Clemence Looks To Class Up The Dive Watch With Photic Diver

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It takes some guts to launch a new dive watch in an era rife with already excellent choices from both household name brands and exciting new indies alike. But, that’s just what the brand Clemence is doing with a Kickstarter campaign that ends this week. The watch, called the Photic, has met its goal, and the project will be funded. We first wrote about the watch heading into the summer, noting its well executed and engineered if straightforward design, and now we’ve had a chance to get our hands on a pre-production example to provide a proper assessment of a watch that has high ambitions within a very competitive market. 

In a space with so many enticing options already existing, it’s tempting to try pushing the envelope in terms of design, to set yourself apart and differentiate yourself from the competition. Surely, going the restrained, classic route offers no opportunity to be unique. It’s all been done before, hasn’t it? Well, yes and no, and Clemence walks a fine line here in embracing the tried and true while doing it in a way that feels wholly original.

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$525

Clemence Looks To Class Up The Dive Watch With Photic Diver

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
Miyota 9039
Dial
Matte Black, Blue Sunburst, Blue Gradient
Lume
C3 Super Luminova
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Stainless Steel Bracelet
Water Resistance
200M
Dimensions
39x47mm
Thickness
12.9mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw Down
Warranty
Price
$525

The Photic Diver is certainly straightforward at a glance, with familiar case lines, a somewhat conventional dial (again, at a glance), and tidy measurements that suggest (accurately) excellent wear on the wrist. But there’s something a little different that’s difficult to put a finger on at first, and that’s the proportions of the case, bezel, and dial. 

This is a very legible watch, and it better be with the name Photic (more on that later), and a big part of why is the general expansiveness of the dial compared to the size of the case. It’s unusually large. The steel case of the Photic measures 39mm in diameter, right between the Halios Fairwind (just under 39mm) and the Seiko SPB149 (just under 41mm) that happen to be next to me at the moment. The viewing area of the dials on those watches is 30 and 29.5mm respectively. The same measurement on the Photic is 32mm. That might sound like a small difference, but believe me, you notice it. 

The two other watches mentioned above have much wider bezel units fitted to the case, thus squeezing the dial into a smaller space given the similar case sizes. The Photic, on the other hand, gets a slim bezel assembly, and as a result lacks any numerals within, as you’d find on the others. Small dots mark each 5 minute increment, with bars appearing at the cardinal positions, all under a domed sapphire bezel insert. The net result of all this is a dial that looks much larger than it will feel on the wrist, all for the ultimate purpose of legibility without compromising wearbility. The downside in all this is, of course, a less practical bezel. It’s more difficult to manipulate and read than either of the other watches, but it’s a fair tradeoff that will be welcomed by many given the somewhat limited day to day usefulness of the bezel. Compared to reading the time, at least.

The lug to lug measurement of just under 47mm and total thickness of less than 13mm also help with the wearability. The Fairwind is a hair thinner, but overall the Photic wears very similarly to the Seiko and Halios, while enjoying a more conservatively styled case that falls somewhere between the skin-diver-esque shape of the former, and the angularity of the latter. This is a nice case that finished in a respectable manner considering the price point of just over $500. 

Back to that big dial, which, on our sample, is matte black with gilt furniture. The hour bars are joined by the Arabic numerals 12 and 6 at the top and bottom of the dial, each filled with C3 Super Luminova. The indices are applied to the dial, standing tall against the minimal darkness of their surroundings. A white chapter rings sits at the very edge of the dial, right at the fall off point at which the dial domes downward. Viewed in dials of a different color, this section falls to black, creating a gradation from center to edge that is unfortunately absent here.

 A set of heavily lumed dauphine hands track the time, bringing an unusual level of grace to a genre not exactly known for it. They are thick enough to be useful, but appear more delicate in nature than the slabs we’re used to seeing used here. Light branding appears at 12 o’clock while a scripted ‘automatic’ and 200m appear at 6 o’clock. Their application is quite faint, not calling much attention to themselves which may have been the intent here. It all comes together quite well, and what’s more, in a pretty unique way.

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When it comes to bracelets at this price point, I’m starting to think I need to recalibrate my expectations. There have been some great ones of late, including from the aforementioned Halios and Seiko, and this Photic is no exception. It’s a brushed three-link unit that won’t win any points on originality, but it’s execution is impressive. Solid end-links fit between drilled lugs with an articulating link meeting the bracelet for max flexibility on wrist. The connecting point in the clasp is firm if not refined, but the clasp itself houses an extension that allows for on the fly adjustments. Pulling back on a pair of tabs protruding from the clasp provides access to 5 stops and ~8mm of extension quickly and easily. 

This type of quick extension is quickly becoming the ante to play in this space, and should pressure large manufacturers to consider such quality of life features in watches higher up the food chain. That’s good news for the likes of you and me, and will hopefully result in a larger array of options whatever the price point. 

And what is the price point? During the Kickstarter, these can be ordered for £385, which is just under $525 at the time of this writing. The eventual retail price will be £429, or ~$585, still not too shabby, all things considered. You can thank the use of the Miyota 9035 automatic movement for that. If you scoff at the use of this movement, know that it’s thinner, has a longer power reserve, and while it doesn’t come in all the grades you’ll find over at ETA, has been running inside of 1 second a day in my time with the watch. There is a display back at use here, and while it’s not the prettiest movement in the world, it’s proven plenty capable in this, and many other watches in recent years.

The Photic is assembled and tested by horologists in Britain that Clemence has partnered with for the launch and lifespan of this watch. Your mileage may vary on accuracy, but I’d guess some regulation occurs between assembly and delivery. 

In addition to the Abyss black dial seen here, the watch can be had in either Photic blue or Atoll blue, offering you either a gradient to black, or a sunburst texture with the option of silver or gilt accents. The photic (or euphotic) zone is an upper aquatic layer of the ocean that still receives sunlight, but falls into darker bands at the lower end (where light radiation is degraded down to 1% of its surface strength), making these two options of blue rather fitting to the name. Just how large this section is can vary, as the zone itself is defined by the extent of light attenuation in the water column. This layer of the ocean is home to most aquatic life, and is full of solar energy used for photosynthesis. I’m no diver but I’m guessing this is where most recreational diving happens as well. 

Image: Clemence

The name may conjure all manner of imagery in the head, from poetic to terrifying, but the watch itself is an impressive accomplishment as the first foundation piece for the new brand. There’s a clear design language at work here that feels well considered and even original, even if it hasn’t reinvented the wheel. It feels comfortable in its own skin, without trying to look like anything else in particular and, to my eye, looks pretty good as a result. It’s not presented as a hardened, extreme tool that’ll inspire you to pick up new extreme hobbies and extreme friends, it’s just a classy take on the dive watch. 

You can learn more about the Photic and support the campaign at the Kickstarter located right here, or more about the brand itself, who they are and what they stand for at Clemence.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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