In my quest of learning and writing about tool watches, I’ve come across a gem of horology that deserves a spotlight: the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic. While we all know of the Rolex Explorer 1, the Seiko Laurel Alpinist, and the Tudor Ranger—all of which deserve our praise and admiration—we should talk more about the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic. This watch accompanied the members of the American Navy’s Deep Freeze 1 expedition to the South Pole in 1955/56. That’s barely ten years after that Rolex created the first Explorer 1 (officially). Compared to the aforementioned exploration watches, The Antarctic showcases an elegance akin to dress watches of the era. Luckily, this mid-century elegance is making its return as Nivada just announced a faithful recreation of the original Antarctic: set to come out in early 2024.
History of the Nivada Grenchen Antarctic
Launched in 1950, the Antarctic collection was a mainstay of Nivada Grenchen’s catalog, yet perhaps the least known of all of the authentic exploration/adventure watches that came out in the 1950s. The brand created several versions over the years for different purposes, but the one that caught my attention the most—and the one which made me daydream of owning one—is the one pictured below. A white/silver dial with applied and polished markers and stylized Arabic numerals. There were versions without Arabic numerals, some with a date complication and Cyclops, and others, the Super Antarctic, with black dials and more stark layouts. There were many versions of the Antarctic that could have been a starting point from its recent re-issue, but Nivada Grenchen decided to start with the most recent iterations.
As someone from the expedition reported (and here I quote directly from the Nivada Grenchen’s website): “This is the watch that went to the Antarctic with the U.S. Navy Operation Deepfreeze. It was repeatedly submerged in icy waters, knocked against ice & immersed in deep snow...yet it maintained steadfast accuracy wherever men and machines could go. Waterproof self-winding, shock resistant, and antimagnetic the NIVADA Antarctic can take whatever wear you give it.... anywhere". I mean, what else did they need from an adventure watch? What else do we actually need from modern recreations? Nothing more, to be frank.
Modern Recreations from Nivada Grenchen
I know, my talent for summarizing something long and intricate in a few sentences is quite impressive. Seriously, although I love talking about the history of watches, I think here it’s best to focus on the modern recreations of the Antarctic line of watches. In 2021, Nivada released a modern Super Antarctic following an Instagram post from a vintage collector and fan of the brand. The post showed a Super Antarctic with a black dial, a massive lollipop hour hand, and a geometrical, almost Bauhaus-like dial layout. Nivada released versions that received an aged treatment alongside pristine examples meant to look like New Old Stock (NOS). Following the success of this collection, Nivada decided to go a step further and release a new OG Antarctic.
The Future Nivada Antarctic 35mm
I first came across this watch in Paris during a watch fair, and saw it again at the latest WindUp Watch Fair in New York City this past October. Needless to say, it was love at first sight. To me, this version of the Antarctic epitomizes the romanticized image that we have of 1950s explorers who braved the elements and surpassed what was thought to be humanly possible to reach new summitsm (both figuratively and literally speaking). What’s more is that Nivada made it into a truly robust timepiece equipped with a manual-wound Landeron 21 caliber, a case 35mm in diameter (like the original), and various options for dial colors and layouts. The one that I would most certainly add to my collection is the version with the polished markers and creamy white dial.
Nivada went the extra mile by adding yellow-colored lume plots outside the hour markers and using fully-polished Dauphine hands. This is a style that is very similar to the Rolex that Sir Edmund Hillary allegedly wore to Mount Everest which also oozed James Bond-like class and robustness. Mustn't we forget that these watches were robust and built for exploring the most remote and inhospitable corners of the Earth. That’s why the modern recreation of the Antarctic 35mm will be equipped with powerful lume, a domed sapphire crystal, and 100 meters of water resistance.
Watch brands have been adamant about recreating vintage models that hearken back to a time when “things were better” (I know, this is a very objective statement to make). Setting aside my French sarcastic tone, many watch enthusiasts and collectors have been asking for smaller, elegant tool watches. This explains the recreation of vintage Swiss models like this Longines as well as the surge of vintage-inspired field and tool watches coming from micro and independent brands. Seeing Nivada recreate the OG Antarctic in its faithful 35mm diameter truly excites me as it allows some of us to sample a type of horology we haven’t seen in a long, long time.Featured image: www.vintagenivada.com