The Ultimate Shark Week Watch

So what does one do after watching the Discovery Channel's Shark Week for seven straight days? If you are Time Bum contributor, Nathaniel DeNicola, you compose a comprehensive analysis of what would be the best Shark Week watch, and no, it's not the Alsta Nautoscaph (too easy!). Enjoy the journey as he takes a deep dive to discover a microbrand dive watch with vintage charm that is schooling us all on threats from the deep.

Seals Dark Seal
Nope, not this one either, although it does have a great shark. Keep reading!

The Ultimate Shark Week Watch

Chrissie was just going for a swim. An innocent enough skinny dip with a tipsy summer fling during the sunset hours on Amity Island. Who doesn’t want to feel that freedom, even briefly, of running uninhibited down the shoreline and diving into carefree waters?

But two things happened after ​Chrissie’s last swim in the summer of 1975: wise guys got to smirk about the life-saving properties of alcohol as Chrissie’s fling, in his drunken stupor, couldn’t reach the water and tumbled (safely) blacked-out on the beach; and Chrissie’s flailing grasps at a buoy guaranteed that those waters would never be carefree again.

Perhaps the most memorable opening scene in cinematic history: Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) introduces Jaws in 1975 and changes our view of the ocean forever. Backlinie deserves some retroactive award at this point.

And so 45 years later we have Shark Week, concluding its 32nd season as the longest-running cable TV event in history, and for many a clear highlight of the summer. You could argue, in fact, that Shark Week and its ​Jaws call-back came at prescient timing during this apocryphal summer of 2020. That the mayor of Amity Island serves as the perfect allegory for public officials weighing the benefits of economic preservation versus the imminent threats to public health. Even the setting of the beach has been a common flashpoint for this debate played out in real-time.

But we’re not here to talk about all that. We’re here to talk about watches, and specifically watch pairings. Because sure, “sharks are awesome, watches are awesome.” Now do any of them go together?

There Once Was A Shark From Nantucket

You might have thought we’d start with a vintage dive watch — and we’ll get there. But there’s an even earlier connection to consider. If ​Jaws marked the beginning of the public’s frenzied fascination with sharks — and of course it did — there’s a decidedly New England flavor to these fisherman’s tall tales. Not only was Peter Benchley’s novel based on the shark-crazed summer of 1916 along North Atlantic beaches, but Steven Spielberg’s movie was filmed in historic Martha’s Vineyard.

So here are a trio of vintage watches with New England or Northeastern connections from the era when these stories first came to life.

Now, back in 1916, there was a watch company headquartered just a few hours from Martha’s Vineyards — the Waltham Watch Company from Waltham, MA — that at the time mostly produced pocket watches but also manufactured trench watches for soldiers in WWI. These watches are nowhere near waterproof but at over 100 years old these now-antique timepieces still hold their own for everyday land wear, including lounging on the beach.

And, fun fact, they are actually young compared to the average Greenland shark swimming out there in the North Atlantic waters (lifespan 300-500 years!). That’s right, sharks swimming in these waters today could have also circled laps around The Mayflower.

WWI-era Waltham trench watch
WWI-era Waltham trench watch in a gold case and NATO strap feels right at home on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. Photo here taken on the calmer sound-facing shores of Fuller Street Beach.

There was another New England watch company in the early 1900’s not far from Martha’s Vineyard located in Waterbury, CT that after iterations as Waterbury Clock Company and Ingersoll Watch Company went on to become Timex Corp — which in the 1970’s released its most famous model, the Marlin. Ironically the fishy-sounding Marlin is also not waterproof, but does offer an absurdly affordable mechanical dress watch; and every watch story deserves a vintage Timex reference.

Timex Marlin
The Timex Marlin wears naturally with lobster plates - from fine dining to rolls on the beach - and helps you afford those meals too!

