AQUASTAR Benthos HERITAGE ONE [In the Steel]

AQUASTAR, it's a name that is known by anyone who has more than a passing appreciation for the diver's watches of yesteryear. Technological innovators of their time and creators of some of the best loved, best remembered and most dearly missed dive watches from the past century. 

After decades of absence this great name finally came back into being along with their flagship Deepstar Chronograph with its iconic mono-compax dial, followed shortly by the Model 60. 

Both of whom were met with great acclaim and much applause from vintage collectors and enthusiasts who in the same breath as singing their praises would invariably ask, but when will Aquastar's most legendary model make its return?

[A LEGEND] That model was the Benthos 500, a diver's watch that had it all; beauty, brawn and brains, because unlike any other mechanical diver's watch it boasted a unique ability to read dive-time via a centrally placed chronograph hand. 

This watch became an indelible and enduring symbol of dive watch greatness. Today, five decades on it’s still highly sought after, and well preserved examples can fetch as much as 8'000 dollars or more.

[The BENTHOS H1] So it was inevitable that it would return, and perhaps only logical that this celebrated model should return at such an auspicious moment in time as Aquastar's sixtieth anniversary year. For 2023 Aquastar has finally answered the call with the release of the Benthos Heritage One or H1.

[An ELEPHANT] But before we discuss the Benthos H1 we might just as well address the elephant in the room or lack of as the case may be. I am of course referring to the reference model's central flyback chronograph as powdered by the Anton Schild Cal. 1902, that gave rise to one of the most elegant and the coolest means of calculating dive-time. 

And was one of the reasons that the Benthos 500 was so venerated. Operated via a single pusher on the case at 4 o’clock this function has not made it across to the new Benthos H1. And it wasn’t for lack of wanting or trying but simply because there are currently no comparable modern mechanical movements available at the moment.

[NOT a re-edition] Which is why this is called the Benthos Heritage One and not the Benthos 500 2023 Re-Edition. It is the historic reference’s spiritual successor and while it only carries the famous Benthos name and not the 500 suffix it is as faithful and fastidiously executed a recreation as one could ever hope for. So instead of focusing on what the Benthos H1 lacks over the reference model let's take a look at everything it offers above and beyond.

[904L CASE in point] The new Benthos H1 is one of only a few diver’s watches to be made using 904L Stainless Steel rather than the 316L industry norm. What is 904L steel, I hear you ask. It is a grade of steel that is reputed to have a higher tolerance to corrosion than your bog-standard 316L. 

This is because it is alloyed with more nickel and chromium as well as copper. In addition to being more corrosion-resistant, its higher level of chromium is said to give it even more luster than 316L. If you are familiar with 904L steel and you're not some metallurgist then you probably heard about it from Rolex who kind of claim the alloy as their own which it isn't. 

And who also claim that they were the earliest 904L proponents (since 1985) when they started using it for their Sea-Dweller, which they weren't. In fact Omega are purported to have been among the very first watchmakers to adopt 904L steel which they used for the Ploprof in 1972. But perhaps Aquastar used it too. 

Btw 904L also costs more than double that of 316L although I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's due to demand. 316L for example is used in dozens of industries including medicine where 904L’s higher nickel content means that it might not be as suitable.

[FINISH and lines] So how does 904L steel translate onto the Benthos H1? Honestly without a side by side comparison it's hard to tell. Even with one, the difference is going to be a very subtle one. But the finish on the H1 is immaculate. 

The satin-brushed portions are sleek and smooth, the radial brushing on the case top is stunning and the highly polished case-back is mirror-like. Though, my personal preference would’ve been for a more utilitarian brushed or blasted back.

[On the FACE of it] Besides the Benthos 500’s tonneau-shaped silhouette, its face has to be the most critical detail to get absolutely correct. And honestly apart from the new name and some other changes to the dial text and one less hand, you can barely tell the H1 apart from the 500 reference. 

I know that because I had to keep enlarging the images I was using when I first introduced the H1 to make sure which was which. This is the look that you guys know and love, what you've been craving and what non-vintage guys like myself have been missing out on all these years.

[To TOTALIZER or not] The Benthos H1 like the historic Benthos 500’s dial has one defining characteristic that has made it so recognizable and really a Benthos family hallmark and that is the prominent orange arrow-hand. 

Previously used for tracking the chronograph on the reference model and today serving a more humble role as a central sweeping seconds hand; yet providing H1 owners an authentic modern-day Benthos 500 experience (as is currently possible).

[DEPTH] The Benthos H1’s 500 meters of water-resistance is only half of the story when it comes to the watch's depth. A thick, flat, anti-reflective treated sapphire crystal covers an inky black dial punctuated by polished indexes that have been applied with brightly glowing Swiss lume. 

An impressive chapter ring plunges down to meet the dial like giant black and white slopes meeting the shore giving the H1’s dial a real sense of depth. 

[HANDS on or off] From some angles the polished sword hands are a little similar, perhaps even a little ambiguous. 

But the Benthos 500 had its highly prominent chronograph pointer, its party trick. The H1 hasn't got a party trick but at only a whisker above a thousand dollars (pre-order price), she's a relatively cheap date. But unlike some cheap dates she looks just as attractive in the broad light of day as she does when the lights are turned down low.

