Nivada Grenchen, or Croton depending on your location, is a heritage brand that is being revived with the introduction of period correct watches made to modern standards. This is a concept we’ve seen trending in recent years (from Yema to Zodiac), even with more established brands, and Nivada is hoping the strength of their heritage will translate well to modern sensibilities. A little digging reveals some real substance behind the name, and the watches stick to the script. We spent some time with an offering from their new Chronomaster collection in an effort to see how the watch measures up to its historical forebears, as well as a stand alone product.
Review: Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver
The Nivada Grenchen brand dates to 1926, and is named for the town in Switzerland that sits east of Lausanne. The brand operated under the name Wüllimann Schneider Nivada S.A for its founders Otto Wüllimann, Hermand Schlindler, and Jacob Schneider. Their aim was to create professional instruments that were practical, usable, and tough. Their watches were early to adopt automatic movements from the likes of ETA and Phénix S.A in the ‘30s. By the ‘50s, Nivada watches were being worn by the members of the American Navy’s Deep Freeze 1, dubbed Task Force 43, during their expedition to the South Pole in 1955. Side note, the expedition was filmed by the US Navy and Disney Studios, and as a result Walt Disney was named an honorary member of the expedition.
Upon their attempt to enter the US market, Nivada was presented with a legal hurdle to overcome thanks to Movado, who felt that their names were too similar and would confuse consumers. A judge ruled that adding ‘Grenchen’ to the title would suffice, and so watches sold thereafter are labeled as such, but it’s not that clear cut. In 1940 Croton was formed to distribute Nivada watches to US retailers, and subsequent watches could be found bearing the name ‘Croton’, or ‘Croton Nivada’ or even ‘Croton Nivada Grenchen’. By the ‘60s, Nivada had hit their stride with watches like the Chronomaster, Aviator, Sea Diver, and Depthomatic – which housed a depth gauge on the dial. The unique designs and functionality of these watches struck a high note with consumers, and Nivada saw their exports go from 52,000 in 1964 to 173,000 in 1969 as a result.
Through the ‘70s Nivada expanded on the popularity of hits like the Chronomaster with updates to the design and calibers used, and it’s these watches that we see prized in vintage circles today. Sadly, the quartz crisis wasn’t kind to brands like Nivada, and the branding confusion certainly didn’t help the situation, and by the ‘80s the rights were sold off, eventually ending up in the hands of Mexican based Industrial Omega SA de CV group.
In recent years, Nivada has been undergoing a revival thanks to French entrepreneur, Guillaume Laidet and Remi Chabrat, the CEO of Montrichard Group. A few connections later and Omega SA de CV Group granted Montrichard the license to the Nivada Grenchen copyright, and here we are discussing the fruits of that deal.
The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver
Let’s get it out of the way. The name is a mouthful, and sounds a bit like 3 different watches jammed into one. That’s the point of the watch however, to provide you with the right tools regardless of what you happen to be doing. Timing a race? Check out that chronograph and tachymeter. Heading out for a dive? The rotating bezel has you covered. Piloting a single prop for the afternoon? Again with the tachymeter. Having an impromptu yacht race with your mates? There’s a yachting scale in the minute totalizer. But, when it comes to jack-of-all-trades type tools, rarely do they excel at any one of them, and while that is certainly the case here, I can’t think of a situation that today’s user would put it to use for any of the aforementioned activities. And in day to day use, the new Nivada just does fine, and looks pretty damn cool in the process.
The Chronomaster is nothing if not true to its origins, almost to a fault. That’s exactly what makes it so charming. The case measures 38mm in diameter (39mm at the bezel’s edge), 14.8mm in thickness (including a domed sapphire crystal), and a pleasant 46.5mm from lug to lug. The most interesting feature of the case are the lugs, which are brushed with a polished chamfer that tapers toward the tip. The top of the lug is a narrow rectangle, so views directly down on the watch give the appearance of a straight wire lug, with the chamfer falling out of sight due to their polished surface. Depending on your viewing angle, it’s possible to get a very different character out of the watch. This also gives the impression of a much longer lug than the measurements would suggest, but refer back to that lug to lug measurement for reassurance.
The pump pushers are fully polished, along with the crown which features an etched “N” for Nivada logo (a detail that could have looked nice on the dial itself). The Lugs are drilled for easy strap changes, though the leather strap fitted to this example has finger tabs on the spring bars for even easier changes.