And finally, a vintage Northeastern watch also known to these waters — the delightfully decorated Bulova Sea King. When first released in 1959 this model actually was intended for water-resistance (hence the name) but you shouldn't test that now. No, for today’s wear these vintage pieces from mostly the mid-60’s through early-70’s offer a sporty, versatile look packaged in pleasing, lightweight dimensions, and often adorned with that charming whale that makes you feel like you’re in Nantucket (though Bulova uniquely still has US headquarters in New York and a case factory in Sag Harbor - some speculate the whale logo was introduced in 1966 in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Whaling Festival of Sag Harbor).

My brother, Ryan, sporting his 1970 Bulova Sea King next to a giant sea anemone! (Or perhaps a cactus...). Even by modern standards this 35 mm case fits naturally - makes you start to understand the 36mm trend.

The Life Aquatic

Ok, on to the divers! Just as ​Jaws first hooked us on sharks in the 1970s (which we devoured - line and sinker), it was Jacque Cousteau and his team on the ​Calypso who first enchanted us with the ocean’s wonders of the deep (true to its namesake nymph, Calypso, who ensorcelled Odysseus on his sea voyage). And it’s no hyperbole to say that the early dive watches were an essential pairing to Cousteau’s aqualung invention — which allowed him to show us marine life like never before; including the shark.

And if you can get your hands on Cousteau’s original 1953 diver model that he wore in his first film, ​Silent World — therefore an OG of all dive watches — then, of course, the vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is an ultimate watch for Shark Week or any week at all. But you’d probably need a silent partner at a silent auction to land this Silent World​ star.

Of course, Cousteau went on to wear numerous other dive watches, and separately other companies have their own origin story for why their dive watch was the first to accompany the emergent SCUBA lifestyle (you can hear the tales echoing now, “Omega... no Panerai... it didn't matter until Rolex and Bond”) — all of which spawned the most popular type of modern watch with more reissues and homages than salt in the ocean. Too many to cover here, particularly at the luxury price point.

Let the original dive watch debate begin— it’s hard to argue with the watch Cousteau paired with his first film “Silent World.” (Photo credit: PBS)

But there is one watch perfectly placed at a value proposition that still pays tribute to Cousteau and his maritime legacy, in a way — the VOSTOK Amphibia line originally designed for Russian aquanauts in the late 1960’s. Wait, but Cousteau was French? Yes, but of course. These watches were never actually worn by Cousteau and the ​Calypso crew. They do however have their own fascinating backstory and come with a modern, affordable, whimsical lineup: from “SCUBA Dude” to “Zissou Special Addition.” The later, obviously, was worn by Bill Murray and the Zissou crew in Wes Anderson’s tribute film to Cousteau, ​The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Vostok Amphibia
The VOSTOK Amphibia Zissou gives you an in-house automatic movement with a rich history and a fun story at right around $100. Easy to understand their cult following — including by my brother, Matthew, who provided his favorite shot here.

Yum Yum Yellow and Aquamarine

If there is one company to specifically associate with Jacque Cousteau then perhaps it should be the only company he ever officially endorsed, Doxa. This company and the Doxa sub need no further introduction here, but it’s worth considering a bit of their legacy beyond popular dive watch models like the “Sharkhunter,” aptly named to wear during Shark Week.

Doxa
The Doxa Sub 300T packs a ton of color and legacy for its price point
(Photo credit: Doxa watch company).

While difficult to sort out exactly when certain color schemes originated, the Doxa sub deserves some credit for popularizing the vibrant color schemes we now associate with the dive watch zeitgeist. And these colors have been incorporated into new microbrands (clearly invested in the diver model) and some tribute watches that might have ducked under the sub’s radar.

One such watch is the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association watch — ​released in 2018 by Time Concepts (actually headquartered in California) this robust waterproof quartz watch honors the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association and donates proceeds to its mission. Hard to imagine a group who thinks more about shark encounters on a daily basis.

Now, interestingly, this specific color scheme may not be ideal for repelling sharks as many SCUBA videographers have dubbed it “yum yum yellow” for how often sharks seemed interested in the equipment of that color. Others speculate however that the contrast in colors, not the color itself, and the electrical impulses from the devices (and generally just having a foreign object being shoved near their face) are more responsible for sharks’ exploratory bites.

