In an endless sea of re-issues, how does this one stand out?
It is no secret that the watch industry is still a very niche world to live in. There is no doubt that it is a growing one, however, there are multiple layers of micro-communities and niches of this passionate centric industry. Vintage is certainly one of these that is no doubt experiencing incredible levels of growth at the moment. With this, comes the discovery and subsequent appreciation of many companies previously banished to the history books.
One brand who has their very own loyal niche following is back in the limelight with some unbelievably honest re-issues. And that brand is Nivada Grenchen.
The Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver - what they do
The watches we have with us today are known as the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. Besides the rather long name featuring some of the most popular watch terminologies, these watches are stunning re-creations of their original grandfathers from the 60s. Both of these models are available with manual wind and automatic movements starting at 1,570 CHF (approximately £1,300). Right away this lower than expected price point caught my attention as the watch sits in a seriously competitive price point, bringing the fight to many of the new watch brands that are simply inspired by these original designs.
Both of the models we have with us today are a hair over 38mm wide with a lug to lug distance of 46.5mm. Thicknesses differ between the models with the automatic model coming in at 15mm and the manual wind models measuring 14mm (this includes the domed sapphire crystal). When we introduced you to the re-launch of the brand in August we mentioned how there are a lot of variations available, this is still the case meaning whichever dial design you prefer, both movements options are available adding an almost customisable feel to the watches.
Sellita movements have been used here, more specifically the SW510 in the automatic and manual configuration. The manual movement is fitted with a higher-end chronograph bridge with larger sized jewels and it also comes with 58 hours of power reserve vs the automatics 48 hours. The SW510 is a two-register chronograph movement with running seconds via the left-hand sub-dial and a 30-minute chronograph sub-dial on the right-hand side.
Take a look at vintage examples of these watches and you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any difference to it’s younger, new family members. The only visual difference between original vs reissue is the small ‘T’ present on the dials of the vintage models for tritium. This has now been replaced with an ‘L’ to represent ‘luminova’. It's a subtle, yet sensible change. The cases are exactly the same, with the correct finishes in the right places, drilled lugs and closed casebacks. It's the same story with the bezels as the smooth bi-directional rotating bezels provide you with not just minute markers but also hour markers underneath meaning you can easily track both passing units of time.
This marks the end of the similarities however as these two dials with us today take on very different personalities.
The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver Automatic 86002A 'Broad Arrow'
Let's kick things off with the model that is likely to be the most popular for Nivada. This dial originates from the 1960s and, if you were under any confusion about this, look no further than the bold broad arrow hand keeping track of the hour. This dial option favours a charmful appearance with tons of character. It is clear that this is very much the choice to go for if you really want to lean into the traditional aesthetic this watch offers. Original vintage examples of this watch can cost anywhere from £2,000 and up depending on condition, so if you want to save a few pennies and end up with a watch that truly does still offer everything that is great about vintage then this is the one for you.
After wearing this dial variation for around a week now I’d certainly say this piece is far more reminiscent of a military chronograph. The presence of yellowed lume is throughout both hands and hour markers which when combined with the matt black dial and pop of red in the sub-dial just simply screams to me military heritage.
Don’t be fooled though, as there is an elegance that comes with the details of this dial. Watching the thin, clean steel chronograph hand softly glide over those polished hands can be rather distracting. All of this is offered in this brilliant 38mm case which has been effortlessly comfortable.
Watch straps for the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver
Another key aspect of why this watch has been such a pleasure to wear is down to its ability to suit a range of watch straps. I’ve picked out a few of my favourite combinations below.
Radstock Racing Style Genuine Leather Watch Strap in Light Brown
First up we have a combination which is one of the go-to picks for vintage watches (be it original or re-issue). The Radstock Leather strap has everything you’d want on a combination for watches with traditional designs. A great thickness, beige stitching, beautiful soft lining and unique hand-painted touches across the strap really bring a watch to life. This is the Racing version of the strap which introduces the perforations, ideal for vintage tool watches. We’ve chosen the light brown option to really lift the watch.
ZULUDIVER Classic Bond Herringbone Military Nylon Watch Strap
Next up we have one of my favourite combinations we’ve put together in a long time. The Classic Bond Herringbone offers everything that is great about the traditional Classic Bond you’ve come to expect from us but just throws in two welcomed twists. The first being the silky soft herringbone nylon. This adds a lovely shine and added comfort, all while retaining the barebones appeal of a good old nylon strap. The next twist is the inclusion of the beige colour, ideal for watches with fauxtina-ed lume. Of course, the black and the grey still are as effective as ever with the end result being, well, stunning!
