BACKGROUND While ZRC is able to trace its roots as far back as 1917 when Joseph Rochet and his partner Edmond Zuccolo first established the brand in Geneva and Annecy, it wasn’t until 1963 - some four decades on, that the idea to create a watch that would meet the needs of the professional divers of Lake Annecy was conceived and the Grands Fonds 300 was born!
There were a number iterations of the GF over the years, however it was the version that was used by the French Navy between 1963 and 1974 that became such an icon. After of an absence of more than 40 years, ZRC has once again re-positioned itself as a purveyor of professional dive watches with the reissue of their iconic Grands Fonds 300.
As you will go on to read, all the original GF’ signature design elements have been retained while the watch itself has been modernized and endowed with several new innovations reinforcing its intent as a serious divers watch all the while paying homage to its diving heritage.
DIAL It’s all here, the wide ‘Magnum’ handset and oversized circular seconds indicator, the massive triangular logo with large Z.R.C text running across its bottom. The GF 300’s face is just one of its distinguishing characteristics, however it is one that ultimately lends itself best to use as a diving instrument thanks to its excellent use of contrast. Besides this, ascetically, it just looks so cool and so evocative of diving.
LUME It is not purely the vast quantity of lume that has been used for the GF’s dial and bezel markers nor the excellent quality of lume used that gives it its exceptional level of luminosity but how the lume has been used to highlight each of the many dial and bezel markings so that they can be easily distinguishable from one another so that there is no ambiguity when it comes to reading the dial in poor lighting conditions. I would rate the lume at excellent.
MOVEMENT The GF 300 is powered by (pound for pound) one of the most reliable Swiss made automatic mechanical movement that there are, the ETA 2824-2 with 28,000 v/h and a power-reserve of approx. 38hrs. There is no mention of it but I would imagine that the movement has been regulated by ZRC’s watchmakers.
CASE The case which has an almost diamond-like shape to it, is in Stainless steel in a brushed finish with polished and beveled edges. Because the crown is located at 6 o’clock the GF casts a lovely clean silhouette.
BEZEL Apart from its quirky markings with triple-dots at 12 and double-dots at 3, 6 and 9 recalling the original, the GF’s bezel boasts ZRC’s new patented ECS™ Easy clean system, a unique system for cleaning the inside of the bezel by circulating fresh water that dilutes and evacuates any sea salt that has built up –
an issue that was encountered by the mine clearance divers of the Marine Nationale during their many dives. Salt crystallizing in the gaps between the bezel and case could impede the bezel’s rotation, which for reference has a precise, firm yet springy 60-click cycle.
This isn’t a function that will likely ever be used by the desk-divers of us, but that’s not say that it isn’t appreciated. Besides this it’s a pretty cool aesthetic detail.
CROWN As mentioned, above the GF’s winding crown is positioned at 6 o’clock. While not unheard of, watches with unusual crown placements at either 6 or 12 o’clock eliminate the possibility of the crown causing discomfort by digging into the wrist while vastly reducing any chance of them being accidentally interfered with.
Practically, time-setting can be a little fiddly especially when you consider that you must set the time functions (for want of a better expression) in an arse-about-face manner, but it’s a small price to pay.
In addition to this, the GF’s crown has an additional safety feature, the CPS™ Crown protection system, a 100% fail-safe system that is guaranteed thanks to the GF’s exclusive strap system that uses retractable lugs, so that it is impossible to immerse the watch in water without screwing the crown back into its original position. If the crown is not screwed down, the strap cannot be correctly re-positioned and so the watch cannot be worn.
CRYSTAL The ZRC Grands Fonds has been fitted with a Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on its inside. The crystal has a slight dome it and cambered edges.
BACK A solid brick of a Stainless steel caseback has been securely screwed to the back of the watch. In the center is the ZRC crown logo, around the outside is some text outlining a few of the watch’s key features.
