History of Doxa Under The Waves. Starring the SUB 300T.
Doxa needs no introduction for those with a passion for professional rated diving watches. The brand became world renowned for their orange dial diver’s watch, the SUB300T in 1967.
In 1953 the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms paved the way for the most covetable of all luxury watch styles: The Dive Watch. Doxa were founded in 1889, by Georges Ducommun in Le Locle, near the Jura Mountains. In 1967 they created, arguably, the most recognisable of this utilitarian style, the sub 300T.
Forced to work at an early age due to having 12 siblings and not much income to the household, Georges started his apprenticeship in 1880 at the age of just 12 years old. His hard working attitude and love for mechanics and precision allowed him to gain respect very quickly. He soon became to realise that he had the aptitude and desire to further the advances of the mechanical movements he was repairing and servicing. With such lofty ambitions at an early age Georges realised that he needed to create a platform that would allow him to fulfil his aspirations of watchmaking. So, at the age of 21, he inaugurated “Georges Ducommun, Fabriques Doxa” in 1889.
Doxa is the Greek word for glory. It is not known why he chose this noun for his new business but I can only surmise that this was what he was, rightfully, seeking for his impressive capabilities. At last Georges’ talents were becoming recognised outside of the Jura region. One of his pocket watches was honoured at the “Exposition Universelle at Internationale” during the World’s Fair in Liege, Belgium in 1905. In 1906 an anti-magnetic Doxa won the gold medal at the World’s Fair in Milan.
In 1908 Georges filed a patent for a robust Doxa 8-Day calibre as he realised the growth of the Automobile Industry, in particular endurance racing. This resilient time keeper became standard equipment in all Bugatti race cars and was soon recognised as the industry standard. Ships and aeroplanes soon followed suit with Doxa becoming ubiquitous in nautical and aviation instrument panels. Georges continued to excel in his aspirations to produce accurate and durable timepieces until his death in 1936. His son-in-law, Jaques Nardin (grandson of Ulysse Nardin), took over and maintained a high level of enduring craftmanship. Radical inventions and innovations were aplenty, including alarm watches, ring watches, a pointer date system and a jumping second hand.
As mentioned above, 1967 was a pivotal year for Doxa when they decided to release their own professional rated Dive Watch. However, this was as good a debut as Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”. Doxa got it right first time with the assistance of sub-aquatic legend Jaques Cousteau and the US Divers group, for whom he was the chairman.
This conglomerate of horological and deep sea adventurer mindsets were to create the most practical dive watch to date. The Doxa Sub 300T emerged from this perfect unison of aspirations. It was the first dive watch to have an orange dial because it had been realised that this was the most legible colour under water. Along with the black hands, this gave the best contrast. Ironically, Jaques Cousteau chose a black dial, Sharkhunter, SUB300T upon deciding upon utilising the brand for his unparalleled deep sea explorarions. A Cousteau adventurer, Fabien (Grandson of Jacques), did wear the orange dial SUB 300T for his world breaking Mission 31 fete of human endurance and important scientific study, spent in the Aquarius deep sea vessel for 31 days.
The SUB300T was designed with an exclusive rotating bezel that enabled the wearer to calculate decompression times and safe periods between dives. This was also a request of Jacques and the US Diver’s Group. An exclusive saw-tooth edge bezel allowed easy positioning with cumbersome diving gloves on.
In addition to these unique aesthetic aspects the box glass, cushion shaped case and beads of rice bracelet allowed it to become an iconic design.
Today’s sympathetic re-interpretation of the original SUB300T
In 1969 Doxa perfected this professional’s wristwatch with a Helium Release Valve.
The Rolex Seadweller is often mistakenly thought to have been the first commercially available watch to incorporate a Helium Escape Valve. However, it took until 1971 for Rolex to offer this technology to the consumer market. Deep sea divers can spend days at depths often below 200m. They inhabit diving bells where the pressure is much greater than the surface. To allow for this the divers breath a gas mix that contains helium. Helium molecules are the second smallest known to us. So small, in fact, that they can find their way into a water resistant watch case. As the diver ascends, the external pressure drops and the helium molecules inside the case expand. This can cause the glass of the watch to pop out. Hence, the helium release valve which is, effectively, a one way release mechanism which opens a tiny aperture when the pressure inside the watch case reaches 3 bar.
Put simply, in the late 1960s and early 1970s you could not get a more technologically advanced dive watch than the Doxa Sub 300T Conquistador.
