Revisiting a modern legend
The business decision for a watch company to introduce a new professional 300m diver model is not something done lightly. The primary goal and challenge are originality and unless the watch is an unashamed homage, designers try to avoid being influenced by veterans like the Rolex Submariner and Omega Seamaster.
When we first looked at the first edition Formex REEF back in 2020 we were struck by the innovation and design flair the brand had brought to a very functional tool watch. How they had taken the accepted dive design book and thrown it into the nearest ocean.
Professional 300m dive watches tend to have a similar look as they all need to function in the same way, pass ISO standards and survive the same pressures. The challenge is how to make those requirements look exciting, fresh, and unique.
REEF Diving with the 2022 model
The latest generation of 42mm REEF offers five dial colours including green, blue, grey, black, and the latest white edition. All these dials benefit from an iridescent, hand-applied, dégradé finish. They have a stunning depth with all colours reminiscent of those seen in the ocean. Raised indices and the new Formex logo add to the three-dimensional feel. The dial is cleverly designed to play with light and, like water, from every angle the surface looks subtly different. The model name REEF announces its presence under the hands in a bold font. Attention to detail has clearly been paramount to the Formex design team, even down to a detailed recessed date window.
Stubby hands give the watches a purposeful and strong look showing that functionality and legibility have been considered along with aesthetics. BGW9 Super-LumiNova is generously applied on the hands and indexes for low light visibility. The sweep second hand is a lollipop design again with a touch of Formex flair. The luminous dot is almost right at the end of the hand. In pitch blackness, the dot passes across the luminous indices marking off the seconds with intent rather than orbiting at a more traditional mid-distance.
We believe the diving bezel is possibly one of the most striking design elements of the REEF; indeed, one of the finest bezels we have ever seen. It is constructed from zirconium oxide ceramic with graduations and numbers engraved by Femto-laser pulsations with each bezel taking 60 minutes of precision engraving to manufacture. The recessed bezel base, which allows the numbers to stand proud (but no higher than the watch), is a first-class design which is surprisingly legible when you consider that the markers on the ring are not differentiated by colour. The latest issue 2022 bezel is removable by hand and can be swapped for any other colour option. A feature that is unique to dive watches.
The steel case uses a symmetrical design with the left side mirroring the crown shoulder protection. The caseback engraving shows the new company logo proud against a stylised wave pattern, surrounded by the traditional essential technical information of the watch. Well protected by the case and a double gasket secure crown beats a self-winding COSC-certified Sellita SW300 25 jewel movement with a custom-built skeleton rotor and thermally blued screws, offering a 42-hour power reserve. This thin well-constructed calibre allows the REEF to be just 11.4mm in thickness, able it to slip effortlessly under clothing - not a design characteristic all manufacturers of dive watches manage to achieve.
The watch comes as standard with an exceptionally comfortable quick-release, flat link, bracelet featuring a propriety buckle with a patented, highly effective, fine-adjustment clasp. A key change to the REEF is that Formex has reverted to lugs which accept standard straight spring bars rather than their propriety curved bars found on the Essence. Of particular note is the fit of the bracelet end pieces to the watch case. It is outstanding with not a fraction of a gap and zero play.
The watch wears as well as it describes. At 90g it is not particularly heavy when you consider the Omega Seamaster 300m starts at 110g+. The micro-adjustment clasp is a very welcome addition making the watch extremely viable for hot and humid conditions.
Alternative Strap Looks for the REEF
If you are lucky enough to own a REEF here are some suggestions we have found really compliment the watch:
While diving with the REEF why not consider the new ZULUDIVER Vintage Tropical FKM Rubber watch straps. These models were created to pay homage to the original tropic straps that were sold with dive watches back in the 1960s with a tapered tail with squared end, classic style keepers, and that signature tropical texturing. This classic package comes in highly resistant FKM rubber with modern quick-release spring bars, and a premium ZULUDIVER stainless steel buckle.
A modern watch like the REEF requires a modern outlook on materials. ZULUDIVER has made this strap using SEAQUAL ® responsible manufactured woven fabric which is made from upcycled marine plastic found on the ocean floor and surface. The lining material is made from apple skins and core waste recovered from the food industry. Fitted with quick release spring bars, this eco-friendly watch strap makes it easy and quick to change. Currently available in 20 and 22mm lug widths and a choice of 3 colours, black, dark blue and khaki green. The watch strap has a 2mm taper in width to the buckle end which is fitted with a solid stainless steel pin buckle, which is etched with our ZULUDIVER logo.
No diving watch looks out of place on a Bond-style Military Nylon strap and the REEF would be set well against the new Premium ZULUDIVER Military Herringbone. Made from high strength seatbelt nylon webbing and fitted with premium-grade stainless steel satin hardware, which includes the ZULUDIVER etching on the buckle and the keeper at 6 o'clock. The nylon we have used in this range is silky smooth providing a softer feel, and its reflective iridescent quality means the colours seem to change when seen from different angles.
Two years after release - a personal perspective
Nothing has changed to revise my opinion of the REEF. I have said it before and will continue to maintain it, Formex is the brand to watch. In 2020 the REEF represented a seed change for Formex, and it has proven to be a thoroughly impressive foundation to take the company to the next level. Their design gurus have found the sweet spot between highly functional professional watches and contemporary Avant-Garde aesthetics. Fit and finish are second to none but with the REEF priced at £1790 (May 2022) you are into the territory of alternatives such as a new TAG Heuer Aquaracer, a used Breitling Colt or an Oris Aquis. With a little more money, you could even consider a Breitling Superocean.
So why would you choose a REEF over these sub-aqua giants? Simply because, even on their best day, the bigger brands will do well to meet the build quality of Formex, and one could argue don't get close to the design flair. When you see a REEF in your hands it is even more impressive. The lustre of the dial and precision of the parts is above and beyond what so many other manufacturers are capable of producing below the £2000 price point. In summary, the REEF remains one of the best dive watches on the market today and if you are considering a 300m model it should be right at the top of your selection list.