Editor’s Note: This article is brought to us by our friend Justin Couture, aka @the_wristorian on Instagram. Here, Justin looks back at some of the remarkable moments in Citizen dive watch history. Be sure to give him a follow and head to his site, the wristorian.com for more amazing historical watch content.
Few watch brands are known as universally as Citizen. It is safe to say that most people have either owned a Citizen or have known someone who owns one. This is unsurprising, given the fact that they have been producing watches for over 100 years.
Originating in Japan, Citizen is a brand built upon heritage and values. With a laser focus on creating useful and attainable tools for all walks of life, it tracks that Citizen watches pop up in all matters of unique historical circumstances ranging from the late 1960’s until today.
Decades before the Promaster designation was applied to Citizen’s diverse range of action-oriented watches, several models were built with specific pursuits in mind. One such example was the emerging sport of diving. Before the proliferation of SCUBA as a recreational activity, skin diving was king. This was as true in Japan as it was across the globe – and Citizen’s response to this burgeoning popularity was to create technology and models that could handle the challenges associated with underwater timekeeping. The increasing pressure that accompanies marine descent means that water resistance and durability were critical.
Although these early dive watches were manufactured to tackle the depths, some intrepid mountaineers took the Citizen Seven Star (two decades before the adoption of the Promaster moniker) in the opposite direction and proved that it was as qualified for ascent as it was for exploration below sea-level. In 1969, six individuals from Japan spent a month climbing the north face of Eiger, a 3,967-meter peak in the Swiss Alps.
This diverse group of mountaineers included five men and one female doctor, named Ms. Michiko Imai. As luck would have it, Imai was a member of the same college mountaineering club as the daughter of Citizen’s president at the time, Mr. Eiichi Yamada. Due to this connection, Citizen provided the team with a total of 8 Citizen Seven Star divers. Equipped with piles of pitons and a meticulously planned route, the team accomplished their goal in just over one month. Despite the conditions, each Seven Star diver remained unchanged upon completion of the climb. To this day, this route, dubbed the Japanese Direttissema, continues to provide climbers with a grueling endeavor where those at the apex of the mountaineering sport can test their grit and technical skills.
In the decade after the conquest of Eiger’s north face, the Citizen Challenge diver made its market debut. This was a 41mm dive watch with generously lumed hands and an external rotating bezel. Capable of reaching depths up to 200m, it was favored by military personnel and recreational divers alike. In fact, one tale recounts a summer in 1983 on the coast of Australia when a barnacle-encrusted watch washed up. that it was none other than a Citizen Challenge diver.
The history of this particular horological flotsam still remains unknown. But based purely upon the barnacle growth, it quite possibly spent years among the urchins and crustaceans of the ocean floor. Despite this extended deep-sea sojourn, the Challenge Diver was, unbelievably, still running on the date of its briny homecoming.
For every story as impressive as the aforementioned bivalve-laden legend, there are ten times as many just waiting to be told. Time has a way of obscuring these tales, but a keen eye and sense of curiosity are all it takes to discover new insights into where these watches have popped up in history. Take for example, the Royal Australian Navy. As a testament to the versatility of the Challenge Diver, there are numerous examples of the model being favored by servicemen and women throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s.
In this delightfully quirky photo (above), Paddles the penguin is crowned with an appropriately sized replica of an H.M.A.S “Penguin” sailor’s cap. The individual placing the hat upon Paddles’ head is an Executive Office Commander, and on his wrist appears to be a Citizen Challenge Diver. There are likely few times in history when the crew of a ship named the “Penguin” intersect with a literal penguin, and the fact that this particular Citizen diver makes an appearance makes it that much sweeter.
In the decades following the proliferation of the automatic dive watch, quartz became king. It offered new levels of reliability and functions that were extremely difficult to include on previous self-winding models. In 1985, Citizen released the now time-proven Aqualand – the first of its kind to hit the market. This was a quartz dive watch that included an electronic depth sensor. These features made it irresistible to divers, and naturally, they gravitated towards it.
The scientists of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) trusted the Cyber Aqualand when performing their research. This particular shot shows the Supervisor of Diving at Naval Sea Systems Command being prepped to enter a recompression chamber after exploring the wreck of the USS Monitor. This 987-ton “Ironclad” vessel sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1862. The “Monitor 2001” program was part of a joint venture between the US Navy and WHOI to salvage and recover portions of the shipwreck. Comprised of five expeditions, it allowed the teams involved to use modern technology to successfully pull off one of largest archeological recovery projects to date. Notably, the Monitor became America’s first national marine sanctuary in 1975.
It was in 1989 that the first Promaster designation was applied. The goal of the watches housed under this umbrella was to focus on creating the upper echelon of sports models with functionality that assists in aquatic, terrestrial, and high-flying pursuits. The original lineup included the Altichron, Aerochron, and the aforementioned Aqualand – each of which inspired timepieces that exist today.
Now comprised of over thirty different models, the Citizen Promaster dive lineup leverages its impressive tenure in watchmaking to maximize the potential of each timepiece. Experimentation with new technology and materials is commonplace and provides wearers with the peace of mind necessary to subject each watch to whatever their life may throw at it. In 2016, Citizen even went so far as to test the 1000m Eco-Drive Professional by working in collaboration with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMTEC). A prototype of the model was attached to a submersible and sent well beyond the 1000m depth rating. This proved that the watch was manufactured to handle the crushing pressure of the Bathypelagic zone – a layer of the ocean typically reserved for highly evolved deep sea denizens. In that context, it makes sense that a Promaster diver would fit right in.
As for what the future holds for the Promaster lineup – only time will tell. Perhaps the newest iteration of the Aqualand is an indication of what is to come. With this particular example, not only do you get a stainless steel case with a striking DLC-coated bezel, but it features a chronograph function, depth display up to 50m and AM/PM indicator for quick reference. Powered entirely by light, it can manage depths up to 200m, making it usable for even the most advanced diver. The matching red accents on the bezel and minute hand make it easy to rapidly and efficiently determine critical factors both above and below sea-level. In true Promaster fashion, this is a timepiece that begs to be pushed to the limit – and beyond. There is no telling what sort of photographs will include this watch in 50 years. If history is any indication, it will be worth noting.