WATCH REVIEW:

Borrowed Time: Hands-on with the Ocean Crawler Ocean Navigator


Ocean Crawler is an independent, small-scale brand based out of Rochester, NY that I first learned about through Instagram. My initial impression after looking through its online presence was one of interest. The technical details were impressive, and it seemed like each model boasted true tool watch functionality, while the designs used an attractive variety of bright orange, black, and blue hues. Each model was unique and stood on its own, yet there was a vague sense of familiarity to many of them.

With all that in mind, I was intrigued. I reached out to the founder and CEO Christian Champion to see if I could spend some time with the black version of the Ocean Crawler Ocean Navigator. My time with the watch luckily coincided with a beach vacation I was taking (I also brought a Zodiac Super Sea-Wolf that I reviewed here), so I was able to experience the watch in an appropriate atmosphere.

Before getting into my experience with the Ocean Navigator, I would like to provide some general details about the young brand and its development over the past few years.

The Ocean Crawler concept was conceived during the summer of 2016, which Champion spent on the beaches of Saint Petersburg, Florida. Although Champion has collected watches since he was nine years old (with an obvious preference towards dive watches), this is his first foray into the watch industry, which as we all know can be an intimidating proposition.

One year later and the first Ocean Crawler watch launched. Since then, the company has gained five more employees whose contributions range from assembly and testing, to photography and marketing. Since that first model was introduced, they’ve rapidly built out a larger collection of over 10 models that are all variations on a traditional diver (including a diver chronograph).

The Ocean Navigator, in my opinion, has the most classic “dive watch” design out of all the models. It’s made from titanium and currently available in two colorways — black and blue — for $1,249. Both iterations are limited to 100 total pieces. There was also a version with a meteorite dial that has since sold out.

The Ocean Navigator comes with two straps and a well-executed presentation box.

What initially drew me to the Ocean Navigator was its technical capabilities that are far beyond what you’d typically expect at this stage for a young brand. The 2000 feet/600 meters/60 ATM of water resistance is complemented by a helium release valve controlled by the crown at 8 o’clock. Rounding out the tri-crown build is a final crown at 10 o’clock that directs the interior rotating bezel which acts as a functional solar compass, a surprising addition not seen on many timepieces. Each watch goes through ten different shock tests as well as a water pressure test to ensure reliability.

The solar compass functions like this: All you have to do is point the hour hand of the watch toward the direction of the sun and match the numbers on the interior bezel (orange for the northern hemisphere and white for the southern) to the hour hand. The added H at the end of “EASTH” stands for ‘Horizon’ and displays where the most accurate coordinates can be taken during the day on the northern half of the world.

While the truth is that you will likely never use the helium release or the solar compass (though the solar compass is likely more useful for land navigation), I believe that’s alright. It’s a respectable addition that shows the timepiece’s vitality and enhanced tool-watch functionality. Champion and Ocean Crawler aren’t trying to flex with these sorts of additions, rather they’re demonstrating that the watch can do what it’s meant to do. There’s no masquerading this as a desk diver.

However, the one design flaw that could keep this from its consummate functionality is the hour and minute hand size. As attractive as they are in their bicolor appearance, they are much too thin for diving hundreds of feet into the ocean.

The helium-escape crown at 8 o’clock

Moving on, the outer unidirectional bezel is constructed from sapphire and has a nice cushion build that is reminiscent of Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms. There are 30 indentures along the side of the bezel allowing for an easy grip when in a wetsuit or on land. It ratchets 120 times per rotation and has the slightest bit of play but is overall more than tight enough for the day-to-day. It’s also worth mentioning that Ocean Crawler states it has a patent pending for this three crown, dual bezel construction. It’s a daring look that is successful in its design but needs to be seen in person to be appreciated. The watch doesn’t feel nearly as big or extend as wide as you might expect and thanks to its titanium build, the predicted bulkiness is next to nil once it’s on the wrist. With that in mind, the official size is 43.1 mm by 14.8 mm, the lug-to-lug distance is 50 mm, and the lug width is 20 mm.

The dial color consists of an inky blackness that stands out particularly well when contrasted with the colorful and stylistic fonts, bicolor hands, and trapezoidal indexes coated with seven potent layers of Swiss C3 Super-LumiNova. This is also one of the few watches out there — regardless of price point — that includes lume lining around the date window. Sure, there’s no real reason to include a date window on a diver, but at least here you’ll be able to see it at night. Just another example of the attention to detail at work.

One of my favorite aspects of the Ocean Navigator is a superficial one. The font used on the “Shipwreck Hunter” script above 6 o’clock instantly magnifies this watch’s appeal in my mind. Unlike every other American-based, dive-watch producing microbrand, Ocean Crawler has used a text that resembles the font you might see on parked motorboats outside of Miami Beach or waiting to crush the waves on South Padre Island. It’s instantly recognizable, totally unique, and distinctly American. This right here is where you can see Champion’s season of Floridian inspiration shining through. Although it might not be for more conservative dive watch fans, it’s personally a major selling point that vaults the model over other, similarly-priced dive watches. That being said, I do believe there is too much text on the dial; something needs to go in future versions just for symmetry’s sake (although there is nothing currently dampening the watch’s overall legibility).

Turning the watch over, you’ll see the satin finish of the titanium case stand out. The caseback features some intriguing details that, again, seem much out of the price point that the Ocean Crawler is asking for. The caseback design is etched in relief and features the brand logo, some identifying text, and a trilobite surrounded by a grained texture. There’s also the model number (out of 100) composed in relief. I much prefer the unique branding here than an exhibition caseback displaying the STP1-11 caliber.

You might recognize this movement from my review last Saturday of the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf. Like I said then, it has a 44-hour power reserve that is an improvement on the similar ETA 2824-2 with a 38-hour reserve. It’s nothing to write home about but it’s a workhorse movement that should function steadfastly. What more could you ask for?

Other noteworthy details include the spring bars that are locked in by screws elevating its safety on your wrist while underwater. It comes with two straps (canvas and leather) although there are more color options and multiple rubber variants available to purchase on the brand’s website as well. The finishing works well and the case has zero sharp edges; there are plenty of smooth bevels that magnify the watch’s comfort.

I can easily imagine this watch igniting controversy among normally genial collectors and dive watch aficionados. Some will appreciate the risks being taken and overall execution, while others could consider the watch overdone feature-and-design wise. It has a strong wrist presence thanks to its light-weight titanium build and 43-mm case. It’s definitely not small (or for the faint of heart), but it’s a watch that I could strap on over the weekend with zero hesitation and would be comfortable wearing to brunch, the bars, or the beach.

There are a lot of directions that Ocean Crawler could grow in, including the wearable-tech realm. In a brief conversation over e-mail, Champion mentioned the possibility of implementing the ability into one of his automatic models. There’s also the chance for future product developments in the accessory arena as you can already find branded leather wallets and watch holders on the Ocean Crawler website.

Overall, the Ocean Crawler Ocean Navigator is an appealing timepiece with a strong quality-to-value ratio that might just scratch the funky-but-functional itch for the dive-watch addict. Moving forward, however, I’d be interested to see the introduction of a bracelet, extended dial color options, and the Ocean Navigator as a non-limited edition.

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