Not long ago, boutique watch brands competing in the affordable price spectrum could easily follow a basic formula for success. Put together some kind of Submariner homage without calling it an homage, stuff it with a cheap movement, and profit. Without much in the way of the watch media outlets we indulge in today, watch enthusiasts would typically take a risk in the hopes of scoring a cool watch at an affordable price.
But everyone got smarter, more informed, and more discriminating when voting with their wallets. As a result, the brands that stand out today really stand out and Baltic Watches made a significant mark with the debut of their Bicompax 001 in 2017. Today, we’re taking a hands on look at one of their latest vintage inspired timepieces, the Baltic Aquascaphe, which is already projected to drive the brand into new territory.
Upon unboxing the Baltic Aquascaphe I embarrassingly walked myself through the usual routine when evaluating a watch from a smaller boutique brand. “Okay, what is this based on?” Usually, one can easily find some connection between what is released today and vintage watches of the past. But alas, the Aquascaphe follows more of a vintage watch design influence as opposed to a specific model – the dial, however, does remind me of the vintage look of some Tornek-Rayville models I routinely lust for. But ultimately, to my eyes, this is a tool watch that pays tribute to an era of watchmaking.
Baltic Aquascaphe Specs
|Case Dimensions:||39mm x 47mm x 12mm|
39mm Stainless Steel Case
Following what was typical for “skin divers” found during the golden age of SCUBA, the Baltic Aquascaphe clocks in at a modest 39mm at the bezel and 38mm for the stainless steel case itself. Lug to lug, the watch is 47mm and thickness is kept to just 12mm. This is, in many ways, a watch that feels like a NOS diver you recently discovered in Pop’s cigar box full of Navy memorabilia. Perhaps it’s the weight and the fluid case finishing, but Baltic managed to achieve something special that isn’t even experienced in pricier watches meant to evoke the same emotion.
You won’t find many polished surfaces either and Baltic also put some real thought into the textured crown pictured above. In addition to the lumed sapphire bezel, Baltic also ensured the use of drilled lugs – even though you do get a bracelet with quick release spring bars (more on that later). It’s ultimately a well-balanced watch and one that will serve its wearer well thanks to a robust build, screw-down crown, double domed sapphire crystal, screw-down caseback, and 200m of water resistance.
Matte, Textured Dial in 3 Colors (Black, White, and Blue Dials)
One of my favorite parts of the Baltic Aquascaphe is the hybrid “sandwich” dial, which combines an array of surface indices and cut-out segments that open up to reveal a fully lumed surface underneath the dial (featuring Swiss Made Super-Luminova). This takes what could’ve been a very boring time-only layout and spices it up with some added depth. Everything is rendered in a sort of gilt/artificial patina color tone, but nothing cheesy or overly done. This, in turn, makes a visual connection with the sapphire bezel and really, this is the kind of watch that can really lead me to explore my love for gilt color tones – which was nonexistent until recently.
You also get a beautifully textured matte finish that reacts sporadically depending on your ambient lighting. Just above, we find what is perhaps the best handset I’ve seen in this price segment – two sharp, well-proportioned pencil hands that match perfectly with the rest of the dial and a lollipop seconds hand that reaches the chapter ring. Like the rest of the watch, dial text is minimal with a font that, again, reminds me of what you’d find on a Tornek-Rayville.
Beads Of Rice Bracelet
The beads of rice love is real, man. That’s fine by me and I’m happy to see brands like Baltic and EMG embrace the kind of comfort you can achieve with this style of bracelet. By comparison, what Baltic Watches executed is very similar to what I have on my personal Doxa Sub 300. It’s conforming, tapers, and doesn’t get in the way. At 20mm, it’s also a good choice if you want to swap it onto other watches with the same lug width – like four and five digit reference Rolex models, for example. Beads are polished, the rest is brushed – cool and clean.
The clasp itself is refreshingly simple with just a single flip mechanism that is tight and secure. It has seven micro adjustment positions and features a nifty contrast brushed/polished design. The brand’s wordmark is the only decoration here as well. I don’t know who is the exact manufacturer pumping out all these BOR bracelets today, but the quality is certainly far above what you’d find on many of the Oyster copies you get from other brands. Finally, on the underside, you’ll find a set of quick-release spring bars for easy, tool-less bracelet changes. Baltic Watches also offers a Tropic rubber strap, which really hits a sweet spot with the vintage inspired look of the design here.
Miyota 9039 Automatic Movement
Because the Baltic Aquascaphe is a true, time-only watch, the brand decided to power it with the Miyota 9039 – a thinner version of the Miyota 9015. It has two positions: stop and go. This means that after unscrewing the crown, you can really only hack the movement upon shifting to the second position. This is nice because you don’t get that “phantom” click experienced with other date-equipped movements. Overall, performance on this press sample was top-notch and the undecorated Miyota 9039 runs at 28,800 vph with a 42-hour power reserve. Each movement – according to Baltic – is regulated and tested by an in-house watchmaker in France, near the town of Besançon.
It’s impossible to feel as if there is a lack of options when selecting an affordable dive watch in 2018. You’ve got Citizen, Seiko, a multitude of micro-brands, and even Swiss companies like Oris that blur the lines between high-end and entry level. But, one thing is for sure. It is becoming more and more difficult to find smaller boutique brands that are run by individuals that actually love watches. That became clear for us after visiting Hong Kong earlier this year. The Baltic Aquascaphe feels built and designed by watch-loving folks that wanted to deliver a pleasant dive watch experience at an affordable price point, and nothing else.
With that said, I’d happily recommend the Baltic Aquascaphe to anyone seeking a small batch watch product that doesn’t look or feel like many similar models in the same price spectrum. It’s ready for anything, from the second you unbox it – and I’m sure the guys at Baltic Watches can back you up no matter what. Pricing currently starts at €580 and there is a variety of dial color options available like blue gilt, black cream, black silver, and more.
Additional Baltic Aquascaphe Models
Since its initial release, Baltic Watches have capitalized on the popularity of this vintage inspired diver to release additional iterations and variations of this design.
This model takes the Aquascaphe Classic design and makes minimal changes for maximum impact. The dive bezel is swapped out for a GMT bezel (featuring 24-hour numerals) and a GMT hand is included thanks to the Soprod C125 GMT movement.
The Dual-Crown model is designed with a classic compression diver as the inspiration. As such, instead of a surface-mounted dive bezel, the watch includes an interior rotating dive bezel that’s controlled by the crown at 2 o’clock.
Michael Peñate is an American writer, photographer, and podcaster based in Seattle, Washington. His work typically focuses on the passage of time and the tools we use to connect with that very journey. From aviation to music and travel, his interests span a multitude of disciplines that often intersect with the world of watches – and the obsessive culture behind collecting them.