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There are extremes in watchmaking that most of the thousands of watch brands worldwide would like to be recognised for. These can include everything from the most accurate, to the thinnest, to the most shock proof, to the fastest oscillating, to the most anti-magnetic, etc, etc
Invariably, to reach such goals these timepieces are incredibly expensive and limited production quantities make them also very rare.
Therefore, it is remarkable that Bell and Ross have successfully created a non-limited diver’s wrist watch, arguably the most diluted sector of the high end wrist watch market, which is as extreme as it possibly can be for a price that is well below the average for any high end diver’s watch.
The Hydromax is a £2000 (2012) watch that is capable of maintaining perfect performance at 11100m below the surface of the sea. This feat can not be underestimated. Allow me to put this into perspective: Friends of mine are recreational divers. The deepest they have ever ventured under water is a little over 30m. The world record for the deepest dive using SCUBA equipment is just 330m.
11100m is not an inconsiderable distance, whichever way you look at it. I am a reasonably fit individual. It takes me about 22 minutes to cycle 11100m and about 45 minutes to run the same distance. I’ve never tried to swim this distance but I’m pretty sure it would be at least three hours. Now, consider swimming that distance down instead of across the surface of water. It really does defy belief. The pressure at this phenomenal depth is 9 tonnes per square inch. A standard watch, even one designed as a diver’s companion, would implode long before this depth and pressure.
Make no mistake that this is a very hostile place to be where not even the hardiest of bacteria can survive. The absolute limit for surface light penetration sufficient for plant growth is just 200m. A short distance later and it becomes pitch black.
The 9 tonnes per square inch is incredulous. Hypothetically, it’s the equivalent of a single decker bus being balanced on a single table leg on top of your watch glass. Good luck with that.
To overcome this Bell and Ross formulated a new fluid, Hydroil©. This fills the watch case whilst allowing it to still run accurately. Unfortunately, a mechanical movement will not work whilst enveloped in such a fluid. Therefore, Bell and Ross have chosen to use the tried and tested ETA 955.612 quartz movement with 7 rubies. This gives the Hydromax the usual benefits of accuracy and constant running that you gain by using a quartz movement. These are two important features of a watch like this. The battery will last an impressive and practical 5 years.
There are two small apertures on the dial of the Hydromax. The first is where the oil enters the case and the second is where the air is purged, as a result.
You may be wondering, why 11100m? The Hydromax may actually survive at depths below this level. However, there are no depths known to man below this level. The Hydromax has been successfully tested by the French Marine Research Institute at 1110 bar, the equivalent of 11100m. There really is little point in testing beyond this point. The deepest recorded distance below sea was recorded at 10,994 m (36,070 ft) by
sonar mapping made by the US Centre for Coastal & Ocean Mapping in 2011. This deepest known part of our planet is the Challenger Deep, which is part of the Marianas Trench south of Japan and East of the Phillipines. Only three humans have ever been to these depths.
In 1960 Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh made the outrageously dangerous descent aboard the bathyscaphe Trieste to a depth of 10916m.
And very recently the renowned filmmaker James Cameron made a solitary journey in the DeapSea Callenger submersible to a recorded depth of 10,898m.
Not surprisingly, humans can not survive unaided at 11100m under water. Maurice Fargues was a volunteer in a programme to determine the maximum depth a scuba diver could reach with compressed air. He became the first diver to perish using scuba at just 117m. Perhaps in the future someone as clever as the R and D team at Bell and Ross will create an oil that we can consume to stop us from imploding at these pressures, like any other watch on the market that is not oil filled.
Further to the Hydroil that fills the case of the Hydromax Bell and Ross also designed and patented a flexible rubber gasket that “deflates” or “expands” according to the variations in liquid volumes and which compensates for extreme differences in compression, expansion and temperature.
Additional benefits that result from utilising the special Hydroil fluid include silent running, due to all the sound deadening effect, and peerless legibility. The former is welcome because the constant ticking of a timepiece is up there, in annoyance terms, with a dripping tap and a snoring partner, in my opinion. The latter is due to the fact that there are no reflections from the dial and hands. The usual practice of applying a non-reflective coating on both sides of a diver’s watch glass is not needed. This coating can often lead to a blue hue on the dial that, although removes the glare off the glass, will change the colour of the dials, hands etc.
Therefore, with the Hydromax, you see the dial and hands as they were intended at all times. In fact, the black is the deepest I’ve seen on a watch dial. Metaphorically as deep as the Marianas Trench.
