where I have to say that I just don't get what the designers on the SUB 1200T were trying to do. I've heard arguments that the HRV placement was because the thicker crystal and dial depth and movement had to be accommodated and the caseback was thicker because of increased depth rating etc etc etc. Sounds great but I really don't buy it. I opened the case on the SUB 1000T and proved that there was a bunch of unnecessary metal on the case back which I believe was only used to make the watch taller. I haven't opened the DWL SUB so I'll reserve judgment but my BullShit o'meter is twitching.
I like flat casebacks for a number of reasons. The watch sits better on the wrist due to larger surface contact area. The watch tends to be lower in height and hence has a lower center of gravity and increased stability. I keep referencing the Omega Seamaster and Rolex GMT Master as being two of the most comfortable watches I have ever owned. When I saw the caseback on the DWL SUB I was prepared to be disappointed..... BUT... amazingly the SUB 1200T wears remarkably well. Better than the SUB 1000T which I did not rate for wearability because of the high caseback. So what made the difference? I can only say that it has to be the thicker GMT bracelet. The extra weight seems to stabilize the whole watch. It really is very comfortable indeed. However, if I had been designing the DWL SUB I would have increased the main case body slightly to center the HRV and reduced the thickness of the caseback. Probably wouldn't have made the watch that much more comfortable to wear or made it look any better to most people, but as I said, I'm a picky bastard.
One of the reasons why the SUB 1000T was so thick was because many people called for a thicker modern SUB. Again, if I had been designing the DWL SUB, I would have gone for the thicker Synchron style case as shown in the above images (modified to recess the crown) which would have allowed for HRV centering and then used a similar flat caseback.
One of the things I definitely wouldn't disagree with the designers over is the dial. I love it. The DWL logo is fantastic. It was based on a photo of a full size helmet I have which Graeme Haughton then stylized into the logo I used for the book. That then became the logo for the watch. Initially the logo was going to be slightly bigger and not have the outer circle but I felt it would be closer to the original US Divers logo used on the Conquistador if an outer circle was added. I think it was the right decision. I couldn't be happier.
I also asked Graeme to mock up a DWL Sharkhunter for me. I was blown away and have to say that if I was ever to allow any more DWL SUBs to be made it would have to be an extremely small run of this dial. I think the DWL logo looks awesome, white on black.
I think most people who read my reviews would know that I have 2 pet hates...well, actually hate is too strong a word. Lets just say irritations..... thick, sloped casebacks and domed crystals. I've already dissed the caseback and I was prepared to give the use of a slightly domed sapphire crystal on the DWL SUB a bit of a verbal beating. BUT, just like the pleasant surprise regarding the wearability and comfort of the DWL SUB I have also modified my view on the use of the slightly domed crystal. I still don't like them but the radius of the dome on the DWL SUB crystal is very slight and even at the viewing angle in the image above there is no distortion. The domed crystal is still problematic when reading the watch indoors with overhead lights as it picks up all sorts of reflections. For many people this isn't a problem but it is why I prefer a flat crystal as used on the 300T Reissue, 750T and vintage 300T SUBs.
Mentioning the SUB 300T Reissue was just an excuse to use the image seen above. For those that don't know, I got a dial made up in green, called it an Irishstar and had a Shamrock put on it. Unfortunately the redialer ignored my image of a Shamrock and used a 4 leaf clover.....oh well, close enough. It's a singularly unique 300T Reissue and the perfect Saint Patrick's day watch.
I mentioned earlier that the bracelet on the DWL SUB was thicker than that used on the SUB 1000T and that is what I believe makes the watch better to wear. As I write this review it is almost 3 weeks since I got the watch and I haven't taken it off other than to go to sleep. It has relegated my Rolex GMT Master II to the watchbox and that is saying something because the Rolly really had become my watch of choice primarily because of the comfort factor. The DWL SUB isn't quite at the same level of comfort but it isn't a that far off.
The only thing I would have changed about the bracelet is to have polished the beads to make it more in keeping with the vintage ricebead bracelet. In a way the brushed bracelet goes with the tool watch image of the Doxa SUB. But it sort of looks unfinished and in a way makes the watch unrefined, especially compared to the SUB 5000T. I don't mean that in a negative sense because it's one of the things that I think sets the Doxa SUB apart. It's has a rough, tough, go anywhere and get the job done feel that watches like the Breitling Superocean or Omega Seamaster, in my opinion, don't have because they are much "prettier"..... I've probably insulted half of the dive watch wearing public now but it's just my opinion. Most people will probably disagree. Also by polishing the bracelet, it also would have been another way to differentiate the DWL SUB from the standard SUB 1200T. I polished the bracelet on my SUB 750T. I'll do the same for the DWL SUB.
The above image is a good comparison in the difference between the DWL SUB 1200T and the SUB 600T. The 600T has a much more domed crystal which can be seen picking up the reflected light even at the shallow angle the watches are photographed at. It also has a polished ricebead bracelet.
When I wrote this review I didn't have my 750 with me so in order to give an indication of comparative size I have used my 750T GMT. It's difficult to really tell but the SUB 1200T is the same height at the 750T.
Although I had my reservations about the watch, they were unfounded. The SUB 1200T is far better balanced than the SUB 1000T in my opinion. It is extremely comfortable and like all orange SUB professionals, has a unique wrist presence. Yes there are things I would have changed on the DWL SUB which basically amounted to centering the HRV, use of a flatter caseback and flat crystal and polishing the bracelet, BUT and it really is a big BUT, these are cosmetic changes and the real reason I would have made them would be to totally differentiate the DWL SUB from the standard SUB 1200T and make it a truly unique and one of a kind Doxa SUB. However, rather than end and maybe give people the wrong impression, I can put my hand on my heart and say that if I had to make a choice of all the watches I have and only have one for the rest of my life, I would sell my Sea-Dweller, GMT Master, Seamaster, Superocean, all my Doxas, including the 300T Conquistador and happily wear only the DWL SUB. I like it that much.