INTERVIEW WITH THE DOXA SUB DESIGNER
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - January 2004
I'm indebted to Rick Marei of Doxa Watches S.A. for the transcript of his interview with Mr. Urs Eschle, the creator of the first orange dialed diver watch and to www.michaelwatch.com for the photos of the SUB 300T Conquistador and bezel.
Mr. Urs Eschle was the product manager of the original DOXA SUB and head of operations at the company in the sixties (reporting directly to the general manager and owner), we had a great conversation about the origin and the history of the orange face DOXA SUB, it was the first time for me to hear the story directly from his mouth. Mr. Urs Eschle is in his late 70s that is why it was hard to get in contact with him and interview him. Urs Eschle worked for Montres DOXA SA from 1956 till 1968, by 1964 he was the "Directeur Commercial" this is equivalent to today's operations manager these days, AND MORE IMPORTANT, he is the man behind the legendary orange face DOXA SUB, it was his vision, idea and implementation.
Here is the DOXA SUB story from the man who created it:
Back in the early Sixties, Urs Eschle recalls, DOXA was one of the major Swiss watch manufacturers with over 150 employees, when diving evolved from a being a military necessity and a profession to be a popular sport. and began to get popular among the masses, people who were fortunate enough to afford the diving equipment relied on Rolex® watches to use for diving, at those days, the term diver watch did not actually exist and a watch dedicated for diving or so called "diver watch" did not exist either. DOXA was the first watch company to develop and offer a wrist watch primarily dedicated for sports diving purposes, the first ever sports diver watch was made by DOXA and introduced to public at the Basel show in 1966. It was also the first watch to be marketed as a piece of diving equipment from the US diver company and was also the first watch to be given the aqualung logo as a proof of reliability.
The diver watch project was initiated by Mr. Eschle in 1964, he set up a research team with several professional divers and experienced DOXA watchmakers, among the members of the team, was the famous French diver, Mr. Claude Wesly (Claude Wesly was the first man to cross the Mediterranean Sea on September 14th in 1962, Claude Wesly had collaborated with Cousteau from 1962 onwards, Wesly accompanied Cousteau on most of his scientific expeditions and took part in the Precontinent I, II and III experiments and living in a submarine dwelling for up to one week.
Mr. Eschle recalls, the goals for the research team were clear, to develop the first affordable sports diver watch for leisure and professional divers, a reliable, comfortable, useful and highly legible and easy to use piece of equipment, each of the mentioned aspects of the project were taken care of by a part of the team.
To enhance the reliability of the watch in order to be able to rely on it's functionality under extreme conditions, DOXA used a massive solid stainless case (case dimensions by far exceeding the common and usual dimensions of the typical watch cases at that time) to house a slow beating self winding movement to enhance reliability.
To solve the under water legibility issue, Mr. Eschle suggested using a bright color dial with oversized luminous markers using the highest amount of tritium ever seen on a wrist watch dial.
To test the legibility of the dial under water, the Neuchatel Lake was most suitable for the purpose, a (quite polluted in Eschle's words) Swiss lake near the head quarters of the company. The research team tested several bright dial colors, among them, turquoise, orange, yellow and red. Orange has proven to be the brightest and the best legible color down to a depth of 30 meters under water, so it was obvious that the first DOXA diver watch will house an orange dial against the conservative expectations within and outside DOXA.
Mr. Eschle wanted to add a useful device to the watch to help divers overcome the uncertainty of the maximum time to spend under water, so he started working on a unidirectional rotating bezel that resembles the US Navy No-decompression dive table, in order to test and approve this new innovation, Mr. Claude Wesly recommended that Mr. Eschle should contact his companion Jacques Cousteau at the US divers Company in California/USA head of the US Divers Company, which was the most advanced suppliers of hi- tech diving equipment.
I traveled to California, USA says Mr. Eschle to complete the project with the US Divers Company on testing and approving the no-decompression table bezel. I then registered the US patent for the bezel to my name and sold to DOXA for a symbolic $1.00 afterwards. The US Divers Company research team was so impressed by this rugged and innovative timepiece that they decided to exclusively market the orange face DOXA SUB under the name "The US Divers DOXA", so I returned back home with the finished and approved diver watch and the first order of 4000 units to be delivered to the US Divers Company with imperial no-decompression bezel.
Last but not least, the ease of using the watch was to be enhanced by using a new kind of flex-buckle on the stainless steel bracelet a new flexible device attached to the buckle that easily adapted itself to the diameter of the wrist with or without a wet suite.
Finally, the orange face DOXA SUB, the first dedicated sports diver watch was born and was presented to public at the Basel show in spring 1966 (the above photo is (c) 1969 Neue Uhrmacher-Zeitung Ulm).
The unexpected overwhelming success motivated me and the rest of the team to continue improving the DOXA SUB, so we continued to collaborate with Mr. Claude Wesly, to who tested the first Helium release valve equipped diver watch made by DOXA on his famous 30 day expedition on the Red Sea, at the same time Rolex® was working on their helium release valve equipped watch. Due to the good relationship between both companies, the decision was made to share the patent for the first Helium release equipped diver watch in 1968. In 1969, DOXA introduced the first helium release valve equipped diver watch "DOXA SUB300T Conquistador". Rolex® followed in 1971 and introduced the Rolex® Submariner® Sea Dweller.
After the success of the DOXA SUB, I dedicated my efforts to the new generation of digital watches started working on the first digital watch with Motorola in the USA, DOXA had the potential and the financial strength to complete the project but unfortunately the company was merged into the "community horologère précision" group, later "SYNCHRON". The group "community horologère précision" incorporated Girard Perregaux, Zodiac, Borel and several other Swiss watch companies and was the first Swiss manufacturer to develop and patent the first high beat movement with 36600 oscillations/minute, the new hope that gave the Swiss watch industry a new perspective to survive the digital trend but you know the rest of the story.