A Guide to Super Compressors

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The term “Super Compressor” is one that is quite often misused these days. Most people associate Super Compressor (SC) with any watch that has dual crowns and an internal rotating bezel, but it’s not that simple. Super Compressor is a trademarked name for specific case designs made by the case manufacturer Ervin Piquerez S.A. (EPSA). They designed a patented case sealing method that actually became more water tight the deeper the watch went. The deeper you went, the more pressure was applied to the case-back, pressing it against the O-ring gasket.

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Most of the SC case-backs have a spring on them, so that the back was tight without being completely compressed against the case. With increasing water pressure, the back was pressed further against the case increasing water resistance. Another advantage of this configuration is that the O-ring did not have full pressure on it constantly, extending its life. Most SC watches were rated to a depth of 600ft.

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counter-clockwise from top left: Hamilton, Wittnauer, Bulova, Benrus, Enicar
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EPSA made these cases from the late 1950’s into the early 1970’s. The most famous did have dual crowns, one at 2 o’clock and the other at 4 o’clock. The crown at 4 was used to wind the movement and set the time. The crown at 2 was used to rotate the internal diver’s bezel. This unique look has been copied by many, and really is iconic in its own right. There were also single crown SC cases, some with an external divers bezel and some without any rotating bezel at all. EPSA made other variations of the Compressor cases, but I will stick to the Super Compressors here.

Super Compressor divers have, for the most part, easily recognizable features that distinguish them as SC cases. Most, but not all of the SC watches have the distinctive cross-hatching marks on the crowns, and some brands put their respective logos over the cross-hatching. The crowns are typically over sized and thick, making it easier to operate them under water.

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Wittnauer “w” over the cross-hatched crown

A few brands, such as Bulova and Enicar, used low profile crowns on some of their models. Another identifying mark is the use of the classic Super Compressor helmet logo. These were almost always stamped at least on the inside of the case-back, and many brands incorporated a more detailed version of the logo on the outside of the case-back.EPSA_LOGO This is a very cool and easily recognizable feature that immediately identifies a watch as an SC.

Since EPSA only made the cases, there were many different manufacturers that used these cases for their dive watches. I have counted over 100 different brands that used one of the many variations of SC cases! The most notable brands that used the dual crown design include: Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines, Girard-Perregaux, Hamilton, Bulova, Enicar, Universal Geneve, Wittnauer, Benrus, Hamilton, Lip, IWC, Droz, Blancpain, Bucherer, Tissot and Benrus to name but a few. This list really reads as a who’s who of 1960’s divers.

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The dual crown divers typically came in two sizes, a 36mm version and a 41mm version. Many companies, including Bulova and Enicar, made models in both sizes. The most famous of the large sized SC’s is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris, quite possibly the most absolutely beautiful and stunning vintage diver…ever.

These are of course insanely rare and expensive these days. Longines and Universal Geneve round out the “big three”, commanding well into the $5000+ range for even a decent example, if you can find one. A few years ago, Longines cashed in on the popularity of these, introducing their Legend Diver model which is an extremely faithful modern rendition of their original SC diver. Jaeger-LeCoultre has also released Heritage versions of the Polaris and Memovox divers.

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Enicar was perhaps the most prolific and imaginative brand when it came to SC’s. They made many different versions of both case sizes, from simple single crown divers to small and large dual crown divers, and GMT divers. Two models, the Ultra Dive and the Sherpa OPS had unique crown guards built on to the case in between the crowns.

Bulova is another brand that made extensive use of the variety of case designs available from EPSA. They made a large cased diver that featured an amazing dial with distinctive triangle shaped lume markers at 3, 6, 9 and 12 which is quite rare, a 36mm version with an Explorer style dial, and they also made the single crown version with yet another dial variation. It should be noted that the bezel on the single crown SC’s were (at least on the Bulova and Longines) made of acrylic and were quite fragile. Few examples have survived intact.

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Some of the SC’s were even used by the military. There are two that I know of, a RAN (Royal Australian Navy) issued large size Droz, and a Polish Navy issued Enicar Sherpa Super Dive. Of course, these are quite scarce and command a premium over non-issued versions. Sadly, but not surprisingly, I’ve seen ones with fake military markings. If you see a Universal Geneve with military markings, it is a fake. These were not issued to any military that I know of.

