There are some very discreet Swiss watch brands with a rich and fascinating history in Swiss watchmaking, and thriving understatedly to this day. DOXA is one.
Founded in 1889 by Georges Ducommun in the heart of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland’s canton of Neuchatel, DOXA shares the cradle of Swiss watchmaking excellence with some of the world’s most famous brands.
With the discretion that comes from having earned its place in watchmaking history, and located today in Biel at the heart of the watchmaking industry, DOXA remains one of the legendary brands in the field of diving watches. Numerous patents and numerous awards at national and international exhibitions add to the substance of its remarkable heritage.
130 years ago, in 1889, the Swiss watch factory DOXA was founded in Le Locle under the name “Georges Ducommun, Fabrique des montres DOXA.” The brand not only manufactured pocket watches, but also equipped the first automobiles such as the first Bugatti models, with a clock featuring the patented DOXA 8-DAY movement, a watch specially designed for car dashboards.
The brand soon garnered awards, including the Gold Medal at the Milan International Exhibition in 1906. Patents were regularly filed. As of 1915, the company employed several hundred watchmakers, designers and engineers.
In 1925, Georges Ducommun, representing DOXA, was elected Vice-President of the International Horology Group and President of the Swiss Watchmaking Association at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. It should be remembered that when Georges Ducommun passed away in 1936, it was Jacques Nardin, grandson of another legendary watchmaker from Le Locle, Ulysse Nardin, who took over the helm. Coinciding with DOXA’s 75th anniversary, the brand was awarded the 1st Prize at the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne in 1964.
In 1964, Urs Eschle, head of product development at DOXA, after inspired by fascinating movie documentaries, TV shows and magazine articles about underwater adventures, decided to create watches suited for divers.
During that time, diving watches were expensive and mostly worn by military and professional divers. Urs Eschle’s idea was to produce a dependable and affordable diving watch, purpose-designed for the growing community of explorers. For this purpose, he formed a team that included professional divers like Claude Wesly, already a legend through his missions with Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Wesly was also one of the first two “aquanauts” who participated in the “Précontinent I, II, and III” dive missions that began in 1962.
To Urs it was not just about making an attractive, affordable and watertight watch. Everybody on the team fully appreciated that diving is not without its risks, and that divers depend on their watch for their safety.
Every aspect of what makes a watch a true diver’s watch was explored, examined and thought-through until the optimum solution was found. An orange dial, as tests show it offers optimum visibility even at 30 meters. A larger minute hand because it is easier to spot and a diver measures time in minutes, not hours. A case made from a single piece of steel to ensure absolute waterproofness. A bracelet with a ratchet mechanism built into the clasp so that it could be sized without having to remove links. A clasp designed to easily and quickly expand to the larger wrist diameter when wearing a wetsuit. No doubt the most defining innovation of all: a bezel that incorporates a decompression table. One of the greatest hazards for divers is not knowing exactly how long they can stay underwater without having to decompress on the way back. At the time, the US Navy’s no-decompression limit dive table was the be all and end all, enabling divers to monitor time underwater as a function of depth to ensure a safe return to the surface. DOXA’s engineers came up with a bezel integrating two separate scales, one using orange for the outer “depth” ring, the other black for the inner “minute” ring – a DOXA patent.
Unveiled at Baselworld and subsequently commercialized in 1967, the DOXA SUB concept was the first truly 100% purpose-designed, professional-grade diver’s watch available to the general public. The radical innovations it introduced soon established it as the benchmark for professionals, too.
