Though most probably know Squale from their affordable Submariner homages, we at worn&wound are fans of the brand for an entirely different reason. There’s no denying that the fanstatic replica watch world today is obsessed with everything “heritage.” Prices for vintage pieces have gone up, long-gone companies are being brought back from the dead (with little to no connection to the past), and countless established brands are digging into their archives to revive discontinued models and designs. Despite the effort, it all feels a bit disingenuous, with marketing departments clearly playing up heritage to sell consumers stories that, more often than not, aren’t true. Squale is different.
Squale’s history stretches back to 1948, when dive enthusiast Charles Von Buren first began assembling replica watches in Neuchatel, Switzerland. The brand saw some serious growth under his tutelage, and throughout the 60s and 70s Squale was a respected leader in the dive replica watch world (in fact, a number of brands, from Doxa to Blancpain, subcontracted Squale to build cases for their replica watches). Later, Von Buren began producing replica watches bearing the Squale name and shark logo, resulting in some of Squale’s most iconic timepieces. In the final decades of the 20th century, the Quartz boom hit Squale hard, as it did many other brands. Though Squale persevered, efforts were refocused on producing affordable quartz models. With that, the brand faded from memory, but never truly went away
In 2010, Squale returned to the spotlight, this time under the Maggi family, Squale’s longtime Italian distributor. They directed production back to automatic dive replica watches, tapping into Squale’s rich past and paying homage to some of their most important historical models (read our review of the Squale 101 Atmos Ref. 2002A). The replica watches Squale makes today aren’t marketing ploys or upsized reinterpretations of a bygone era. What they make are replica watches that very much look and feel as though they were designed (they were) and built in the 60s and 70s, albeit with modern manufacturing processes. (It should be noted that some current models have even used NOS parts.)
2014 has been an especially exciting year for Squale. They introduced the Master at Basel, and working with Jonathan Bordell of Page and Cooper, they created a limited edition Master line using a batch of recently discovered NOS bezels from the 1960s. Squale also introduced the Blue Dial and the Super Matte, two attractive additions to their popular 50 Atmos line.
Today’s review takes a look at the black dial variant of the 50 Atmos (Ref. 1521) line. At approximately $829, the 50 Atmos is an impressive Swiss-made replica watch that, in terms of both style and construction, outsmarts most of the competition. The replica watch being reviewed is from my personal collection, so please excuse any scratches you may see in the photos. With that said, let’s take a closer look.
The 50 Atmos case is a master class in proportion and design. Coming in at approximately 41.5mm wide, with a lug-to-lug height of 48.5mm and a case thickness of 13mm, the 50 Atmos is certainly smaller than most contemporary dive replica watches. The size is further tempered by a prominent bezel, a restrained lug length, and a crown tucked into the case.
Despite its smaller size, the 50 Atmos commands an impressive presence. Though the overall look of the case is quite blocky and angular, the 50 Atmos feels wholly refined: the lugs feature elegant beveling, the bezel boasts a finely machined coin edge (one that allows for a comfortable grip), and the entire case is finished with an attractive mirror polish. When viewed from the top, the case appears nearly symmetrical. Viewed from the side, however, you realize the design’s subtle asymmetry. The side with the crown is angled in a way that further shrouds the crown, while the opposite side is smooth and curved.
Both the case back and the left side of the case are signed with the Squale logo, while the crown bears the Von Buren mark. The case back also gives a rundown of the specs and serial number. The engraving on the side of the case is a bit redundant, though it doesn’t detract from the overall look of the piece (plus, I’m proud to wear the Squale name on my wrist). Older models won’t have this engraving, so if it’s a deal breaker, then I suggest hunting down one of these older variants on the secondary market.
In terms of functionality, the Squale is a joy to wear. The case back and angled lugs fit comfortably on top of the wrist, almost hugging it, in fact. In addition to being nearly flush with the case, the crown is positioned at 4 o’clock, making it nearly unnoticeable when worn. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the 50 Atmos is one of my most comfortable replica watches. The 60-click unidirectional bezel boasts a sure and springy resistance with every turn, and all the markers line up perfectly with no play. And with a water resistance of 500m (hence, the name), the 50 Atmos is appropriate for both work and play.
An interesting feature, and one that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with is the shielded lume-pip. Though it certainly modernizes the piece and adds an interesting visual component to the otherwise old-school looking insert, the shielding seems a bit silly considering the actual pip provides almost no illumination, even when charged. I hope Squale addresses this issue in the future by boosting the illumination without sacrificing the shielding.
