A while back, a new surfing-oriented watch company, Aulta, asked me to sample one of its first timepieces, the Leeway chronograph.
I absolutely loved wearing the watch and didn’t much take it off much for several months.
Like many new arrivals to the horological marketplace, Aulta started with quartz movements.
I have no issues with quartz, unlike some watch lovers. In fact, the watch I wear most is a Citizen Eco-Drive quartz chrono that I bought almost 15 years ago. It’s been running strong for over a decade.
That said, I own a few mechanical and automatic watches as well. This is where Aulta is going with its new Acuatico line — watches powered by workhorse Japanese Miyota 8215 movements (40-hour power reserve) and selling for $US240.
I tested a piece with a blue face and a stainless-steel bracelet, and I tested it for about three months solid, working it into my rotation of about a half-dozen watches. The Acuatico is unabashedly an automatic diver watch, which puts it in one of the most competitive segments of the business. The lord of this realm is of course the Rolex Submariner, which goes for about $US8,000.
But there are many, many other dive watches you can buy, and for far less than eight grand. So how does the Acuatico stack up?
As it turns out, I have what is probably the best budget alternative to the Rolex Sub, the Seiko Diver’s, a watch that’s been around for decades and is revered by watch enthusiasts. To be honest, I prefer it to the Sub, aesthetically, although there’s no question that the Sub is a better investment.
The Seiko is priced about the same as the Acuatico and also uses a Japanese movement, but one that Seiko produces in-house.
For me, the watches were very different — and that, I think, is a big positive for Aulta. The company’s whole concept is to make watches that can go from boardroom to surfboard in a single day. They are stylish tool watches.
But the Acuatico is among the most toolish of their current lineup, largely because it’s intended to be an attractive timepiece that can stand up to the rigors of the ocean (or at least the swimming pool).
The first thing you notice about the watch is that it’s heavy. It’s not overly large, at 41mm, but it is substantial. The bracelet is superb, although it doesn’t have a wetsuit-friendly diver extension. The wrist presence here is serious. A sapphire crystal means good scratch resistance, the unidirectional rotating bezel is solid, and the screwdown crown is located at the 4 o’clock position, a familiar location for any Seiko Diver owners (the date window is also there).
The face is a cheerful French blue, the sword hour and minute hands are skeletons, and the second hand is orange, a nice contrast with the face. The indices are big dots and hashes, and the lume is fairly good. With a 200-meter depth rating and screwdown caseback, the Acuatico will be more than capable of standing up to surfing, if not any kind of serious scuba diving. Snorkelling should be fine.
I’m not really a fanatic when it comes to the timekeeping accuracy of sturdy Japanese automatic movements. They tend to be beaten — and beaten badly — by anything quartz. But that isn’t the point. The movements in both my Seiko and the Aulta aren’t meant to survive splashing and bashing, and they do a reasonable job of telling you how long you’ve been underwater. Neither Seiko nor Aulta uses a see-through caseback — first, because the movements aren’t that much to look at, but also because good dive watches don’t have them, the better to ensure water-tightness.
As many commenters and enthusiasts have pointed out, you see this type of watch on dive boats more often than fancy Swiss pieces because it’s no big deal to lose one to Davy Jones’ locker.
But as far as watches go, the Acuatico is less tool-looking than the Seiko. As a result, it’s more adaptable. It fits perfectly with Aulta’s game plan and give the company a good-quality watch to pitch at those folks who won’t once consider a quartz movement.
The heft of the watch was the only issue I had with it. This could be somewhat addressed by switching out the bracelet for something lighter, or by choosing a version with a polyurethane strap. Still the watch itself is weighty, something that will appeal to many buyers, but that for me made me appreciate the lighter weight of most of my other watches.
But that’s me. I don’t generally like heavy watches, so I’m a poor guide on this front. The bulk of a proper automatic is a selling point for many watchmakers, especially in the tool-watch world.
On balance, the Acuatico is a dandy first foray into mechanical timepieces for Aulta and adds a new angle to the brand without introducing a bank-busting option. The watch feels like it should cost twice what it does, especially if you go for the bracelet. The aesthetics of the face and the quality of the stainless steel mean that the Acuatico will probably look fantastic on a variety of aftermarket straps, too.
I actually think this might be an excellent gift package for the watch: $US240 for the bracelet version, plus a nice leather strap (something like this, from Worn & Wound). The watch lover in your life with probably appreciate the combination.
Aulta might not yet have the credibility of a Seiko or Rolex, but the company has done a good job of building a brand around an aquatic lifestyle and hasn’t let quality slide. The Acuatico is a worthy addition.
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