The Epitome of Quality Independent Horology
In all of my explorations of the horological world, I’ve come across multiple brands that function independently and which output rather outstanding watches. The sort of timepieces that strike the perfect balance between legacy, design, and price. They are neither too expensive—to which point we would feel uneasy wearing them in public—nor of poor quality—in which case we would not trust putting them through high-octane adventures. The latest comment indicates that I’m indeed referring to sport and tool watches here, not dressy horological marvels. After all, it is the watches made for adventure that resonate the most with my inner horological inclinations. This reality proves that we don’t have to pay too much for a good watch, whether they are made in Switzerland, France, or Germany.
Without making this review a historical analysis of German watchmaking, I do see a trend coming from the other side of my border: family owned brands that make solid tool watches that look unique. And, what’s even more interesting, timepieces that do not cost relatively too much given where they are made and what they are made of. On my wrist today I am wearing the result of more than 60 years of family-owned watchmaking coming from one of Germany’s oldest horological centers: Pforzheim, and the newly released Circula AquaSport GMT. In many ways, this watch represents what’s best about quality independent watchmaking and explains why my heart beats the strongest for this type of brand.
I’m going to come right off the bat by saying that the AquaSport GMT is a spec monster. For a watch that retails between $1,180 (on the rubber) and $1,270 (on the beads-of-rice bracelet,) you get a lot for your hard-earned cash. (And I would be hard-pressed to find a better Swiss-made GMT diver with similar specs in this price range.) The celebration here starts with impeccable dimensions: a case diameter of 40mm, a lug-to-lug of 46mm, a total thickness of 12.6mm, and a lug width of 20mm. This means the AquaSport GMT will fit your wrist, whether you had the misfortune of being born with small wrists like me or if you had the privilege of being the offspring of two giant people. Circula made the case as compact as they could whilst making it water resistant to 200 meters and throwing in a GMT complication.
I mean, come on!
The GMT complication is provided by the Swiss made Sellita SW 330-2 caliber that ticks at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and comes with 56 hours of power reserve. While it is already a good thing that Circula went for a Sellita movement and not, say, a Seiko NH34, the brand went a step further in choosing the Top Grade version. This means better accuracy, better resistance to shocks and magnetism, and a smoother winding action. Again, I need to remind you that the AquaSport GMT retails for way less than $1,500. Got it? This is important because it illustrates a point I will make later—or again—and which echoes what I wrote in the introduction: the AquaSport GMT represents what’s best about quality independent watchmaking.
The good stuff doesn’t end here, however. The crystal is a slightly domed piece of sapphire crystal with two layers of inner anti-reflective coating; the 48-click bi-directional bezel is mounted on ball-bearings which are more durable and more precise than click-springs; the SuperLuminova BGW9 present on the hands, markers, and the bezel has the equivalent, in brightness relative to size, to a 120,000 lumen flashlight. Looking at the above list of specs, there is no doubt Circula built a tool watch that will survive the test of time as well as your most ambitious adventures. While the AquaSport GMT is not meant to be worn at a cocktail party—which I would definitely feel comfortable doing—it is 100% a capable tool watch.
Being a tool watch, the AquaSport was designed with a function-first approach. All of what Circula put in the AquaSport has a purpose, and there is nothing extraneous that would hinder its functionality. In a nutshell: it’s a diver with a GMT complication. It is, therefore, legible and functional. The different functions of the watch have been meticulously thought through so that they could coexist. The timekeeping function is clearly indicated by long pencil-style hands and equally long applied hour markers. The GMT function is indicated by a small GMT hand and two GMT scales, one in the centre of the dial and the other on the bezel. The date function is tucked away at the 6 o’clock. Everything makes sense here and no two functions conflict with one another.
The hour and minute hands come with a brushed finish which prevents light reflections, and are subdivided into two sections by a thin line. This makes it possible to add large sections of lume on the hands and to reinforce their construction. (The longer the hands, the more prone they are to bend over time.) The seconds hand, for its part, is painted lime green and comes with a lumed arrow-shaped element and reaches all the way to the minute track. The hands are matched with large, applied hour markers that also come with brushed surrounds and are endowed with generous applications of lume. This is how arranging the timekeeping function on a tool-watch should be approached by any watchmaker.
The GMT function, as we know, is highlighted by a small GMT hand that has a blacked out stem and a yellow arrow-shaped tip. It points to a full Arabic scale painted on a thin recessed ring in the center of the dial, as well as the second GMT scale on the bezel. Everything is lumed here and the nighttime light show is even more visible given the fact that the bezel insert is made of sapphire. The added bonus of sapphire, as you know, is its scratch resistance. In other words, the AquaSport GMT is meant to get knocked over and to get a little too close to door frames—the bane of many watch collectors. Everything about the AquasSport indicates it is a serious piece of horological equipment.
The Heart of the Matter
Back in 2013/2014, a younger and more alert me embarked on his horological journey. He was fascinated by purpose-driven tool watches, although his stifling upbringing clashed with his tastes in watches. He should have been more into dressy timepieces from brands whose names rhyme with latex, parka, and bungee jumping. Watches which, as we all very well know, cost more than a week long diving expedition to the Caribbean’s. When I think of this—expensive tool watches—I feel the world is upside down. A Rolex Submariner from the 1960s looked anything but luxurious, and its price tag reflected that. Many years later and heralding from Germany, Circula made the AquaSport GMT which functions as well as a Rolex and retails for what the Sub used to retail for in the 1950s.
So, at the heart of the matter is the fact that Circula made what we have all been looking for since the 1960s: a robust, affordable, and good-looking tool watch. For about $1,270 on the well-made beads-of-rice bracelet, the AquaSport GMT packs a punch. And while it is packed to the brim with great specifications—a bit like a Ferrari is overbuilt for speed—it comes with superior finish. A satin brushed finish adorns the case side and the top portions of the lugs, while a high-polish chamfers highlights the AquaSport’s delicate geometric profile. A neat detail can be found on the crown: a green ring whose color is echoed by the bezel markings and the seconds hand.
It’s the sort of stuff that showcases the attention to details Circula opted for.
Lastly, I would say this: for roughly $1,200, I do not know of many GMT divers that come with the same quality of manufacturing and extensive list of specs. Putting design aside—as it is the part of writing about watches that is the most subjective—, the AquaSport GMT is a proper tool-watch in its own right. And all of what Circula says about the brand on its website is true: they are dedicated to making unique looking, robust tool watches that can be passed down through the generations. There is something about any Circula model that says “Circula.” This sentiment most likely stems from their balanced design and functionality, their inherent purpose-driven nature, or their incredible proportions. I can spot a Circula from a mile away.
More and more often, I find myself thinking that the independent/microbrands (or “Microdependent” or “Indimicro” as I like to call them) sweet spot exists within the $1,000-$2,000 price range. Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent watches for less than $1,000 and I tend to spend around $500-$750 on most of my watches. And, conversely, there are much better watches above $2,000. However, there is a certain magic that takes place when we spend between $1,000-$2,000 on micro or independent horology. Within this range, we generally we get quality manufacturing, good components, and more original designs when we find it in us to stretch our ever-shrinking watch budget. This is where the Circula AquaSport GMT lives and, as I hope you can now tell, it offers the good stuff.
For more information about Circula and the AquaSport, don’t hesitate to check out the brand’s website here.
Thanks for reading.