Christopher Ward is one of those rare watch brands that just almost never seems to do anything wrong. They somehow manage to make a product that sells well and has a presence beyond watch enthusiasm, while simultaneously being very in-tune with enthusiast proclivities and preferences.
The watch in review today is no exception. This review comes a bit late, as Christopher Ward released the C65 Super Compressor in August 2020 with much fanfare and to generally positive reactions from enthusiasts.
It is, of course, a classic super compressor dive watch, with a cushion case and an internal bezel. This look for a dive watch is widely represented among modern watch brands, and anyone with an appreciation for this 60s-70s look is spoiled for choice. Besides the Christopher Ward, however, none of these currently in production are true compressor watches, and few enthusiasts even know the difference.
The compressor, or super compressor watch case, was patented by Swiss watch case manufacturer EPSA in 1954. The rough idea of a super compressor case is that a metal ring is attached to the caseback containing a steel spring. It is this ring and spring that compresses against the caseback gasket instead of the solid caseback itself.
The caseback assembly was machined such that when tightened down completely, the gasket was only slightly compressed by the spring-loaded ring. This provided a sufficient seal to keep water out in everyday applications. When pressure is applied to the caseback, as in the case of diving, the caseback flexes very slightly, but enough to push the spring harder onto the gasket, thus increasing the water resistance.
It’s a fairly simple but intelligent way to create a fluid-tight watch case in a time or place where very precise machining was too difficult or expensive. The case design works well enough that many compressor watches didn’t even have screw-down casebacks, opting for bayonet-style instead, and still maintained dive-worthy water resistance. As machining technology and manufacturing capabilities progressed and became cheaper and more reliable, the super compressor was abandoned, as casebacks were now able to fit much more precisely and gasket materials were more resilient. I’ve heard and read some talk about the super compressor being “inferior” technology, and that’s simply not the case. The design was simply superseded; fewer case parts meant cheaper manufacturing.
Case, Bracelet, and On the Wrist
As mentioned earlier, the C65 (as I will refer to it from here on for brevity) is unique among modern watches in that it uses actual super compressor technology for its 150 meters of water resistance. And it’s all on display too, through the sapphire caseback; the machined ring and spring assembly is anodized to stand out. The effect is pleasing and interesting, and I think their use of a display caseback was smart on this watch. The caseback also reveals some nice custom finishing on the Sellita SW200-1 automatic movement.
The C65 is a near-perfectly sized dive watch: 41mm in diameter and 47mm lug to lug. Including a high-domed sapphire crystal, the thickness is 13mm. On the wrist this watch wears brilliantly. Christopher Ward adapted the more traditional swept-lug design of their acclaimed Lightcatcher case to fit the classic cushion look of super compressor cases, and it’s a definite win. The polished bevels and clean but not slab-like sides offer a svelte look and great wearing experience.
The two crowns are located at 2 (bezel operation) and 4 (winding and setting), as usual with this type of watch. Both are substantial enough for easy operation and fit the case well. The crown for operating the internal bezel has an orange anodized aluminum insert on the end, and has the classic hatch pattern on the end like the original EPSA super compressors.
The bracelet is another area in which this watch excels. It’s a classic Oyster-style bracelet, tapering from 22mm to 20mm, with well-rounded, smoothly brushed links and one of the best clasps on the market. Narrow and clean, the clasp is a machined single fold-over with a toolless micro-adjust. It’s possibly the most comfortable and attractive bracelet I’ve personally ever handled. At this price point very few brands can compete with Christopher Ward for bracelet design and quality.
The dial and bezel of the C65 are where there are some hits and misses. For starters, the model sent in to us for review was evidently one of an early batch of misprinted dials. Looking at the dial photos with any amount of attention will readily reveal this; the 6:00 text is off-center, and many of the indices and lume dots are misaligned as well.
We reached out to Christopher Ward about this, and were assured that these errors had been corrected in subsequent production. Reports from people who have purchased these watches would appear to bear this out. Unfortunately they also declined to send us a replacement with a properly manufactured dial. The resulting photos for this review paint a rather unflattering picture of Christopher Ward’s QC, but that’s a result of their own decision.
Misprinting and misalignment aside, the dial presents a pleasing appearance. A rich sunburst teal contrasts attractively with the bright orange minutes hand and 12:00 marking on the bezel. The tip of each polished index is lumed, as are the printed dots on the dial. A nice touch is a different color lume for the dots at 1-4. Finishing on the indices and handset is not incredible, but good, as is the lume brightness and longevity.
The handset is simple and presents a unified appearance. I especially like the lumed orange tip on the seconds hand, and of course the signature Christopher Ward trident counterbalance.
The bezel works well in crisp white with stark numbering and markings. The font chosen for the bezel is excellent and brings to mind all the great classic divers from which this watch draws inspiration.
The bezel action is another sore point for this watch. It’s a 120 click bezel (something that surprised me, in a good way) and the alignment is pretty good. The bezel turns easily with the 2 o’clock crown, but there is a huge amount of play between clicks. The action itself is soft and somewhat mushy. The whole bezel appears to have a bit of lateral slop as well when fiddling with the positions between clicks.
Functionally this doesn’t really pose a problem, but aesthetically it’s an experience that leaves a lot to be desired. A bezel with sharper clicks and less play would elevate this watch considerably.
All in all, this watch is truly a welcome entry into the field of available super compressor-style watches. A watch that actually uses the technology andis true to itself through and through has a little extra appeal to me, and I’m guessing many other watch collectors as well. Execution of the main parts is nearly irreproachable (overlooking the QC problems with this particular model).
The bezel action leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re the type who cares less about the feel of a bezel, this may not put you off at all. As a person who likes to fidget with his watch, though, it’s something I interact with a lot and the experience left me wanting.
This watch was made available to me over the winter, so no actual diving or water action was possible with it. I would not hesitate to take it on an actual dive, and with the bright colorways available it would make a great summer watch.
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Christopher Ward C65 Super Compressor Specs
Super LumiNova X1 GL C1