Normally black dials are either matt black or shiny lacquer, etc. The matt black dials often look grey due to the irregular dispersion of light from the textured surface. Lacquered, pure black, dials, hardly ever appear this way in normal conditions due to constant reflections. The Hydromax, however, has a perfect black dial with no reflections. Furthermore, the date window seems to have no frame to it and no depth. It appears as if it has been printed on the dial.
Speaking of which: The Hydromax offers one of the most aesthetically pleasing optical illusions I have ever witnessed on a wrist watch:
The dial and hands are perfectly legible at the most acute of angles imaginable. It really is quite staggering and everyone I show this too is amazed by it. At the most extreme of angles it is as if the dial and hands have been printed on the inside of the glass. Almost like an ultra high-resolution LED display.
Not only is it a wonderful conversational piece but I also found it had real world applications such as not having to remove your hand from the steering wheel whilst driving your chosen vehicle to read the time.
The packaging is as far out of this world as the Challenger Deep is under this world. Contained within the highly durable, shock resistant, water resistant and non-submergible carry case the Hydromax is accompanied by a semi-rigid shock-proof rubber strap with a deployment clasp, a synthetic canvass strap with Velcro fastening and the tool with which to exchange these.
Comfort is as good as it gets for a deep sea tool watch. This is facilitated by the lack of height, girth and weight. The bracelet is meticulously finished, which also adds to the levels of comfort. The flexible rubber and synthetic straps reduce weight further. The Hydromax is a watch that you could wear continuously without any fatiguing whatsoever.
The wonderfully designed, comfortable and well finished bracelet.
Apart from the utilisation of the quartz movement, of which Bell and Ross has no choice, my only other feature of the Hydromax which prevents it being a 10 out of 10 is the lack of luminosity. Not only is it quite dull it also does not last too long. I have witnessed £100 divers watches with incredible lume so it confuses me why Bell and Ross did not incorporate better low light visibility into a timepiece that was designed predominantly to work where it is pitch black.
The Hydromax is also available with a white dial and black numbers:
Image Courtesy of BellRoss.com
Any high end watch is, arguably, not pertinent in today’s world of throw away plastic digital watches from your local market and, for the non-watch-wearing heathens amongst us, mobile phones. The fact that the Hydromax’s water resistance of 11100m is irrelevant to the point of being impertinent is, in itself, irrelevant. When we buy a high end, expensive timepiece we buy it with our hearts and not our heads. These timepieces absolutely need to offer so much more than telling the time. Useful attributes of a high end timepiece include reliability in extreme situations, high end materials, fit and finish and good residuals. We also hope they will constantly put a smile on our face and offer us prestige and gratification whilst rewarding us with respect from those around us.
The incredible 11100m water resistance has, to some degree, real world use. The oil filled Hydromax becomes less susceptible to impacts and shocks. The legibility is one of the best on the market. The movement will never witness dust or moisture ingress. These are all factors that make the Hydromax the only choice available for anyone wanting to know the time at the deepest part of the ocean but also of great benefit to everyone else.
To top it all off the Hydromax could have followed the trend of all aspiring diver’s watches and become a bit of an aesthetical and design mess, as the watch tries to justify its purpose by having an oversized case, a huge crown, flashes of high-vis colourations and an overbearing bezel. Instead the simple, no-fuss aesthetics of the Hydromax are a refreshing change.
The numbers and hands are perfect in size and offer maximum legibility and contrast.
The bezel has been cleverly designed to be easily gripped without the usual saw-tooth, harsh edged design.
The crown has been offset to the 4 O’clock position so that it does not dig into the back of the hand.
Finally, the 39.5mm case puts it within the realms of dress watch and allows it to be subtle and refined as well as utilitarian, which is a real rarity.
The only negative aspects for me is the lume and, as a horological purist, the fact that this watch has to rely on a quartz movement. Although, that’s like saying the Apollo program had to rely on electronics.
The Hydromax is a true masterpiece of technology and design. There are so many elements of this watch to revel in.
The only real draw back I can see is that the Hydromax has the headline statistics and optical illusions to be a conversation piece and to make any wearer proud and yet the classy, understated and restrained aesthetics mean that the Hydromax is one of the least vociferous diver’s watches on the market and you may never get those conversations started in the first instance.
I would like to thank Andrew Michaels Jewellers for lending me this Hydromax for my review. If you’d like a Bell & Ross watch of your own, visit the full Bell & Ross range on AMJ Watches where you can get your own watch on 0% interest free credit.
All words and images by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the author’s permission.