Super Antarctic 3.6.9
From the 1950s With Love
Before that we all heard of the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, there were explorers that were going around the globe discovering new places…above water. Humankind started exploring land masses way before it did the submerged world, and all of those who ventured around carried a watch, you know, as soon as we started making them. As a whole, horology has a deep connection with human exploration and that’s why sturdy and legible time-only watches were made. Some brands have a deeper connection to exploration than others, or I would say more legitimate. One such brand is Nivada Grenchen.
Indeed the Swiss brand equipped the members of the American Navy’s Deep Freeze 1 Task Force which explored the South Pole in 1955-1956. These bold explorers wore the first iteration of the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic, the OG of Nivada exploration watches. The brand, which was relaunched in 2018, has since re-issued several iterations of the Antarctic. What we’re looking at today is the latest of the latest, the Super Antarctic 3.6.9 unveiled during the 2022 New York City edition of the Windup Watch Fair. To make a long review short: this watch is badass.
I know, I become rather crude when I get really excited about a timepiece. Strangely enough. But sometimes the simplest of words are the best to describe how I feel about a watch. Anyway, let’s get into it.
Exploration type of watches had to be comfortable to wear in all situations and slip under the cuff of a heavy polar jacket. The Super Antarctic 3.6.9 has the right proportions for this type of watch: a case diameter of 38mm, a lug-to-lug distance of 45mm, a thickness of 12mm, and a lug width of 20mm. Although 12mm is not 10mm, the Super Antarctic sits low on the wrist thanks to its unique case design. The case-back is sunk-in and the massive elongated lugs end exactly at the edge of my wrist bone, as if the watch was made specifically for my wrist. I do believe that this particular design will work with wrists of any size or shape, since the lugs do turn down.
Inside this neat package beats the Soprod P024 caliber, based on the ETA 2824-2. When ETA ceased making their movements available to brands outside the Swatch group, a small number of quality manufactures jumped in to make replacements of the ETA calibers. Amongst those brands we find Sellita, Ronda, and notably Soprod. The latter has garnered quite a lot of praise as of late for making movements that are highly reliable and easy to service. The P024 caliber beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and comes with 25 jewels and about 38 hours of power reserve. (While some may complain that 38 hours of power reserve is low, I personally don’t care as I love winding my watches.)
The dial is the big star of the show. And although we’ll talk more about it in the “Design” portion of this review, I did want to point out why it looks the way it does. Nivada wanted to recreate an old reference of a Super Antarctic, a picture of which someone had posted on Instagram. But with modern technology. Imagine re-creating a 1968 Mustang with an engine built from the ground up in the 21st century, not an old engine that was simply serviced. So, Nivada manually aged the markers and hands using chemicals in order to give the watch a vintage look
I think this is quite unique and different from watches that come with what is commonly referred to as “fauxtina” lume and markers. The latter is basically lume that has the color of patinated markers, a process that normally takes place over decades of exposure to the sun and other natural elements. But Nivada went with treating the indices and hands manually with their own compound. This process is done by hand and the result is that each watch comes out differently. This does affect the potency of the lume as it shines unevenly on the dial. But hey, however it came out, you can admire the result through a beautiful piece of modern sapphire crystal.
Staying with the dial, and besides the fact that it has been aged, it is extremely legible. The first Antarctic models from Nivada—the ones that went to the South Pole—had Arabic numerals at the 3, 6, and 9 positions, and sometimes also at the 12. While the first re-creations of the Antarctic came with that dial configuration, the first re-creations of the Super Antarctic didn’t have any Arabic numerals, and instead, baton-style markers and triangles. The 3.6.9 variant, the one reviewed here, is to me the most legible of all the Antarctic family members. I find that juxtaposing Arabic numerals with baton and triangle markers make for the ultimate balance of legibility and elegance.
No wonder why this type of dial has been so popular since the 1950s.