It was the first diver’s watch to feature a patented rotating bezel to monitor dive time and ensure a node compression ascent back to the surface. The other reason why the DOXA SUB became an easily recognizable legend in its own time is the hallmark orange dial instead of the conventional black or white background for diving watches. The prominent indices and oversized minute hand, which also feature beige-colored Luminova™ inlays, enable the most important information to be readily registered by the diver, even under extremely low-light conditions.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, co-inventor of the Aqua Lung underwater breathing apparatus and originator of modern-day scuba diving, liked the DOXA SUB concept so much that he negotiated an exclusive distributorship for his US-based company, US Divers. DOXA diving watches retailed by US Divers in the Americas featured the Aqua Lung logo printed on their dials, characterized by the twin-hose SCUBA tank design which Cousteau and fellow Frenchman Émile Gagnan developed and patented in 1942.
During the design and development period of the first series of connected parts, a small batch of SUB models was produced with an Aqua Lung logo in black and yellow. After tests this version was abandoned in favor of a dial with better readability. However, a few copies of this pre-series, nicknamed “Black Lung,” were sold. Starting 1968, the orange dial became a sign of recognition on the wrist of divers who jumped from the “Calypso” to take millions of TV viewers on the legendary weekly missions to explore “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” (that’s the name of the show).
In Switzerland, Urs and his team kept refining the concept and in 1969 DOXA introduced the DOXA SUB 300T Conquistador, the first diving watch to feature a helium release valve (HRV) jointly developed with Rolex.
A helium release valve is a key feature when deep dives are involved which require time spent in a decompression chamber, where the diver inhales air that contains helium and hydrogen. Helium molecules are much smaller than oxygen or nitrogen and can penetrate the seals of a watch case. A sudden differential between the pressure inside the case and outside will cause the crystal to be blown out of the watch. The HRV addresses this problem, allowing the helium to be released while preventing any water from entering the watch case. Today the Conquistador is one of the most sought-after vintage diver’s watches ever.
1969 also marked the year the DOXA SUB became the official watch of the Elite Diving Unit of the Swiss Army. Commander Jacques Cousteau, co-inventor of the Aqualung, invited millions of TV viewers around the world aboard the “Calypso” on its many missions to discover “The Silent World.” Albert Falco, second in command, spent more than 20,000 hours under the surface of the 7 seas. On their wrist: a DOXA.
Very soon, DOXA SUB became synonymous with some of the most accurate and robust diving watches in the world, greatly contributing to the safety of professional and sports divers thanks to the many technical details they comprise.
The DOXA SUB concept was continuously refined and won over a growing following among both professional and amateur divers around the world. Heroes of fiction, too, became fans. Dirk Pitt, the main protagonist in many a bestseller by the famous American author Clive Cussler, wears one. Cussler, a true friend and ambassador of the brand is also the founder of NUMA, the National Underwater Marine Agency, a private non-profit dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.
DOXA became part of Hollywood lore, too: Robert Redford was seen wearing a SUB 300T Sharkhunter in “3 Days of the Condor,” which came out in 1975 and is a cult classic. Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, the intrepid hero created by Clive Cussler, sports a SUB 600T Professional in 2005’s “Sahara.”
In 2014 DOXA became the proud sponsor of Mission 31, a project initiated by Fabien Cousteau, Jacques-Yves’ grandson. The 31-day mission at “Aquarius,” the world’s only undersea marine lab in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary created a submersion record for ocean exploration. DOXA manufactured a special limited edition of 331 timepieces with the famous orange face to memorialize the team’s feat.
Today, DOXA remains true to the idea that respect for a rich tradition, attention to detail and a knack for anticipating future are the drivers behind watches of timeless elegance, distinctive exclusivity and fashionable sportiness for the successful woman and man of today.
DOXA’s current CEO, Romeo F. Jenny, remains true to Georges Ducommun’s strategy of producing high quality watches at affordable prices. This commitment is also reflected in DOXA’s requirement that all suppliers uphold strong ethical standards for socially and ecologically acceptable manufacturing, and in DOXA’s support of marine biology research programs.
DOXA’s independent status enables the brand to act quickly and adapt to market changes – and focus its efforts on creating innovative watches that combine high precision and technical refinement with quality, reliability, functionality and style.
Official website: https://www.doxa.ch/