Hands-On With The Vulcain Nautical — A Diver, An Alarm, And Then Some
It’s been almost half a year since our last Vulcain review. But we love the brand, both vintage and modern, and it has something new to offer. On the 21st of September at 4:00 PM CEST, Vulcain will launch the new Nautical. This article will take a closer look at this beautiful and rare diver.
While one can argue that beauty is subjective, the Vulcain Nautical is undoubtedly a rare diver. How many dive watches have you seen with a mechanical alarm? I’m guessing not many. And why do you need a mechanical alarm diver in 2023? You don’t, just like you don’t need a dive watch in the age of dive computers. But that won’t stop us from admiring the beauty of these timepieces.
1961 to 2023
The Vulcain Cricket’s history is well documented on the pages of Fratello. However, we have not talked about the Cricket Nautical, so let’s look at some historical facts. The original Vulcain Cricket Nautical hit the market in 1961. At the time, it was one of only a select few dive watches with an aquatic alarm (another notable one being the JLC Memovox Deep Sea from 1959). Thanks to its triple case back that acted as a resonance chamber, the Cricket Nautical was water resistant and loud enough to be heard underwater. Divers could use the alarm function to mark the time they’d need to start their ascent.
However, the Cricket Nautical also offered much more. Aside from the alarm function, the watch had a specially designed dial that would show the diver’s decompression time. This new model has all the features of its 1960s vintage counterpart in a modern 42mm case size and, for the first time, with a display case back. For the 50th anniversary in 2011, the brand relaunched the Cricket Nautical in a limited run of 1961 pieces. That model did not have a display case back, though. Unlike that watch, the new 2023 Nautical is not a limited edition.
The Vulcain Nautical
Prospective owners can choose from two variations. The Nautical Black White LumiNova is the model I have for this review. For vintage fans, Vulcain will also offer the Nautical with a beige faux patina on the lume. Aside from the slight color change, the two models are identical. Nevertheless, that’s not the only option you have. If you like Plexiglass instead of sapphire crystal, you can select one. A more extensive variety of leather or rubber straps is also part of the customization process. Lastly, you could opt for the “triple case back” if you don’t fancy the sapphire display. But why would you? The movement is a beauty and deserves to be seen if that’s an option. Your choice might affect the price, but I’ll talk more about that below.
Crowns and pusher
The Vulcain Nautical is more straightforward to use than you’d think. Don’t get intimidated by the four hands, two crowns, and the pusher. The crown at 3 o’clock winds both the movement and the alarm mechanism. If you wind it clockwise, the alarm gets the energy; if you go counterclockwise, the watch mechanism gets charged. You can see this beautifully through the display case back. The barrel above is for the alarm, and the one below is for the timekeeping. Once you’ve fully wound the alarm, press the pusher at 2 o’clock. Using the same crown, you can set the alarm hand (with the red triangle). Once the time is set, press the crown back in, and you are good to go. At 4 o’clock, you have a second crown. Unscrew it, and then you can start rotating the upper plate of the dial.
We have two dials on top of each other with a large aperture on the black upper plate. The scale and the function result from research by Vulcain and three experts led by Hannes Keller, a Swiss mathematician, diver, and occasional pianist. You can find the whole story on the Vulcain website, so I will spare you the details here. What you need to know, however, is that the Keller-Bühlmann decompression scale they created is the one that Vulcain uses on the dial. To use it, you need to determine the length and depth of your dive. If you set up the watch correctly, the chart will show you for how many minutes you must stop at nine, six, and three meters before reaching the surface.
We have talked about the outside as well as the usability, but let’s take a closer look at the movement. Inside the Vulcain Nautical beats the brand’s in-house caliber V-10. It is a 2.5Hz (18,000vph) mechanical, hand-wound alarm movement measuring 27.07mm (12 lignes) in diameter. As previously mentioned, the movement has two barrels, one for the energy source for timekeeping and the other for the alarm function. Consequently, the power reserve is 42 hours, and the alarm duration is about 20 seconds. The V-10 is not only technically distinct but also beautiful, featuring blued screws, nickel plating, and skeletonized ratchet wheels. With such a stunning caliber, there’s no chance I’d go with the solid case back. Not to mention, even with the sapphire display back, the Vulcain Nautical is water resistant to 300 meters.
I find the 42mm case a tad large, especially since the watch is 16.6mm thick with the display back (and 17.35mm thick with the solid one), but this is just me. I would have loved to see it in a 39–40mm case. However, I’m afraid the dial would have been too small for many to read the numbers on the decompression scale. Either way, the Vulcain Nautical, at around €5K, is not a budget diver.
The price differs depending on the case back, crystal, and strap. The least expensive setup costs CHF 4,200 (around €4,390) with the acrylic crystal, solid case back, and a non-exotic strap. My review sample has a sapphire crystal, a display case back, and a rubber strap. You’d need to pay CHF 4,900 (about €5,120) for this. Still, consider what you get for this price — an in-house mechanical alarm movement, 300m water resistance, sapphire-sandwich construction, and a valuable and excellent decompression scale. I loved wearing the watch, and if I were in the market for a diver, I might pull the trigger.
For more information, check out the Nautical on the Vulcain website.