The Squale 1521 “50 Atmos” should definitely ring a bell if you’re a fan of dive watches. Above all, you should be familiar with the watch manufacturer Squale, but we dive into that topic later. If the 1521 and its manufacturer doesn’t ring a bell for you, then it’s nothing unusual, because Squale is better known among dive-watch-nerds nowadays. which is somewhat surprising given its historical significance and that it is still one of the few independent and family-run manufacturers on the market, which is clearly focussing on functional diving- and no hype watches.
If you like to expand your dive-watches-knowledge you’ve come to the right place. In this hands-on review, we briefly take a look on the history of Squale and at its classic model the Squale 1521 “50 Atmos”, as a polished case version with a blue and black dial.
Squale history and tradition
Squale SA was founded by Charles von Büren in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1946 and has its origins as a well known component supplier for (among others) waterproof cases for the watch industry. Their logo of a shark is not only cool for dive watches, even though I’m sure you don’t want to meet a real shark under the water, but it also literally stands for the word “shark” in French (Neuchâtel is a French speaking canton of Switzerland). This unique “Squale” logo of a shark was widely and proudly presented by watch manufacturers in the sense of a co-branding on the dial as a quality sign for water-proof watches in the 1970’s .
During the 1950s and 1960s modern scuba diving, i.e. professional diving with compressed air diving equipment (SCUBA), became more and more important and became more and more popular as a hobby. One reason for that was the famous naval officer, sea explorer and -researcher Jacques Cousteau and the technician Emile Gagan.
For a diver it’s not only important, it’s vital to measure the time of the dive precisely and reliably. Among other things it is important for the remaining oxygen, but most important for the timing of your decompression during emergence. This is absolutely is necessary for every diver when he spent a significant time in the depths, to return the body to its normal atmospheric levels of inert gas saturation, which. Therefore it was no coincidence, that many watch manufacturers launched diving watches in order to serve the rapidly increasing demand for functional, water-resistant watches.
Nowadays everyone is only talking about “in-house production”, which means that preferably every part of a watch is manufactured by it’s brand itself. Back then (and still as now) it was very common for watch manufacturers to source their components from highly specialized companies, i.e. dials, cases, hands and straps.That is the reason why Squale was primarily active as a component supplier for other watch manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s – both for small- and for large well known brands such as Blancpain.
Professional tools for professional divers
Excitingly, the manufacturers who used Squale components back then often not only immortalized their own brand name, but also that of Squale on the dial, since Squale was considered a sign of quality. Here’s an example of a vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Squale ref. Y1545 in stainless steel, manufactured in around 1970, that was offered at Bachmann&Scher jewelers.
If you already know Squale and its famous 1521 model line. you might have wondered, why the Blancpain have its crown at “3 o’clock”? The characteristic feature of “von Büren cases” is that they have their crown at at “4 o’clock”, and there is also a high probability that diving watches from this period from Blancpain, Doxa, Heuer and others had have a “hanging crown” at “4 o’clock”.
This specific Squale case was used by Blancpain on the the Fifty Fathoms BUND with an all black bezel inlay, i.e. the official watch for the “Kampfschwimmer” of the Bundeswehr (e.g. combat divers of the German army) in the 1970’s. Various military units also rely on Squale diving watches, including the French Bérets. Other brand ambassadors at the time included Jacques Mayol, who set a free-diving depth record in 1970 and also starred in Luc Besson’s feature film The Rush of the Deep (played by Jean-Marc Barr).
In addition to the 50 Atmos case, Squale is particularly known for the 101 Atmos case, which comes with a characteristically rounded shape and without the classic horns. At that time, the case was one of the first to be water-resistant to over 1000 meters. The characteristic 101 Atmos case can still be found in the current Squale 2002 series – with a water resistance of 101 bar, which was well above average then and now.
Quartz crisis – The deathbed of many Swiss watch manufacturers
Because of the quartz crisis and the retirement of Charles von Büren in the 1980s, Squale was taken over by the Italian entrepreneurial family Maggi, who had previously worked as a Squale dealer in Italy. The company is still run by the Maggi family today, with Andrea Maggi in a leading position. Until recently the head office was still in Milan, with production in Grenchen. Squale is therefore often regarded as an Italian watch brand, which is not really correct in view of its history.
Since 2020 the administration and production of Squale is based in Switzerland again and thus came back to its roots. This makes Squale one of the very few Swiss watch manufacturers that are family-run and independent of the large corporations such as Swatch, Richemont, LVMH or others.
Modern, functional and independent: Squale 1521 “50 Atmos”
After the deep dive into Squales’ important history, let’s take a look on its modern successor.
