Affordable Vintage: ’70s Cool with the Scubapro 500

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It started because I had a watch that wasn’t getting worn. We’ve all been there; a piece comes into your possession, and at first it graces your wrist because it’s new, but then it starts to sit. You feel bad so you swap in a new strap and hope to gain a new appreciation for the thing. But despite your best efforts it’s just not happening, and the time comes to let someone else have a crack at it who’ll give it the wrist time it deserves. I’d posted the watch on the relevant boards for a couple of weeks, yet it had only garnered some half-hearted bezel-kicking and a lowball offer or two. It was clear I had to go on the offensive and seek a trade.

The watch I had wasn’t worth a ton so I went poking around for vintage dive watches from smaller brands in hopes of something of comparable value popping up. I’m a sucker for military watches (who isn’t) so my search started leading me to some of the lesser known brands whose pieces were used by military forces around the world. Through this I stumbled on the Scubapro 500.If you’re not familiar with the brand, Scubapro is one of the biggest names in scuba diving, supplying the world with some of the most innovative underwater equipment since the early 1960s. Suffice to say, if you dive, it’s likely you own something from Scubapro.

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During the 1970s and early ’80s, Scubapro lent their brand to a number of purpose-built dive watces. While some were collaborations with known brands, such as the oft faked Scubapro Seiko 450, others were private label pieces badged only as Scubapros, the 500 being one of them. Who actually made these watches is one of the oddities of the vintage market, and it remains a mystery to this day. Even Scubapro no longer know who made the 500, as all branding on the rotor, case back, and dial are simply marked with “Scubapro.”

Regardless of who actually produced the watches, the Scubapro 500 has come to embody ’70s “tool watch” cool. A thick shark-tooth style bezel for easy grip underwater, a 60-minute elapsed time bezel insert, a thick case with a starburst brushed finish (ripe for scuffs and dings in the field), 500 meters of water resistance, and a robust ETA 2784 automatic movement all made it a smart choice for recreational and military divers alike.There are a few pieces floating around that indicate that the Scubapro 500 wasn’t just unofficially used in a military capacity, but actually issued. Sweden and possibly some of their Nordic brethren have been confirmed as having adopted it for their special forces units. There’s also the consistent comparisons of the Scubapro 500’s similarities in look and build to that of the Eterna Super KonTiki, a favorite of the Israeli Defense Forces. There’s postulation that Eterna may actually have been the builder of these pieces decades ago.

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With that combination of mystery and history I couldn’t help but start searching for a Scubapro 500 and take a flyer offering my watch in trade. Some digging turned up one posted with a few weeks worth of “bump to the top” posts following it. After some traded emails we settled on a fair deal, and we both took the leap of faith inherent in a private watch sale on the Internet. A few days later I had a new piece in my collection.

On my 7.5-inch wrist.

My first impression of the Scubapro 500 when I broke it out of the box and bubble wrap was that it was refreshingly smaller than I expected, at least side-to-side. With the generously proportioned crown it clocks in at 44mm, but the bezel is only 40mm diameter. While big for the day, it’s not all that big by today’s standards, and it’s the perfect size in my eyes as I prefer a 40 to 42mm watch. What the Scubapro 500 may lack side-to-side, it makes up for in height measuring a full 15mm tall. Given its proportions, I’ve found it rides best on a NATO strap, but even still it’s prone to smacking a door knob and all manner of things throughout the day. Given its heft, it has luckily come out on the winning side every time so far.

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The dial was a familiar layout reminiscent of every Submariner with Mercedes hand and dot/bar/triangle indices, but an orange lollipop second hand provides a nice twist. All the tritium lume was equally aged to an almost creamy color that surprisingly still throws off a light glow when the lights go out.

Without a doubt, the most striking aspect of my Scubapro 500 is its silver bezel insert, a lesser seen variant that never fails to garner a compliment when worn.

Overall it’s an excellent example of its time period with equal parts funky design, brutal efficiency, and mysterious past all in the pursuit of rough and tumble activities below and above the water. After nearly nine months in my collection I continue to wear the Scubapro 500 regularly, confirming I made the right trade. I continue to be surprised at how many comments it prompts from both watch aficionados and laypeople alike. My only complaint–as someone who doesn’t pine for patina put on by someone else–is the fact that I can’t strap on the Scubapro and head out for a weekend on the water with confidence that it can handle what comes its way. For now it’ll have to remain a dry land adventure companion, but I’m strongly considering getting it serviced, tested, and back to the waterman activities it was designed for. Tools shouldn’t be left on the bench.In terms of price, I see these regularly go for $1,200 to $1,600, and where it falls within that range is largely dependent on the seller and the condition of the watch. While it may be on the higher end of the affordable scale of things we regularly talk about in this series, it remains an excellent example of a solid tool diver from years past.

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Jon is a native New Englander who enjoys traveling as much as returning home. He has a passion for watches that his significant other kindly tolerates whilst shaking her head in consternation. A tendency to plow through life with little finesse has led him to appreciate and pursue the utility of a good tool watch.
jongaffney
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