Hawaiian Lifeguard Association watch
Hawaiian Lifeguard Association watch worn in Laguna Beach with surfers and skimboarders. This was before I read all about yum yum yellow...

The other watch colorway that seems instantly associated with summer is aquamarine, or just aqua, also popularized by shark-seeking subs like the Doxa line. While there are numerous such examples, perhaps an under-appreciated one is the 2019 release from Vaer watches of Venice Beach, CA. This microbrand offers the ​American-assembled A5 in several colorways, the most recognizable might be the white dial with faint blue numerals that certainly look aqua when hit with lume or when catching a patch of shade in the daylight.

Vaer A5
Vaer American-assembled A5 on aqua Barton silicon strap overlooking the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor — home to dual horror threats: sharks and ghosts. Now there’s a Sharknadao sequel I’d watch.

The Dark Seal Returns

Speaking of microbrands, there’s another sea-faring California sport watch worth highlighting here — with its luring bezel and a catching tale of sharks, seals, and a skiff. When Michael Seals, owner of Seals Watch Company, released the ​Dark Seal collection you might have assumed a self-reference; maybe on a bad day? And in fact, that’s close to the truth — but not how you’d think. As Michael has relayed his sea adventure to me, it’s quite a harrowing story.

Long before he dealt in watches, Michael worked for the Catalina harbor department that involved clearing seaweed up and down the coast. This work took him out to sea on his customized 5-horse power skiff where he would encounter all kinds of marine life. Often these encounters were friendly in nature, as they were with a local harbor seal he came to recognize and regularly feed with frozen fish. But sometimes they were quite the opposite — and no one is ever truly prepared to come face to face with that dorsal fin piercing the deep blue water, even from the safety of a boat.

Rather than stick around to see what was connected to that fin, Michael “employed all 5 horses that boat could offer and headed for the coastline.” Aiding in his retreat was that friendly “dark seal” who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and distracted the large-finned animal by darting back and forth under his boat and eventually heading toward the bay.

Now, this is no story of food chains and self-sacrifice. Not only did Michael see his blubbery friend safely back in the harbor, but he continued to feed him frozen snacks for many years. After that, how could he not?

Seals Dark Seal
This picture of the Seals Watch Co. Dark Seal Sport with a rotating bezel set against a National Geographic photo of a mako shark likely represents exactly how Michael felt that day. Every watch deserves a good story.

Independent from the story (which honestly is enough to catch my attention) there is much to admire in the Dark Seal line, which has been covered ​previously on this site. In particular, the fixed bezel model delivers a unique take on a dressy sport watch (or maybe a sporty dress watch?) with that captivating brushed bezel that mimics a lure in the right light. This is certainly a good thing to my eye — but much like the yum yum yellow, sharks have been known to agree.

Seals Dark Seal
Seals Watch Co. Dark Seal fixed bezel blue dial pictured with Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before The Mast.” Alluring in almost any light. If you enjoy word searches you might find another Catalina connection.

Shark!

Then, there is an actual Shark watch. If you know the parent company, Freestyle USA, there isn’t much more that needs to be said. These water-sport watches were designed for California surfers in the late 1980s and still may be the quintessential late 80’s-early 90’s throwback. They continue to be offered in those original neon colors which also adds some sentimental value for many of us who had these as our first ever wristwatch.

Not to mention, they are stellar watches for the water — complete with boogie board/surfboard style Velcro straps and newer tide models that, well, track the tide. They are also the only company with a ​direct collaboration with Shark Week, which adds to their current brand endorsements from the world’s top female surfers.

Shark Watch
When my grade school friend Jimmy told me about his Shark watch that he picked up recently on vacation in Hawaii, I went straight to the website in search of my original 1989 version. If this isn’t it, it’s darn close, and wore perfectly when bodysurfing in Del Mar, CA.