While the large cased SC’s might command most of the attention and high dollars, the 36mm sized divers are more easily found within an affordable price range and are still very collectible and desirable. With a wide range of brands and dial designs, finding these smaller ones is considerably easier. The Hamilton is one of the more common ones, and is found quite frequently for sale on eBay and sales forums. It has a silver dial with date at 3 o’clock, and came with several name variations. There was one with no name, one called the Aquadate and another called the Cape Horn. These were essentially all the same watch, and I’m not sure why the name difference existed. The nice thing about the Hamilton is that silver dials are not usually found amongst the other brands, and they are fairly common and affordable.

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Enicar is another brand that is more common, although these tend to be found in rough shape. I suppose it’s a good thing that they were used as their makers intended! The Wittnauer SC is one that is very popular with it’s classic dial and handset, and the Benrus Ultra-Deep SC is another one with a classic dial but with unique hands. These can be found, but tend to be closer to the $1000 mark in good condition.

As mentioned above, the term “super compressor” is very frequently used to denote any watch with dual crowns and an internal bezel. Several brands built off of the popularity of this design by making their own version. While these may not have an EPSA SC case, they are still pretty cool divers. The Accutron Deep Sea is one model that is very popular and somewhat scarce. They came in a large cushion shaped case with a very thick domed crystal, and of course the very cool tuning fork movement. Wyler is another brand that copied the SC look, some with really colorful dial designs. The Wyler case was also different in that they were the one-piece front loading type. There are several micro-brands making SC-like watches today which are really nice and quite popular and affordable. The Ocean 7 LM2 and the Halios Laguna are two such examples.

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Collecting Super Compressors is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. They are out there, you just have to find the right combination of price and condition to suit your taste and budget. From the more reasonable “off-brands” to the ultra rare JLC Polaris, there’s something for everyone. One thing about the vintage models to know is that case parts and crystals are nearly non-existent. The 2 o’clock crown that operates the inner bezel is attached to a little star gear that drives the bezel when turned. If this is broken, the star gear and stem are simply not available, so it’s best to avoid examples with a non-working bezel. The crystals are rare as hen’s teeth as well, especially the large sized ones. I know that there are some NOS crystals that have been found to fit the 36mm cases, but they usually do not have the correct construction to accommodate the inner bezel properly. However, if you want the cool vintage SC vibe without the worry of a vintage watch, there’s always the great homage and micro brand offerings to choose from.

 

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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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  • Nice work ‘stoph! Great article!!

  • Reminds me of the case design that Vostok used in their Amfibias- the increasing pressure creating a greater water resistance, against both the acrylic crystal and the caseback.

  • Great read, ‘Stoph!

  • LRM

    Very interesting and well written.

  • Great read, but:

    You are talking about “…great homage and micro brand offerings…”.

    Who’s offering what? It’d be nice to get some examples!

    Thanks!

  • Corné

    3 Other recent official re-issues of super compressors are:
    1. The Fortis Marinemaster in 2002 (90 units only, for the company’s 90th anniversary) from genuine NOS. Cushion shaped case similar to the Accutron 666. The Fortis re-issue has been followed by a flood of non-official NOS and suspect versions on eBay.
    2. The Vulcain Nautical in 2011. With a round SC case, interesting mechanical dive computer and alarm.
    3. The Vulcain Nautical Cricket again in 2013 (300 only in red, 100 only blue trophy editions). This edition has identical diving computer dials and cushion shaped cases to the Fortis Marinemaster, but with the unique Vulcain alarm case back.

    • Nekromanteion

      Anything in a vintage size (38 mm and less)?

  • Here is a picture of another member of the club : the Olma Caravelle 200.
    May I notice as well that LIP has just re-issued the Nautic Ski : http://www.lip.fr/fr/historiques/fred_lip/nautic_ski/ (quartz and automatic)

  • Cary

    Thanks for the informative article. What is the strap on the bottom three watches, on the Benrus, Bulova and the Wittnauer?

    • Jane Matthews

      I am curious as I have a Baume & Mercier with an EPSA case. It is about 45 years old – younger than me! – and a ladies’ watch. The case back is marked COMPRESSOR + BREVET 313813 and is 20.40mm/0.8″ between the lugs. Until recently it had an 11mm rubber strap but my husband suggested that perhaps the time had come to retire it from underwater activities. It does have a 20 micron 18k gold plated case! The seals have been changed about three times during its lifetime!

      Is this a rare watch?

      Jane

  • Boogur T. Wang

    Thanks a lot for this article. I might mention that quite a few of the Benrus models were sold and used by US troops during the VietNam War.
    I had one for a while and seem to remember(? it was a while ago) seeing them one several other people.
    Quite a unique and good design. I’d like to see it offered by more brands today.

  • Tim Mai

    nice informative article… hope to find one myself

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