Don’t you just love it when a brand has a clear vision of what it wants to be and acts accordingly? CDMLEC, the company behind vintage revival brands Airain and Lebois & Cie is one of those. The company aims to build a family of the most personal heritage watch brands, so it has brought back these two dormant brands and built them up through collaborative design with their fans. Airain’s current project is the revival of the Sous-Marine skin diver. You can still get your votes in to influence what it will look like in the end.

Airain is best known for its Type 20 flyback chronographs, made to French Ministery of Defense specifications in the 1950s. The re-edition — announced in 2020 — brought the dormant brand back to life. Now, however, the minds behind that project are focusing on a skin diver — the Sous-Marine.

An original Airain Sous-Marine from the 1960s

The Arain Sous-Marine

The original Airain Sous-Marine dates back to the 1960s. No wonder, since this was pretty much the golden era of (skin) dive watches. The watch was housed in the typical squared-off skin diver case, measuring 38mm. Its most notable features were its dial with large Arabic even numerals and the “DNA strand” seconds hand.

Re-launch through collaborative design

Airain is bringing the Sous-Marine back to life through a cool process of collaborative design. CDMLEC CEO Tom van Wijlick taps into the passion and knowledge of the watch community through iterative polling and regular virtual coffee meetups. The Airain Sous-Marine is now undergoing this iterative design process. The fun part is that anyone can vote without having to create a profile or leave any details. It is really a very accessible method.

The first round covered the hands and the crystal. A narrow margin ensured the re-edition will be fitted with an acrylic crystal. Airain opts to provide your choice of a clean lollipop seconds hand or the original DNA strand style. The unique DNA hand lost the vote, but the minority that preferred it was quite fanatical about it. Thus, Airain decided to keep it as an option. You may feel this defeats the purpose of voting, but I think it only shows that the brand is actually keeping its ear to the ground. No need to be overly rigid, right?

The current iteration allows you to vote for the case back design and dial layout. You are also asked for your feedback on a range of possible special editions in alternative colors.

A range of limited-edition colorways

The Parmentier crown

A nifty detail worth mentioning is the crown on the Airain Sous-Marine. The so-called Parmentier crown is made up of a small actual crown and a large screw-on cap to cover it and provide water resistance. The cap then features a notched recess on the outside. This allows you to use it to operate the tiny crown underneath, kind of like a winding key. The only downside is that the crown cap comes off the watch completely. So if you are the kind of person who loses stuff easily, this could be tricky.

Sketches showing the “Parmentier” crown

Next steps

After this round of voting on the designs, the full specs and 3D renders will be released on June 13th. Next, the first round of pre-orders will open on June 23rd. The price is yet to be announced. In terms of size, Van Wijlick hinted at a diameter close to the original 38mm. Airain up-sized the Type 20 by a few millimeters when the brand brought that back, but I would personally love it if Airain stuck to the original size for this one.

Two dial options: “Fab Suisse” below six or directly below the logo

Closing thoughts on the Airain Sous-Marine

Having handled quite a lot of original skin divers, I have developed a soft spot for the design. I sincerely hope this re-edition does not get scaled up too much. To me, the charm of skin divers is in their more elegant wrist presence compared to more hardcore dive watches.

Otherwise, I can only applaud Airain for this approach. This is a truly interesting way to differentiate from bigger brands. The power of small brands is in their maneuvrability. Therefore, why not push that to the next level through initiatives such as this collaborative design? Airain is clear about wanting to be personal and this initiative is certainly a way to get close to aficionados.

You can vote for your favorite design options here.