Another issue pertains to the crown. Though I love the general integration and placement of the crown, it can be a pain to operate. With the case shrouding much of its graspable surface, I generally have a hard time getting a solid grip, which in turn makes it difficult to engage the threads when screwing the crown back down. Certain crown systems provide a bit of resistance that lets you know when you’ve engaged the threads, and I think that would be a definite functional benefit here. Otherwise, the crown feels solid with no noticeable wobble (something others have complained about on older variants).
Dial, Hands, and Crystal
The dial is a deep matte black with bold painted markers, with each marker fully lumed. The Squale name appears a couple of times on the dial. Right above the hands, we have the Squale logo (same typeface as the engraving on the side of the case) with the Von Buren mark above it and slightly to the left. Right below the hands is the Squale shark logo, as well as the WR designation/model name (50 Atmos) and the word “PROFESSIONAL.”
Like the case, the branding on the dial may feel a bit redundant, but I believe that Squale logo, especially the curved shark, adds to the vintage aesthetic of the diver. The date window appears at the 3 o’clock position, and is outlined by a white border. Though I normally prefer date wheels that match the dial color, the contrasting date wheel works incredibly well and again contributes the retro aesthetic of the piece.
The hands are thick and boxy, with pointed ends. The hour hand is outlined in orange, and the slightly thinner minute hand is outlined in white. The seconds hand is a long needle with a boxed section near the tip. Older variants had the minute and hour hand colors reversed, which is something I definitely prefer. Regardless, the dial is extremely legible and easy to read at a glance. Both the minute and the hour hands are lumed in the center, with the seconds hand lumed in the boxed section.
One of my favorite things about the face of the replica watch is actually the chrome chapter ring. It’s angled slightly toward the dial, which makes for some cool reflections with the dial and creates the appearance of a seamless transition between the dial and bezel.
The black-dialed 50 Atmos is equipped with a flat sapphire with AR coating on both sides of the crystal. I know this has its detractors, but the AR is truly impeccable and further adds to the clarity of an already legible dial. For those worried about scratching the AR, I’ve already subjected my replica watch’s crystal to same careless smacks against doorways and handrails, and so far so good. Other variants of the 50 Atmos come with a slightly domed sapphire crystal with AR coating on the underside of the crystal only.
There isn’t much to say about the movement. The Squale uses the ETA-2824, which we all know as a solid and reliable workhorse. I have heard from several sources, including Jonathan at Page and Cooper, that Squale now has access to top-grade movements, which they’ve begun to use in their replica watches. At the current price point, this would make the 50 Atmos an incredible value, though it seems that older version used a gold-plated elaboré-grade movement. The accuracy on my piece, I’m sad to say, isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s possible my replica watch took a few hits being shipped my way. Others have reported excellent timekeeping with their pieces, and Squale claims they regulate their movements before sending them out the door.
The 50 Atmos comes on an Italian-made rubber strap that is supposed to be resistant to salt water and Ultraviolet rays. The strap is incredibly comfortable, and doesn’t tear at my wrist hair the way some rubber straps do. The buckle, however, is quite the disappointment. It’s poorly machined and roughly finished, and it in no way belongs on a replica watch of this caliber.
The great thing about the 50 Atmos is its versatility. You can dress it up with a nice leather strap strap, or you can dress it down with a NATO; whatever your inclination, it’ll look great. I have been wearing it on a vintage-style leather strap for a while now, and next up with be a cordovan two-piece strap.
You also have the option of getting the 50 Atmos with a beautiful Milanese bracelet. I haven’t been able to try out this combination, but from what I’ve seen posted on forums, it’s a winning union.
The Squale 50 Atmos (Ref. 1521) is a fantastic nod to dive replica watches of the past, capturing the look and feel of everything that made Squale the beloved brand it once was. Sure, there are a few niggles, but the overall package should make it a worthy contender of your hard-earned money. There are very few other Swiss-made dive replica watches that I would consider in this price range, and if Squale does something about lume issue on the bezel, I would even go as far as to say that this is the best sub-1K dive replica watch on the market. With a number of different versions for sale, ranging from different colored dials to different case finishes (the aforementioned “Matte” and this stealthy PVD version, for example), Squale has something for everyone.