Affordable Vintage: Enicar Seapearl 600

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Most seasoned watch collectors are well versed in the connection between famous explorers and their watches. Companies like Rolex, Omega, and Jaeger-LeCoultre are just some of the well known brands to send their watches on great expeditions and then cash in on the resulting popularity with advertising. If you read our article on the Croton Nivada Grenchen Antarctic, you’ll know that it wasn’t just the bigger players taking part in this; smaller brands were also taking advantage of this marketing opportunity. One of the lesser known Swiss brands to do so was Enicar.

In May of 1956, Enicar provided Seapearl watches to the Albert Eggler-led Swiss expedition to climb Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. It is generally believed that the manual wind Seapearl 600 was the watch used, mainly because of advertisements showing that model and calling it the “Everest watch.” However, Eggler states in his book detailing the expedition that they actually used automatic Enicars, so there is speculation that they may have been supplied a different Seapearl model with an automatic movement. Regardless, Enicar used the connection in advertising campaigns to great advantage, adding the name “Sherpa” to the Seapearl and over 100 other models over the years.

Enicar_SeaPearl-11Now, as cool as the possible Eggler expedition connection is, the Seapearl 600 has an even more interesting historical tie that is not up for debate. In 1958, Bulova was developing a submersible diver’s watch for the US Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit (EDU). While the Bulova was under development, the Navy was performing official testing on the Rolex Submariner 6538 and Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Milspec 1 divers. As it turns out, the Enicar Seapearl 600 was popular with Navy divers at the time and many were in (non-issued) use by divers, so the Navy included the Seapearl 600 in the tests as well.

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According to the 1959 Navy EDU “Evaluation Report 1-59,” the Enicar performed quite satisfactorily compared to the Rolex and the Blancpain. In fact, the Rolex crystal fogged from water intrusion, and was actually deemed to be insufficiently watertight! The Enicar (along with the Blancpain), however, did pass, and the divers themselves preferred its lighter weight.

EnicarMilitaryReportThe report also mentions the excellent luminosity of the “gaudy and strange looking” dial and hands, but states that it was “well above the safe industrial limits of radioactivity.” Yikes! The Seapearl 600 came with several different variations of the dial and hands, and I would wager that the model tested by the Navy had fully lume-filled hands, including the seconds hand. The primary example featured in today’s gallery is what I believe to be a later model, and it features hour and minute hands with a thin lume slit, and a second hand with lume only at the tip. But more on the variations later.

One aspect of the Seapearl 600 the test subjects did not like was the shiny case. The reason? Highly reflective cases can attract biting fish if there are any in the vicinity of the dive! Not something I would have ever considered, but it definitely makes sense. It should be noted that while the Navy liked the Seapearl, its use was limited to when an external timing bezel was not needed. The Navy did eventually test the Sherpa Dive 600 which did have an external rotating bezel, but those findings were published in a later report.

EnicarSeaPearl_MilitaryReport-8The Navy definitely liked the price of the Seapearl 600 at $25.00 compared to $55.50 for the Blancpain (yeah, you read that right) and $90.00 for the Rolex. In fact, they considered the Enicar cheap enough that they figured their divers could wear them for a year or so and then just throw them out rather than pay the expense of servicing them. In the end, with all factors considered, the first choice of the divers themselves was the Seapearl 600 when a rotating bezel wasn’t needed. When it was needed, the Blancpain won out. In the end, however, the Navy did not issue the Seapearl 600, but went with the Rolex and Blancpain instead. All told, a pretty neat story.Enicar_SeaPearl-4

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So, now that we know the history of this little gem, let’s talk about the watch itself. The stainless steel case is an EPSA Super Compressor case with a bayonet style back closure. The earlier versions are pre-Super Compressor, though they too utilized a bayonet closure.

Enicar_SeaPearl-5The Seapearl measures 34.6mm wide by 42mm long with 18mm lugs. There are two different lug variations–one with the angled lugs shown here, and another with more rounded ornate lugs; of the two, I strongly prefer the former. There are also several case back variations, some using the Sherpa name, and some without, among other differences. Later examples have a uniquely cool Seapearl clam-and-pearl embossed logo.

Below, you can see the older iteration case back (left) with a scalloped ridge for the case back tool, a detail that does make it a bit of a pain to use. There are other versions with a more traditional polygon ridge. Regardless of the case back style, I do believe that all variants featured EPSA’s classic bayonet style closure system.

