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Monday, April 22, 2024

The Aquastar Benthos 500, Back With The Original Central Chronograph

About as esoteric as they come, the Benthos 500 was a chunky scuba diving watch released by Aquastar back in the late 1960s, before the brand became one of the many casualties of the quartz crisis. I won’t get into too much history of the brand as it has already been covered at length. When Aquastar was revived by Rick Marei back in 2020 with the Deepstar, fans of the long-defunct brand almost immediately started hoping and calling for the rebirth of the Benthos line. After spending a few years iterating and improving upon the Deepstar 2020 design, early 2024 would be the time when fans would finally see their Benthos hopes and dreams realised… almost.

An example of vintage Benthos 500 Chronograph

The January release of the Benthos H1 was the watch that we, vintage dive watch enthusiasts, had been waiting for, with one caveat… The hallmark of the original Benthos 500 was its unique complication; a centre-mounted, 60-minute chronograph. A big orange hand that looks like a GMT hand but isn’t, and is operated by a single button (monopusher) to start, stop and reset; it was conspicuously absent on the H1. But, dear reader, if you recall that the name “H1” was short for “Heritage Chapter 1”, the wagering-inclined amongst you should have bet there would be more chapters on the horizon, and today you would have hit the proverbial jackpot.

The Benthos H1 released a few months ago as a time-only dive watch.

The comeback of the Aquastar Benthos 500

Today, Aquastar releases the Benthos 500 Founder’s edition. This one is the real deal, virtually a 1:1 remake of the original Benthos 500, with all its quirky parts intact. The 42mm 316L stainless steel case retains the dimensions of the iconic classic, while being slightly less thick, at 15mm. The lug-to-lug measurement is 47mm, which remains pretty compact compared to the rest of the specs. There is a triple AR-coated flat sapphire crystal protecting the semi-glossy black dial, adorned with large applied hour markers filled with ample Super-LumiNova.

The unidirectional, 120-click ceramic bezel features lume-filled numerals and indices for low-light legibility. There is a screw-down crown that has been moved down to the 4 o’clock position from the 2 o’clock spot on the original. This puts the chronograph monopusher at the 2 o’clock spot which Aquastar says is a more natural position for easy actuation, and if basically every other chronograph in the world is to be believed, they might be right.

Over on the posterior, you will find a screw-down caseback engraved with the Aquastar logo and the word BENTHOS. Of note: the water resistance on this watch has been reduced to 200 metres from the namesake 500 metres of the original. Rick. Marei tells me this was to avoid adding another 3 or 4 millimetres to the thickness of the watch, which would have been required to hit that 500m number. While it would have been nice to see that 500 on there for the sake of historical accuracy, in the name of ergonomics and wearability this was probably the correct decision. Also, take into consideration that the likelihood of anyone diving this watch below 200 metres is basically nil. (Editor’s note: this is not to be considered a challenge.)

The Purpose-Built Movement

The Aquastar Benthos 500’s big new feature is the movement. The difficulty in re-releasing a Benthos has always been the fact that no commercially available modern movement was being produced that supported the combination of a 60-minute central chronograph function with a monopusher layout. So Aquastar knew if they wanted to bring it back, they were going to have to be creative. After three years of development and testing, working in collaboration with La Joux-Perret, Aquastar has finally achieved that goal. The new movement is called the 1MPS. 

Of this new movement and revived Benthos 500, Rick Marei says: “To Aquastar, this is the holy grail of the family, to me personally, this is the highlight of my work in the watch industry.” Considering all his work with Doxa, Aquadive and Aquastar over the years, that is saying a lot. The movement, which has been created over a well-known base (LJP’s chronograph, itself a modification of a 7750 architecture with column-wheel), features centre-mounted hours, minutes and seconds hands and the centre-mounted chronograph hand, and beats at 28,800vph with a 60-hour power reserve. The slow nature of a single 60-minute chronograph counter (there’s no chronograph seconds hand) has earned this complication the fitting nickname “minute creeper.”

The Benthos 500 On Wrist

Aquastar was kind enough to send over a sample watch, and on the wrist, the Benthos 500 Chronograph is exceedingly pleasant to wear for such a chunky dive watch. The lugs have been slightly curved downward compared to the original, and that, in congruence with the relatively short lug-to-lug distance makes it all very comfortable. 15mm thick seems like a lot on paper, but part of that is the rounded case back that nestles down into the wrist and makes it wear like a bit slimmer of a watch. The ISOFrane rubber strap is very comfortable and has the correct ratio of soft and supple: thick and tough. The watch wears exactly like I would expect and want a Benthos to wear.

Let’s discuss that flagship new functionality: the centre-mounted, minute-creeping chronograph. While time did not allow me to test this one out underwater in some real-world diving conditions, I find this complication extremely useful on a day-to-day basis. As I have gotten a little older I find myself squinting at the tiny sub-dials of the standard chronograph, trying in vain to see what they are telling me and sometimes giving up altogether and just timing things with my phone. The large centre hand fixes all of that. Granted, things can’t be timed down to the second, but in real life, the instances where that is needed are virtually non-existent. Okay maybe when making espresso, but that’s it. For all other applications, like boiling a pot of noodles, timing a drive across town, or timing a walk (or jog, if you dare), the single-button, single-hand timer is as simple to use and intuitive as it gets. 

I hope to be able to try this out scuba diving someday. The minute creeper along with the standard timing function of the bezel would allow for timing multiple different things at once and could come in handy. Also, the monopusher can be used underwater, which is an oft-overlooked but critical function of a diving chronograph, if you ask me. 

Final Thoughts

All things considered, this is the Benthos that fans have been waiting for. Available in a limited edition of 300 pieces, it’s priced in line with Aquastar’s other chronograph offerings and features a brand-new manufacture movement. Having spent the R&D time and cost on this new movement, it will be interesting to see what Aquastar does with it next. Whether that means iterating further on the Benthos or possibly licensing the movement to other brands, time will tell. Between the H1 and this new Benthos 500 Chronograph, 2024 has been a Benthos-heavy year so far, and as the kids say, I’m here for it. 

Available now from Aquastar for the pre-order price of USD 2,790, increasing later to USD 3,790.


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