Back in 2002, if someone had said to me that in 2017 I would have a website with a bunch of watch reviews, be the author of several books on dive watches and famous divers, have my own watch with my book’s logo on it and be known as “the DOXA guy”, I’d have said: “give me 2 pints of what you are drinking because it sure is good stuff!!!” Yet here we are 15 years later and it really has happened and all because I bought a watch. The DOXA SUB 300T Reissue.
Indulge me for a couple of minutes and I’ll tell you a story. It begins even further back in the mists of time in 1989 on a Dive Support Vessel just off the coast of Abu Dhabi where I was running an underwater pipeline inspection job. Picture the scene: late in the day, perfect blue sky, flat calm with the azure blue ocean sparkling with the rays of the setting sun. I’m spooling in the umbilical of an ascending diver when suddenly an arm breaks the water and the sun catches an orange faced dive watch. The image had such a lasting effect on me that I tried for years to get a photo like that on my own dive trips or those of my dive buddies. Eventually, my friend, Ty Alley got the following shot which is the first photo in the 50 Year Anniversary DOXA book I wrote.
I asked the diver about the watch and he replied “its an old DOXA I bought about 15 years ago, but I don’t think they make them anymore.” Fast forward to around 1995. I’m working in a shipyard in Dalian, North China, when one of my English mates, throws me a book and says: “Hey Pete, read this, you’ll like it. Author is Clive Cussler and his hero is an underwater James Bond kind of bloke.” I’d never heard of Clive Cussler but the book sounded interested so I started reading. When I read the bit where Dirk Pitt looked at his orange dial DOXA and then proceeded to save the world, I suddenly remembered the orange watch on the diver, back in Abu Dhabi. Fast forward again to 2002. I’m in upstate New York when my trusty Casio went on the blink and I started looking for a new watch. I always fancied the Breitling Superocean but during my trawl of the internet I discovered that the DOXA SUB had been resurected. I promptly bought the SUB 300T Reissue second hand for the princely sum of $750. I then discovered the Orange Monster which was selling for around $150. I bought one of them too. Set up www.doxa300t.com and wrote a review. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you actually go and read that DOXA – SEIKO review you will see where the first line states: “I am not a watch collector.” Well, that changed over the years. I’ve owned in excess of 25 DOXAs (I have ‘only’ 15 now). With Seikos, I’ve owned 13 and ‘only’ have 8 now. I actually sold the original SUB 300T Reissue and Orange Monster, but, I re-bought the DOXA several years ago and recently picked up an original first generation SKX781 Orange Monster, just like the one I owned. Having them both back together, I thought it would be good to review them again and see how they have stood the test of time.
The SUB 300T Reissue was the watch that really put DOXA dive watches back on the map. At first glance it looked like a classic SUB 300T. Orange dial, Non Decompression Dive Table bezel and large minute hand. The case was also the classic DOXA Tonneau style… erm, no, wait a minute. No it wasn’t. It looked like it until you got up close, then it looked like… well, I’m not really sure what it looked like. I don’t think there ever had been a case quite that shape.
At a time when most dive watches had a case height of between 11 and 14 mm, the SUB 300T Reissue came in at what was almost a nose bleed inducing height of 18mm. The main case was 45mm long and the shaped lugs added another 14mm taking it to 59mm lug to lug. The width with crown was 45mm. This made the new SUB a relative beast.
Compared to the DOXA, the Seiko SKX781 Orange Monster wasn’t really a monster at all. It hit the tape at 13mm thick, 45mm wide with crown and 46mm lug to lug, but it also had its idiosyncratic design element with a non symmetrical case that incorporated a crown guard.
The curved lugs on the DOXA were designed to hug the wrist and for many people they did just that. But it wasn’t a watch for everyone. My wrists are 6.75 inches and the SUB 300T really is pushing the limit for me. Purely from the aesthetic point that any larger and the length of the watch exceeds the width of my wrist and it just looks odd.
No danger of that with the Seiko. Which because of the size and the superbly flat caseback just clings to the wrist like a limpet mine. Although the SUB 300T caseback was much bigger it was relatively more ‘domed’ compared to that on the Orange Monster.
