Affordable Vintage: Croton Nivada Grenchen Antarctic

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In 1957/58, a group of about forty countries, including the US, Soviet Union, and most of Europe came together to declare the International Geophysical Year (IGY). It was a scientific collaborative effort to explore the Earth’s poles, climb the tallest mountains and advance the exploration of space. This was a time of burgeoning scientific progress, and the watch industry was right there too.

Wristwatches were becoming more capable of highly accurate timekeeping, as well as being exposed to extremes of temperature and water depth. This made the IGY a perfect opportunity for watch manufactures to tie in their products with these scientific endeavors. Earlier in the decade, some of the big Swiss companies had already had their watches tied to famous explorations. Rolex sent their Explorer with Hillary and Norgay on their ascent of Everest in 1953, Vulcain accompanied the assault on K2 in 1954, and Enicar was there for the climbing of Lhotse in 1956. Rolex had great success tying their Explorer to the Everest expedition, and they and other watch manufactures wanted to take advantage by advertising their exploits and attaching themselves to the popularity of the IGY. Two manufactures in particular took advantage of the IGY: Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) and Nivada. In 1958, JLC sent their now famous Geophysic Chronometer with the USS Nautilus nuclear submarine on its journey under the North Pole, while Nivada sent a watch to the Antarctic in 1957.

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Admiral Byrd and the US Navy went to the Antarctic under the name Operation Deep Freeze, and Nivada created the waterproof and anti-magnetic Antarctic model to go with them. They used this in all their advertising at the time, and were quite successful. Nivada ended up having trouble with Movado regarding their name, and were forced to  change it to Nivada Grenchen. They then teamed up with Croton for distribution. That’s why you’ll see watches branded Nivada, Nivada Grenchen, and Croton Nivada Grenchen. Nivada (et al) produced different Antarctic variants—some with date, some without, as well as several different dial designs. The example discussed here today is a Croton Nivada Grenchen Antarctic.

Since the Antarctic got its name and purpose from the Operation Deep Freeze expedition to the South Pole, it was necessarily designed to be waterproof and anti-magnetic.  It survived the rigors of the frozen South, and lived to tell the tale—in advertising. The ads touting this connection were numerous, and apparently quite successful as the Antarctic became one of Nivada’s most well-known models, along with the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. One print ad in particular said it all in reference to the Antarctic’s performance on the expedition: “They were subjected to prolonged immersion, extreme altitude and high-magnetism. They were dropped and knocked against ice. They were never wound. Through all these tests, Nivada’s Antarctics kept perfect time.”

The Antarctic is small by today’s standards, with the stainless steel case measuring 34mm wide by 43mm long with 18mm lugs. The case back screws in, and has a polygon shaped ridge for the back removal tool. This is a great design if you have the exact tool, but can be problematic for those not using the proper wrench, which leaves this style of case back susceptible to marks and gouges. The lugs are very distinctive, and one of the details that drew me to this model. At first glance they look a little like bombe lugs, but they are quite different. They are rounded on the side with a flat cut on top that gives them their unique angular look.

The bezel is nice and wide, and the whole case has a polished finish. The crown is large for a case of this size; I imagine that was to make it easier to wind with gloves on. The crown has a unique design, with a large rounded top and deep grooves spaced out around the edge. While not signed, it is still distinctive enough to be easy to spot. I’m a sucker for original crowns on vintage watches, and finding this example with its correct crown was a bonus.

Croton-Nevada-Grenchen-3As nice as the case and crown are on the Antarctic, it’s really the dial that is the hero here. It is a light champagne color, and has a mild rippled texture to it. I’ve seen plenty of textured dials before, but never anything quite like this one. It has applied steel hour markers, with the 12, 3, 6 and 9 being Art Deco styled numerals, and the other markers are a faceted arrowhead or icicle shape. These are truly brilliant, literally and figuratively. There are curved luminescent lines painted at the outer edge of each marker instead of your typical lume dots. The dial is signed “Croton, Nivada Grenchen” below the 12, and “Antarctic” above the 6. There’s a “Swiss” below the 6, but it’s mostly hidden under the inner edge of the reflecting ring.

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The hands are classic dauphine style in steel, with a lume filled stripe. The long second hand is blued steel, which is a great look and a classy touch. Overall, the combination of stylistic elements adds up to one fantastic watch, with a unique look and feel that truly gives you that vintage 1950s vibe.

This example of the Antarctic is powered by a gorgeous gold-toned 17-jewel ETA 1256 automatic movement. The 1256 has a rate of 18,000 bph and a power reserve of 40 hours. Interestingly, this movement has the capability of having a power reserve indicator, but Nivada unfortunately declined to add this complication to the Antarctic.

Croton-Nevada-Grenchen-9What’s really amazing about the Nivada Antarctic is that it is a completely under-the-radar watch. Despite its rich history with the military and scientific exploration, the Antarctic can still be had for less than $300. Try finding a vintage Rolex Explorer or Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic for less than the price of a small car! Granted, Nivada certainly does not have the cache of these bigger brands, but for a few hundred bucks you can get a technically innovative watch with an incredible history and you won’t break the bank. The Antarctic was made for many years and there were several different versions available, so finding one isn’t too difficult. That said, finding one in good original condition can take some time, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

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Christoph (Instagram’s @vintagediver) is a long time collector and lover of all things vintage, starting with comic books when he was a kid (he still collects them). His passion for watches began in 1997 when he was gifted a family heirloom vintage Omega Genève by his step-father. That started him on the watch collecting path—buying and selling vintage watches of all sorts, with a special appreciation for vintage dive watches and Seiko.
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  • Will

    I am delighted to see that someone else (especially a watch collector) has the same
    affinity for this watch as I do. I have had it for some time and it is one of the watches
    of my collection that I find increasingly appealing. I appreciate having learned more about
    it by reading this review.

    • @vintagediver

      Thanks, glad you like the article! It’s definitely a sleeper watch, so much history but so under rated.

  • Charlie Ryan

    How would I go about finding and buying the exact watch that you profiled in this article? I live in the U.S.

    • @vintagediver

      Best bet is keeping an eye on eBay. They show up from time to time. You’ll have to be patient to find a really nice one, but it’s worth the wait!

      • Charlie Ryan

        Many thanks! I worked in Antarctica several seasons so would be a nice addition to the collection. Before this article I didn’t know there were Antarctic watches.

        • @vintagediver

          Wow, that must have been cool! No pun intended ;-). Great reason to add one to the collection.

          • Charlie Ryan

            It was cool. I flew C-130s there. Very interesting flying. South Pole station was a regular run. Minus 30 was common.

            I found this watch which I like and am considering. Do you have any thoughts on it? http://goldsmithwatchworks.com/NOV-25/1958-NIVADA-CROTON-GRENCHEN-ANTARCTICA-DATE-21J-AUTOMATIC.htm

          • @vintagediver

            Wild!
            Never seen that model Antarctic before, it’s definitely a later version, but pretty cool though. Although for me, the dial has a bit too much patina for my tastes. But if you dig it, then go for it!

  • NYCnat

    I was delighted to find this post and thread as i’ve had one of these for 20 years and decided to sell it. It was great to read up and learn about it. The one i have has the box, which is cool, and it’s the officially certified chronometre edition.
    I couldn’t upload the photo, but here’s the link to the ebay listing, with the photos of it.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/272416338783?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1558.l2649

  • Ceri Jones

    I managed to get one on ebay for £18.00 working well, was a bit of a shock for me when it arrived as it was solid 18ct gold and stunning condition.

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