SQUALE Professional 101 ATMOS [Ref. 2002A] Review

BACKGROUND The name ‘SQUALE’, is a variation of the word ‘squalo’, which in Italian means shark. It is a name that has not only been synonymous with quality, as it was once stamped on the cases of Swiss watches from various different makers as a seal of quality, but has become esteemed among collectors of vintage dive watches from the 70s and 80s. SQUALE in past years produced dive watches for many other brands and at one point had even been suppliers to Italy’s Folgore Brigade and the Italian Navy’s Diving Corps.

Despite their Italian roots SQUALE very much pride themselves on being Swiss made and their production is still carried out in Grenchen, Switzerland. Today SQUALE, who are (geographically) based in Milan, Italy are reestablishing themselves having only just recently had a renaissance in 2010. They are continuing to produce past models, but are also focused on introducing new models which share not only characteristics of past models but also NOS (new old stock) cases, dials and handsets of the past. However these models house current Swiss mechanical and quartz movements. The Professional 101 ATM 2002A is one such new model.

The 101 ATM came in a distinctive blue satin case with a soft blue satin lining. I’ve not seen a SQUALE presentation box before, but this immediately felt that it belonged to the brand and that perhaps they’d always presented their watches in such a manner. Inside the box was the usual paperwork and warranty card.

The 101 ATM has a distinctive vintage look that collectors of vintage divers will instantly recognize. Its case design and stepped bezel system was used not only for watches from SQUALE such as the 100 ATMOS (circa 70s) and its many variants, but for so many other great names like BLANCPAIN for their Fifty Fathoms ‘1000m’ (circa 60s) or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s MEMOVOX (early 70s).

This distinct style that in many ways belongs to SQUALE is also memorable for so many other dive watches. The 101 ATM by today’s trends would be considered a ‘dress diver’. It has a charm that is both elegant and sporty and is one of only a few 1000m divers that could easily be worn with dress attire.

DIAL & HANDS The 101 ATM has a clean matt black dial with white minute markers and polished applied markers; the tips of the markers have been applied with lume. There’s a white date wheel at 3 o’clock, which has been framed in white. Personally I would have preferred a black date wheel with a white frame. There is some text on the dial referring to the model ‘101 ATM 2002A’ plus the SQUALE name with the ‘VON’ logo and shark motif. It seems like a lot going on, but it has been designed in such a way as to be as unobtrusive as possible.

I love the sword handset set, the orange minute hands really pops from the dial and rectangular pointer of the second hand a personal favorite.

43mm x 53mm (lug to lug) 316L Swedish steel *construction finished with a lovely high polish. I think this case would look even more stunning with a brushed finish! There’s a very subtle serial number engraving on the left side of the case written in italics. It’s really small and really faint; you could almost miss it or mistake it for a slight scuff on the case side. Nevertheless it shows care and attention detail, which is always appreciated.

* I have to admit I have very little personal experience with ‘Swedish Steel’. So I did a little reading up on it. Apparently because electric furnaces are used rather than coal-fired furnaces the steel has fewer impurities. The raw Swedish iron ore also contains fewer impurities to start with.

BEZEL The 101 ATM utilizes SQUALE’s famous snap-on rotary bezel, a rotational divers bezel, which was in fact designed in such a way that only when pressed into the case is it free to move, but I since discovered that it also turns pretty easily without being pushed into the case and is less fiddly to use in this (more traditional) manner, at least by me. When clicking through its cycle I found it to have 90 clicks for one full rotation as opposed to a 60 or 120 click cycle.

Typically bezels are designed to have either one or two clicks per minute; although the amount of clicks per minute makes little overall difference when it comes to setting dive time. What is important is whether or not the bezel lines up nicely at 12 o’clock, which the 101 ATM does do. However in order to line it up precisely I had to maneuver it between clicks, so at a half click. I tried lining it up again with the bezel pushed down as well, which was also difficult to do. Not really ideal, but it lined up nevertheless. ;)

The movement of the bezel is nice and firm, there’s a nice ratcheting sound when it’s being turned. The fit of the bezel is lovely and tight with zero slop. The design of the bezel is a specialized design that SQUALE and others using their cases have been utilizing for decades. The bezel is constructed from polished steel with an acrylic insert; both are unfortunately prone to scratching.

CROWN The crown is positioned at 4 o’clock. This is considered by some to be the optimal position, as it won’t easily interfere with a divers wrist or hand movements. This is a signed crown with Squale’s famous ‘VON’ crown motif, which has been finished with a high polish to match the case. The crown stem is rock-solid; the stem itself is nice and wide. Its movement when opening and closing and setting of the time and date was most pleasurable!

CASEBACK The 101 ATM has a domed caseback, which rises up to meet a flat surface at its top, where a circular etching can be found. The design of the etching takes on the form of a wave pattern with the ‘Squale’ shark motif at its bottom. A number of details can be seen inscribed there: Specifications such as 316L, 101 ATMOS, Sapphire crystal and Swiss Made.

CRYSTAL The 101 ATM is fitted with a 3.5mm thick Sapphire crystal. This is a flat crystal with anti-reflective treatment on its inside. I’ll always give my vote for domed crystal, but the flat crystal works nicely especially if like me you consider this a ‘dress diver’.

As its name indicates the 101 ATM is water resistant to 1000 meters, 1010.3 meters to be precise. Even though scores of divers these days have a water-resistance of 1000m or higher, what I still find impressive about the 101 ATM is that its water-resistance was achieved using the exact same case technology as its predecessors have used almost 40 years ago.

