Bids for ‘grail’ dive-watch start at $50k

Imaged by Heritage Auctions, ha.com
Imaged by Heritage Auctions, ha.com

An historic diving accessory is going under the hammer and, although depth-rated only to 100m, few watches have ever been deeper. “This timepiece is undoubtedly the ‘grail’ of all dive-watches”, says Heritage Auctions, which is arranging the sale.

The JeanRichard Aquastar 60 accompanied Captain Don Walsh on his record-breaking 1960 dive as he piloted the bathyscaph Trieste to the ocean’s deepest point, almost 11km beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. 

Walsh had bought the Aquastar as an “everyday watch” from a San Diego dive-shop in early 1959, along with two identical units for his fellow Trieste project leaders Andy Rechnitzer and Larry Shumaker, though it was Walsh who made the historic descent, with Jacques Piccard. 

The Trieste team (Walsh is second left) (HA)
Don Walsh (second left, wearing his Aquastar) with Trieste team-members (HA)

“I just wanted a simple watch that kept time, and that’s what it did,” Walsh has said. As a US Navy Underwater Swimmer, he initially used it during his scuba-diving training. 

The Trieste dive, to 10,916m in Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, made headlines and Walsh was wearing his Aquastar when President Dwight Eisenhower presented him with the Legion of Merit at the White House. 

Two dives to go

After retiring from the navy, Walsh enjoyed a successful career as oceanographer and engineer. When Rolex presented him with a Trieste 50th anniversary timepiece in 2010 he thought it was time to retire the Aquastar – but it turned out that it was destined to dive deeper still.

In May 2019 Walsh took the watch along when deep-ocean adventurer Victor Vescovo invited him to join his Five Deeps Expedition, and he asked Triton Submarines CEO Patrick Lahey to wear it while piloting the submersible Limiting Factor into Challenger Deep. In the event, it went 11m deeper than it had done on the Trieste, to 10,927m.

Triton CEO Patrick Lahey took the watch down to 10,927m – though Victor Vescovo had gone 1m deeper on the first dive of the 2019 expedition (HA)
Triton CEO Patrick Lahey took the Aquastar down to 10,927m (Victor Vescovo had in fact gone just 1m deeper days before to set the current record) (HA)

In June 2020, the watch saw action in the Marianas Trench once again. “My son Kelly Walsh and Victor Vescovo dove Limiting Factor to the same place in Challenger Deep I visited six decades earlier,” says Walsh. As an Omega brand ambassador Kelly Walsh had worn his personal Omega watch on the dive, but it wasn’t alone: “As his dad, I asked him to take my Aquastar.”

Don Walsh’s son Kelly took the Aquastar back to Challenger Deep for a third time in 2020 (HA)
Walsh’s son Kelly took the Aquastar back to Challenger Deep for a third time in 2020 (HA)

That dive was to 10,925m. “My Aquastar is the only watch that has been to the seafloor at Challenger Deep on three separate expeditions: my dive in 1960, Limiting Factor in 2019 and 2020,” says Walsh. 

The design

JeanRichard is a Swiss brand that dates back to 1681 and is now owned by the French-based Kering Group. Walsh’s Aquastar 60 has a 36mm stainless-steel case, a bi-directional bezel with five-minute marks and numerals and a tritium dot at 12 o’clock. 

Don walsh watch

The black dial has luminous indices and hands and a date aperture behind the original acrylic crystal. Powered by an automatic Calibre AS 1581 movement, the watch comes with its original brown leather strap and metal buckle.

“It has never been opened or serviced,” says Walsh. “When I wound it after a long period in storage, it kept accurate time.”

Don Walsh discusses the sale of the Aquastar

The patented bezel might no longer rotate, but “this highly important timepiece is in remarkable condition, especially considering the undeniably historic dives and adventures it accompanied its owner on”, says the auction house. 

The sale takes place at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas on 15 November at 11am CT (4pm GMT) and bidding starts at US $50,000 (c£41,210). If you don’t buy it yourself, Divernet will let you know the price it fetches.

Also on Divernet: Vescovo becomes deepest diver – by 16m, Don Walsh leads virtual anniversary deep descent, Son follows father on deepest dive

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