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Rolex Sub 6538 Vs. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Milspec1... Vs. Enicar Seapearl 600?

  1. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 9, 2013

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    I'm taking a page from the www.thesmokinggun.com playbook on this one...

    I like divers from the 50's. Still saving my pennies for a Rolex Sub 6538, but I haven't made it to $45,000 yet. Heck, I haven't even made it to the amount of an offer that might reasonably be entertained...

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    And I had a little trouble coming up with $30k for the last 1950's Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Milspec 1 that came to market.

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    But I had an extra $400 lying around, so I scratched my early diver itch by picking up two Enicar divers - the Seapearl 600 (ca. 1957-58) and the Healthways 100 Fathoms (1955-56).

    The Seapearl is in nice shape, with a tasty copper and black patina, running well.
    ("Ultrasonic" refers to the method used to clean the parts of the movement before assembly.)

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    The Healthways 100 Fathom is, well... a project:

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    The Healthways 100 is a co-branded version of the original Seapearl 600, sold in the U.S. The same model, branded "Seapearl 600," is believed to be the Enicar model worn by the members of the Swiss expedition that tackled Mt. Everest and Lhotse (the highest unclimbed peak in the world at the time) in 1956; after that, just about every watch that Enicar produced had "Sherpa" or "Sherpas" written on it somewhere.

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    *Curious side note: Albert Eggler, the Swiss expedition leader, refers to the watches in his account (or at least in the English translation) as "the Enicar automatic wrist-watches, some of them fitted with a thermometer" (p. 35). It is commonly held that the watches were in fact manual-wind Seapearl 600's.

    Inside both the Seapearl 600 and the Healthways 100 Fathom beats the 17-jewel AR 1010, with a reputation for durability. "AR" for Ariste Racine, founder of Enicar (Racine spelled backwards). I wasn't able to wrestle the Seapearl's case open with my rubber ball, but I did pop open the bayonet case of the Healthways 100. The cases are Piquerez (EPSA) products, from the pre-Super-Compressor days. The Healthways is dated December 1955.

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    The back of the case looks as if it has seen a few decades in a junk drawer:

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    The Seapearl 600's case back is quite a bit more sharp, and includes the word "Sherpas" as a reference to the recent Everest expedition:

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    While researching these Enicar divers, I came across some interesting reports from the U.S. Navy.

    In 1958, Bulova was developing a new submersible watch for the Navy. While the Bulova was being developed, two watches - the Rolex Sub and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms - had been approved by the Bureau of Ships for interim purchase by the Navy. The U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit (EDU) tested these watches against the still-in-development Bulova. They also tested the Enicar Seapearl 600, because it was being used by some Navy divers and had received positive reports from the field.

    A report entitled "Miscellaneous Comments on Several Submersible Wrist Watches" from May 1959 has been cited on other fora in posts about Enicar dive watches.

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    This report, available here, "supplements earlier tests previously reported" and gives the results of subsequent tests of the Enicar Sherpa Diver 600, a model with rotatable bezel. The report states that the Bureau of Ships had recently updated the list of approved submersible wrist watches, retaining the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and adding two Enicar models, the Seapearl 600 and the Enicar Sherpa Diver 600.

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    Though the EDU felt that the Sherpa Diver 600 was preferable to the Seapearl because of its rotatable bezel and similar price, they had good things to say about the Seapearl:

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    The mention of the EDU Evaluation Report 1-59 inspired me to seek out that document, to see how the Seapearl 600 did against the legendary Rolex and Blancpain. After much poking around dusty corners of the internet, the Defense Technical Information Center directed me to the National Technical Information Service, and a few days later the following report - excerpted here for perhaps the first time on the internet - arrived in the mail:

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    The abstract had me hooked immediately:

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    What?! Delete the Rolex Submariner from the Navy's approved list? Add the Enicar Seapearl 600? Madness!

    Man, that didn't come across in the "Miscellaneous Comments" put out nine months later. Let's dig deeper:

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    Amazingly enough, all the divers testing the watches said - all factors, including cost, considered - that the Seapearl 600 was their first choice.


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    Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. As we know from the "Miscellaneous Comments" of May 1959, the Bureau of Ships was too smart to heed the EDU recommendation to delete the Rolex from the approved list, so some Navy divers ended up with a keepsake that might fetch $45,000 fifty years later, instead of one that would be had for $227.49 on the 'Bay in 2013. ;)

    Oh, I still want a Model 6538 Sub... and a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Milspec1 even more... but for now I'll wear the Seapearl 600 with pride...

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    ... unless there's a chance it might get wet, in which case:

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    :)
     
  2. dsio

    dsio Ash @ ΩF Staff Member Jun 9, 2013

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    Damn! Thanks for posting that, one question, I know some early pieces like my '67 Speedmaster Pro do have some luminescence for a few seconds after you charge them with a bright light and then turn the lights out, is there any glow at all left in this piece if you do the same trick? Really cool to see what the outlines of the 12, 3, 6 and 9 look like.
     
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  3. Privateday7

    Privateday7 quotes Miss Universe Jun 9, 2013

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    Interesting report from Navy. I know which watches are the best for diving, but they must add one more analysis: which watches will add good sum of extra pension to these divers :p. We know for sure it is not Bulova.
     