I think I mentioned the BLANCPAIN Fifty Fathoms, which shared the SQUALE 100 Atmos case. To my knowledge this was Blancpain’s first 1’000m rated diver and in fact one of the first 1’000m dive watches ever produced. Blancpain weren’t to release anything with a such a depth rating for another 40 odd years, when in 2009 they released the 1500m ‘500 Fathoms’ (dartboard). For the sake of interest the accolade for the first 1000m mechanical diver goes to the Olleh & Wajs ‘Caribbean 1000’. Please correct me if I’m wrong, though ;)

The ETA 2824-2 Self-winding movement, is a Swiss made caliber. It is possibly one of, if not the most widely used mechanical Swiss calibers in the watch industry today. It is a reliable and robust movement, a great choice for a diver. I’m not sure if SQUALE do anything with theirs, such as regulation or adding their own rotors? I think not.

The 101 ATM has Swiss C3 SuperLuminova treated outer tips of its applied markers, not the whole markers, so not too bright! This still gives enough lume to distinguish them in low light, but this is by no means lumes freak’s watch. Lume has also been applied to the 101 ATM’s hour, minute and seconds hands. I would rate the lume at average.

The 101 ATM comes supplied on a vanilla scented, Italian, natural rubber strap. The strap has lovely textured pattern on its upper side. It comes un-sized; in order to size it you simply cut of the rubber from either one or both ends according to you wrist size. In my experience these straps usually have grooves on the back around 1/2 an inch apart to help guide those of us who are less dexterous with such tasks, the 101 ATM’s strap doesn’t have these, though.

CLASP The 101 ATM has a trip-lock clasp with two lateral pushers. The clasp is the only part of the watch that is not polished; it has an attractive brushed finish on its top and a satin finish on its underside. The part of the clasp that flips over at the top is polished though, and has been engraved with the SQUALE shark motif. The fit, finish and overall operation of the clasp is excellent. If I had to liken it to something I’d encountered before, it’s very similar to those used by Oris for their earlier TT1 divers straps.

The 101 ATM has all the usual functions of a divers watch; a rotatable divers bezel, reasonable lume, a reliable movement with date functions, a comfortable and practical strap and buckle and a water-resistance of 1000m.

BUILD Something that Squale hold in the highest regard is the fact that they are a Swiss watch company, albeit with some Italian heritage. Their watches are made and assembled in Switzerland and house Swiss mechanical movements. The fit finish and overall build quality of the 101 ATM reflected this in every way. Everything on the watch was as it should be; the watch was nicely put together. The only area where I have to say I was left a feeling a little surprised with was the bezel as it didn’t line up very easily.

The 101 ATM boasts a 316L Stainless Steel construction fitted with a highly scratch resistant sapphire crystal. It houses a tough and reliable mechanical Swiss movement. But this isn’t really what I’d call a tool, not by today’s standards anyway. All the polished surfaces and its acrylic bezel might need some occasional maintenance if you want to keep the watch in tip-top condition.

950€ or ~1330USD is in my opinion a fair price for an all Swiss made timepiece that comes with such a background. It’s not too far off what mint vintage examples go for. The SQUALE name is known by most collectors, but is not yet known well outside these circles, so I wouldn’t expect to pay much more than this. There weren’t any extras with the 101 ATM. SQUALE might consider a spare snap on bezel in a 2nd color or perhaps a second strap to add a little more value.

CONSIDER There isn’t much out there that is comparable to the SQUALE 101 ATMOS. I spoke with an OceanicTime reader, who was struggling between buying the 101 ATMOS or the TUTIMA DI 300 (my apologies for the lateness of this review). Anyway I think the DI 300, which is a little more expensive and on a bracelet is a worthy contender for your cash. If you love the look and are on a budget, check out the HELSON Totuga.

For me the SQUALE name has been one that has intrigued me as collector of dive watches for many years. Not being a collector of vintage watches, though I had never made an attempt to actually acquire one. I did however envy those who were lucky enough to track down a mint 100 ATM or score a NOS Tiger Shark, but again, and I think this is because of my buying habits, which typically consisted of me only buying new watches and mostly from ADs, I made little attempt at adding a SQUALE to my collection. Then last year I heard of SQUALE’s rebirth and plans to start producing new watches in the same vein as they had been doing decades earlier. This immediately struck a chord with me. It seemed that I might be adding one to my collection after all. Finally I could see what all the fuss was about.

So what’s the allure with this small Italian, Swiss Watch Company? I have mentioned already SQUALE’s impressive past, which includes some big names like Blancpain and JLC, and SQUALE’s historical role in the Swiss watch making industry. These factors alone are enough to make a collector sit up and pay attention. But at the end of the day it’s the watches themselves and their designs that in world where everyone is trying so hard to recreate the same looks as those that the 101 ATMOS is a direct decedent of that do the real talking!

So are these just watches for collectors? Absolutely not! This is the beauty of SQUALES’ rebirth; they appeal just as much to those, who know, love, remember and revere the brand just as much as they do to people like myself, who have a new found appreciation and respect for what they are doing. The designs, the construction and the technologies used by SQUALE today carry just a much weight as those of similarly priced and better known Swiss brands. But not only this they are of a unique and original design and in my opinion the 101 ATM is as authentic a retro diver as there is!

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