The bezel is an aluminum insert that rotates either direction with relative ease. There is no click so it slides freely to any position. The insert itself houses minute hashes around its entirety, with numerals each 5 minutes, with 12 hour numerals positioned underneath. It’s a full house but considering there are no numerals present on the dial (save for the tachymeter), it serves as a useful tool for measuring elapsed time outside of the chronograph.
Moving to the dial, we find the most defining features of the watch as whole. At a glance, the two sub dials at 3 and 9 o’clock feel quite small, and quite far apart. In practice, they are small, and far apart. They appear exactly as they did on the original models from the ‘60s, and there position here is largely a function of the case size and movement, but in use they are a challenge to read, even for sharp eyes. Aesthetically, however, they provide a lot of the character and establish the vintage experience of the watch. They are black against the white dial, and pushed to the far edges, with short sword style hands reading off the running seconds at 9 o’clock, and the elapsed minutes for the chronograph at 3 o’clock. The minute counter brings a dash of red color to the dial to countdown 5 minutes. Nivada labels this a yachting scale, but you might find more practical uses for it.
The chapter ring gets minute hashes with 1/5th second hashes in between for the chronograph timing seconds hand. Outside of that sits the tachymeter, which gets distorted a fair amount due to the domed crystal. This example uses yellowed lume bars at the hour markers, as well as within the hour and minute hands to play up the vintage theme at work here. Dial signage is limited to the brand at 12 o’clock and the model at 6 o’clock (which takes up 3 lines), and a small “L Swiss” stacked below that (this would have been “T Swiss” on the original denoted the use of tritium).
Another distinguishing feature are the hands, in particular the hour hand, which is short and wide with a broad arrow tip filled with lume. The watch can be optioned with pencil style hands that might be the more practical route, but there’s no denying the presence of the hands as they exist on this model.
On The Wrist
All this adds up to a rather memorable experience on the wrist. Its dimensions are welcoming and the leather strap offering is supple and broken in right out of the gates. Seriously, this is a great strap. The watch has a great footprint, though it does sit a touch high; nothing too troublesome but don’t expect it to glide gracefully under a cuff.
In use, the Chronomaster isn’t the most practical watch in the world. Getting a read on the time requires more than a passing glance thanks to the hand shape and color, the chronograph features are small and difficult to read, and the bezel houses a lot of information to parse… There’s a lot going on here and it’s difficult to say it does any of it perfectly. That said, this is a watch that will bring a smile to your face every time you look at it. It’s a great looking watch with tons of character and for all its faults, I simply enjoy wearing it. Reading the time isn’t that hard, and the chronograph works as intended, so there’s nothing functionally wrong with the watch.
The Chronomaster is a bit like those small pocket watches that have all manner of tools built in. There’s a screwdriver, a scissors, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, a file and more; none of which are particularly viable to use, but it works in a pinch and as a kid, you wouldn’t be caught dead without one. This watch has a similar vibe, and I kind of love it for that.
The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver uses a Sellita SW510 BH B automatic chronograph movement. It utilizes a cam operated chronograph and offers 48 hours of reserve. There is some wobble to the rotor that you will notice with heavy wrist movements, but nothing out of the ordinary for such a movement in this price range. There’s also a fair bit of play in the hands when setting the time, creating some frustration if you’re trying to set it against an atomic clock.
Overall this isn’t the most refined movement by any stretch, but it gets the job done here and we found accuracy to be within 10 seconds a day. The design is based off the Valjoux 7750 and should offer a similar level of robustness throughout its lifespan.
Price & Conclusions
The Chronomaster watches in their remastered, automatic form are priced from $1,965 on leather to $2,172 on steel bracelets (oyster or beads of rice style). They can also be had with manual winding movements, and priced from $1,760 to $1,968 respectively. It’s worth noting that in manual spec, you save yourself 1.1mm in thickness over the automatic variant, which should provide a noticeable and welcome difference on the wrist, not to mention get rid of the wobble. There are a variety of dial variations available and we’d recommend browsing the entire collection to find one that suits your tastes before purchasing.
The Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver is far from perfect. There’s a real sense of personality here that eludes many modern watches, and it carries itself proudly as a result. This is a unique bit of history brought to life effectively by the new proprietors of Nivada Grenchen, and we’re happy to see it returning to tell the story of a once great brand looking to reestablish itself. I’d love to see a modern interpretation of the Chronomaster take shape alongside this faithful re-issue, but until then this is a watch and brand that brings a welcome sense of nostalgia and character to the wrist, and makes for a near perfect weekender in the process. Discover more from Nivada Grenchen.