As shipwreck dives go, the Hilma Hooker is an easy one. Lying on her starboard side in the sand at the bottom of a coral reef, the sunken drug running freighter is an easy 200-yard swim offshore and the dive bottoms out at 100 feet to the sea floor. This accessibility, the clear, warm water, and the nearly perfect proportions of the wreck itself make it one of the most popular dive sites on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. To avoid the crowds of divers, who stir up silt and scare away the marine life, you have to get up at sunrise and high tail it down the coast road to the rocky beach, suit up and get in the water before other trucks and the dreaded “cattle boats” arrive around 8:00. The reward for this early start is a 240-foot-long ship all to yourself, if you don’t include the fleet of huge tarpon that hang in the shadow of the upturned port gunwale. It then becomes an eerie and fascinating place to explore and, with some imagination, you can pretend you’re a treasure hunter, or a secret agent searching for stolen nukes in the dark bowels of the wreck. Of course, it helps to be wearing an appropriate watch and it was one such morning dive on the Hilma Hooker that I first chose to try out Citizen’s latest top end dive watch, the Promaster 1000M Professional Diver.
Let’s face it, no one needs a dive watch anymore, much less one water resistant to 1,000 meters. But this lack of necessity, in a sense, frees us to have fun with the myriad diver choices out there these days. And there are few more fun than this Citizen leviathan, which I’ve lovingly nicknamed “the Kraken” (Seiko can’t have all the fun with nicknames after all). It is a ridiculously overengineered, unapologetic and uncompromising watch. Its abyssal water resistance rating was confirmed on excursions far deeper than a kilometer strapped to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology’s Shinkai 6500 submersible. And the watch itself isn’t much smaller than that ROV; just consider its size – 52.5 millimeters wide and 21.4 millimeters tall. That’s right, the Promaster 1000M is taller than the lug width of a Rolex Submariner. Shirt cuffs need not apply.
There’s a ritual to suiting up for a dive, one whose repetitive nature feeds one’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and for good reason. Put buoyancy vest on tank, attach regulator, turn air ON, check regulator operation, confirm weights, strap on instruments. Is the air on? Clean mask, pull on fins. Are you sure the air is on? You get the idea. The 1000M Professional Diver easily fits into this regimen, buckled down on my wrist next to my Oceanic wrist compass, to which it is incredibly similar in size. This is a watch that isn’t pretending to work as a daily wear timekeeper. It belongs more to the family of dive wrist gauges, with its massive proportions and extra-long accordion rubber strap, which is designed to compensate for the compression of a wetsuit sleeve at depth. Citizen even packages the watch with an extra rubber strap extension piece for use over a thick exposure suit.
I’m not going to pretend that this “Kraken” performed any better or worse than other dive watches I’ve taken deep. The utter overkill of its engineering means that even on a 100-foot deep wreck dive, it doesn’t break a sweat. And on a 40-minute excursion, the accuracy of its solar-powered quartz movement is fairly irrelevant. The best thing you can say about a dive watch is that it tracked elapsed time and didn’t leak, a pretty simple mission that most do perfectly well. But with diving, there is a certain intangible element that makes some watches a little better than others – to me anyway – instilling an extra measure of confidence. Seeing the reassuring tick of the seconds hand deep beneath the thick domed crystal, catching the nuclear glow of its luminescent dial and hands while exploring the shipwreck’s dark engine room – those of us who enjoy diving with watches will know what I’m talking about.
Citizen is no stranger to building excellent dive watches. Though overshadowed by its Japanese rival, Seiko, among the watch cognoscenti, if you spot any wristwatches on divers anymore, they’re more apt to be Citizens than anything else. That’s because, despite being relatively late to the game, Citizen hit its stride in the 1980s when it introduced its Promaster line. In 1981, the brand released a Professional Diver with a depth rating of 1,300 meters, at the time considered to be the highest water resistance of any production watch. Then, in January of 1985 came the vaunted Aqualand, which represented the pinnacle of “tool” watch design, and possibly the last dive watch to be used as a legitimate diving instrument before the widespread use of dive computers. Many of those early Aqualands, which combined analog and digital displays to indicate elapsed time and dive depth, are still in use today.
Since the ’80s, Citizen has continued to release dedicated dive watches of all shapes and sizes. Their aesthetics have often been polarizing, with cartoonish proportions, odd shapes and, at times, questionable functionality. But they’ve maintained a loyal following through it all. The 1000M Professional Diver represents the latest in this evolution and given its extremes, I’m convinced it exists as a sort of engineering and design exercise, a “concept” piece, if you will. This is a big watch packed with so many details that it begs to be examined up close. The watch has a magnetism to it that is hard to describe. It simply shouldn’t work, but it does, and draws interest from even those who normally don’t look twice at a watch.
