The term super compressor is, to many people, a dive watch with two crowns. One crown is used to wind the movement and set the time and the other rotates an internal bezel, used to measure elapsed time. In fact, the term super compressor relates to the case design, which was patented in the mid 1950s and that for two decades was supplied to dozens of watch suppliers.
Since the 1970s there have been no true super compressor watches manufactured, until now with the introduction of the Christopher Ward C65. The C65 is housed in a 41mm super compressor case that has a sapphire case back that gives you a glimpse of the technology that makes this case so pressing. With watch enthusiasts only previous route for super compressor being vintage, collectors and divers alike can now own a modern super compressor from the innovative British brand.
I can quite clearly remember seeing super compressor dive watches at collector get-togethers as far back as 2008. They were niche, but dive watch enthusiasts loved the early examples from brands such as Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Universal Geneve. And when the black dials and internal bezels had aged to warm brown hues, a result known by collectors as turning tropical, they were watches that were highly sought after. And then super-dealer and horological titan Eric Ku got involved and forever the prestige brand super compressors became serious collector propositions.
Ku’s love of these watches was well publicised when he purchased a JLC Deep Sea Alarm from a gentleman who found the watch in a charity shop for $5.99. One of only 1000 examples made, the watch was purchased by Ku for $35,000 and since then prices have just kept rising and the super compressor has become a star attraction.
Like the waterproof steel cases of the 1940s and 50s that were made by FG Borgel and used by many brands including Patek Philippe and Longines, the super compressor cases were made by case manufacturer Ervin Piquerez S.A. or EPSA as they are known by collectors.
EPSA’s patented design for the super-compressor actually made the enemy its greatest ally. How so? Well, the enemy of waterproofness of a watch is generally pressure. The deeper the watch goes, the greater the pressure on the watch and the harder the designers and manufacturers have to work to ensure the watch doesn’t fail.
It’s important to remember that these 1950s and 60s dive watches weren’t mere arm candy or luxurious collectibles, they were tools of the trade for divers, who relied on them to time their dives. This was long before wrist-mounted dive computers, and divers’ lives depended on accurate underwater timing and monitoring.
EPSA designed a case that actually became more waterproof the deeper the watch went. This was achieved by a tension spring in the case back that pushed against the o-ring and therefore the case back became tighter and more compressed the more pressure that was applied; the main effect of diving deeper. These cases were supplied to the aforementioned brands as well as other brands such as Enicar, Bulova and Benrus.
Christopher Ward has a reputation for offering good watches at better than good prices. And the number 50 is a motif in the brand’s journey. It was the first British brand to develop a commercially viable in-house Swiss-made movement for 50 years when it unveiled the calibre SH21.
Now in 2020 it is ending a 50-year industry-wide hiatus of true super compressor case manufacturing with its latest offering. And it was an idea offered by a customer, demonstrating an openness that is refreshing. Two years in the making, since the idea was mooted with client Marc Schulteis in 2018, the C65 has all the classic styling cues of the original mid-20th century dive watches but with a very modern aesthetic.
The steel case houses a 38-hour power reserve automatic movement and has the classic two crowns and internal rotating bezel. There is a brace of dial options — either a soleil-finish Ocean Blue or ombre-effect Black Sand that graduates from a tropical brown in the middle to black at the dial’s edge. Both different but equally good looking.
Each C65 is treated to a splash of orange, which gives the watch an almost 70s vibe. The orange triangle at 12 on the bezel is echoed on the minute hand and the brands signature Trident sits at the end of the seconds hand, which also has an orange tip. The orange accents continue with an inlay on the setting crown and also the exposed outer case ring is tangerine in hue. And my favourite touch? The original Ervin Piquerez S.A. manufactured super compressor cases had a diver’s helmet stamped on the case back and the C65 is complete with the helmet stamp. This is a lot of watch with a lot of heritage for a price that, on the super cool rubber Tropic-style strap, is on the more comfortable side of £1000. You really can super compress without having to dig too deep!