The tonneau-cased, orange-dialed Doxa dive watches you know are most likely from the ’60s and ’70s. Jacques-Yves Cousteau played a role in the development of the models, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt wore one, The Grey NATO boys love them, and they’ve earned a cult following among collectors.
But the production of those watches ended in the mid-seventies. There’s a whole era of designs from the ’80s that were born and died in that decade. Production of Doxa watches fizzled out by the early ’90s until the Jenny family acquired Doxa in 1997 and re-started production of the brand’s range at scale, but exactly zero designs from the ’80s made the cut. Instead, only designs from the ’60s and ’70s were picked to get a second chance at life.
Doxa’s watches from the ’80s don’t have strong historical tie-ins, and certainly do not adorn the wrist of any fictional swashbuckling pulp adventure heroes. Because of this, they’re lesser-known and not quite as desirable to collectors.
Maybe they should be.
They’re beefier and rarer, and there isn’t nearly as much known about them as their mid-century ancestors. There’s an air of mystery, still, around this era of Doxa watches, as the company ceased production of these models rather abruptly in the late ’80s and didn’t leave much behind. They’re fascinating from a collector’s point of view because there’s still so much to learn, and from a casual enthusiast’s perspective, the ’80s models offer an affordable way into Doxa watches – when they can be found. They don’t often come up for sale, but they’re not particularly pricey compared to some of the early Sub 300T “thin case” models or examples signed with the Aqualung insignia.
The ’70s Become the ’80s
In the history of Doxa, a monumental shift occurred in 1978. That’s when the company was purchased by the Aubry Frères Company along with watch brands Ernest Borel and Aureole. Doxa models from the ’80s, when Aubry Frères ran the company, are referred to as “Aubry-era” Doxas.
The Aubry Doxas were markedly different from the curvy tonneau cases of yore. Instead, they were blocky, thick, and featured an oversized bezel. This shift in design was pervasive during the ’80s. In the automotive world, curves had entirely gone out of style by 1980; instead, the decade was marked by box flares, right angles, and square panels. If the Aubry Doxas were a truck, they’d be a Jeep Wagoneer.
There’s something about the brutish squared-off design that’s even more reminiscent of functional design than the svelte curves of the ’60s and ’70s. Take the Sub600T pictured here, for example. The 14mm thick case seems like it could survive the blast of a SCUD missile. The crystal is mineral at a time when many dive watches were still using acrylic.
And just like a Jeep, the Doxa caliber 5910 inside many Aubry-era models is easy to maintain – it’s an ETA 2782 (the 2783 was also used). Any watchmaker can work on it. The dial is slathered with tritium and the signature oversized minute hand is carried over from the old Doxas. In other words, the Aubry Doxas have all the charm of the original designs, but they’re just tougher. And that’s reflected in the 600m water resistance rating.
The Doxa I photographed for this piece can be traced back to Abel Court of HeuerTime, a vintage watch dealer based in Belgium. In 2015, he unearthed a stash of 14 NOS Aubry-era Doxas in the Middle East. They were time-capsule watches, which he describes as “unworn, some even with protective sealant at caseback and case. Some with hangtags. They all came on their bracelets, full length.” Court even provided an example for the Aubry chapter of Dr. Peter Millar’s famous Doxa book, as NOS examples from the ’80s were very hard to come by prior to Court’s discovery.
These watches were expensive when new, and did not sell particularly well. Few were made. Additionally, ’80s watches were not considered “vintage” yet when Doxa models from the ’60s and ’70s became popular during the early 2000s, so the handful of ’80s models that were produced existed in relative obscurity. For a long time, they were undesirable.
From the ’80s to Today
The product line-up at Doxa these days finds the brand open to experimenting, with notable watches like the tech-forward Sub 300 Carbon Aqua Lung US Divers Limited Edition and the value-oriented Sub 200 Professional. Doxa is no longer an operation solely focused on reproducing designs strictly from its golden era.
And besides, golden eras change. Every generation wistfully embraces nostalgia from an earlier part of their life; that’s why the Wagoneer is back in style. The “shark tooth” dial design was born and died in the Aubry era, but maybe that’s what’s next for Doxa. It’d be an exciting addition to the modern line-up.
Now that the ’80s are back in vogue, I’m pulling for the original Aubry Doxas to finally have their moment. I was offered one of Court’s examples back in 2016 for a great price, but didn’t pull the trigger. Ugh. Gag me with a spoon.