[Desk DIVER] You know as well as I do that only a handful of guys have the aplomb to actually take their H1 for a proper dive into the unplumbed depths, one of them is Jason Heaton, the author of Depth Charge whose protagonist wears a Benthos 500, but that's what Jason does, he gets Swiss watches wet. 

The rest of us take them in the bathtub but only when we're feeling adventurous. So the point of whether or not the H1 is the perfect backup diver is a moot one. 

But it would absolutely get the job done and there's no reason why you shouldn't wear one in addition to a modern dive computer. But could you get one with a far more prominent minute hand? Yes, of course.

[DIVE-TIME] Whether you take the H1 into the depths of the ocean or the bottom of your deep freezer searching for that last piece of steak to throw onto the grill, you're going to need a timing bezel. 

The H1 has the prerequisite unidirectional, rotating bezel, designed to mimic at least the look (at a glance) of the Benthos 500 but made with a modern ceramic inlay which is of course scratch resistant and is also lumed.

[STRAPPED] When it comes to straps it really is each to their own. The H1 is supplied on a black 20mm ISOfrane rubber diver's strap just like the one that the Omega Ploprof (made from 904L steel) came on in 1972, you know 13yrs before Rolex’s claim. I digress. 

Well, not just like it because the same brains behind the modern-day Aquastar brand also reinvented the famous ISOfrane strap using the latest in FKM rubber manufacturing. For many this is the perfect pairing, and aesthetically I'd have to agree. 

The H1 looks perfect on an ISOfrane. For some it's going to be a Milanese shark-mesh but for me, someone that lives in a humid climate, a NATO is the way to go. If you're wearing the H1 on a NATO it will sit up a little higher on the wrist and the profile will look a little top heavy. But that's par for the course.

[UNDER the hood] The Benthos H1 reference is powered by a Swiss-made ETA 2824-2 élaboré grade movement; this is ETA’s highest caliber grade so gets a finer adjustment which translates to better accuracy. 

It also gets some decoration but not an Aquastar rotor that I know of. Honestly, give me any Swiss caliber with a bit of adjustment and I'm a happy bunny. 

Sure you could decorate it but without a sapphire back, what's the f*ing point? I've got an AP with a solid gold rotor; it may as well be lead for all I know because it's stuck behind a closed back.

[Final THOUGHTS] So the Benthos H1 is going to be a bit of a compromise for die hard fans. You don't get the all singing, all dancing Benthos 500 with its legendary chronograph. And I know that some guys felt pretty disappointed about that. 

Many of those guys own an original vintage variant so they're already blessed. Perhaps they could consider an H1 just as many supercar guys get themselves a Golf GTI as a daily driver. They're less worry and a lot more practical or usable even but just as fun. 

For me the H1 is kind of a homage watch but unlike most homage watches, it isn't made by a third party, it's made by the same watchmaker as the historic model was. So it still gets to be called a Benthos, and it was created using actual drawings lifted from Aquastar’s historic archives. 

And as such the Benthos H1 has real Benthos 500 DNA baked into its bones and real Aquastar pedigree and heritage coursing through its veins. At its price point it's a pretty great diver’s watch in its own right. But when you include the authentic looks of a bygone legend it's unbeatable.

[On the WRIST] The H1 wears a lot like the Aquadive Bathyscaphe 100. That's about as close a comparison as I can think of. This isn't at all surprising because like its ISOfrane strap, it was produced by the same team behind Aquadive and Doxa’s rebirth. 

So for me this is a dive watch like the Aquadive Bathyscaphe 100 or the Certina DS-2 Super 500, it's a chunky 70s diver. It was built to be robust and sturdy and to have a solid chin on it like a championship boxer. I've never had the opportunity to handle a vintage Benthos 500, but it was never lost on me just how significant a watch it was. Even though I only had pictures and a story to go by. 

And if you're going by pictures and a story alone the H1 doesn't compromise at all, it's got the looks and it perpetuates the Benthos 500 story. But if you're going on build quality, execution, and finishing, as well as basic spec. Well, then the Benthos Heritage One is going to be an improvement in every respect.

[Could it be BETTER?] So how could we improve upon the Benthos H1 without of course turning it into a Benthos 500 Re-Edition i.e. giving it the chronograph and totalizer button? Honestly I would have gone the extra mile (depending on cost that is). 

The H1 could have been equipped with a manually operated Helium Escape Valve plonked in the empty 4 o’clock position on the case. Even though HEVs are mostly redundant gimmicks that we love to hate, or is it hate to love? 

But the H1 would have made an incredible diving GMT using the arrow-hand as a GMT pointer and having a quick-set pusher at 4 o’clock. This would not only provide the correct amount of hands but also a pusher at 4H. But would that have compromised case thickness? 

And would this have made it too expensive? Yes and yes. I think we could improve upon or even perfect pretty much anything in our own minds. 

But perfect is so final, isn't it. I think the H1 is just right for this time, meaning if we get everything we want right now, and then what's there to look forward to. So let's just enjoy it for what it is. This watch was kindly provided by Aquastar for this review. Many thanks. 

[ORDER yours] The Aquastar Benthos H1 comes as a Limited Edition of 500 pieces and has a suggested retail price of 1,390 USD. During its launch period it can be pre-ordered for the special price of 1,090 USD. This watch may be reserved exclusively at www.aquastar.ch

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