Three years is both a long time, and not; it’s more than enough to establish a fledgling brand from the wrong part of the world, find fantastic partners, release a few (well, 18 now) models, win a golden finger, lay the foundations for three generations of design language, and more importantly, figure out what kind of watches we want to make and what still excites us as now (very) experienced collectors. But as it turns out, it was barely enough to bring a dive watch to production.
I have long said that the Abyss Concept was the most difficult watch I have ever designed. The diver genre has so many expectations, conventions, icons and actual functional and technical requirements that there are more constraints than freedoms. The wide acceptance and instant recognizability and legibility of the popular models means anything that diverges from this will require some degree of relearning curve to read intuitively; yet a dive watch must offer precisely that since timing really is critical. There can be no ambiguity of reading. Yet…to create something distinctive, not arbitrarily different (and functionally compromised), and more important, legible – all within one’s own design language – is necessary to have any hopes of legitimacy.
After eight major model families and 41 revisions within that final one alone – hence H41 – we managed to create something that fulfilled the technical requirements of a diver, the practical requirements set by the actual divers on our team, and the aesthetic requirements dictated by (at the time) Design Language 2 – we had taken so long that Design Language 1 in the Abyss would look out of place with the rest of the lineup if released now.
If H41 looks a bit like an Abyss it’s not a coincidence. The case is an evolved, improved version: it’s now grade 5 titanium for lightness and tensile strength, allowing us to reduce height a bit to 12.9mm – I believe this is one of the thinnest 1000m-capable watches around, thanks to the balanced pressure loading design. There is an optimal tradeoff between diameter/size and thickness: the larger the diameter, the thicker the watch has to be as more material is required to resist the greater compression moment at depth on an unsupported surface. All other things equal, smaller cavities require thinner walls for a given depth rating: the 40x12.9mm size is the optimal balance we could find. We kept the ETA 2824-2 because it’s one of the most reliable and robust movements and reasonably sized, and that’s precisely what’s needed in a diver.
The top profile of the lugs has been modified to flow smoothly into the top of the strap or bracelet as a continuous surface, providing a nice visual continuity with the rounded case lines. The underside has been rounded off and and made a little shallower for better comfort, and there’s now only one set of holes: that’s because we no longer need a straight bar to accommodate the bracelet, which itself has now been improved to a curved end with a curved quick release springbar design that’s backwards compatible with all of our 20mm lug watches. It fits like a 20mm curved strap, and there’s no reason to have a second set of holes and the risk of fitting the pins into the wrong ones and then diving with that. It has an all-new clasp designed by myself in-house with release buttons neatly camouflaged into the bracelet, and we even include a dedicated handmade leather pouch for watches on bracelets and a Bergeon screwdriver for sizing.
If you get the impression we’re really, really proud of the new bracelet, you’d be right. It’s the best we’ve made by some margin, and better yet, it’s backwards (and forwards) compatible with every 20mm lug width watch we’ve made, which at this point – really is every watch we’ve made. You really can have the nirvana of always having a bracelet option for every watch but without having to buy and resize one for each – and it looks good on a 17.01 or a 19.02.
We kept the timer bezel design from the Abyss because it allows for quick recognition of 1, 5 and 15 minute segments, and is visually distinctive and very much in our style; but we directly embedded the luminous material into the bezel itself to avoid the risk of losing an insert while diving due to knocks or pressure. The bezel has also been DLC coated for contrast against the white Super-LumiNova X1, as well as to resist marking and scratches. It was reprofiled based on the frictional properties of the DLC to retain the ease of deliberate (but not accidental) rotation. There are 60 clicks to avoid parallax error (helped with a shallow rehaut) and the annoyance of a half-misaligned bezel.
Luminosity and crispness of the sapphire dial donut has been improved by the use of HyCeram luminous material ceramically fused into the sapphire itself; it has a much higher luminous pigment content than traditional filler-and-binder application and allows for both greater brightness and better definition of small features. In essence: the H41 has been designed with visibility and legibility in mind, and as such everything on the watch that’s white glows, and violently so.
Given the H41 is a watch that’s really about contrast – we carried it through all elements of the design, which is perhaps expressed best in the two-tone titanium-DLC version: light elements on dark for the front flow into dark elements on light for the sides and back; the strap echoes the bezel in texture, color and curvature. Overall contrast inverts to dark markings on a silver background on the caseback, as well as a lasered high-friction central portion to prevent the watch moving around on wrist or wetsuit. All areas that contact the wrist are still domed and rounded for maximum comfort, though.
Speaking of comfort: at 65g head weight, this is a fairly light watch for its size and visual presence; on rubber or leather, it feels similar to a 17.06; on a properly adjusted bracelet, it takes on the same weightless balance as the 17.03. From an engineering standpoint, we’d recommend diving on the rubber since it has fewer mechanical elements and is easily adjustable to go over a wetsuit; there is of course the NATO option, too (though I doubt we will ever officially offer this as we just aren’t big fans of the look).
I have always personally been the impatient sort: “why can’t we go straight to the third generation?” – moreso when things take much longer than you think they should. My team is however quick to point out that results are very much path-dependent. This is even more true than usual in the case of the H41: without the Abyss and learning the cost of repeated rework and reengineering, I wouldn’t have moved to 3D CAD; without the 19.01 we wouldn’t have our partnership with Schwarz-Etienne, and without evolving through the watches between 17.01 and 27.01 – we wouldn’t have Design Language 2. So yes, H41 really had to take the better part of four years (including the initial design studies done in parallel with 17.01) to bring to life – but now we have the pleasure of seeing it as a really mature product that holds no compromises.