In the early 1960s, only one chronograph managed to combine nine functions into a single watch: the Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver. The somewhat clunky name reveals that this enduringly popular timepiece feels at home in all areas of timekeeping. Nivada produced the Chronomaster in relatively high numbers until the mid-1970s, meaning that even well-preserved models are sufficiently available on the market. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in demand for high-quality vintage watches, which has also boosted prices of the Chronomaster.
The Nivada Grenchen brand, revived in 2018, introduced new models of their Chronomaster with modern technology in 2020. Fortunately, almost everything remained the same in terms of both optics and proportions. The chronograph has hence drawn the attention of watch lovers who attach importance not only to attractive design, but also to technological precision and everyday useability. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about the vintage Chronomaster models and the modern reissue.
Nivada Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver: The Super Chronograph
Nivada first presented the aesthetically-striking Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver chronograph in 1961 as a toolwatch with nine functions. The Chronomaster, with its 100-meter water resistance (328 ft, 10 bar), was the first timepiece to combine a stopwatch with a tachymeter scale, diving watch, pilot’s watch, timer, yacht timer, and GMT display; not to mention, of course telling the current time. In print ads, Nivada promoted the Chronomaster with slogans such as “Super-Chronograph” and “The world’s busiest watch – has more uses than ever counted.”
At the time, famous Chronomaster wearers were few and far between. A rare example is the American actor Brian Kelly, who wore a Nivada Chronomaster in the 1966 science fiction film Underwater Around the World and in the television series Flipper.
Due to disputes over naming rights with the American watch manufacturer Movado, the Swiss brand Nivada had to market its watches in the US under the name Croton as early as the 1930s. Founded in New York in 1873, the Croton Watch Co. Inc. specialized in manufacturing watches from Swiss and American components and distributing them in the US.
Therefore, if you’re interested in the Nivada Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver and come across the name Croton when browsing, rest assured that these are identical models produced for the US market. Likewise, very rare pieces under the names Pierre Vallee, Rudolph’s, Austin, Sussex, or Le Marc are also identical to the Nivada Chronomaster.
Details About Vintage Nivada Chronomaster Models
Given the fifteen or so years Nivada produced the Chronomaster, there are many different references with over fifty dial variations to choose from. However, since the differences are mostly in the details of the dial and hands, every Nivada Chronomaster retains its unmistakable overall look.
Common to all variants is a bicompax dial with subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock. Throughout six generations, the dial color was predominantly black, but beginning with the second generation, there were also some references that featured a panda dial with black subdials against a white or silver dial. A “Paul Newman” dial also made it into the Chronomaster line-up. Like the Rolex Daytona Paul Newman, this version is white with black subdials and font characteristic of the model.
The watches were produced exclusively with a stainless steel case, measuring around 38 mm. At first glance, the case design seems to have barely changed over the years. The cases have straight lugs, which were drilled up to and including the fifth generation. However, different calibers required some adjustments, most notably in the case height and profile.
Nivada used the Venus 210 caliber for the very first generation, but had swapped this for the Valjoux 92 by 1962. For the third generation in the mid-1960s, Nivada switched to the Valjoux 23, which was later replaced by the Landeron 248 and the Valjoux 7733 movements. Models with the latter two calibers were produced from the fourth to the sixth generation and until about the mid-1970s. These were only available under the Croton label.
Around the same time, newer and more precise quartz watches from Japan were flooding the European market, causing the so-called quartz crisis. Virtually overnight, mechanical watches were out of demand. This demand did not return for many years, thereby causing many traditional Swiss watch manufacturers to go under. Unfortunately, this fate also befell Nivada Grenchen towards the end of the 1970s.
The Most Important Vintage References and Prices
Probably the most famous Nivada Chronomaster model is from the first generation (1961) and bears the reference number 8221. Outfitted with the Venus 210, the watch has a black dial and black subdials. Only the timer on the 3-o’clock subdial features a splash of red. This timer is common to most of the Chronomaster models following this reference. Typical for the 8221 and other first and second generation variants are the broad arrow hands.
