Summary: The DSW G.A.3 dive watch is a paradox. It has a serious 1,000 meter depth rating but it seems more suited to sport or casual wear. It looks good on the wrist, however, and for many owners that may be all that matters.
The dive watch crowd is an interesting bunch.
They are probably among the most avid and obsessive watch collectors around. Take a quick glance through any of the forums and you’ll quickly learn that dive watch fans have very strong views on the subject.
I’m what’s called a “desk diver”; that is, someone who appreciates a good dive watch but whose only connection to salt water is when I gargle with the stuff, trying to cure a sore throat.
I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of dive watch fans are desk divers of one type or another and indeed, they are what keep the many boutique dive watch manufacturers in business.
Let’s face it — professional divers in the 21st Century rarely depend on a mechanical wristwatch, preferring instead the use of very specific types of electronic dive instruments.
But, for purposes of watch collecting, who cares? The basic rule is this: if you like it, it’s good. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
At least that’s the theory; the reality is that secretly (or overtly), most watch fanciers really do care what others think. But that’s another story…
I do know what looks good on my wrist and I’m what might be called an eclectic collector, with watches ranging from cheap quartz Timex Explorers to vintage Russian chronographs in my watch box.
So when DSW (Dive Systems Watches) sent a DSW G.A.3 sample over for a review, I thought “Why not?”
Just by way of disclosure, I don’t own this watch and I’ll be sending it back after the review. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion about it…
DiveSystem Group and the DSW G.A.3
DSW is a division of the DiveSystem Group (Italy), which makes all sorts of equipment for skin diving — stuff I know not much about and probably will never need. The DSW G.A.3 is their first wristwatch offering and it is being produced in a limited edition of 199 units.
DSW named the watch after an Italian midget submarine raid on the port of Alexandria in World War II. The G stands for “Gamma”, the name of the operators of the submarine. The A3 is for “Alessandria 3”, the third mission of the team in Alexandria.
UPDATE: DSW said that they chose the name G.A.3 “because we are the official supplier of the Marina Militare, December 2011 (when we officially presented the watch) was the 70th anniversary of the operation.”
You can read all about the raid in this paper entitled “Midget Submarines of the Second World War” (.pdf) by Paul Kemp. How the DSW G.A.3 watch came to be named after the mission is a bit of a mystery, but in the end, it’s irrelevant to the wristwatch itself.
It’s also not clear whether DSW will be offering other wristwatch designs in the future; I would imagine that is a decision that will be made once the company can evaluate the success of the G.A.3 model.
The DSW G.A.3 Wristwatch
OK, so let’s take a closer look at the DSW G.A.3 wristwatch. I have a feeling that true dive watch aficionados may think the G.A.3 is more of a “style” diver than a true dive watch, but the 316L stainless steel case does have a depth rating of 1,000 meters (100 bar or 3,300 feet). That’s serious dive watch territory in anyone’s book. And DSW “guarantees” that rating.
Usually, 1km dive watches are big, hulking brutes, but the G.A.3 definitely has style. In fact, it looks great on the wrist, with a nice combination of art, science and ruggedness. The short lugs and angled case are the hallmarks of the design and the slightly recessed face, with its dark gray sunburst appearance, adds to the style factor.
I particularly like the big crown at 4 o’clock. It’s easy to grab and it turns on large, hefty screw threads, unlike any I’ve seen before. These aren’t those tiny little eight threads per millimeter TAG Heuer Aquaracer threads; they’re big, hefty one turn per millimeter threads that defy bungling. You’d have to be a real ham-fisted wristwatch owner to mess these up, and that’s a good thing.
The smooth feel of the crown and its ease of use make a difference here and add to the rugged overall feel of the watch.
The G.A.3 includes an automatic helium escape valve at the 8 o’clock position. My feeling is that these helium valves are basically an affectation for 99.99% of the owners, who will never need to worry about escaping helium. If you do, you probably will not be wearing a G.A.3 or any other mechanical watch, for that matter. But, it’s there and it makes a good talking point, I suppose.
The case has a nicely brushed finish which gives it a not-too-rugged, not-too-dressy look. The case measures 45 mm across, not counting the crowns, and 51 millimeters lug-tip-to-lug-tip. While that may seem big, the watch wears smaller than it really is. The case is only about 13 mm thick, which is actually pretty amazing for a 1,000 meter rated water resistance.
Those short lugs are drilled through and the very nice leather strap that comes on the watch fits between the 22 mm lug width with screwed-in bars. The watch comes with a tool kit that includes a pair of tiny precision screwdrivers to swap out the strap for the neoprene version that is also included in the kit.
More DSW G.A.3 Details
The DSW G.A.3 does not come with a metal bracelet, which is a disappointment I think at this price range. A 1,000 meter dive watch is supposed to be a serious tool, but I doubt very much that anyone would want to take the beautiful made-in-Italy leather strap very far underwater. I wouldn’t, anyway. I can envision the G.A.3 on a chunky stainless steel bracelet but alas, it’s not to be had.