Apex Predators and the Largest Living Thing

You can’t have an essay about Shark Week in 2020 and not mention some sobering statistics. In the 45 years since ​Jaws introduced us to the horrors of a shark attack and police chief Brody yelled, “smile!” it’s actually been a rather one-sided contest.

You probably know the odds are stacked in our favor. By the numbers (1 in 11.5 million for attack, 1 in 264 million for fatality) our risk is so low the notion becomes a go-to punchline — the “more likely to be killed by” game includes random things falling from the sky like coconuts and air conditioner units (but not sharks caught in a tornado). During the 2014 World Cup economists calculated that you were, in fact, ​more likely to be bitten by footballer Luis Suarez than a shark.

You might not know the other side of the equation — it’s equally absurd. In 2019 humans killed, by conservative calculations, 100 million sharks. That’s 12,000 per hour. And, okay, but isn’t the ocean pretty big? Do we really need to go there?

Well, we do. Because there’s another dynamic most people know in general but might not have internalized in specifics — that is the balance of ecosystems. Notice I didn’t say delicate. There’s nothing delicate about 200 deaths per minute. No, the decimation of the world’s shark populations has taken a bite out of another apex being — the world’s largest living thing.

It’s almost instinctive that this bleached coral isn’t healthy. We should trust those instincts. (Photo credit: NRDC.org)

In science, the concept of interdependent ecosystems is best understood as what’s called “emergence” — and its under emergent threat. When an apex predator goes away it doesn’t just leave more room for the rest. Instead, it promotes the overgrowth of the mesopredators (mid-level attackers) which in turn plummets downstream feeders.

So in Australia when overfishing killed off the sharks, the mesopredator snappers became overgrown, who quieted the parrotfish, who could no longer eat the toxic algae, that then overtook the Great Barrier Reef. Subsequently, for this and other reasons like warming ocean currents, in 2017 the Great Barrier Reef was pronounced dead. What was once very recently the answer to “what is the world’s largest living thing?” is now the poster for toxic, deadly emergence.

You’re up Humongous Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae​).

Ocean Conservation in the Watch Food Chain

All of this is so stay — ocean health in general and shark population dynamics specifically have become paramount more than ever, and Shark Week offers the perfect summer respite to take some notice of protecting the beaches and sea animals we all love so much much.

Still, when it comes to selecting a watch you might say, this isn’t the place. What’s wrong with just buying a watch? Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. But we’re not talking about any watches — we’re talking about the Ultimate Shark Week Watch where attention to detail gets you extra credit.

So how has the watch food chain responded to our global oceanic crisis? (Not for nothing, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for watches to play a role in responding to world crises. Like World Wars, for example). Back to the food chain...

One model of the Watch Food Chain (in fact the only model I’ve come across). You won’t find many of the watches discussed here on this chart. (Photo credit: private Facebook group)

At the top of the pyramid, to their credit, the luxury watches have contributed. There are examples of straps and cases made from recycled plastic (​Alpina Seastrong Diver Gyre​), of genuine conservancy partnerships (Breitling Superocean Heritage joined with ​OceanConservancy), and awareness campaigns (Doxa with ​Project Aware​) with high profile spokespersons (​the Cousteau family continues a charitable partnership with Doxa). And this is needed; every bit counts.

But even with a deep dive (come on, I waited for 2,000 words to make that splash), it is much more common to encounter among these apex brands a limited edition watch with a sea creature etched on the case back and rather vague references to missions that “explore the ocean” rather than direct efforts at conservation. When you consider the vast resources available to these brands, it starts to look more like dipping their toes rather than diving in head first.

Let’s see how the meso-brands compare.

A true leader, Oris has purposefully navigated its course for ​reviving the dying coral reefs​, removing the ocean’s plastic waste,and even charted a ​fresh approach to saving Lake Baikal​. (Much respect if you got that pun). Lake Baikal holds 20% of the world’s fresh water supply, the largest single collection on earth.

