Nivada was founded in Grenchen (Granges), Switzerland in 1926 by Otto Wüllimann, Hermann Schindler and Jack Schneider. The company remained under the control of the Schneider family until its 50th anniversary in 1976. From the earliest days, the company focused on instrument watches that were meant for hard use. Nivada was among the first ones to offer water-resistance, automatic movements, or to feature a chronograph with additional functions. Nivada was, as many other brands back in the days, sourcing parts from external suppliers, including movements by Venus, Valjoux or Landeron, it was a norm back in the day and even high end brands used the same movements.
Often in the vintage market you will see that Nivada Grenchen name is changed with Croton name, or sometimes you will see both of the names on the dial. Founded in 1878 in the USA, Croton assembled watches with Swiss and American components. Both companies worked together from the early 1930s, importing watches and parts from Nivada models and renamed them with Croton name on the dial for the American market. From the early 1930s up to 1970s they were making some really great watches that have put a mark in the watchmaking history. But watchmaking industry had to face the quartz crisis in the 1970s and Nivada failed to adapt to the demand for electronic and battery-powered watches.
But lucky for us watch geeks and Nivada brand, two watch entrepreneurs decided to bring the name back! The story started in Paris in 2018 during a discussion between Guillaume Laidet, a French entrepreneur in the watch industry (former Jaeger-LeCoultre, Zenith, and founder of William L.1985), and Remi Chabrat, owner of the Montrichard Group (a private label watchmaker). The Nivada name owners were the Mexican group (Grupo Industrial Omega SA de CV), and in 2019 they obtained the license to use the Nivada Grenchen copyright. And the adventure started last year, with the successful relaunch of the Chronomaster, Depthmaster and Antarctic.
Before I reached out to them I already knew the brand Nivada Grenchen and was quite familiar familiar with their watches as I work at a full service watch center and we receive about 2-3 Nivada Grenchen watch a year in for a service, restore or repair. I also was very familiar with the Chronomaster and it’s design too as in the last years it has grown a lot in value and selling from 2000$ for a beat up one and 4000-5000$ for a mint condition one which a quite a lot considering that back in 2015 I remember them going for 500-900$ for a good one. Also my fellow vintage watch dealers told that the Chronomaster is getting a lot of attention and as they get one,they sell it the next day. So no wonder that they chose it as one of the first models to re-issue. And man, it was a success, they sold out the first batch immediately within a couple of minutes. Right now they have some models for sale that you can get on their website.
Today we are looking at a Prototype watch that has been all around the world for photoshoots and to reviewers and other media. So don’t mind the scratches and dings. The watch came also without the box, but the production one comes with a very nice looking box as you can see in the photos below. The watch was shipped to with two straps (vintage leather and a tropic rubber strap). The first impressions were good, I like that they kept the original dimensions of the original one with 38mm diameter. Usually brand tend to make the re-issues bigger to the more modern sizes like 40-42mm, but I like than Nivada Kept it 38mm. Having seen the original one in flesh, I must say it is spot on, except it has a better finishing and a sapphire crystal because of the modern technologies we have now.
The case of the Chronomaster is made of 316L stainless steel. The case is very well machined with nice sharp lines and angles. It definitely is in par with such watches as Longines, Breitling, Tudor etc. On the watch you will find two finishes. The sides of the case, top of the lugs and middle of the case back has satin brushed finishing and the resto of the case and bezel is high polished. The finishing is really well done, I was quite surprised by the quality of it. The diameter is 38,3mm, the thickness is 14mm, from lug to lug it measures at 46,8mm and the lug width is 20mm. I think the dimensions are spot on, I really like a good 38-40mm chronograph and it fits on my 18cm wrist just perfectly! The case has drilled lugs which you don’t see that much these days, but I really like to see them on more divers, chronographs or tool watches in general that are vintage inspired, it just makes strap change so much easier. At 3 o’clock we have push-pull crown. The crown is quite big and bold thus making it very easy to grip and manipulate. On the top the crown is signed with the Nivada Grenchen logo. At 2 and 4 we have the standart pump pushers for the chronograph functions which feel very nice and has that mechanical click to them. On top we have a bi-directioanal slide bezel. I know that the original one had this, but it would be nice to actually see a bi-directional bezel that ratchets, but I guess they wanted to stay close to the original. The bezel has a very smooth action and I quite like the aluminium bezel insert in black colour, it would actually be cool to see them do some versions with blue or red bezel inserts as limited editions, just to add more pop of colour. The solid screw in caseback is nicely signed with Nivada Grenchen logo in the middle. On top of the watch we have a Double domed Sapphire Glass. The crystal was kind of a let down as I would’ve added an AR coating as it is very reflective. I don’t know if the production one has it, but the website doesn’t state that. The water resistance is 100m/10ATM which is good for rain or handwash, but nothing more as it is a chronograph and I wouldn’t reccomend swimming with one unless it has screw down pushers and crown.