Sadly, like so many wonderfully creative Swiss brands, the quartz crisis was the ruination of Doxa in the 1970s. Thankfully, the Jenny family took ownership of Doxa in 1997. Special mention must be awarded to Rick Marei who, as a massive fan of the original SUB300T, had aspirations to re-create it in all its horological and 1970’s styled dive equipment glory. Through his perserverence the SUB300T was reborn in 2001. As a successful team they were clever enough not to break the mould and continued to produce the SUB300T and variants. The desire was to make this niche brand a global entity. America was a particularly strong market for Doxa watches, buoyed, no doubt, by the exponential growth of the recreational dive market and, later, with the inclusion of the screen grabbing design on Mathew McCounaughey’s wrist during his portrayal of Dirk Pitt in the 2005 film Sahara. Incidentally, Clive Cussler’s most famous character had a SUB300T on his wrist for many years before Sahara and the Jenny/Marei reinvigoration, but most readers simpy thought the wrist watch of the fabricated adventurer was a made up prop. Cussler worked in a dive shop and was gifted a SUB300T by the owner. He was immediately smitten.
I could only look on in envy as these fantastic looking timepieces were being flaunted on the US watch forums. This was until 2019, when the Doxa brand was made officially available in the UK for the first time. We, at Andrew Michaels Jewellers, welcomed the opportunity to support this well-respected, historically interesting brand and their glorious dive watches. The collection of SUB timepieces has been bolstered by the addition of new dials, from sunburst silver to bright yellow to pastel turquoise. All have their own poetic nomenclature:
Caribbean: Royal Blue
The 45mm 1500T is identical to the 42.5mm 300T except the 150 atm water resistance, an integrated helium escape valve, which was a critical component in making the original 300T Conquistador so successful, and a contemporary re-imagining of the beads of rice bracelet. The 1500T is also available in multiple dial colours with optional identical coloured synthetic rubber straps.
SUB 1500T on bracelet. £2290.
SUB 1500T on corresponding synthetic rubber strap. £2250.
To commemorate the 130 year anniversary of Doxa a couple of range topping Limited Edition SUBs have been released. First up is the superb 47.5mm SUB 4000T with power reserve complication (made possible by utilising the ETA2897 movement) and the option of a sapphire bezel. Water resistance is 4000ft, making it one of the deepest dive power reserve watches available. The autonomous timekeeping indicator is important to long duration deep sea divers because there is often little movement in a dive to continuously replenish the mainspring and unwinding the crown underwater would, obviously cause substantial damage to the brass movement. Limited to 300 pieces for each colour with the steel bezel and 200 pieces with the orange dial and sapphire bezel.
Secondly, we have the SUB200 T.Graph. With a 43mm diameter case capable of water resistance to 200m, this limited edition chronograph – unique amongst all Doxa watches – is based upon the 1969 original. All aspects have been considerately transposed to create this triumphant limited edition of just 300 pieces. What makes this wonderful re-interpretation so remarkable and desirable is the use of the original Valjoux 7734 movements dating back over 30 years which have been preserved by the Jenny family, owners of Doxa.
SUB 200 T.Graph Limited Edition. £4690.
It is remarkable to think that the Doxa SUB 300T design is now 53 years old. It still looks just as fresh and contemporary today as it did back then. Despite other brands committing to “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” with their similar dive watches, the Doxa SUB 300T is still instantly recognisable and universally respected.
The UFO-like case shape, beads of rice bracelet and brightly coloured dial, regardless of which hue you aspire to, combine to create the epitome of the over-subscribed tool watch. It truly is the complete package.
The case delights, with its unique elements, from every single angle. The concurrent recipe of satin finished sloped surfaces and highly polished slab edges with a conjoining parabolic hub creates an attractive exterior not normally associated with the genre.
Finishing throughout is meticulous
I love the way the crown nestles securely in a milled aperture within the exclusively designed case. Form and function are not common bedfellows on dive watches.
The ratcheted bracelet extension, that allows for 1mm integer length alterations, is a useful addition whether you are a diver or not.
Comfort is assured throughout the year with this clever on-the-fly system. The overall ergonomics are well considered. Given that this was originally conceived as a utility timepiece it is quite astonishing how easy the Doxa SUB 300T is to wear day by day.
The lume is, quite simply, ridiculous.
The Doxa SUB 300T is a sleeper amongst dive watches. It is still an exceptional occurrence to witness a SUB 300T on someone’s wrist and yet it is one of the most important figures in the history of the ubiquitous dive watch. This is fine by me. My Doxa 300 SUBT has its identification questioned more than any other in my collection, at which point I gratify myself and educate others with the extraordinary story of this sub-aqua hero.