If anyone were searching for a sign that life for most in the West is returning to normal, in the summer of 2023, one would only have to go to a dive site. Even as US household debt levels are rising, financial delinquencies have doubled since 2021, and savings are now at their lowest since 2015, these dive sites were teeming with activity. A significant indicator of the public shoring up their confidence in the post-pandemic return to the quality of life they admired was in their act of defying the current cost-of-living crisis. In Ontario, Canada, nearly every time slot for dive certifications this summer was spoken for at the dive shops I am close with.
This reveals much about what we value in Canada and the United States. We can do extravagant things but not necessarily lead an extravagant life, very highly. We hold the ability toward extracurricular acts of self-actualization as a right, not a privilege. And there could be nothing more extravagant than recreational scuba diving. It requires a hefty financial and time commitment to do something absolutely unnecessary. This would also go a long way toward explaining why the big and flashy luxury dive watch remains the ultimate status symbol. Please leave your jokes about a trophy spouse being the ultimate display of luxury to yourselves.
That brings us to the beloved Citizen Aqualand series of watches, and yes, though they may be large and flashy in their designs, their aesthetic strays from traditional luxury watches and jewelry. Nevertheless, the Aqualand series of watches by Citizen makes a statement through their designs. Though not sentient, we can and do project ourselves and our beliefs on objects, giving it a projected intentional stance. What Citizen hopes we see as this watch’s reason to exist is to provide a genuine and earnest dive watch that can either be a useful tool or an accessory that will convey as much to the passersby. This review will determine why this is true and why an Aqualand is the best dive watch you can get as an advanced recreational diver.
On the Wrist
A large 46-millimeter dive watch should not be this comfortable, but it is. You’ll never forget that it is there, but its carefully contoured and flat caseback and the thoughtfully downwardly sloping lugs result in it sitting on my relatively flat wrist with ease. If you have slightly rounder wrists, it is possible for the weight balance of the watch to teeter toward the top or the bottom, depending on your wrist shape. Dress shirt cuffs will be pummeled into submission by this timepiece and its 16mm thickness, and rightly so. This is not an elegant accessory that makes the typical statements made by luxury watches.
I’ve mentioned before that most smartwatches and their wearability should not be approached with the same mindset as traditional watches. Due to their large cases, screens, and either rectangular or round cases, they wear very much like how a dive computer does – like a module, not a watch. This applies to the Citizen. Through the many months of wearing this watch, it always looked natural and beautiful in its purposeful stance.
From afar, there is no mistaking the fact that this is a functional dive watch. Over the years, I have encountered many divers who choose Citizen as their dive instrument. The modern design, which proudly affronts any accusations that it is a traditional status symbol, makes this watch unapologetic in its existence. Though not suited for formal or even the higher end of business casual wear, this watch looks stunning on a dive site or with jeans.
During regular day-to-day activities, you will never struggle to tell the time, and the fifty-minute chronograph will prove helpful when you need to time something discreetly.
Citizen Aqualand BJ2169-08E Specs
Citizen B740 Eco-Drive
However, when you can make a fuss, you will undoubtedly do so with this bezel. Beautifully finished and easy to grip on land or at depth, the satisfyingly 120-click bezel gives the wearer the type of tactility that we demand from traditional watches. Coming in three different color options, I opted for this blue model, and I could not be happier with this decision. From the handsomely luminous pip at twelve o’clock to the twenty-minute marker, the bezel is finished in a light blue. This is then contrasted with a darker blue, all the while being lined in beautifully brushed steel. Without resorting to any tricks or gimmicks, this has been one of the most secure yet useable bezels I have ever used while diving wearing gloves. Its unfaltering approach to ease of use is exemplified by its protruding and knurled grips at the ten-minute markers. Its ribbed edges allow for greater traction for thick wetsuit gloves.
Thankfully, the font of the big and clear numerals stays within the character of the fonts used elsewhere on the watch. This has not always been true with Citizen’s Promaster dive watches, and it was one of my biggest complaints about the delightful Jounetsu Diver. That Jounetsu Diver is still one of the most perfect dive watches I have ever owned and used, save for a handful of design decisions. This Aqualand comes close to unseating that watch, and depending on your needs, it very well might do so.
Dial and Hand Details
We’ll get the one negative about the dial out of the way before we go over how much of a success the design of this dial is. The only negative aspect of this dial is its reflectivity. While diving on a bright sunny day, I was blinded by the dial as the sun’s full might was redirected into my eyes. Other than that, legibility at depth was aided by a minute hand covering the applied indices and reaching out toward the rehaut. This makes telling the time easy when viewing the watch at extreme angles. This was the most significant failure of the aforementioned Jounestu. Still, this Aqualand makes one minor sin when it comes to legibility, which will only affect a small number of the population.
The thick hands of this watch inevitably block the three registers on the watch, and this poses only one issue. While the depth gauge at twelve and the twenty-four-hour register at nine can mostly be ignored, the second’s hand will not be by a small fraction of the diving population – instructors and technical divers. Instructors may use the second’s hand for timing exercises while teaching and technical divers may use the second’s hand to time their ascents accurately. If you do not fall into either one of these categories, then you should not let this dissuade you from purchasing this watch.
None of this detracts from the beautiful detailing on this dial. The date window, indices, and registers are bordered clearly. The second’s sub-register even has a crosshair motif, which resembles older radar systems.
