As we come to father’s day 2023, it marks two things for me. First, it’s been three years after Covid-19 derailed anything we saw as “normal.” Second, it’s been three years of wearing a bronze watch and watching it patina; the Baltic Aquascaphe Bronze.
It started with a father’s day
Given to me as a fathers day gift in 2020 from my wife, I had no way to realize what this watch would become for me. The myriad of wristchecks on several different podcasts and social media highlight that if this watch had an odometer, the milage would be quite high. From summiting Mt. Saint Helens with me in 2020, to diving in the Salish Sea and the Gulf of Mexico its natural patina carries more adventures than I could count from those three years. In that time, it helped me craft what has become the Latin motto for the Analog Explorer: Fac Tempus ad Explorandum or “Make the Time to Explore.”
Especially in those early days of the pandemic, when everything everywhere was derailed, it was too easy to drown in uncertainty. Creatively, it was draining. Working in IT and Higher Education dominated most of my time, travel came to a standstill, and my wife lost her employment. But we had a saving grace here in the PNW; our outdoors.
Our outdoors became our oasis. I saw more people get out on the trails and in the mountains in the first year and a half of the pandemic than I ever did leading up to it. Whether it was on the interurban trails of Bellingham, or even the obscure trails out towards Mt. Baker, folks were finding their natural balance in life through our outdoors.
How’d it get so dark?
I get asked, when I first opened the Aquascaphe did I had intend to track its patina? The answer is no, not initially.
I knew it would change. Actually, with CuAL8 bronze, I thought it would be slower than it was. I still get folks online asking me, “How did you make yours so dark?” Mostly, I answer, “I wear it. And I use it every day.”
Also at this time, my wife and I were still dealing with our pre-schooler’s medical condition with his skin. Several times a day, we would routinely tend to him using different topical medications, creams, oils, and salves. It wouldn’t be until later that I realized my Aquascaphe would take on an accidental oil-rubbed bronze patina from it all. A patina that I can say is very unique to my life at that time, and which has protected the metal from knocks, falls, and scrapes.
One of the worst hits it took was on a rocking dive boat in the Gulf a Mexico, slamming into the side of a tank valve so hard that it fell off my wrist to the other side of the boat’s gunwale, and then straight overboard. It dropped over 65ft to the sea floor. I am still incredibly thankful to a certain dive master on that boat who splashed in and retrieved it.
Diving runs in the family 🤿
As vaccines became widespread and things began to open back up to something that we would call ‘normal,’ I got a callback from the local dive shop about getting into an open water scuba course. I had asked to be put on the waitlist in 2019; obviously, classes never happened that year.
Diving was something I had grown up hearing about. My father was a master diver and instructor in the halcyon days at the very start of recreational scuba diving. His stories of spearfishing, abalone hunting, and exploring kelp beds were my bedtime stories. In elementary school, there was a day where I had to bring in something for show-and-tell. I didn’t really know what to take, but my father asked if I would want to bring in his dive watch. Never thinking that would be something I could do, I said yes. He took it off the bracelet he wore it on (the only thing I ever remember it on), one of the expanding stretch bracelets often seen on late 70s early 80s watches. He then fashioned it onto a small strap to fit me. I wore it the whole day, shared it in class, and in my mind I thought I was the coolest kid on the playground. For whatever gene I may possess, as we all might have who are #watchfam folk, it is a small and silly moment that has stuck with me. That watch was what defined a watch to me. A ‘real watch’ was a dive watch, and was used for doing just that.
After getting my first c-card, and surprising my father in getting my certification, the conversation quickly changed to everything gear, technique changes over the years, and ‘where to go next.’ He encouraged me to take other courses that would not just make me a better diver but a safer one. A few months, and several courses and fun dives later, he passed down something he had from his diving era; his dive jacket.
Made in his younger diving days, it is still bright red with a white stripe on its back to represent the North American red dive flag. As he progressed in his diving career, he sewed the patches from his diving agency and clubs. I’ve continued that tradition and have begun to add to it, including my diving agency, name, and other patches related to my own diving, including the Analog Explorer. Two generations of Barse divers in one jacket. Perhaps one day when my son when he is older, he will continue to add to it as well.
Is a Dive Watch Needed Today? No, but...
On a dive I bring along with me not out of necessity, but for tradition and as a potential backup. Today, we have dive computers that makes diving much safer and easier. One of the first things my father, who began diving at the dawn of scuba, asked me if even in spite of all the new dive technology whether I would also dive with a traditional dive watch as a backup. Things can fail at anytime underwater, and the common practice in scuba is redundancy. A backup breathing device, a backup light, a backup to anything that will keep you alive while you are under the waves. At least with a standard analog depth gauge and a dive watch, a diver can come back up to the surface should a dive computer fail. When my father was a Master Diver and instructor, he would remind his students that the acronym SCUBA didn’t just stand for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, but also Some Come Up Barely Alive. It was a reminder that divers can’t just shoot to the surface, but need to take time on the way up to off-gas all the built up nitrogen from their time at depth. Time that was monitored, in his day, solely off a dive watch and your depth gauge.
Aquascaphe : 2020 vs 2023
At a watch meetup, someone made a comment that stuck out to me when they were checking out my Aquascaphe. I remember them saying that as cool as it looks that [they] “could never dive with it.” When they said that, I brought up that not only do I dive with the Aquascaphe, but do so regularly along with other watches from my collection. They had a bit of bewilderment from that statement. The conversation shifted from what a watch is marketed to be and its cost or speculative cost, to more of how someone actually uses it and why.
Is it perfect as a diving tool here in the PNW? In truth, it isn’t. However, the updated 2023 version by Baltic this year does fix the only functional design gripe I have for it as a dive watch; the legibility of the bezel underwater. Above the water, the all bronze bezel is awesome. But because there is no lume on the bezel, not even a pip at 12, and because bronze darkens as it patinas, including the engraved minute markers in the bezel, it can be difficult to read while under our darker Salish Sea and Puget Sound diving conditions. For the last 3 years, I have glued to the triangle a lume pip to help with this on mine, only to have lost more pips than I can count in our rougher currents. But I am glad to see that a fully lumed sapphire bezel has been introduced by Baltic as an upgrade to this already good looking watch, regardless of whether you are or aren’t a diver.
The Aquascaphe is not alone as a watch I bring down out of sake of my father’s advice or tradition. From the tired and true SKX007, to the deep rated Ares TI Diver-1, a new Doxa 300T Cussler, and even a 33mm “kids” watch by Block; all have come down beneath the waves with me. The dive with the Blok was for my son, as he wanted to have a “real dive watch” (more on that in a later post).
There will always be something special with the Aquascaphe bronze. In and out of the water it is something I can throw on and daydream during a manic Monday or a its-not-quite-Friday-yet Wednesday. Between meetings, I can think of being underwater at Keystone where my dive partner and I found our first Giant Pacific Octopus, or summiting Mount Saint Helens only to be pummeled by un-forecasted snow. It is for those reasons that the Aquascaphe, or any watch really, is worth wearing. It is in the patina, scratches, dents, and stories that the true value of a watch pays real dividends for the wearer. A reminder to me, and anyone who carries a watch with them; Fac Tempus Ad Explorandum.
To the other fathers out there happy Father’s Day, and Make the Time to Explore.