IN DEPTH: Doxa, the upstart with 127 years of horological history

Doxa is a watch brand of contradictions. It’s relatively new to the UK but has been around since 1889; it enjoyed huge success in the ‘60s and ‘70s and yet was defunct by the ‘80s; and it claims to have designed and created three ‘world’s firsts,’ yet specialise in the reintroduction of classic models that it initially launched decades ago.

To help try and decipher the puzzle and to shed some light on Doxa’s history, present and future, the brand’s managing consultant, Rick Marei, spent some time with us to help solve the riddle. Marei approached Doxa in 1997 to discuss resurrecting the brand, and has been at the heart of the decision-making process ever since.

The story of Doxa starts with its inception in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that it established a true brand identity that remains in its DNA to the present day.

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That identity revolved around divers’ watches, and the watershed moment for the company came with the launch of the legendary SUB300T in 1967. Watch enthusiasts can tell this watch a mile off, mainly courtesy of its distinctive orange face – a colour the brand chose because its testing and research had revealed that this was more visible in murky water for divers.

Marei himself runs through the significance of the SUB launch: “The SUB 300 was created to provide a top quality dive watch for the emerging recreational scuba diving market. It quickly became the reference for all dive watches that would follow.”

What may initially sound like hyperbole from Marei does actually stand up to scrutiny when you scratch beneath the surface. Until the quartz crisis struck the Swiss watch industry, the SUB was a revolutionary timepiece that put Doxa firmly on the horological map.

“The original SUB was more than just another dive watch,” Marei insists. “In so many ways it proved to become a piece of diving iconography – the watch chosen by Jacques Cousteau [French naval office, explorer and diver] as well as the watch that Clive Cussler [American adventure novelist and underwater explorer] gave his hero Dirk Pitt.”

The SUB300T’s pioneering nature and its technological prowess in the field of divers’ watches is not in doubt, but this doesn’t always translate into a commercial hit. What really made the watch stand out was the striking orange face.

“That legendary orange dialed dive watch has not merely survived but continues to thrive,” says Marei with pride. “Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society team have chosen the Doxa SUB as standard equipment on their undersea expeditions, and we were on hand again as Fabien Cousteau became the third generation of his illustrious and accomplished family to trust the Doxa SUB for his Mission 31 endeavour.”

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However, when the aforementioned quartz crisis hit Swiss watchmaking in the 1970s, major watch brands were hit hard, and Doxa was no exception. Despite the success of its SUB300T, the brand had ceased trading by the early ‘80s, such was the fallout from the crisis.

It is at this point in the story that an exciting new chapter for Doxa begins, with Marei playing a key part in the story from 1997 onwards. What attracted Marei to the brand in the first place?

“I am a watch enthusiast, collector and diver,” declares Marei. “I am a big fan of the great design and designers of the ‘70s, which the Doxa SUB embodies.”

You can add the word ‘entrepreneur’ to Marei’s list of hobbies, as he saw the scope for a relaunch of the Sub before anyone else. “Seeing the potential of a remake of the legendary Doxa SUB, I approached the company in 1997 and worked with the management to resurrect the SUB and to offer it online. The rest is history.”

Except the rest isn’t strictly ‘history,’ as the narrative evolves and grows every year. The job of relaunching a) the brand and b) the SUB has been a successful one so far in key markets like the US and Europe, but it’s only relatively recently that the brand has turned its attention to the UK. Not only does it see it as a key market on the global stage, but it has also noted the high number of UK customers buying watches from Doxa’s online store.

Marei has hired the services of renowned UK agent Ian Broad of Broad Brand Agencies, who he says has been a long-term admirer of the brand. “Ian is a friend and one of the first Doxa SUB customers from the early days of the re-edition in 2001, so he knows the brand and its history from a collector’s and a customer’s point of view, but also as a professional in the watch and luxury business. He is really the perfect fit for Doxa.”

The results are already beginning to flow. In just the week before going to print, Broad contacted WatchPro to tell us that Jura Watches/CW Sellors have just placed their order for the Doxa SUB range, which understandably is a big moment for the brand over here. This represents its third UK stockist after HS Johnson and Orologium.

Marei sees no reason for this early success to stop here. “For the world’s most iconic dive watch ever made, the UK market has actually been the second largest online market behind the USA since the re-edition began in 2001. I personally expect this to be mirrored in the retail market.

“Also, the fact that Clive Cussler’s novels were very well perceived in the ‘70s and the ‘80s in the UK, like in the US, and most of their readers are now aged between 40 and 60, will definitely help. Clive Cussler’s protagonist Dirk Pitt always wore his orange face Doxa and it was referred to numerous times in each novel,” recalls Marei.

Since the launch of the SUB300T almost 50 years ago, the world of divers’ watches has moved on almost unrecognisably. It is now a behemoth of a sector in its own right, with the available choice of brands in the market seemingly at saturation point. So how does Marei think that Doxa has been able to remain relevant and stand out from the crowd?

“There are hundreds of dive watches available on the market today, and the Doxa SUB sticks out of the crowd with its rich history, as it was simply the first true dive watch ever made. It is considered the predecessor of today’s dive computer, back in the ‘60s when watches were made water proof to be used for swimming and diving. In cooperation with Claude Wesly [ski instructor and swimmer] Doxa developed a dive timing device to help make the new emerging dive sport and profession safe.

“It incorporates a few functions that no other dive watch had, like the orange dial, which was thought to be the best in terms of having a legible colour under water, the patented invention incorporating the US Navy non-decompression table in the bezel, the highly luminous hands and markers, and the dwarf hour hand that emphasises the relevance of the minute hand for divers,” lists Marei. You get the feeling that he could go on and on, such is his passion for the Doxa SUB collection.

With the present and future looking decidedly rosy for Doxa, Marei could be forgiven for winding down and taking his foot off the gas a little, but it’s not in his nature. He is something of a visionary in an industry that often gets accused of being somewhat antiquated and stuck in its ways. He maintains that online watch sales are the future of the industry, and he sees Doxa as being the perfect brand for him to welcome in tomorrow’s world with.

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