Given that a watch is not needed in most of our everyday lives, for many – arguably most – watch brands, creating and maintaining modern context is synonymous with success. While certainly functional, a watch provides a service that has been entirely saturated by other devices and technologies in the world (including those that allow you to browse a site such as HODINKEE). Thus, context becomes a paramount requirement in translating the idea of a watch to a modern buyer that quite likely doesn’t need the raw function it provides. And so, we enter the realm of the emotional, where everything from decorative house plants, to supercars, Hi-Fi stereos, chocolate milk, and even most watches – exist to make us happy.
As for the greater idea of a watch having modern context, perhaps no sub-genre of the form has been more successful than the often humble dive watch. Yes, there are more modern and ubiquitous iterations of the watch, think Apple Watch or a G-Shock, but those were born of a modern era. In this case, not only does a modern dive watch have to carry the weight of a world that doesn’t need a watch, but it also has to exist within a more specific and layered context that includes 1) how few dive watch owners actually go diving and 2) that when they do, the base function of the dive watch is superseded by the advent of the dive computer. Without the existence of pure watch enthusiasm, the dive watch is a bolt without a nut, one element of a formula that doesn’t solve for today’s math. In short, you’d better make a very pretty and decidedly interesting bolt.
Some brands like Rolex and Omega have excelled at this to the point of ubiquity even among those that don’t know much about watches at all. For a lesser-known and more insider creation like a Doxa, that context can be difficult to establish, and the most common move is to make a new watch that borrows the context of an old watch. Arguably the biggest trend in watch design over the past decade has been that of “new vintage” design. And, while the trend has had its successes and Wooderson-esque failures, many brands, especially those that have struggled to find their own modern context, have relied on the concept of anemoia (more here). Wherein watches attempt to co-opt a legacy of relevance from the past and rely on the sweet rose-colored appeal of nostalgia to port that past significance into a more current context.
While Doxa has used the above tactic in many ways throughout their modern history, they hit a bullseye in 2017 with the launch of the lovely and limited Sub 300 50th Anniversary series. Essentially direct recreations of the original Sub 300 from 1967, these were new watches that were made to feel old. And while they are endlessly charming watches – I own two such examples –the Sub 300 featured here is both similar and vastly different. With the Sub 300 Carbon Aqua Lung US Divers, Doxa flipped the script. Rather than make a new watch that feels old, they’ve made an old watch into something that feels like a brand new thing.
Working on the same original design as the Sub 300 50th Anniversary models, the Sub 300 Carbon takes a 50-plus-year-old design and sees it rendered in forged carbon and titanium. Sized like previous editions of the 1967 design, it’s 42.5mm wide, 44.5mm lug to lug, and 13.4mm thick, with the outer case, bezel, and dial all made of forged carbon. I say “outer case” because most forged carbon watches use a metal inner case element to secure the movement, the caseback, and the crown. In this application, the inner case and caseback are titanium. The main benefit of forged carbon is that it’s quite a bit lighter than steel, and Doxa lists the total weight (including the cut-to-fit rubber strap and it’s black DLC steel push-button and extending clasp) at 87g. For comparison, without the strap, the Sub 300 Carbon weighs 45g, which is 40% lighter than the steel-cased Sub 300 50th (which tips the scale at a comparably corpulent 74 grams).
As I covered in my original Introducing post when the Sub 300 Carbon was released, the movement tucked inside that carbon case is a COSC-certified ETA 2824-2. The 2824 is basically the Chevy small block of movements: While it’s not fancy, it is entirely reliable and well-suited to a Doxa (even a fancy one like this).
As for the case and bezel, forged carbon is similar to carbon fiber but the final form of the object is not made using sheets. Forged carbon uses a sort of composite paste of fibers that is blended with resin and then compressed to form a given shape. Like carbon fiber, forged carbon is light and strong and can be used to make a wide array of forms. So while you might use carbon fiber to form the outer skin of a car, forged carbon can be used to make other parts in which a laminated sheet format is not applicable. In vehicles like the Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder, I’ve seen it used for everything from the interior vents to various bits of bodywork like the huge spoiler (shown below). Lamborghini calls their treatment “Forged Composite,” but it’s essentially the same concept and is used for its minimal weight, exotic look, and manufacturing flexibility.
For this Sub 300 Carbon, the end result is no less exotic. As a Doxa fan, it was a weird experience to take this watch out of its box and put it on wrist. The shape and size are so familiar to me and my wrist, but the execution feels sharply modern and way more special than I had expected. I know the following may seem like a crazy statement, but as my mind searched for context, all that came up from memory was Richard Mille or some of the really high-end Royal Oaks I’ve been able to try on over the years. It’s the bright colors, the super-light almost toy-like feeling in your hands, and the way it all wraps around such an old-school shape.
Likewise, the anachronism of taking a vintage shape and recreating it in carbon is not unlike Audemars Piguet taking a Royal Oak and rendering it in a less-than-traditional material. While two very different watches, only five years separate the primary designs of the Royal Oak and the Sub 300, and AP has made the Royal Oak in ceramic and the Royal Oak Offshore in … forged carbon. To be clear, aside from the effect of the forged carbon, the Sub 300 Carbon has little in common with a Royal Oak or a Richard Mille. This is still a Doxa, but just one with a vastly different wrist presence.