The giant case is hewn from Citizen’s SuperTitanium, which is treated with their proprietary Duratect surface coating, and purported to be five times harder than stainless steel, while still possessing all the positive traits of titanium – lightweight, corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic, and anti-magnetic. Citizen has a long history with this alloy, having released what most consider the world’s first titanium-cased wristwatch in 1970. Despite its dimensions, because the case is a perfect cylinder with no strap lugs, it is 52mm across, making it surprisingly versatile on a variety of wrist sizes. The screw-in caseback is engraved to indicate that the watch is suitable for mixed-gas diving, thanks to the helium release valve on the case’s left flank. An additional outer ring is screwed in place, which holds the chunky rubber strap on the watch, more secure than mere spring bars.
The height of the case is where the watch becomes a little less daily wear-friendly, and this can be attributed to the bezel locking mechanism. This ratcheting ring is sandwiched between the bezel and the case itself, adding a full five millimeters to the overall stack height. The ring, which is marked, “FREE” and “LOCK,” with arrows indicating rotational direction does as it says, locking the bezel in position when it is clicked clockwise and releasing it when turned the opposite direction. When unlocked, an orange band is revealed, warning the user that the bezel could be inadvertently turned. The usefulness of this mechanism is questionable. I’ve never had a bezel knocked out of position in years of diving with dozens of watches and the firm, precise counterclockwise ratchet of the bezel seems ample prevention on its own. But together, this winged buzzsaw bezel, with its polished facets and matte surface, and the locking mechanism, are just pure fun to play with.
I usually prefer my watches spring-driven, but for one so singularly focused on hard use, a sturdy quartz movement is appropriate. And the Eco-Drive solar-powered engine in this watch is well proven. The big claim to fame at Baselworld this year when it was released, was that it is the deepest water resistance of any solar-powered watch, which is a fairly dubious distinction given the narrow field of competitors and the arcane nature of this functionality. Regardless of its depth rating, the “power reserve” of the 1000M Professional Diver is a full 18 months (compared to six months for some other Eco-Drives), even if the watch is stored in total darkness, such as a dive locker, or 1,000 meters below the surface of the ocean.
Speaking of total darkness, after sunset one day, we set out for a night dive, hoping to spot some unfurled basket stars, roaming octopi, and hunting tarpon. Navigating on a night dive can be a tricky proposition, given the utter blackness, the 360-degree environment, and the general disorientation of swimming in the small cone of light from a dive torch. The easiest way I’ve found is to take a compass bearing, swim in that direction for a set amount of time, then reverse by 180 degrees and swim back for the same amount of time. At night, this requires vigilant checking of the compass and tracking the time, all while holding a torch in one hand. My dive computer, a Suunto D9, was of little help, since to see its dial required pressing and holding a button to activate its backlight function. So I relied heavily on the luminescent dials of my compass and the Citizen (and my tank pressure gauge). Before descending, I held my dive torch to the dials of the instruments and they glowed for the 47 minutes we were underwater, quite literally guiding our way along the reef and back home again.
One of the things I’ve come to respect about Citizen is the pride the company takes in the quality of its engineering on such a huge scale. It is, by some accounts, the largest watch company in the world, and the sheer number of their SKUs and the variety of their watches is staggering. Yet I’ve yet to hear a single report of quality issues with a Citizen watch and every one I’ve handled, aesthetics nothwithstanding, has been rock solid. The pride they take in the technology of solar charging and satellite-wave timekeeping might not fall into the usual realm of interest for Hodinkee readers, but you have to admire the fervor with which Citizen has pursued these innovations for the sake of building better watches.
According to Citizen, the Promaster 1000M Professional Diver is hand assembled by a dedicated team of watchmakers, following an assembly process that limits production to 35 pieces a day. And the watch does feel incredibly well made. The angled polished facets on the bezel, the polished ring around the caseback, the small screws that hold the timing ring insert in place, even the chunky pin buckle all add up to an impressive overall package. The price reflects the “high end” nature as well. With a suggested retail price of $2,300, this is not your average Citizen diver, nor one you’ll find on the tanned wrists of many tropical dive bums. But then, as I mentioned earlier, this watch feels like more of a statement piece from Citizen, a stake in the ground that shows what they’re capable of.
Does the watch have flaws? Certainly. The aforementioned wearability means it is likely a weekend-only piece for office dwellers. The rather stubby hands and geometric dial markings aren’t as legible as one might hope, though the flourescent orange minute hand is distinctive enough. The strap is incredibly stiff and difficult to put on and take off. I could live without the superfluous engineering bits like the helium valve and bezel lock. But then, this is a dive watch that pulls out all the stops and isn’t pretending to be anything besides the most badass of Citizen’s divers. If you want something more subdued, there are plenty of other ones on offer.
As watch enthusiasts, we often get wrapped up in brand importance, movement provenance, refined aesthetics, and credibility among our peers. But sometimes you get tired of always suiting up in your perfectly patina’d “dot over ninety” vintage Speedmaster, and just want to strap on a giant colorful watch on a thick rubber strap and pretend you’re hunting for stolen nukes underwater in the Caribbean. And for those times, this might just be the perfect watch.
Photos: Gishani Ratnayake