As with almost all popular vintage watches, prices for this model have risen dramatically in the past years. While a ref. 8221 in excellent condition could be found for 700 to 900 USD about eight years ago, today’s prices can go well above 2,300 USD. Depending on the watch’s condition and accessories, some dealers may even demand around 4,500 USD. Whether these prices are actually achieved depends on the negotiating skills of the buyer. Prices are comparable for the successor in the second generation (ref. 105/x), which is powered by the Valjoux 92 caliber.
Another popular model is the reference number 85004/4076, which is equipped with the Valjoux 23. Also known as “Orange Boy,” this watch owes its nickname to the orange yacht timer on the subdial at 3 o’clock, as well as the triangular orange second hand. The gray color of the other subdials as well as the obelisk hands for hours, minutes, and subdials further distinguish this model from older Chronomasters. For this highly sought-after and extremely rare reference, you should expect prices between 3,400 and 4,500 USD depending on the watch’s condition.
No less coveted is the reference 85004/3730, which is outfitted with the Valjoux 23 caliber. The red accents on the yacht timer and the red lollipop hand are particularly striking details of this timepiece. Pricing here is similar to that of the Orange Boy. Nivada Chronomasters with panda dials are significantly rarer than versions with black dials. Depending on the caliber and condition, prices tend to be somewhat higher.
2020 – The Renaissance of the Chronomaster
Watches with retro design and modern technology have been trending for many years now. Major manufacturers such as Longines, TAG Heuer, Blancpain, and Breitling regularly introduce new timepieces inspired by or completely modeled after their own past icons. The ever-growing popularity of the Chronomaster vintage models prompted Guillaume Ladet, a young entrepreneur and the founder of the William L. 1985 watch brand, to revive the Nivada brand in 2018. Shortly after this revival, he brought the Chronomaster back onto the scene.
If you like the Chronomaster but find vintage models to be less suited for everyday use or simply too expensive, then you should take a look at the re-editions from 2020. Nivada introduced a total of ten manual versions, all with the Sellita caliber SW510 M BH b at their core. There’s also something for fans of automatic chronographs, as Nivada equips four varieties with the Sellita caliber SW510 BH b. In addition to offering different combinations of dial colors and hands, Nivada also decided to let the buyer choose between a white Super-LumiNova or dark vintage lume.
Unlike other watch manufacturers that unnecessarily expand their retro-design timepieces, Nivada kept the diameter of the stainless steel case at exactly 38.3 mm. The dial, indices, hands, and bezel are also virtually identical to the original designs from the 1960s and 70s. Only the plexiglass had to make way for a contemporary glass made of sapphire crystal. Like the vintage models, the re-edition is water resistant to 100 meters (328 ft, 10 bar).
Each version is available with a selection of stainless steel bracelets, leather bands, or a rubber strap – you are truly spoiled for choice. Indeed, it can be quite difficult to select the perfect combination of features.
The references 86014M and 86007M featuring a black dial and broad arrow hands are the closest to the vintage model 8221 from 1961. With the reference 86012M, Nivada offers a reinterpretation of the Orange Boy 85004/4076, while the 86010M evokes the classic panda look. The reference 86011M is the best alternative to the vintage 8500/3730 with lollipop hands.
Pricing is very reasonable considering all that these references offer. All manual-winding variations with steel bracelets cost around 1,730 USD, while automatic models are just over 1,900 USD. The only downside is that the watches are shipped from Switzerland and are hence subject to customs duties if you are ordering from another country.
The Nivada Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver is a distinctive, aesthetically-pleasing chronograph. Both the vintage models and the newer re-editions are on par with the quality of better-known brands. Vintage pieces are popular and, when in good condition, definitely collectible. If the price and all the terms of purchase are right, nothing should stand in your way of buying one of these timepieces. These watches, which have long since achieved cult status among collectors, are unlikely to get any cheaper.
With the modern reissue, Nivada has succeeded in transporting the timelessly beautiful design into the new millennium. At the same time, the watch retains the original size, case, and drilled lugs, thereby conveying a true vintage feeling, despite the sapphire crystal and practical modern-day features. Other manufacturers could certainly learn a thing or two from Nivada when it comes to maintaining authenticity in their retro watches – here’s looking at you, TAG Heuer and the Autavia!