Seaford Sailcloth Water-Resistant Leather Watch Strap in Green
Last but not least, we have the Seaford in green or in this case, the strap to go for to extract that tool watch history. I mentioned previously how this dial option adds a huge emphasis on the military chronograph aspects of the design. Well, if you had your doubts, this strap might just convenience you. A cracking option which adds texture, matching stitching and a water-resistant leather into the mix.
The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver Manual 86011WM 'Lollipop'
Next up is still the same Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster name but this time with a later 1960s / 1970s dial design with stick handset and a lollipop chronograph hand. I’ll come out and say it right away, this one really ticked a lot of boxes for me. Where the previous broad arrow hand model offers heritage and character this dial version favours clean, balanced and timeless looks with an increased level of legibility.
The hands are still polished, however, now we find a lovely matching slim stick set which has been offset by a lollipop chronograph hand finished in a popping red.
It’s funny, over the one week I spent with these watches, this dial version constantly reminded me of the Omega Speedmaster and how that watch approaches its classic design. Of course, that feeling of history is there, but this Chronomaster Aviator isn’t forcing the fact it's a re-issue. Yes, there are many details that all make it obvious once you take a deeper look, but it’s not jumping out on the wrist like a watch that is meant to look like an older design.
Wearing this watch it feels a lot more versatile, wearable and dare I say, even modern at times.
Personally, I love the look of the 86012WM dial. This option swaps the red for orange and introduces beige almost mocha coloured subdials. This choice also sticks with the white lume so you retain that almost modern look. This with the manual wind movement is definitely my pick of the bunch if I was getting one!
Watch straps for the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver
As mentioned on the previous dial choice, a huge amount of straps look brilliant on this piece. The Radstock is a combo that is amazing on both, however below are three different choices if this dial is the one for you.
Geckota Aldergrove Aviation Genuine Leather Watch Strap in Light Brown
First up we have the perfect strap for any watch with some aviation connection. The Aldergrove Aviation brings faux rivets to the strap design emulating what you would have seen on original pilots watches. Now, the Chronomaster has the diving aspect to the watch as well so it isn’t a complete historically accurate option, but nevertheless, it does lift the dial of the watch and feels incredible on wrist.
Dartford Genuine Leather Racing Watch Strap in Dark Grey
Next, we continue the unavoidable theme of perforated straps and take a look at the Dartford in Dark Grey. This strap and colour choice really pushes the versatile and updated feel of this dial variation but also doesn’t forget about the importance of quality. With an unbelievably soft lining and general comfort to impress anyone, the Dartford is a must.
ZULUDIVER Vintage Bond Herringbone Military Nylon Watch Strap
Finally, we end on something a little crazy! When I suggested this combination I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But I need not be concerned as the strap offers both red and black which is seen on the dial but the kicker of green ties everything together in a comfortable way. These straps use our Herringbone nylon so you know they’re super wearable, but this one in particular also has raised stitching on the red so the end result is a beautifully textured feel.
Things we’d change and some final thoughts
There are a few things that I noticed when wearing the Nivada watches that I believe are worth mentioning before you order so you’re fully aware of our experience with the watches. Before we get into it the watches we have with us today are press prototypes which may explain one of my points.
Handshape - I think it is great to see that the hands are polished on these pieces, however, it is a shame that they’re completely flat. If they were chamfered you’d remove any problems with completely washed out or unlit hands which in turn would further increase legibility. In Nivada’s defence, it does look like original models also had flat hands.
Rotor noise - This may be due to the fact this was a prototype watch, however, we couldn’t help but notice the loud rotor noise on the automatic Nivada we had with us. I believe I’ve seen this in the past when custom rotors have been fitted, however, due to the close caseback I can’t confirm if this is the case.
The Nivada Grenchen relaunching is fantastic to see. A refreshing side of these watches is how they have nailed something so easy to miss. They clearly have engaged in a lot of listening. They have listened to what the market wants in a way that is sure to pay off for them. They resisted any urges to increase the size, add dates or overly modernise the watches to a point they didn't need to. The changes they have done (including the movements from Valjoux to Sellita) are sensible and ones that will benefit the wearer both practically and from a ‘damage to wallet’ point of view. From around £1,300 for full mechanical chronographs from a well-respected brand with history and a ton of choice, what is not to like?
We’d like to thank Guillaume Laidet and the Nivada Grenchen team for sending these two watches out on loan. To find out more and to order your very own - click here.