WR The GF 300 has 300 meters of water-resistance; a no brainer when we consider that this is faithful re-edition of the original. While professional divers watches continue push the boundaries of water-resistance, I have always felt that any diver that is worth its salt should have at least meet 300 meters of WR.
BRACELET The new Grands Fonds 300 is equipped with an automatic adjustable steel bracelet, that allows it to be worn over a diving suit. This unique embedded spring system automatically adapts to the diameter of the wearer’s wrist for unparalleled comfort. No adjustments are required, as two links on either side of the case extend to accommodate the new diameter.
CLASP While the claps is technically quite a basic solution that simply covers a bar at one end and a small hook / hinge at the other; it looks clean and elegant, works well and keeps the watch securely on your wrist. I did wonder if the same system was used for the original GF?
FIT & FINISH The GF’s production was carried out using the very latest in Swiss watchmaking technologies. Its overall fit and finish reflects this. It is, in a word - superb! Beautifully beveled edges meet finely brushed surfaces. While the precise yet firm action of the bezel and the stability of the winding crown give confidence; the immaculately executed dial, precisely engineered components have all been carefully and skillfully assembled by hand. I cannot find fault; it’s as if ZRC have been manufacturing the GF 300 non-stop for the past 4 decades!
ON the WRIST The GF measures 40.5mm at its widest point (across the middle) by 13.85mm thick with a lug to lug measurement of 49.2mm. On paper the watch sounds quite modest, but it in reality, it looks and feels a lot bigger on the wrist. On its metal bracelet the GF weighs 210 grams. The addition of chamfers to the case and strap ensemble makes it very comfortable to wear. The large retractable links at the top of the bracelet also give the watch the illusion of being much bigger than it is, so it never really feels that small.
VALUE The Grands Fonds 300 featured here is the more special of two versions that are available from ZRC. Its MSRP is 3390€. A second ‘’Sport Chic’’ version has an MSRP of 2890€ on the steel bracelet or 2490€ on a leather band. Mechanically both watches are the same. However the ‘’Sport Chic’’ version lacks the dramatic hands and dial markers of the reissue.
Some might argue that 3390€ is a lot for a watch that is essentially only powered by an ETA 2824. However when we consider the huge investment that ZRC made for the development of the new GF 300 collection and the fact that no less than three new divers watch innovations were engineered for it, its price makes more sense.
If you want all the drama of the reissue you’re going to have to pay a bit of a premium for it, but it’s definitely going to be the more exclusive of the two. By comparison the Sport Chic version could be considered a bit of a bargain.
CONSIDER Several key Swiss dive watch brands from the late 50s, 60s and 70s have been reborn in the past few years or so. AQUADIVE, DOXA, JENNY and SQUALE are four such retro-brands that offer excellent modern interpretations of past models - while BLANCPAIN, LONGINES, OMEGA, TUDOR and VULCAIN have also re-released models from the same golden-age of dive watches.
The latest to join them is the TRITON Subphotique (the closet comparison to the GF 300 that there is), which has a similar 60s design and its winding crown positioned at 12 o’clock. Its MSRP is 5350€ (without a bracelet). However, despite an HEV, a slightly higher water-resistance and being powered by an A10; imho, the GF 300 is the better looking and more technical divers model of the, two.
OVERALL When I learned of a modern reissue of the GF 300 bearing all the design hallmarks of the original, but updated with new features so that it was technically superior in every way, my interest was piqued and you could say that I quickly became seduced by the GF’s charms.
When I finally got to experience one of the watches first hand and put one on my wrist, I wasn’t disappointed, it looked and felt fantastic – far exceeding my expectations, but more importantly it had loads of wrist presence.
While the trend for vintage reissues is here to stay, only a handful of them warrant the kind of attention that the ZRC Grands Fonds 300 deserves, it is certainly one of the most interesting reissues of late and is hopefully only the first chapter of ZRC’s new beginning. While the watches can’t be bought that easily outside of France, it is worth going the extra mile to acquire one, for serious collectors, it’s a must!