Most watch enthusiasts can identify a dive watch at a glance even if the watch only emerges from under a cuff for a few seconds. The bezel is the typical giveaway, but a watch’s brand may be more readily recognizable: the name, DNA and ubiquitous presence. Monochrome-Watches writes that Swiss brand Clerc differentiates itself by putting a square peg into a round hole, a design reference to the Hydroscaph’s inimitable bezel (a topic for further elaboration), and constructs a high-end, hand-crafted, low-production dive watch. Two offerings position the brand; the three-hander Clerc Hydroscaph H1 and the Clerc Hydroscaph Chronograph Limited Edition (the latter we explored here). Becoming acquainted with Clerc clarifies what sets a Hydroscaph apart from the crowd.
The term “Hydroscaph,” like Homer’s Odyssey, comes from the Greeks. It is the amalgamation of two Greek words: hydro, meaning sea (water) and scaph, meaning vessel. The company refers to its watches as explorations machines that are capable of above- and below-water adventure and designed for the associated rigors. Clerc’s meticulous attention to detail unites luxury and power in each Hydroscaph.
The luxurious aesthetics of a Clerc watch are best represented in the three-dimensional, cut-away bezel – the square within a circle. When viewed from above, the cutting of the bezel leaves a flat square on the surface with four beveled slopes on each side, bearing an engraved 15-minute marker or a downward timing arrow. The beveled slopes’ outer curve maintains the original circle perimeter around the upper square. The visual effect is seeing a square within a circle, and the caseback mirrors the same design. When you already have an 81-piece (H1) or 103-piece (Chronograph) case, this kind of bezel design not only gives every H1 and Chronograph a visual significance of a da Vinci-esque perfect square within a perfect circle, but also adds to the complexity of the case’s construction.
On the Clerc Hydroscaph H1, the fold-out bezel crank is on the right, and on the Chronograph, it is located away from the pushers on the left. This mechanical setting and external locking of the bezel removes any issues with grip or accidental default when using the bezel, adding yet another level of refinement to the watch’s function.
In addition, luxury and power are united in Clerc Hydroscaph H1 and Chronograph high-density steel cases. The safest bet when constructing a rugged dive watch is to offer a solid caseback, but Clerc provides two portholes on its hind side, a larger and a smaller. These windows have the necessary crystal thickness for the depths and create a submarine viewing experience. The off-center larger window clearly shows the balance wheel and flashes of the circularly vented rotor when it pivots; the smaller window shows flashes of the rotor’s edge. The Clerc Hydroscaph has a water-resistance rating of 500 meters and mobile lugs to ensure a secure fit and comfort over a dive suit. Each case, surrounded by its own peripheral case guard construction, is ready for anything.
The consistent power moving the interpreted plongeur hands is the H1’s caliber C609 and Chronograph’s caliber C608. The workhorse reputation of these base calibers is historic, but in the hands of Clerc, they are reworked with detailed decoration and refined into precise instruments with the H1 earning a certified chronometer designation. It is the fusion of luxury and power that distinguishes the Clerc Hydroscaph.
The H1 is the mainstay of the Clerc Hydroscaph collection, but each iteration of the Chronograph is a limited edition of 500 pieces. What further distinguishes the Chronographs from the herd is that they are central chronographs, meaning the chronograph functions are displayed on two central hands rather than two subdials. The two subdials, which do exist, are a 24-hour day/night indicator on the left, and a small seconds display on the right. Alternatively, the two thin, central hands — not to be confused with those on a split-second rattrapante chronograph — are the chronograph seconds hand and minute hand (recording up to 60 minutes), which are read against the outer dial’s chapter ring. From the perspective of diving, seeing a larger chronograph display on the center dial rather than on small subdials is a marked preference.
Clerc’s uniqueness is a conceptual clarity that meets the functional challenge of exploration in a more-than-capable form whose design, execution and implementation far surpass the average expectation of a dive watch. Standing out from the crowd, and in fact above it, is the Hydroscaph’s achievement.