Hands-On With The Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm
I love it when a brand is brave enough to be different from the rest of the industry. To go against trends and, by doing so, create new ones takes courage, and in the end, the market will tell if the move was correct. Regardless of what the brands say, the customers will decide if a watch succeeds or not. Nivada Grenchen is one of these companies that dares to be different. That’s why I was not surprised when I saw the new Antarctic 35mm a few weeks ago in New York. Faithful to the original in size and looks, at 35mm, it is not your average model, yet it works very well.
There is a sweet spot, a size that works for most watch wearers, whether their wrist is 6.5 or 8 inches. Well, 35mm is not that sweet spot, yet, for some reason, the watch works on most wrists. It comes down to the design and execution. Thank God that Nivada is good with both.
Back in 2020, when most brands were still making 40mm+ watches, Nivada Grenchen came out with a re-edition of the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. Importantly, at 38mm wide, it was true in size to the original from the 1960s. I can recall the reactions of some of my Fratelli when I showed them the watches. They needed to be convinced that this was the right move. Making a sub-40mm chronograph was excellent, but would it sell? Could Nivada stay true to the brand’s DNA without changing it too much? Well, the answer to both questions is “yes.” The brand’s strategy was a winner, and the new Antarctic 35mm resulted from this. Several brands have also started to move towards smaller watches. I will let you decide whether Nivada was the catalyst or the beneficiary. One thing is for sure: if that trend did not start, we would not have this watch.
The Antarctic model family is the largest within the Nivada Grenchen catalog. You may remember that we reviewed the Antarctic Diver, the Super Antarctic, and the Antarctic Spider, to name a few. If you are looking for a time-only option from the brand, the Antarctic line is the one you should look at. Compared to some of the models mentioned above, the Antarctic 35mm is simple. It does not have a rotating bezel or a fancy dial. However, it has charm, versatility, and a great price. Add these up, and the result is a charming time-only model that surely will be a favorite among Nivada fans and beyond. Don’t let the name fool you. Yes, the case is 35mm wide, but before you say it’s too small, you must try it first. And I guarantee that you’ll be surprised if you do.
Larger than life
Let me give you a quick rundown on some specs. The Nivada Antarctic 35mm case itself measures 7mm thick, and with the domed sapphire crystal, it comes to 10.1mm in total. However, from lug tip to lug tip, it has a nice 41.9mm span thanks to the long lugs. And this is quite important. While the width is “only” 35mm, the long, thin lugs create a visual illusion, making the Antarctic 35mm look more extensive on the wrist than the number suggests. Thanks to the manual-winding caliber, the case does not have to be thick; 10.1mm with the glass is perfect. It allows you to wear the watch under a cuff without any issues. You can get it on five different bracelets or several different leather straps, and I’d go with the latter. Why? Well, because if you put a smaller watch on a bracelet, it shrinks.
What I mean is that, visually, the bracelet and the watch become one. However, if you have it on a strap, the dynamic that the leather and the steel case have helps “magnify” the watch, drawing the focus to it. Between the numerous leather and rubber options and the steel bracelets (beads-of-rice, flat-link, and three Forstner styles), you can pick the look that suits you best. And I have yet to talk about the various dial variations. One thing to remember is that the Antarctic on a steel bracelet is more expensive than on the strap. Nevertheless, the price is still very friendly.
Nivada Grenchen did not choose to reissue the Antarctic 35mm because of its size. The story is much deeper than that. See, what the brand did was reverse marketing. With the models mentioned above, Nivada brought a few of the later Antarctic pieces back to the market first. Then came the grandfather of them all, the Antarctic 35mm. Remember that the Spider is the product of the ’70s, and the Diver hails from the late ’50s, but this one precedes them all. Here’s what the brand says about the model:
In the mid-1950s, the United States initiated a series of missions to Antarctica. Dubbed Operation Deep Freeze, the project conducted from 1955 to 1956 aimed to establish the first permanent base in one of Earth’s most severe and icy landscapes. At the time, esteemed polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd was President Eisenhower’s fitting choice to oversee Operation Deep Freeze I. On his wrist, the ANTARCTIC – the same watch that is now being reissued.
The Antarctic came to the market in 1950, but it rose to fame when it participated in the mission from 1955 to 1956. The rest, as they say, is history; the result is this beautiful watch we are discussing here. Now, you can try to look for an original example, but they are hard to find. Not to mention, prices are not what they used to be. The example photographed in the article is one of these models, courtesy of the folks at Nivada (thanks for the loan watch, guys) as they have a few in their collection.
Eggshell, white, or black?
Let’s get back to our current watch now. I mentioned above that the Antarctic 35mm is available on a few different straps and bracelets. What is more important than that, however, is that Nivada also produces it with several dial variations. You have four main colorways and two variations of each to choose from. Eggshell gives you a cream-white tone, similar to how an aged dial would look. The next is White, like my review watch. Then comes Black and, finally, Black & Gold, the last of which has gold-tone indices and hands. For each dial, you can choose either beige or white Super-LumiNova. The beige, which is supposed to resemble a faux patina, is not my favorite. It’s a bit too yellow for that. That’s why we have white Super-LumiNova as well.
All in all, that makes eight different versions of Antarctic 35mm. Add the strap choices in there, too, and you have a highly customizable timepiece. Nivada is known for offering its watches with several options, and the Antarctic 35mm is luckily no exception to the rule. As such, future owners can feel they are getting a rather unique watch.
No, this is not a typo. Inside, the new Nivada Antarctic 35mm beats Landeron’s 21 caliber. The name might be familiar to vintage fans. For decades up until the Quartz Crisis, Landeron was a household name in the industry. The company produced the first cam-actuated chronograph movement and became known for its comparatively inexpensive calibers. Sadly, they were not up to par with the likes of Venus, Valjoux, or Lemaniaa, but they were easy to work on and reliable. A few years ago, the company was revived, offering affordable calibers that continue the legacy of their predecessors. The Landeron 21 is one such example. It is a manual-winding movement with 17 jewels, a 36-hour power reserve, and a 28,800vph (4Hz) frequency. It is similar to an ETA 2804-2 or a Sellita SW215-1.
What’s left to say?
My favorite feature of the Nivada Antarctic 35mm is its applied indices and numerals. They’re a nice touch on an otherwise simple dial with only the brand and model names. My overall experience with the watch was excellent. I love its size and wrist presence. As a vintage guy, I surely appreciate the hand-wound movement and the vintage-style rally strap that my review watch came with. Not to mention the price. If you are looking for the Antarctic 35mm on a leather strap, the price is US$850, excluding taxes. If you opt for a bracelet, you must pay a bit more, bringing the total to US$1,050. Orders opened on the 23rd of November, with the first deliveries planned for spring 2024.
If the size doesn’t bother you, the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic 35mm is a great everyday watch. Thanks to the options, you will find one that fits your taste. Check them out on Nivada’s website, and let me know which version is your favorite in the comments.