Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver

Tsao Baltimore is preparing their second model, the limited edition Torsk-Diver, a 300m diver that pays tribute to the brand’s hometown. Founder, Alan Tsao sent a blue and bronze prototype for review, and it is a mighty impressive piece.

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, blue dial, sapphire bezel

Alan goes through great efforts to tie his watches to his home town. The Torsk will be instantly familiar to anyone who has visited Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, but for the rest of you, a little history lesson is in order. The Torsk is a Tench-class submarine launched in September 1944. It saw combat in the Pacific, torpedoed the last enemy warship sunk by the US Navy in World War Two, spent much of its service as a training vessel, and participated in both the Lebanon Crisis and Cuban Blockade before being decommissioned and preserved as a museum ship in 1972. Since then, it has become a National Historic Landmark and a must-see attraction for visitors to Baltimore. I had the privilege of spending the night aboard the Torsk with my son’s Scout troop and let me tell you, I have nothing but respect for those who served on her crew. It is a fascinating machine, but the Ritz-Carlton, it ain’t.

USS Torsk

Now before I get going, I must warn you that this particular sample has seen some use and been the subject of several quick and dirty swaps. As a result, you might notice some dust on the dial. Needless to say, this is not representative of the finished product.

With that out of the way, we can get to the good stuff. Key features include a double-domed and anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal, a generous application of C3 SuperLuminova, and its very own winder. Options include brushed stainless steel or bronze cases, domed sapphire or steel/bronze bezel inserts, and a choice of five dial colors. Steel cases get a bracelet, bronze cases get a choice of leather straps, and both get a 1970’s style rubber dive strap, which is what arrived on the loaner. This one has conventional 22mm spring bars; the final will be fitted with quick-release pins. Thick and comfortable, it managed to stay lint free while in my possession. Its heavy, signed buckle had some sharp edges, but Alan assures me this is a known issue that will be addressed before production. 

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, rummer strap

The Torsk-Diver is a large watch but not oversized. It measures 43mm across, not including the crown guard, and 48mm long. It fit comfortably on my 6.75” wrist, and I would have no issue wearing it in a casual setting. At 13.8mm thick from the case back to the dome, you might even be able to squeeze to get it under a buttoned shirt cuff if you are so inclined.

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, blue dial, sapphire bezel wrist

It is a three-part case, consisting of the case back, and a central barrel surrounded by a separate frame bridging the lugs. Like the first Tsao, the case’s straight sides are broken up by two channels encircling the barrel. The lugs are particularly lovely, hooking downward in two arcs to a rounded foot. Polished chamfers on top and bottom add a hint of bling to the otherwise brushed surfaces, dressing up the watch up just a touch. 

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, side crown

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the case is the long guard that sweeps from the bottom right lug to the 2 o’clock crown. It creates a pleasantly asymmetrical shape that makes the Torsk-Diver immediately identifiable. On the left side, you will find an engraved plate bearing the vessel’s identification number, SS-423, which also happens to be the total number of watches that will be produced. I like the way the plate, guard, and their exposed fasteners give the nod to the sub’s industrial look without veering into the campy. The screw-down crown has a deep coin edge and a signed head.

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, side plate

Inside, beats a 24 jewel, 28.8k bph Miyota 9015 automatic movement, regulated in four positions. This smooth, reliable unit is a mainstay in the microbrand watch world. You get a nice view of it through the sapphire caseback, and while the standard 9015 is not much to look at, this one features a very cool custom rotor decorated with the warship’s mascot. 

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, blue dial, sapphire bezel case back rotor

Tsao’s large brand name and winged logo are printed at the top of the Sunray dial. Clustered down below are a submarine silhouette, model name, water resistance rating, and a black date window that truncates the 6 o’clock marker. It is a lot, but the dial is more than big enough to pull it off, so nothing looks crowded. The Torsk-Diver’s bar markers and pilot style hands are all brushed. A raised white ring carries the chapter index, printed in black with a red 60 that ties to the second hand’s arrowhead and the small sub. The contrasting ring color and pops of red really enliven the dial. 

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, blue dial, sapphire bezel

The tall bezel has a coin edge that matches the crown and provides an easy grip. It travels 120 clicks with firm action and zero wobbles or back play. This prototype had the domed sapphire insert, which looks fabulous, particularly when the fully lumed index fills it with a vibrant green glow. Indeed, everything is lumed on this watch: hands, markers, crown, chapter ring, bezel — nothing was left out, and the effect is stunning. 

Tsao Baltimore Torsk-Diver bronze, blue dial, sapphire bezel lume

I enjoyed my time with the Torsk-Diver. The Baltimore connection is strong, yet tasteful and Alan has included several clever elements that make the watch sharper than a more utilitarian dive tool. You can easily wear the Torsk-Diver for a day of scuba diving, and it will look pretty sweet at a nice dinner afterward.  [Update 2/16/19 - For some video of the Torsk-Diver, check out the YouTube review by MyWatchAddictions.]

The Torsk-Diver launches on Kickstarter February 11 with early bird prices starting at just $350 (45% off). For more information and to get on the notification list, visit TsaoBaltimore.com or TorskDiver.com. ⬩
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