Dear IWC, Bring Back The Glorious Aquatimer Ref. 812
I have written about IWC before in this series. In a previous installment, I expressed my love for the classic IWC Ingenieur that Gérald Genta designed. It’s a watch that I have a stronger personal connection with than most watches. But IWC has more great classics that deserve a glorious comeback. One of them is the first Aquatimer that the brand ever produced. The IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 was introduced in the late 1960s as the brand’s first diver. Over five decades later, the watch hasn’t lost its attractiveness. It’s time for a new Aquatimer ref. 812.
When IWC introduced the first Aquatimer ref. 812, the brand was pretty late to the diving game. As most of you will know, the brands that pioneered the genre introduced their first dive watches over a decade earlier, and various brands introduced their takes in the years that followed. With the rise in popularity of professional and recreational scuba diving, we saw many designs and techniques incorporated into this then-new category of timepieces. It has led to a great variety of great vintage dive watches, and the IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 is certainly one of them.
The IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 — one of the Super Compressor divers
As soon as you see the first Aquatimer, you know that the brand used the now-famous Super Compressor case for the watch. Nowadays, when people think about dive watches, it’s all about a unidirectional ratcheting bezel with a large diving scale and accompanying markers. But the Super Compressor case, with its characteristic two crowns and internal rotating bezel, represents a different concept and aesthetic that many watch fans love.
The Super Compressor case was patented in 1956 by Ervin Piquerez SA, or EPSA as most people know it. The Swiss company produced the Super Compressor cases for roughly two decades before going out of business in 1975. During that time, many famous brands used the Super Compressor cases in their standard execution. Some brands used modified versions of the case as well. Among them were brands like Universal Genève, Enicar, Hamilton, Longines, Vulcain, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. But the list is a lot longer than that.
Only 2,000 pieces of the first Aquatimer were produced
When IWC introduced the Aquatimer ref. 812, the brand opted for a 37mm Super Compressor case. Just as a little side step, in addition to the ref. 812, you will also see the later ref. 812 AD. In essence, it was the same watch, with the AD referring to “automatic” and the date function. In 1972, when IWC changed its reference system to four-digit model numbers, the watch got reference number 1812. All three are the same watches that stayed in production until 1982 when it was discontinued. Over 25 years, IWC produced only around 2,000 pieces of the first-generation Aquatimer.
But let’s get back to the watch itself. As I mentioned, the brand chose a 37mm Super Compressor case. It featured the two characteristic crowns embossed with the IWC fish at 2 and 4 o’clock and was water resistant to 200 meters. Most of you will know that the upper of the two screw-down crowns operates the internal diving bezel, while the lower crown is in charge of the time and date. Overall, I love the look of the case, which combines a round shape and straight lugs with the two crowns, giving it lots of character.
Four different dial variations define the Aquanaut’s presence
Speaking of character, IWC produced four different dials for the Aquanaut ref. 812 that make it into the stunner that I adore so much. The first came with a black dial and a black inner bezel, and the second featured a black dial with a silver bezel. The third model came with a white dial and a silver bezel, and the last of the four came with a white dial and a black bezel. The white/silver model is a very rare one, but you can find the other three variations without any problems. Out of the four dials, the two with the combination of black and white or black and silver are my favorite. They give the watch a distinct character and make it into a watch I love.
The prototype that IWC produced actually featured a white dial and a white inner bezel. This one also had the image of a fish on the lower part of the dial. It’s a rather strange thing to see, but the all-white aesthetic made it look good. However, despite its good looks, IWC decided not to go forward with that version. On every production variant, the dials are graced by the applied hour markers and a date window at 3 o’clock. The baton hour and minute hands added an even more modern style to the watch, but the most characterful element is the thin paddle-neck seconds hand with its lume-filled tip. The dials all had a simple but incredibly effective design accompanied by big, straightforward bezel markings with numerals for 15, 30, and 45 minutes. It’s hard to fault the design in any of its executions.
The IWC caliber 8541 powered the Aquatimer 812
Inside the 37mm Super Compressor case, you will find IWC’s caliber 8541. This self-winding movement featured IWC’s Pellaton winding system. It operated at 19,800vph, had 23 jewels, and provided a 44-hour power reserve. IWC also used the same movement for its Ingenieur ref. 866 models from that same era.
The brand actually made some improvements to the movement and introduced the caliber 8541B just before 1970. This new version featured hacking seconds and used a Grenier-type hairspring collet. IWC used both movements for the Ingenieur and this Aquatimer without distinguishing between them in its archives. It’s a rather curious detail, although it’s not really surprising in the watch world of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Would you like the IWC logo on the dial?
Another curious detail is the branding on the dial. You will find first-generation Aquatimers with and without an applied IWC logo. And the Aquatimer was not the only watch that “suffered” from that detail. IWC introduced the applied logo above the script name somewhere in the late ’60s or early ’70s. This is why you will see watches from the same model range with and without it.
The remarkable thing is that IWC had models with and without the applied logo in the same collection, even the same model range. There are examples of the Ingenieur in the same catalog with different dials that do and do not have the applied logo. Generally, it’s hard to say what option you will see more often. In terms of aesthetics, I have a slight preference for the dial without the applied logo. It just looks a bit cleaner. That said, I would not let the presence of the applied logo stop me if I were seriously considering buying one.
There was a reissue of the IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 before
Overall, I love the story and looks and the first Aquatimer. As it is the first dive watch that IWC produced, it holds a special place in the history of the brand. This is also why the Aquatimer is still part of the current collection. While there are definitely still elements of the first Aquatimer to be found in the current range, the modern versions lack the charm of the vintage models. IWC did, however, produce a modern reissue of the ref. 812. In 2008, the brand released the Vintage Collection that featured the modern IWC ref. 3231.
This modern interpretation of the original ref. 812 saw a dramatic increase in size from 37mm to 44mm wide. The case had a lug-to-lug of 50mm and was 14.5mm thick. If you ask me, this reissue did capture the spirit of the original, but it was too big. Additionally, it came on a rubber/leather strap, whereas the original looks best with a nice beads-of-rice bracelet. It came in a stainless steel version with a black dial and a platinum version with a crisp white dial. Inside the case, IWC chose to equip the piece with the in-house caliber 80111.
Time for a return of the classic IWC ref. 812
While I like the efforts that IWC put into the Vintage Collection, it would be great to see the return of a proper homage to the original. If you would like to get your hands on one of the original IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 models, expect to see asking prices between roughly €10K–20K. These classics certainly do not come cheap, despite being widely overlooked. And frankly, I am not surprised because they are simply great watches. That’s why the return of this classic in modern form would be something to look forward to.
But the reality of that happening seems slim. While IWC honors the names from the past, the brand sometimes dismisses the designs that made the classics from the ’60s and ’70s such great timepieces. I have said it in my article about the Genta Ingenieur SL1832 “Jumbo,” and the same goes for this Aquatimer; the history is there to make some amazing new versions of some great IWC classics. Until that happens, there is always room to hope that this wish will come true because the IWC Aquatimer ref. 812 really is that good.
Visit the official IWC website for more information on the brand’s current collection. Also, let us know in the comments section how you feel about this IWC Aquatimer ref. 812!