The new Squale 1521 is available with different case surface finishes such as matte sand blasted, polished and black PVD coated. All PVD models are coated by the Italian weapon manufacturer Beretta, if you are more interested in black coated Squale watches, check out our review on the Squale Luminso Aranchia PVD. While the sand blasted and also black PVD coated models with their matte surfaces look even more “dive toolish”, the polished models can be almost considered as “dress dive-watches”. A “dressy tool watch” sounds interesting, so let’s take a closer look on these polished models in black and blue.
With a diameter of 42 mm the watch wears surprisingly well and rather like a 40 mm watch. The reason for that is that the case is simply a bit smaller than the bezel, so the bezel also protects the case very well. This watch case design is truly a masterpiece, not only because of its ability to let watches wear smaller than their diameter suggests, but because it is also very ergonomic. The watch case literally nestles against your wrist with its downward lugs and the thickness is 13 mm including the flat sapphire crystal is just right for a dive watch.
The appeal of this black and polished watch with a pop of orange is simply amazing and I immediately fell in love with this watch. It is the ultimate daily-watch for every occasion, no matter if an elegant dinner or Scuba dive. Proportions, details and overall balance are just on point on this watch, including a touch of vintage heritage.
As you can see, the crown is not only positioned at 4 o’clock but also sits deeply in the case. The reason for that specific crown design is to avoid uncomfortable pressure on the back of the hand and to protect the crown from hits and possible damage. Bulky crown guards aren’t even needed because if this special case design.
Minutes are the most important unit of time on a dive, so the minute hand is painted orange for an easy reading even under difficult conditions. These important minutes are clearly marked on the dial and at the aluminium bezel with an extra lume-dot at “0”. The bezel minute scales are not only used to keep track of time spent on the dive, but are also a critical parameter along with depth and remaining air. They are also important to plan and calculate the decompression stops during emergence at the end of a dive, that we talked about before already. A dive bezel is used by setting the 0-marker alongside the minute hand (that time when you jump into the water); as time passes, you can read off elapsed time on the bezel without having to calculate it in your head, as you might have forgotten when you jumped in the cold water, after you were busy exploring the fascinating ocean.
Finely applied Swiss SuperLumiNova luminous mass on the dial mark the hour points and give a balanced orientation with bars at 6-, and 9 o’clock and a triangle that marks 12 o’clock, so you always know where’s the top of the dial. The polished models also feature a polished inner ring, which reflects nice on the dial and also the lume in the dark, which you can see later in the lume shot.
Squale 1521 with a dial blue and vivid like the ocean
If the black dial 1521 is still “too toolish” for you, you need some color on your watch. A blue sunburst dial of the Squale 1521 Polished Blue is making the “dressy dive watch” with its polished case even “dressier”. Different shades of blue, depending on the incidence of light, like the sun rays go into the ocean depth and a dial surface which depicts the waves on the open sea. This is THE summer dive watch you’ve been looking for; Elegant with its polished case, playful with its colors and yet a sporty tool watch.
This model is much more extravagant than its black dialed brother, even though both are fully polished. The reason for that is no only the striking sunburst dial in contrast with a strong blue aluminium bezel insert, but also the contrast with the orange minute hand; As orange and blue create a complementary contrast, which is higher between their exposures than any of the other complementary color combinations. This improves the readability for divers, which in turn is a sign that it’s still a real tool watch.
Of course, a strong luminosity should not be missing from a real diver’s watch. Applied Swiss SuperLumiNova luminous mass on dial, hands and bezel-marker ensure that the watch is easy to read even when diving at night or while exploring dark caves in search of pirates’ lost treasures.
If you are looking for an even more glossy and dressy dive watch, take a look on our hands-on review of the Squale Matic 60 ATM Light Blue with a domed sapphire crystal and shiny enamel bezel inlay.
Squale 1521 “50 Atmos” strap-guide by WATCHBANDIT
With a very common lug width of 20 mm the Squale 1521 goes with almost all kind of straps and if you’re looking for high quality watch straps to pair your Squale with here you are at the right place. To give you an impression of the versatility of this model we have created this strap-guide with some nice strap combos for you:
NATO watch straps suit dive watches very well; They are made from high quality, flat and durable but soft seat-belt nylon which is also waterproof and light. The Squale 1521 Series 026/A Polished Black goes especially well with our New Bond NATO straps, available as classic one- or two-piece NATO.
Waterproof Rubber watch straps are a must for a dive watch and they complete your dive-tool-watch. While the Tropical-Style Rubber strap takes the modern 1521 back to its style of the ‘60s and ’70s, the plain Classic Rubber strap gives it a clean and modern appeal.
Perlon- and NATO straps
Perlon- and NATO straps are robust and especially light at the same time, which makes them perfect for hot and active summer days. When you want to sport your Squale watch after your dive, talking a walk in the warm mediterran city, you can choose this light and breathable strap option. The synthetic nylon fibers are water resistant and are sturdy enough to not fray or tear. A sleek adjustable stainless steel buckle is included in the design and fastens securely.