UPDATE: DSW said that they decided to not use a steel bracelet. “We tried it and the watch was losing its style. We decided to make the Hypalon neoprene bracelet instead, perfect for the sea and exclusive (no other watch has it).”
The watch back is very flat, which is both a plus and minus, depending on your wrist shape. This is a heavy beast at 143 grams including the leather strap (which probably doesn’t weigh more than a few of said grams). So again, depending on the shape of your wrist, the watch can feel a bit top-heavy, but it’s pretty comfortable on my 7.125″ wrists.
And, I will definitely admit that the watch looks great when it’s mounted up and flashed in front of a crowd. People notice this watch, probably due to the angular styling, which seems to catch the light in a very complimentary way.
The sapphire crystal is said to be 4 mm thick. It does not have an anti-reflective coating on either side, so there are quite a few stray reflections that can be seen, depending on the light source and direction.
Lume and Hands
The face of the G.A.3 has a nice design, but I do think it’s more biased more towards style than function. The lume dots seem slightly undersized for the overall proportions of the watch, as do the hands, which are a bit too slim and pointed for my taste. But the dots are nicely surrounded by metal (assume stainless steel?) edging and they are raised from the surface of the watch face.
This, combined with the recessed inner circle, gives the watch a very interesting “3D” appearance that catches a lot of light.
The watch is fairly easy to read, however, helped by the contrast between the C1 SuperLuminova-coated hands and the dark gray background. The lume is only so-so; a sub-$200 Seiko Monster will basically blow it out of the water, so to speak…but then again, the Monster is renowned for its nuke-you-ler lume.
I think if the lume dots and hand width were pumped up by about 20% in all dimensions, the proportions and lume surface area would be better suited to the design, but that’s just me.
Bezel and Engraving
One feature I’m not fond of on the G.A.3 is the acid-engraved (Corrected from original “laser etched”) markings used on the bezel, the crown signature and the watch back. I’m not a big fan of (this type of engraving) because it seems an inexpensive method of marking a watch and it usually looks, well, cheap. I think it’s out of place on the DSW G.A.3 with its $1,900.00 list price, especially considering the absence of a metal bracelet.
But, perhaps it doesn’t bother others as much as it does me. At least the etching is well done. The unidirectional bezel moves through 100 clicks around the dial and the 12 o’clock dot lines up precisely, as it should.
The bezel has a good feel, although I’d guess that the “clicker” is plastic or nylon (UPDATE: DSW says there are no plastic parts and the detent clicker is steel). It has a slightly spongy feel.
The watch back is also engraved with a rather muddy image of the midget submarine coming through the net in the harbor of Alexandria. This watch is number 30 of the 199 special editions; the first watch of the series was presented to Emilio Bianchi, the last living Italian Navy diver who participated in the mission.
Movement and Operation
The G.A.3 uses the ubiquitous ETA 2824-2 movement. The date window is set at 4:30 and it has a white background, which, I have to say, bothers me somewhat. I am not fond of offset date windows and, when combined with the horizontal text along the bottom third of the watch face, the angled date window mars the proportions in my opinion.
I would have preferred the date window replacing the lume dot at the 3 o’clock position, which would have kept the proportions more equally distributed. But again, this is personal preference and apparently not bothersome to others as much as it is to me.
Just look at pretty much any Hamilton watch as an example; the company is famous (infamous) for using the any color date window you’d like, as long as it’s white, on just about every watch, no matter the face color and how much it contrasts (or conflicts).
The operation of the 2824-2 movement in the G.A.3 is as you’d expect. It hacks and has a quick date set mode. This watch is fairly accurate, gaining a few seconds per day in use.
By the way, the seconds hand has a red tip, which is a subtle but appreciated feature. It matches the red used for the very tiny five-second print marks placed just above each of the lume dots.
The DSW G.A.3 is a very nice-looking dive watch with a good combination of style and function. I’d prefer an engraved bezel and case back and I would also expect a metal bracelet at this price, but that may be just me and, I’ll confess, I’m a bit of a cheapskate when it comes to watches.
The problem is that there are so many modern boutique dive watch manufacturers out there today, all vying for that dive watch dollar (or Euro). There are some amazing watches available, although one has to be careful, as an industry shakeout is sure to come one of these days. It’s hard to believe that the market can support so many boutique manufacturers.
Then you also have to consider that there are many established name brand watch manufacturers who have made their reputation with dive watches. Of course, the prices run the gamut from very inexpensive up to multi-thousand dollar prestige brands. The DSW G.A.3 certainly offers a lot of style and it has an overall very solid feel. It also looks great on the wrist. Whether or not the company will be able to get the message out to potential customers remains to be seen.
In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think of this wristwatch. More information can be found at Dive Systems USA.