  4. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 9, 2013

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    I tried recharging the lume but couldn't coax any photons out of it. Here are some additional comments on the Seapearl 600's luminosity from the "Miscellaneous Comments" of May 1959:

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    Seems Enicar slathered on the radium, enough to bring up safety concerns. (Now I'm curious about the Bendix-Friez depth gage.)

    They liked the funky candlestick second hand on the Enicar, though:

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    In light of this comment, it seems clear that the EDU tested a watch with a completely luminous second hand, like the one on the 1955 Healthways 100, above, which also sports completely luminous hour and minute hands. My Seapearl 600 is likely a slightly later model than the test example; the lume on the second hand has been reduced to just the tip, and the hour and minute hands have thin, central slots for lume instead of a completely luminous surface, perhaps to comply with nuclear safety regulations.
     
    red crowned likes this.
  5. ulackfocus

    ulackfocus Jun 9, 2013

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    This is great stuff. :thumbsup:
     
  6. Central Scrutinizer

    Central Scrutinizer hangs out in Joe's garage Jun 12, 2013

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    That is the best $400 spend I've seen for a while. The Seapearl looks stunning! Great post MMMD
     
  7. Central Scrutinizer

    Central Scrutinizer hangs out in Joe's garage Jun 12, 2013

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  8. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 12, 2013

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  9. Ubik

    Ubik Jun 19, 2013

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    A wonderful article - excellent detective work. I've always had a soft spot for Enicars, especially the divers.

    I have to say your uncovering of that EDU document is fantastic. I'd love a copy of it, can you tell me how to go about applying for it?

    Here's a couple more Enicars from a classic catalogue from the Seventies - the British company Chronosport. Chronosport_19.JPG Chronosport_20.JPG
     
  10. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 22, 2013

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    Thanks!

    You could get a copy of the 1958 EDU report from this agency for $30 plus shipping:

    http://www.ntis.gov/

    Or perhaps we could arrange a trade...

    nice catalog... ;)
     
  11. adam78

    adam78 Adam @ ΩF Staff Member Jun 23, 2013

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    Wow, great stuff. I find it hard to believe that the Rolex wasn't waterproof, unless they used someone's personal watch which hadn't had the annual check of the seals and gaskets, or if it had corrosion.
     
  12. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 23, 2013

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    The watches tested were purchased new. The report also states, in the section on "Watertightness" (4.1.2, above) that "this excessive fogging on the underside of the crystal is similar to that noted on other Rolex watches in the field." Yes, this is probably the most surprising information in the report, to Oyster admirers like you and me. I imagine this report would have caused some dismay at Rolex as well; I wonder how seriously Rolex took this report, and whether it had any influence on subsequent improvements in watertightness of the Oyster case.

    Here is some of the information given about each watch:

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  13. Central Scrutinizer

    Central Scrutinizer hangs out in Joe's garage Jun 24, 2013

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    Blancpain Fifty Fathoms $55.00. I wonder what that equates to today. BTW, I forgot to say DIBs on the Enicar :)
     
  14. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jun 24, 2013

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    You don't have to wonder. :)
    Lots of inflation/deflation calculators out there. Here is one from the feds:

    http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

    The 1958 USD had about eight times the purchasing power of today's buck. The purchasing power of $55 in 1958 = $443 today. Therefore I got the Seapearl 600 for a little more than the price of a new one in 1958, corrected for inflation. The Blancpain and Rolex have outperformed inflation by a little bit. ;)
     
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  15. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Jul 21, 2013

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    UPDATE
    I've expanded the Seapearl 600 collection a bit. :)

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    Two fancy-lug Seapearls have been added to the fleet. Both of these have "Seapearl 600" in silver lettering within a black rectangle. The one in the middle of the top row has an EPSA case dated 9-57. It needs a service... runs but doesn't set. On the watch at top left, "Sherpas" is added above "Seapearl 600." That one has had a little polish on the backside but is otherwise in good shape.

    So at least four variants of these early divers.

    The backs demonstrate varying levels of abuse... and what a nylon strap can do to stainless steel:

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  16. dsio

    dsio Ash @ ΩF Staff Member Jul 22, 2013

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    I know right, the detail is awesome, I didn't even know these existed until recently.
     
  17. Central Scrutinizer

    Central Scrutinizer hangs out in Joe's garage Jul 24, 2013

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    I've liked these for a little while now. I'm still trying to figure out how he can find not just one but a whole herd of them :p

    It's like he has some kind of rare watch super power or something :D
     
  18. MMMD

    MMMD unaffiliated curmudgeonly absurdist & polyologist Aug 26, 2015

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    Finally... a Sherpa Diver 600 joins the fleet. :)

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    Edited Aug 26, 2015
    Kmart, lwong, Darlinboy and 5 others like this.
  19. calalum

    calalum Aug 26, 2015

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    Didn't know about those BP Milspec prices. Crazy.
     
  20. michaelmc

    michaelmc Aug 31, 2015

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    that Sherpa is cool as well. very underrated and not many great examples left.