The handset naturally aids with legibility. As the vintage models had, the Super Antarctic 3.6.9 comes with a lollipop hour hand (think of a plain Mercedes hand) and a massive sword-style minute hand that confidently reaches the minute track. The seconds hand is of the needle style design and is perfectly unobtrusive. The combination of these hands with the hour markers and subtle minute track makes for the Super Antarctic 3.6.9 one of the most legible watches I’ve ever come across. And that’s what you should get from a proper exploration watch. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Super Antarctic is not only a watch that looks vintage. It is built to modern specifications and comes with some particular visual elements that make it all the more interesting. For example, the fact that the inner part of the lugs is cut which makes them appear thinner. That cut is also polished and this particular type of finish is repeated on the bezel. These lugs, by the way, are not Omega lyre lugs. This is something completely different and it’s refreshing to see a brand bring back or create something unique. And I find that the lugs on the Super Antarctic 3.6.9 work just so well for this type of watch.
The rest of the case is brushed, and the accompanying beads-of-rice bracelet shows an alternation of brushed and polished surfaces. The bracelet tapers from 20 to 16mm at the clasp, which is both comfortable to wear and pleasant to look at. Furthermore, the clasp is short (a big plus for me) and comes with four holes of micro-adjustments. From a visual standpoint, this bracelet is the perfect match for the 3.6.9 although the latter also looks fantastic on a leather strap. Lastly, although small, the onion crown is easy to grip, however a bit hard to operate to wind the movement. But, this is not a manual-wound caliber so it’s not that bothersome.
I do like the way the onion crown looks.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the matter is the fact that, well, if you are into time-only exploration type of watches, you won’t be disappointed with the Super Antarctic 3.6.9. I think it’s pretty neat that Nivada bought back this iconic line of watches that has a story of its own right. While we all know of the Rolex Explorer and of the Tudor Ranger, there aren’t many other historical Swiss brands that are known for making robust and elegant exploration watches. The other brand I can think of is Seiko and the Alpinist line of watches that came out in 1956. As it is clear, all of the coolest exploration watches came out in the 1950s. (See, I’m speaking this way again!)
While there are dozens of brands making look-alikes of the Explorer 1, the Nivada Super Antarctic 3.6.9 should be talked about more often. Actually, the entire collection should be talked about more often as it sits on the same plane as the Explorer 1 and the Ranger, even though it costs four times less than the aforementioned watches. You know, the Ranger and Explorer 1 used to retail for what the 3.6.9 retails for today, adjusted for inflation. So why spend more than you should to get a timepiece that is equally historically relevant?
Furthermore, Nivada equipped the 3.6.9 with the good stuff. The brand did not cut any corners. The case and bracelet are well made of and show refined surface treatments; the caliber is a robust Swiss Made machine that is reliable and easy to service; the sapphire crystal is damn thick and slightly domed, adding an extra layer of vintage vibe to the whole package that I personally adore. (And making a good quality sapphire crystal is no small feat by the way. Further proving how detail oriented Nivada is.) And, to top it all off, the brand manually aged the markers and hands, something that not even Tudor bothered doing.
Well, the small elephant in the room is the fact that an aged dial may not be your jam. And I totally get it. I didn’t think it would be mine but there is something special about it. Actually, I do know what it is: warmth. The domed sapphire crystal and the aged markers and hands give off a warm look, something that is inviting and easy to look at. A bit like entering an old wooden chalet and sitting next to the fireplace while rocking on a chair making the wood planks creak. But in a watch form that you can strap on your wrist. It feels cozy and I want to keep doing it.
Retailing for $950 on the bracelet and $750 on a leather strap, you get a log of bangs for your bucks. Again, a great construction and finish, a comfortable and vintage-looking bracelet that matches the ultra vintage dial. The movement is reliable and can be serviced by any decent watchmaker, something that adds to the purpose of this watch: imagine traveling around the world and needing to get your Super Antarctic serviced after hiking a mountain or jumping from a cliff into a lake. It’s nice to know you can get your favorite exploration and adventure watch serviced.
You can learn more about Nivada and the Super Antarctic 3.6.9 by following this link.