While in Geneva for the SIHH, I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with an unexpected divers watch: the re-edition of the famous Triton Spirotechnique. Of course, the name has changed, and the case is slightly bigger than in the original, but this Triton Subphotique gave me a good reason to look into the past of a singular piece, with its characteristic crown at 12 o’clock. And I quickly discovered that back in the early 1960s, the original Triton was engineered as a hardcore diving watch, and manufactured by a famous supplier to the French Army. More astoundingly, it was then priced higher than the Rolex Submariner.
This is probably the most casual hands-on you will read from HODINKEE, as it all started on a comfortable couch in Geneva, the day before the SIHH. Ben and I met the CEO of the reborn Triton company by chance; not only did he show us the new offerings, he also had an amazing vintage Spirotechnique on his wrist. This very watch was extremely meaningful to him and the company, as it was the starting point of his adventure with Triton, one of the many watchmakers that disappeared in the 1970s during the Quartz Crisis. For us, it was also a nice occasion to handle one of the most renowned French dive watches, which was only sold in dedicated diving shops under the tagline: “It owes nothing to fashion and everything to our experience with diving.” Furthermore, if you look at the technical catalogs, you realize that the Triton was actually more expensive than a Rolex Submariner – something hard to imagine nowadays.
The Triton was launched in 1963, a full decade after the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, which preceded the Rolex Submariner by a year. This timeline is not a coincidence, as commercial, recreational and sport diving enjoyed significant growth after the invention of the Aqua-Lung by Jacques Cousteau in 1943. Cousteau, also famous for his underwater movie The Silent World, was even more closely linked to the Triton, since all those watches were offered in the Spirotechnique dive shops that he had set up with the Air Liquide company, to cater the needs of the professional divers. The Triton was developed by a retired colonel in the French Air Force – Jean René Parmentier – and manufactured by the French supplier Dodane, known for providing many Type 20 chronographs to the French military.
Spirotechnique emphasized the diving capacity of the Triton, which offered three types of rotating bezels calibrated in minutes, meters and feet. More importantly, the crown –often the weak point of diving watches– was protected from accidental bumps that might allow water to enter the case; the French brand ZRC had similarly chosen a crown at 6 o’clock (article in French) for its most resistant diver, the Étanche Grands Fonds 300m. This rare feature was preserved in the re-edition, although the case size increased from the original 37mm diameter to a more modern 40mm. The angular case shape was kept as well; very reminiscent of the later Rolex Oysterquartz, which I mean as a compliment. The watch is surprisingly slim, at 10mm, which is significantly thinner than many other dive watches; this was done specifically to improve wearability.
The modern version hast many improvements over the original, with an increased water resistance from 200m to 500m, and the addition of a helium release valve, placed at 3 o’clock (where you would normally find the crown). Super-LumiNova takes the place of the tritium used in the original, for the dial and handset, and the plexiglass crystal has been changed for a modern sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. Similarly, a sapphire bezel insert replaces the original bakelite part, while the font remains the same. Lastly, the newer version of the Triton is now available on an integrated bracelet, while its predecessor was only fitted on a strap (which makes its former price premium over the Submariner on its Oyster bracelet even more inexplicable).
Both the vintage and modern Triton rely on an outsourced automatic caliber: initially it was the ETA 2772, while the modern iteration uses the Soprod A10, which gets a higher finishing and dedicated engravings on its rotating rotor (the Soprod represents an alternative to the ETA 2892). It is a workhorse movement, extremely reliable and boasting a 42 hour power reserve. Its quickset date is very convenient, and the alternating black/red date a nice –and unexpected– nod to the vintage world.
A major change actually relates to the branding: the brand Triton was obviously revived from the dead, a fitting destiny if you are into Greek mythology –Triton is indeed the the son of the sea god Poseidon and the messenger of the sea, something adventurous divers might find appealing. Yet, it was not possible to feature the original Spirotechnique name on the dial since the rights now belong to the Auricoste company (which ironically sold its diving watches through the Spirotechnique shops alongside the original Triton, and which is also remembered for its Type 20 chronographs). All this explains the Subphotique neologism, chosen to proudly underline the fact that the new 500m water resistance is below the “photic zone” (the ocean layer where the sunlight can penetrate, typically about 200m in the open ocean).
By now, you know almost everything about this new Triton but there remains a critical characteristic: its pricing. Much as we saw in the 1960s, it is not modest in cost: $5,590 on a rubber strap, and $5,750 on a bracelet. It fell now $2,000 behind a contemporary Rolex Submariner, yet it remains a challenging value proposition – and I am sure many of you will comment that the Soprod caliber can be found inside much cheaper watches.
Not that the finishing of the watch is disappointing in any way – honestly, it is extremely well crafted – but in this price segment it faces strong competition from the Tudor Pelagos, while remaining under the threat of the much cheaper Longines Legend Diver and the many Oris Divers Sixty Five watches. As happened in the 1960s, this watch will appeal primarily appeal to a niche audience that will value its limited production and edgy design, and it is perfectly fine this way too.