Yesterday’s affordable Orient diver gives way today to an even better Swiss alternative: The Squale 1545 has heritage, provenance, classic looks, and serious Swiss construction. It’s the real deal, yet costs less than 1/10 as much as a Rolex Submariner.
The Squale name is known mainly among dive watch enthusiasts but it has serious history. Charles von Büren began producing watches in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1946 and introduced waterproof diving models as early as 1950, a few years before the famous Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner were launched. As military and civilian interest in dive watches exploded in the 1950s, helped in no small part by the films of Jacques Cousteau’s camera as it dwelled on his Fifty Fathoms, tiny Squale found itself in the right place to capitalize.
Squale joined EPSA, of Super Compressor fame, in selling large waterproof cases to other manufacturers. The company’s watch cases often bore their curved shark logo, and some added this to the dial as well. Most Squale watches aped the styling of Blancpain and Rolex rather than the EPSA Compressor look. Squale also continued to produce their own-brand watches for military and consumers through the 1970s.
The Squale brand faded after the quartz crisis and was sold to the Maggi family of Milan, their Italian distributors. Squale has had something of a resurgence since 2010, with new watches assembled in the historic watchmaking town of Grenchen using Swiss components. In the United States, distribution is handled by Long Island Watch, a favorite source of dive watches from Seiko, Orient, and others.
The Squale line includes their classic 1521 and 2002, with the crown at 4:00, as well as the large Tiger and this 1545 model. The 1545 is somewhat more rare than the others, and could be seen as a homage given how closely it resembles a classic Submariner. It even features “faded” lume dots in the markers and hands, and the dial and bezel are obviously Rolex-inspired. Squale has produced a few different 1545 models over the years, this being the latest iteration of the “1545-ORIG” from Squale USA.
In hand, the 1545 case is almost indistinguishable from a Rolex Submariner, specifically a “square crown guard” 5213. It has the same heft, though made of 316L stainless steel instead of the 904L alloy used by Rolex. The size is almost exactly the same as well, as are the sharp edges. Rolex fans would probably appreciate the lack of a “cyclops” bubble over the date, though they might wonder about the inclusion of a date window at all. The crown is quite large, much longer than on those old Rolex watches, and screws down to the case.
The dial has classic dive watch markings: A large triangle marks 12:00, narrow bars are used at 6 and 9, and dots are present at all other hours apart from the framed date window at 3:00. It’s the same look as classic Rolex Submariners like the 5512 and 5513, though they lacked the date window, with all the markers a little smaller than the later 1680. But the minute markers are longer and the flange ring more pronounced, pulling the whole dial into the center more than those watches.
The minute hand is the same paddle style as the Rolex too, but the hour hand is a short sword instead of the Rolex Mercedes style. The seconds hand is different as well, having an Omega-esque arrow design instead of the Rolex lollipop. These changes combine to give the Squale a look that is instantly familiar but different enough to stay out of homage territory.
Then there are the logos. This 1545-ORIG has two different Squale logos, a puzzling choice for the uninitiated. This is done for historical effect, however. The lower curved logo is call-out to the many OEM watches that used Squale cases over the years, curved and placed at 6:00 as on so many of those historical pieces. And the straight “crowned” logo at 12:00 is what Squale used on their own-brand watches. It might seem odd, but there is a purpose.
The bracelet is solid, including the end links, and strongly resembles the Rolex Oyster design. It’s extremely well-made, without the rattling and flexing found on so many inexpensive steel bracelets. Although obviously not as scratch-resistant as a Rolex bracelet, it’s a fine, comfortable piece.
The signed clasp is a bit cheaper, however, including folded steel components. But it’s much nicer than the folded steel clasps on older Rolex bracelets and includes a quick expansion element. It includes a safety catch to keep it closed, though this is unlikely to be needed.
Open the screwed-on back and you’ll find a very familiar face. Squale fits the watch with the durable and popular ETA 2824-2 movement. This Eterna-derived movement hits all the essentials: Hacking, hand-winding, a ball bearing rotor, 28,800 A/h performance, and quickset date.
You can buy the Squale 1545-ORIG for just $579 from the USA Online Store, about twice the price of an Orient Ray II. Having owned both, I would not hesitate to say that the Squale is much more than twice as good. It’s better than a Seiko Prospex SRP, too. Frankly, this would be a $1,000 watch with any other (Swiss) brand on the dial and could bring much more with a better clasp. It’s that good.
The Squale is a wonderful sports watch with classic good looks, real Swiss components, and genuine heritage. My only niggles are the superfluous date window, double-logo dial, and folded steel clasp. But you can’t beat it for under $600! The Squale 1545-ORIG is simply one of the best watch buys out there.