The hands are flawlessly finished and painted, and the luminescent paint is evenly applied. The lume is also strong and leaves no room for complaint. The center hand, which can be used for the real-time depth gauge or the seconds counter while in the chronograph mode, moves with a dampened precision and calm, making wearing this timepiece a very peaceful experience. The only fault in my specific example is a noticeable scratch on the counter of the center hand. I first noticed this scratch after my first dive with the watch when I checked to see if there was any damage to the watch after setting up the dive site underwater.
The Movement and its Functions
Powered by Citizen’s B740 Eco-Drive movement, the Aqualand features a date window, a twenty-four-hour register, a depth gauge, and a chronograph. First, let’s cover the depth gauge, which worked flawlessly on the few times that I dove with it. Once wet, the second sensor at ten o’clock immediately activates the watch’s depth gauge. This can be simulated by covering this sensor with your finger. When doing so, the hand gracefully moves to its zero marker and is ready to measure your depth. The primary sensor appears to be under a mammoth metallic housing at nine o’clock, with a large rectangular module hanging downwards. This is what gives this Aqualand its distinctive silhouette. After your dive, press the pusher at four o’clock to see the maximum depth you reached on your last dive. This is useful for the few who still dive using tables and not dive computers.
The chronograph takes a secondary role with the Aqualand. This is illustrated by the movement reverting to the depth gauge mode if left for longer than three minutes. The chronograph is activated by pressing down and holding the pusher at four for three seconds. The fact that the center second’s hand has to complete three full rotations of the dial before starting the chronograph eliminates it as an elapsed timing option if one is timing something without notice. This is also true when resetting the chronograph. In this case, the second hand has to make a full counterclockwise rotation of the dial before being used again. The sub-register at twelve, primarily used for measuring up to fifty meters of depth, doubles to count the minutes for the chronograph. The Aqualand’s fifty-metre depth gauge also means that the chronograph can measure up to fifty minutes.
The Aqualand is not a watch that you purchase for the chronograph alone. It is helpful when you have to time more than one event, and there are plenty of situations in which this will come in handy. The accurate, no-fuss solar-powered movement will also make it an ideal watch as your diving companion.
Case and Strap
Its case and wonderfully engineered rubber strap elevate the Aqualand from merely a watch that you will want to take on dives to a daily companion. The rubber strap is one of the softest and most comfortable on the market. It is stout enough to bear the weight of the large case and make wearing this watch an afterthought. The Aqualand also has a wetsuit extension strap, which is perfectly engineered. The extension features a downward rake at its midway point, which allows the beautifully sculpted stainless-steel buckle to be attached securely. This is an issue with ISOFrane extension straps, and this strap inspires a lot more confidence than these luxury Italian straps.
The satin brushed stainless case is so evenly and perfectly finished that it gives off a jewel-like glow. Certain dive watches come to life underwater, and the Aqualand falls into this category. While diving in our murky Canadian lakes, the Aqualand’s case shined on many occasions, which brought a smile to my face. Unlike its reflective dial, this case is comforting to look at.
Citizen states that the watch’s case measures 46 mm, but I measured it at 47 mm as its smallest measurement, which is diagonal across the case. When measured from the depth sensor to the crown, this watch comes in at 52 mm or just over 48 mm without the crown. Either way, the overall dimensions of this watch are misleading and should not scare you away from a purchasing decision.
The screw-down crown and pushers work well and will never give you a reason not to use them. They do not offer the tactile feedback that mechanical watch lovers have come to enjoy, but rather a very short travel that can be best summed up as “squishy.”
Just as the hundreds of new student divers were celebrating their lives returning to normal by undertaking scuba diving, and by the record number of tourists flocking to Europe this summer, this watch is an act of celebration. This Aqualand is flawlessly manufactured, and compared to other watches with a depth gauge, I’d argue that its implementation is the best. Its precise and calming presence makes wearing such a large watch quite effortless. While wearing this watch, I felt like I was celebrating the fact that diving was possible, making my lengthy surface intervals more bearable. Such watches, which offer higher levels of functionality that go well beyond the mere act of telling the time, are celebrations of human ingenuity and the possibilities the watch strives for. Whether this be a traditional complication like a mechanical perpetual calendar or, in this case, a depth gauge, these watches commemorate feats and virtues that we are proud of.
Many months ago, I wrote a review for the Citizen Promaster BN0151-09L, and I said it is the best dive watch for a recreational diver. If you are comfortable spending more, this Aqualand gets my vote as the best dive watch for the advanced recreational diver. Advanced recreational divers typically do not dive frequently enough to justify buying a backup dive computer. Having this Aqualand on your wrist and within your eyesight can prove useful if you have your submersible pressure gauge (SPG) tucked away under your buoyancy compensation device (BCD) for better trim while underwater. For those who live in regions where diving without a dive computer is not frowned upon, this Aqualand would be a wonderful backup to your SPG – though I do not and would never condone or recommend diving without a computer, even while within recreational limits.
There is a reason why Citizen Aqualands has been loved by divers and enthusiasts alike for decades. They remind us that we can do extravagant activities like exploring the underwater world while taking a break from our worries. If you are a diver or a collector who appreciates the tool-watch category, there is no reason why you should not add this Aqualand to your collection.
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