The dial is an exact copy of the original, only the proportions and arrangement have changed slightly. In the case of the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, Nivada Grenchen has managed to combine the advantages of the diver’s watch, chronograph and aviator in the design of the dial. At a glance, the two sub dials at 3 and 9 o’clock feel quite small, and quite far apart. In practice, they are small, and far apart. They appear exactly as they did on the original models from the ‘60s, and their position here is largely a function of the case size and movement, but in use they are a challenge to read, even for sharp eyes. Aesthetically, however, they provide a lot of the character and give that vintage vibe of the watch. They are black with circular lines against a matte black dial, and pushed to the far edges, with short sword style hands reading off the running seconds at 9 o’clock, and the elapsed minutes for the chronograph at 3 o’clock. The minute counter brings a dash of red color to the dial to countdown 5 minutes. Nivada labels this a yachting scale, but you might find more practical uses for it. The chapter ring gets minute hashes with 1/5th second hashes in between for the chronograph timing seconds hand. Outside of that sits the tachymeter, which gets distorted a fair amount due to the domed crystal which I don’t like a lot as this makes this function harder to read, thus not legible. This example uses white lume bars at the hour markers, as well as within the hour and minute hands to play up the new watch/vintage theme at work here. There is also the same version with yellowed lume which is made to look old. Dial signage is limited to the brand at 12 o’clock and the model at 6 o’clock (which takes up 3 lines), and a small “L Swiss” stacked below that (this would have been “T Swiss” on the original denoted the use of tritium). Another distinguishing feature are the broad arrow hands, in particular the hour hand, which is short and wide with a broad arrow tip filled with lume. The watch can be optioned with pencil style hands too and that would be the way to go if you want to get a direct re-issue as those were the most popular ones, but I think the broad arrow hands is the way to go and the most legible one too!
Inside the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver we can find a Sellita SW510 M BH B manual chronograph movement. Which is basically an automatic Sellita with removed rotor which is quite strange. It utilizes a cam operated chronograph and offers 48 hours of reserve. This is far from a good movement if you asked me. Sellitas actually are pretty bad and I don’t understand why watch industry doesn’t get it. This exact movement for example doesn’t have the best finishing and machine work on the parts. There’s also a fair bit of play in the hands when setting the time, creating some frustration if you’re trying to set the time. I know that this is just a prototype, but something was rattling inside the watch case so I gave it to my watchmaker to check what’s the problem. We opened the caseback and we were shocked. Some movement screws were loose, the heads of the screws were scratched and each one was different which should be the case. There were also fingerprints on the plates which shouldn’t happen! Also the dial was rattling, but not because the screws were loose, but the attaching it to the movement wasn’t thought out properly. I really hope that the final watch doesn’t have these problems with the movement screws and fingerprints all over the movement. We checked the movement and it was running a bit slow so my watchmaker made it to run at 0 to +1 second a day! I would’ve preffered an ETA 7750 more with a removed automatic rotor as it is far more superior movement and more reliable!
The watch also came with two straps. The one it had already on, was the vintage style leather strap which was pretty nice. The strap has a nice smooth texture and the brown/beige colour suits the watch. The strap is very supple so it right out of the box it is very comfortable. But to my surprise the they also included a second strap which is the tropic rubber strap which is also pretty good and probably is in my top 10 stock straps. There is nothing more to tralk abput the rubber strap as it looks like any other tropic strap, but the rubber is super soft and supple, usually these style of straps are pretty hard. They both came with a really nice buckles made of 316L stainless steel and finished in polished an brushed finishes, and signed with Nivada logo on top. The one annoying thing is probably the built in quick release spring bars as they are inverted and thus makes it very hard to swap the original straps. Maybe it was a pre-production mistake and the retail variants have them right.
Overall the Nivada Grenchen has done an amazing job, they really nailed the design, the quality and marketing aspect. They really stirred the watch enthusiast pot as when they launched everybody was talking about them! And I know why! Because the Nivada Grenchen original Aviator Sea Divers have become really popular among enthusiasts and and even serious collectors thus making them more expensive than before. If 5 years ago you could buy a pristine example for 500$, not it will cost 2000-4000$. Is the price of 1780$ justifiable? Well, yes and no, they are mainly playing the brand name, re-issue, Sea Diver popularity cards and thus making them more expensive. So I would wait till the people who bought the re-issue to sell them on facebook groups or eBay as I don’t think they will hold theire value as the originals.