In the last 15 years both the 300T Reissue and the Orange Monster have become latter day classic dive watches, but mostly for different reasons. DOXA only made 2,000 orange SUB 300T Reissue watches. 1,000 with the plain dial and 1,000 of the Seahunter version which had a small diver on the dial and a blue sweep hand. It is impossible to say how many Orange Monsters Seiko produced but it must be bazillions. There were 3 versions over the years. All retained the same case, bezel and bracelet. However the second generation used an upgraded movement which incorporated hacking and manual winding, used a knurled crown and the markers on the dial became more angular. The third version changed the dial markers back to resemble those on the original SKX781 but removed the date function and added a cyclops. There were a number of variations and dial colours including limited editions in blue, red and white. At the time of writing, October 2017, it is believed that the Orange Monster version has ceased production. It is a pity really because the Orange Monster was / is the epitome of what a good dive watch should be. Relatively inexpensive, comfortable, easy to read dial and hands, a luminosity that other watches are compared with, virtually bullet proof and with a movement that just keeps going for years with no servicing. A classic which every dive watch collector should have in their collection.
The SUB 300T became a classic because it was a DOXA, which gave it a head start, but also because of the radical design. Not only was the case different but the bracelet was probably the most contentious element. You either loved it or loathed it, but you sure couldn’t ignore it. Affectionately known as the bicycle chain, for obvious reasons, it was 22mm wide over the whole length with a solid clasp and divers extension.
I remember at the time comparing the bracelets on the DOXA and Seiko with that on my Rolex and the difference was palpable. The Seiko bracelet was and, in my opinion still is, one of the best value and best quality bracelets you can buy. I actually use them on a number of non Seiko watches. The bicycle chain was just a solid, substantial piece of kit that you know could take anything you threw at it. The Rolex bracelet felt like a cheap, tinny, rattly piece of crap. Yet one of the links cost more than a couple of Seiko bracelets. The only slight negative I had about both bracelets was that they used pins and collars to join the links. They worked fantastically well, but they were fiddly little bar stewards. Remember the little collars? Everyone’s carpet must have at least 2 lost ones in it.
I talked earlier about the luminosity of the Orange Monster dial. Both watches in the following image are at least 14 years old and thanks to the wonders of Superluminova they really haven’t diminished in strength over the years. As I said. The Seiko set the standard for lighthouse strength luminous markers. Seiko owns this world, other watches just live in it.
In many ways the SUB 300T Reissue and the Orange Monster represent the David and Goliath of the watch world. Seiko, a massive organisation, which makes its own movements and has immense economies of scale can produce a high quality product through a worldwide distribution network for a relatively low price.
DOXA’s dive watch production can be measured in the thousands per year. They have to source movements from ETA which has restricted sales to anyone outside the group in recent years and in many ways DOXA pioneered the online sales distribution channel. In the last 15 years they have restricted the numbers of each model they produced, refining the marque and trying to be innovative but still keep the DOXA SUB recognisable as as a DOXA SUB. They have re-established relationships with the Cousteau family and most recently Aqua-Lung in the form of the 50th Anniversary SUB 300 ‘Black Lung’. DOXA will never be Seiko, but then, they probably don’t want to be. They may not be a watchmaking Goliath, but DOXA has a history which other dive watch manufactures can only dream about.
Seiko Orange Monsters are everywhere. Everyone has one, and for good reason. You just can’t beat the ‘bang for the buck’ value. The SUB 300T Reissue is a rarity on the forums or facebook groups. Seeing one in real life is like bumping into Brad Pitt at your local Walmart… it just doesn’t happen. They rarely come up for sale. For a watch that supposedly wasn’t a great favourite, people seem to be hanging on to them. They probably have the DOXA in the safe and the Seiko on their wrist.
Man, 2002, seems such a long time ago. There have been many changes in the watch world in general and my life in particular. I’m not sure I’ve worn as well as these 2 guys. I think they will outlast us all.
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar