When it comes to historically important dive watches, Rolex, Panerai and Blancpain usually take the spotlight. However, it’s a little brand named DOXA that lays claim to two of the most important advances in dive watch history. They invented the unidirectional no decompression rotating bezel and released the first commercially available helium release valve or HRV. Yes, even before Rolex. Though not as important, it should also be noted that DOXA was the first to use an orange dial on a dive watch, an aesthetic choice now copied by several other brands.
Granted, there is a fervent DOXA crowd, but they are a small group. James Lamdin, one of the brand’s fans and a knowledgeable source, explains why he is attracted to the brand: “It’s the fact that they have a lot of important history in dive watches and are generally unknown for their firsts and thereby overlooked in favor of other manufacturers.” Plus, he adds, “I always root for the little guy as long as they’re genuine.” It’s true that Rolex used the helium valve technology in a specially modified Submariner Ref. 5513, which was available only for COMEX divers, at about the same time as DOXA had theirs. However, DOXA got the Conquistador, the first commercial model, in the hands of divers in 1969, a full two years before Rolex presented the Sea Dweller. And while Rolex generally receives credit for the technology, the consensus among knowledgeable enthusiasts is that DOXA co-developed the helium valve with Rolex.
Moreover, the brand has great credibility as a manufacturer of professional-grade diving watches. Jacques Cousteau, arguably the most important deep sea explorer of all time, chose to align with DOXA, using the watch in hundreds of his deep-sea underwater explorations. While de did wear other divers such as the Rolex Submariner and the Blancpain 50 Fathoms, the DOXA Sub Series is the one he signed off on and sold through his company, U.S. Divers, and these watches have the U.S. Divers Aqua Lung Logo on the dial.
DOXA also scores another point with the unidirectional bezel, engraved with the US Navy’s no decompression table, for which they filed a patent in 1968. This really important invention was used on the original DOXA 300/300T starting in 1967, and is still a fundamental part of any ISO-rated dive watch today. The outer ring shows the depth of the dive in feet, while the inner ring corresponds to the time allowed for a no decompression dive at that indicated depth. Two colored dots, orange on the outer bezel and green on the inner, are used to time your dive by aligning them with the minute hand. This ingenious system takes away calculations and guesswork for a safer dive.
So why does DOXA get forgotten in the conversation? They are harder to find than Rolex yet are often considered less valuable. DOXA, which means “glory” in Greek, was even established before Rolex in 1889, while Rolex didn’t ramp up until 1905. There are a few reasons that DOXA probably gets lost in the crowd. They are a small company without the monetary muscle of their compatriots, and they were dormant for much of the 1980’s and 1990’s and didn’t produce any watches, though the company was still in existence. DOXA didn’t get back in the game until 2002 with modern reissues of their classics. Additionally, they sourced and continue to source movements from ETA. “One thing that’s keeping DOXA from the elitist collector crowd is that they don’t manufacture an in-house movement,” says Lamdin. “For a tool watch I personally think it’s better to have a workhorse movement that’s proven over a fragile one that is also more difficult to service.”
For many, the DOXA brand only stayed alive during the 80’s and 90’s through the works of author and diver Clive Cussler, who put the watch on his swashbuckling hero Dirk Pitt in his series of bestselling escapist fiction novels. “I personally discovered DOXA through Clive Cussler’s novels,” says Lamdin. “I saw his hero wearing an orange-faced divers watch and I had to have one.” As a collector of other brands including Rolex and Heuer, Lamdin thinks that DOXA belongs right up there in the same category of historically important dive watches. “If you’re passionate about the evolution of the sports watch, a DOXA Sub is a “must-have”.
One of the things that makes vintage DOXAs so attractive is the price point. A vintage DOXA 300/300T Orange Dial Professional can be found for as little as $1000-$2500 dependent on condition. Other vintage models include the Searambler (Silver Dial), Divingstar (Yellow Dial), and Sharkunter (Black Dial)), but it’s the Orange Dial Professional that’s the most desirable. Make sure to look for early DOXAs with either plain or U.S. Divers Aqua Lung Logo dials, and sailing ship case back, without the Synchron group logo, representing the affiliate brands Cyma & Borel who entered into a partnership with DOXA in 1968.
The Holy Grail for DOXA aficionados is the vintage Conquistador with the HRV. If you can find one, “depending on condition, it would be worth $5-10K easily,” says Lamdin. Still, you’re talking about a watch that’s not completely out of reach.
For people looking to get a collectible dive watch at a reasonable price, the early DOXA Sub Series models are a great find and offer real value. There’s only one direction for them to go and that’s up!
For a comprehensive history of the brand’s dive watches read DOXA Sub by Dr. Peter McClean Millar.