The Oris Aquis devoted to conserving freshwater powerhouse Lake Baikal. While this lake is not home to sharks, worldwide there are at least 7 such euryhaline shark species that can swim in both waters. (Photo credit: Oris Watch)

Now let’s not debate where exactly Seiko falls in the food chain. Agreed, they have as much heritage as ​any brand and the Grand Seiko belongs in an upper tier. For this exercise we’re drawing attention to how much they have done with their “Save The Ocean” Prospex offered at arathermodest$500range. Notonlydotheyfindroominthisminowybudgettocontributeto ocean conservation but, like Doxa, they have earned the respect of the Cousteau family and partnered with ​Fabian Cousteau’s Ocean Learning Center.

Plus that blue dial!

Seiko Save The Ocean
My friend, Jimmy, showing off his Save The Ocean Seiko Prospex and that mesmerizing blue dial. The rivets, intended to mirror the belly of humpback whales, provide a unique azul ombré gradient.

Bottom of the field, top of the class

Well, if you concede that Seiko gets a little extra credit for donating proceeds on a budget-friendly watch, you’re in for a surprise breach attack. There are several young, independent microbrands that make these contributions on similar budgets without the large corporate safety net (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And one such watch deserves recognition here.

Lorier​, founded by husband and wife team Lorenzo and Lauren Ortega, already have something of name recognition among the microbrand community. Proof? Their recent Worn & Wound

Limited Edition Gemini chronograph sold out under 60 seconds. That’s enough for me. (And yes I’m ok citing this example because I was one of the lucky few to land one!).

Lorier
When you get a chronograph you really love you end up timing all sorts of things — like how long it actually takes to make coffee. Made a few pots doing research here.

Without question, the basis for the success has been broad approval of their high-quality product at, really, and unbeatable price. But this tantalizing value isn’t just from savvy production deals. It’s part of a brand ethos that lies at the core of their services.

Both Lauren and Lorenzo have had careers as teachers and know all-too-well the underpaid works that it entails — and so have ardently made their watches to be accessible to, well, them if they were buyers. The motto “by teachers, for teachers” may not appear anywhere on their website, but it may as well.

There’s another feature that currently isn’t highlighted on their website but, at least for Shark Week, it can be highlighted here. In addition to turning out a well-executed and sought-after product on a phytoplankton-sized budget, all-the-while keeping their customer’s hard-earned dollars top of mind, they still find a way to make charitable contributions on the sale of every watch.

Not limited editions. Not creature-feature case backs. Every watch. (As an aside Lorier purposefully keeps their case backs blank to encourage custom engraving — a personal touch throwback that more watches might do well to revisit).

The Ultimate Shark Week Watch

And to ride this wave all the way home, that charitable partner is the Oceana Foundation. That’s a story I want on my wrist.

Specifically for Shark Week we’ll go with the Lorier Neptune, a delightfully charming vintage-style diver that keeps getting better each new edition. I will be wearing my Series II for a while; ​Series III is currently on launch.

Lorier Neptune Series II
The Lorier Neptune Series II overlooking the Kennedy Center along the Potomac river. A different type of shark is known to roam these regions.

Emergence Training

If Chrissie were to make that swim again in 2020 she’d be, literally, a million times more likely to be wrangled by plastic waste than a squalene predator.

And sure, you can say that such cleanup work isn’t the mission of watches. Then again, it’s not entirely foreign to watches either. For the better part of 50 years, the watch industry has profited mightily off the actual act of diving into ocean waters and then selling that vision as an important archetype. It’s not entirely unreasonable to look to them to protect the waters that have been so bountiful to them over the years.

For now, during Shark Week, we can recognize that at least a few companies are defining their role in ocean conservation, and none more substantially that the microbrands like Lorier. They may have gone into the watch business, but an educator never stops teaching.

There is also, just to mention, a bottom-up dynamic to “emergence” — where novel behaviors from the lower end of the food chain force meso- and apex- hunters to make their own adaptive responses. These can ebb and flow like the tide or swell over in a sea change.

So there you have it, the ultimate Shark Week watch — a microbrand dive watch with vintage charm that is schooling us all on threats from the deep, and providing some timely real-life lessons. ⬩

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