While I am not a huge fan of the included rubber (it was too big for my wrist, anyway), the case, screw-down crown, and the bezel are all very nicely executed. The bezel feels tight and mechanical with minimal play and an extra-clicky action derived from the forged carbon construction. I also found the crown to feel quite a bit more sturdy than either of those on my steel Sub 300s (which are just ok – a bit wobbly and, at times, vague). The carbon has a matte finish with crisp edges and an endless amount of contrast in terms of the texture, color, and tonal qualities of the material. To my eyes, it looks nothing short of fantastic.
Having quickly swapped the rubber for an even-lighter grey NATO strap, this bold and rather yellow Doxa disappears on wrist. That is, until you look at it. From the yellow accents on the bezel to the bright yellow hour hand (a first for the brand) and a somewhat warmer yellow used for the US Divers logo (more on that here), the design is busy but not in a way that feels awkward for a Doxa. In my mind, no brand uses color better than Doxa, and this is the first Sharkhunter dial (their name for a black dial) with yellow highlights, and I think it looks great. Part of the Doxa appeal is in a sort of fun-loving and oddball charm, and while the use of carbon makes this Doxa feel decidedly less toolish, it does nothing but amplify that fun factor.
Over the week or so that I had the Sub 300 Carbon on wrist, I came to love the dial most of all. While I could certainly do without the US Divers logo, the varied and tonal plate of the carbon dial completes the look in a manner that a standard black dial would not. While it seems like a relatively small point to make, the carbon dial makes all of the difference, and you can see it compared to a Searambler (silver) and a Professional (orange) below. As a whole package, and viewed within the niche of Doxa dive watches, while I wouldn’t want it to replace my steel Sub 300s, I would love to have the carbon Sharkhunter complete the three dial Doxa trilogy in my collection. That said, as a product to recommend out into the void of the internet, I have some caveats.
The first is that I don’t know how well the forged carbon will wear long term. While it’s certainly strong and light, I have been unable to get a concrete idea as to how it will take abuse – or even just general wear and tear – when used for a watch case. This factor would not be enough to stop me from getting one (if I could), but it might be enough to stop me from treating it the same way as I would mindlessly treat a steel example (interestingly, this is also how I feel about many ceramic watches).
The other caveat to mention, and it’s likely the first thing most people will say about this watch, is that the Sub 300 Carbon costs way more than you might be accustomed to seeing from Doxa. In fact, at first glance, it seems downright expensive and, at $ 4,790, it’s basically double the price of the steel limited edition models that preceded it. Like many of the previous Sub 300 LE’s, this carbon edition is limited to 300 units, and while I think the idea of this watch is meant to raise a few eyebrows while also pointing more eyes at the Doxa brand, I think this is less of a stunt and more of a case where they can charge what they want in selling a product to those that are likely already initiated. Also, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re specifically in the market for a forged carbon dive watch, there isn’t much at all to compare at this price point. While brands like Tempest, Dietrich, Magrette, TAG Heuer, and even Victorinox have dipped into the material in the past, none deliver a package like that of this Doxa. So while the Sub 300 Carbon is certainly more expensive than your average Doxa, the price is not without perspective.
Are there vastly more competitive dive watches around five grand? Definitely. Think of Tudor’s Black Bay or Pelagos, the Omega Seamaster 300M, the Bremont S300 and S500, or any of several options from Oris, Grand Seiko, Breitling, and beyond. So many great options and, with so much competition, the deciding factor will often come down to your personal taste. The Sub 300 Carbon would be in my top three of any modern dive watch I can think of at this price (likely alongside a blue Tudor Pelagos and the incredible but often ignored Oris Regulateur “Der Meistertaucher”). At this moment in time, I’d likely go with the Doxa as it feels the most special. I love the way these cases wear, I love the look of the carbon, and I love the way it looks sitting next to my other Subs. In a world where I don’t really need a watch for any reason beyond wanting a watch, Doxa speaks to me, and this carbon LE feels both familiar and elevated. Is it for everyone? Not at all. Furthermore, understanding the appeal to be somewhat narrow, I hope that the Sub 300 is more of a Doxa oddity and less of an indication of where the brand is heading under its new management. While I find this limited edition to be decidedly cool, I hope the core of Doxa remains in the realm of the funky and old-school dive watch that originally wooed the likes of Jacques Cousteau.
While this is likely far too many words about a limited edition dive watch that I cannot afford to buy and call my own, the Doxa Sub 300 Carbon Aqua Lung US Divers was a delight to have on wrist. Wearing it was so much fun, and getting a chance to experience a daring take on one of the best dive watch designs of all time made me happy. As an unexpected reversal on the safe play of “new vintage” watch design, the Sub 300 is reborn in carbon as a lightweight, easy wearing, and downright unique take on a longstanding and endlessly charming form from the golden era of diving and dive watches.
The Doxa Sub 300 Carbon Aqua Lung US Divers has a 42.5mm case that is made of forged carbon with a titanium inner structure and caseback. It is water-resistant to 300m, has a screw-down crown, a carbon bezel, a sapphire crystal, and is powered by a COSC-certified ETA 2824. The retail price is $ 4,790 and you can find more details here.