EnicarSeapearl_casebacks
L: earlier Seapearl; R: later variant with clam-and-pearl case back

The crown is a classic oversized EPSA crosshatched type, signed with the Enicar Saturn logo. I believe that this crown is found across all variations of the model. The whole package is topped off with a beautiful high-dome acrylic crystal.

While the Navy may have considered the dial “gaudy and strange looking,” I find it to be quite unique and attractive. The dial is a glossy black, with large lume filled indices. The 12, 3, 6 and 9 are large trapezoid lume plots with metallic numerals inside, and the other hour markers are smaller lume triangles. Each hour marker is outlined in steel or silver metal. Some dials have a black space between the lume and the outline, and some do not.

Enicar_SeaPearl-2The dial is signed “Enicar” over their trademark Saturn logo below the 12, along with “Ultrasonic, 17 jewels.” It is signed “Seapearl” in an ornate script above the 6, along with “600,” and signed “Swiss” below the 6. All of the lume is Radium, which is a little scary considering how much of it there is, and as I wrote above even the Navy was concerned about it back in the day.

As with the case, there are several variations of the dial. Most of the variations have to do with the text, where some feature “Seapearl 600” inside of a box, and some with the “Sherpa” name above that box. There are also versions without the Saturn logo. Regardless of the variant, these dials were susceptible to aging and patina, and finding a dial in untarnished condition is a rarity. The patina, however, can be quite striking and beautiful, and nice “tropic” examples are quite common.

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EnicarHealthwaysSeapearlThe coolest variant is the Healthways 100, a Seapearl 600 that was co-branded with Healthways, an early scuba gear manufacturer. This one had the more ornate lug design and was signed “Healthways.” These are definitely more scarce than your run-of-the-mill Seapearls.

Enicar_SeaPearl-16
Later model Seapearl 600 with baton hands

Earlier models feature hands that are broad flat steel with pointed tips and narrow lume filled slots. The second hand is quite unusual–a fancy candlestick style with a lume-filled tip. The earlier versions had fully lumed hands, including the second hand, a detail that the Navy liked as it really added to the underwater visibility. There are later models with rectangular baton-style steel hands, similar to those found on the Enicar Sherpa Divette Super Compressor model.

Enicar_SeaPearl-14

The Seapearl 600 is powered by a 17-jewel manual wind AR 1120 movement, known to be robust and reliable. The AR stands for Ariste Racine, the founder of Enicar (Racine spelled backwards). The AR 1120 beats at 18,000 bph, with a respectable power reserve of 47 hours. Really early versions of the Seapearl were fitted with a cal. AR 1010. The example shown above features an even gold tone finish, while others I’ve seen are just plain steel.

The Seapearl 600 originally came on a rubber strap, presumably a classic 18mm Tropic with a steel buckle. I was able to source a true-to-the-period signed buckle (see gallery), though I am unsure if this is the exact buckle that would have been paired with the watch. It looks great nonetheless.

Enicar_SeaPearl-15While this is a smaller watch by today’s standards, I find that it has a ton of wrist presence with that killer dial, and it wears great. As mentioned above, this watch was originally offered for $25 in the late 1950s–a reasonable price when compared to other divers of the time. Today, these are steadily rising in value, but they can still be found in good condition for less than $600–a real value when one considers the going rate for a Rolex 6538 or a Blancpain Milspec 1.

authors note: I want to give special mention to user “MMMD” of OmegaForums for having the tenacity to dig up the above-mentioned Navy documents.  To read further, click here.

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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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  • TrevorXM

    It’s an interesting little watch. Far too small for me to be interested in one for myself, but a good article on its history and specs.

    Geez, another beating for Rolex under the hard lights of critical evaluation in period.

    Rolex — beaten mercilessly in the chronometer competitions of the early 1950’s by Zenith (and others like Ulysse Nardin) until they finally quit trying.

    Rolex — not actually with Sir Hillary to the top of Everest because he carried a Smiths.

    Rolex — losing in official US Navy tests of dive watches to Blancpain and little Enicar because the Rolex was poor at water resistance and had a poorly designed strap and was too heavy and expensive for what you got.

    But Rolex won in the advertising and hype game! That’s why they are where they are today.

  • Nelson

    Great history article.

  • Charlie Ryan

    Great article!

    How do you select the watches featured in Affordable Vintage?

    Also, can anyone guess when watch collecting took off? I bought a bunch of vintages watches while working in New Zealand in the early 90’s. The dollar was strong and the Kiwis weren’t much interested in old watches. Now it seems that old watches are more popular everywhere and much more expensive.

    Many thanks for any insight.